On October 29, 1947, when Myrtle Beach was but a sleepy beach town (on a busy day), several area business leaders gathered in Chapin Cabin, yards from the Atlantic Ocean, to discuss the area’s need for more recreational activity.
The meeting, which surely included lively discussion and a couple cold drinks, gave rise to the Dunes Golf & Beach Club, and the participants wasted little time in setting a course of action that helped make Myrtle Beach golf what it is today. In May of 1948 a corporation was formed to build the Dunes Club, two weeks later a board of directors was established, and on June 22, 1948 a charter was granted.
The club’s first board of directors, in what has to be one of the great land purchases in Myrtle Beach golf history, bought 269 acres for $10, “other valuable considerations,” and a guarantee the course would be open for at least 10 years.
More than six decades later, the course’s opening remains a seminal moment in Myrtle Beach golf history. The Dunes Club was the second golf course built in Myrtle Beach (following Pine Lakes in 1927), and it has been one of the area’s bedrocks.
Robert Trent Jones Sr. was selected to design the layout and less than two years after the Chapin Cabin meeting (located on what is now the 11th tee), the first nine holes opened. A year later the second nine opened.
Myrtle Beach started booming as a golf destination in the mid-1980s, but the Dunes Club helped provide the area a base with national cache. In the days before title sponsorship and hospitality tents were the determining factors in who hosted high level professional events, the Dunes Club welcomed the game’s three biggest tours.
The Dunes Club has hosted six Senior Tour Championships, the U.S. Women’s Open and the finals of the PGA Tour’s Q-School (Ben Crenshaw and Gary McCord were among the notables who earned their card there), putting the course and the Myrtle Beach area in the national spotlight.
Dunes Club has been a favorite of golf pundits as well. The layout is currently ranked among the nation’s Top 100 courses by the game’s three most respected sets of rankings – Golf Magazine, Golf Digest and Golfweek.
The reasons for the Dunes Club’s acclaim are many. In era of overwrought design (did anyone watch the PGA at Whistling Straits?), Robert Trent Jones designed a classic golf course that has stood the test of time and thrived.
The greatest testament to the course’s design is how little it has changed. Through two renovation projects, only one hole has undergone substantial change.
“It has stood the test of time,” head pro Dennis Nicholl said of the Dunes Club. “I know that is kind of cliché but it really has. A couple tee boxes, holes and bunkers have been tweaked and the greens have been restored to their original size, but other than that the course is as it was in 1949. It’s something special.”
The one exception is the 11th hole. It was once a straight-away par 4 playing 320 yards, but a 1991 renovation turned it into a dogleg right that is among the layout’s most scenic challenges. The 11th plays 370 yards from the white tees into a peninsula green surrounded by the swash. It’s a stunning view and the beginning of arguably the Grand Strand’s best three-hole stretch.
Known as Alligator Alley (it doesn’t take much imagination to figure that one out), holes 11 through 13 are a stunning stretch. The 12th hole is a par 3 that offers views of the encroaching swash, and No. 13, a long par 5 shaped around Lake Singleton, was ranked by Sports Illustrated as one of the nation’s 18 best holes.
Alligator Alley, the heart of the back nine, features ample water. The swash gives life to the marshland and Lake Singleton, Myrtle Beach golf’s most famous land-locked body of water, provides the coastal setting people relish.
The front nine is cut through an assortment of pine trees and soaring Live Oaks, and the Dunes Club property has uncommon, natural elevation changes. Jones used the land’s contours to construct a course that rewards shot-making. Playing to the proper spot in the fairway is rewarded with clear angles to the green and, oftentimes, additional roll.
While driving is critical, the Dunes Club is a second shot course. Players that miss greens and find themselves playing from large green-side bunkers are going to struggle to save par.
But a day at the Dunes Club is hardly a struggle. A trip around this RTJ classic is time well spent, and after the final putt has dropped, make sure you have lunch or a drink on the deck and enjoy the view of the Atlantic.
The Verdict: The Dunes Club is one of the best in Myrtle Beach and America. The design is traditional and nothing about the place is overstated, which only adds to its considerable charm. The naturally rolling terrain located so close to the Atlantic provides a unique characteristic and the course is, unquestionably, among RTJ’s best.
Myrtle Beach has many outstanding options, and the Dunes Club is one of the best.