Review: Wild Dunes Resort (Links Course)

Course Name: Wild Dunes Resort (Links Course)

Designer: Tom Fazio (1979)(2015, Renovation)

Location: Isle of Palms, South Carolina

History: Notable for being Tom Fazio’s first solo work, the Links Course at Wild Dunes opened in 1979 to great acclaim as a revolutionary course on the Atlantic Ocean. 1985 was a remarkable year for the Resort, as it hosted the U.S. Senior Amateur on the Links Course and added an additional championship layout with the Harbor Course. Over the years, coastal erosion has plagued the Links Course, leading to a renovation in 2015 and the conversion of its famous par 5 closer to a par 3. While it was a Top 100 Course in the World when it first opened, the Links Course has fallen dramatically in the rankings, now only holding the following accolade:

  • #33 Best Course in South Carolina – Top100golfcourses.com

Conditions: 7/10, While the greens rolled true and were in good shape, the dormant fairways and rough were not in great condition when I played in the early Spring.

Value: 3/10, With prices well over $100 year-round, I paid $169 and felt that was far too high for Wild Dunes, especially considering the conditioning and value of surrounding courses.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                        70            6503            72.2              140

White                        70            6002             69.8             132

White/Gold              70           5656             68.6             128

Gold                         70            5458             72.4             134

Silver                        70           4708              68.2             120

Hole Descriptions: Tom Fazio would go on to create hundreds of golf courses with many occupying spots amongst the top courses in America, but Wild Dunes will always be his first and holds a special place in his heart. After playing Wild Dunes, I was surprised to hear that it was at one point considered one of the top courses in the World. While there is decent variety here and a strong finish, there are dozens of similar courses in South Carolina alone that are better. At the time it was created, however, the concept of designing a course on the marshes and ocean was somewhat novel and exciting. One could argue that courses such as The Ocean Course and Kiawah Club wouldn’t be built without Fazio’s foresight at Wild Dunes.

Wild Dunes does have a number of strengths that I will expand on below, but these include strong variety, good green designs, a surprising amount of elevation change, and a beautiful finish on the Atlantic Ocean. The course was no doubt better in the past with a par 5 closer, but today’s par 3 is a nice hole, nonetheless. Weaknesses for the course include the houses that line the holes, weaker conditions, and a number of boring holes that don’t belong on a world-class course. Overall, Wild Dunes Links is a worthy public option for those visiting Charleston but would not be my first choice in the area.

The opening hole at Wild Dunes is a gentle, straightaway 489 yard par 5. With water down the left for the first 175 yards and bunkers and palm trees on either side for much of the landing area, an accurate teeshot is needed here. This hole then continues flat and turns slightly left with a large crossbunker down the right about 140 yards short of the green. This green is large and guarded by bunkers on either side and a large water hazard left. Barring disaster, this is an easy par and a fairly boring hole.

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The par 5 1st
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The approach at 1

At 344 yards, the par 4 2nd hole is another relatively straightforward hole as a slight dogleg right. Featuring a brief immediate forced carry to a wide fairway, this hole features OB right the entire way for those who get too aggressive. This green is kidney-shaped with a well-positioned bunker short left and collection area left as well.

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The par 4 2nd

The 3rd hole is one of the better holes at Wild Dunes as a 401 yard dogleg right par 4. Playing quite similarly to the preceding hole but longer, this hole features a relatively wide fairway lined by OB down the right the entire way and a bunker right at 185 yards. This green is narrow and large with numerous undulations and a predominant left-to-right slope.

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The par 4 3rd
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A closer look at the 3rd green

The 4th hole is the first par 3 on the course at 165 yards. A nice hole, this one-shotter is surrounded by houses and requires a forced carry over marshes down the right. Featuring a wide yet shallow green, a deep bunker short and false front left provide further defense.

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The par 3 4th

The par fives at Wild Dunes are an overall very weak group but the 5th is the best of the trio as a 479 yard dogleg right. This hole is extremely boring and nondescript on the teeshot, which is tight and lined by houses and trees on either side. At about 285 yards, the fairway turns right and narrows with a bunker down the left about 75 yards short of the green. This hole is unique for having an excellent uphill approach to a back-to-front sloped green perched and hidden behind a pair of bunkers short. This elevation change is unexpected and offers a preview into some of the upcoming holes.

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The teeshot at 5 can be found on any Southeastern course
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The approach, however, is quite unique and strong

At 401 yards, the 6th hole is a strong dogleg left par 4 and one that has the visuals and feel of a course like Pine Valley. Featuring a memorable teeshot through a chute of trees over a sandy wasteland, this fairway is wide and lined by trees. This approach plays to an elevated narrow green defended well by bunkers short and right. This is my favorite hole on the front side.

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The gorgeous teeshot at 6
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The approach at 6

The 7th hole is a short dogleg right par 4 that places a premium on accuracy rather than length. With the fairway turning sharp right around 225 yards, driver will likely be too much club for most golfers. From here, the golfer is left a short iron into a severely back-to-front sloped green defended by a Lion’s Mouth midline bunker short.

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The par 4 7th
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While not quite nearby CC of Charleston’s, the Lion’s Mouth at Wild Dunes is well-done

At 183 yards, the 8th hole is the longest par 3 at Wild Dunes and can play much longer depending on the pin. Featuring an immediate forced carry over water, this hole plays slightly uphill to a long, narrow green defended by a bunker right. This green runs back-to-front for the first portion and then front-to-back for the back portion. Par is a strong score here.

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The par 3 8th

The 9th hole is the number 1 handicap but I don’t think it should be as a flat, relatively boring 384 yard straightaway par 4. Accuracy is needed here with bunkers down the right at 210 yards and left at 250 yards. This hole is most notable for a large water hazard short left of a circular, back-to-front sloped green that must catch plenty of wayward approaches.

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The par 4 9th

By all accounts, the back 9 is the better side at Wild Dunes and features some really unique holes beginning with the par 4 10th. At just 305 yards, this is the shortest par 4 on the course but is tough to reach playing uphill to an elevated green. Although this hole plays straightaway, this fairway is extremely undulating with a bunker right at 200 yards. I assume most golfers lay-up here. This approach is quite challenging to an elevated, back-to-front sloped green defended by bunkers short on either side and a severe drop-off right. This is a hole that can yield anything from eagle to triple-bogey.

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The gorgeous par 4 10th

The 11th hole is another unique hole for the area as a downhill 359 yard par 4. Featuring an extremely fun teeshot to a wide, right-to-left sloped fairway, golfers can rip driver here with little trepidation. A small bunker guards short of the green while another giant wastebunker runs for about 40 yards well-short right.

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The par 4 11th

The 12th hole continues the excellent stretch as an 170 yard par 3. Again playing downhill, this hole offers beautiful visuals with sandy wastelands and hills of fescue on either side for its entire length. This green is very undulating.

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The par 3 12th

The wonderful stretch of hilly holes concludes with the par 4 13th, a strong 391 yard sweeping dogleg left. Featuring a downhill teeshot to a wide, undulating fairway, you cannot see this green from the teebox. This approach plays at least one club uphill to a two-tiered, back-to-front sloped green defended by a bunker short left.

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The par 4 13th
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The uphill approach at 13

At 480 yards, the 14th hole runs parallel to the 1st and might as well be the same hole as another very boring dogleg left par 5. The visuals on this teeshot are quite poor with trees scattered down either side haphazardly and a large tree jutting onto the right fairway around 240 yards. From this point, the fairway turns left without much danger until a large right bunker about 60 yards short of the green. This undulating green is wide and further defended by a bunker short.

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The par 5 14th

The 15th hole serves as a transition hole between the mainland and Ocean as a 393 yard par 4. Although I understand the hole’s purpose, it is again quite boring playing dead flat and straightaway. With marshland lining the left the entire way and houses lining the right, this fairway is wide but guarded by two bunkers down the right at 240 yards. This approach plays to a long, narrow green that slopes left-to-right.

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The forgettable par 4 15th

The 16th hole is the start of a nice closing stretch as an 163 yard par 3. Playing somewhat similarly to nearby Harbour Town’s 17th, this hole features a brief carry over marshes and sand to a large, back left-to-front right sloped green defended by a bunker short left.

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The par 3 16th
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Panoramic views from the 16th green

The 17th hole is one of the most memorable holes at Wild Dunes running parallel to the Ocean along the beach as a 381 yard par 4. With palm trees to the right and dunes on your left, this is a narrow hole but not too complicated. After a drive that finds the fairway, the golfer is left a mid-iron into a large, undulating green with a back left plateau guarded by a large bunker well-short right and dunes left and long.

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The unique par 4 17th

At 168 yards, the closing hole is a gorgeous par 3 but sadly this was not an original hole. The previous 18th was an iconic dogleg right par 5 running along the beach but was lost to coastline erosion, forcing management to change to a par 3. This green runs back-to-front with a collection area short right and sandy wastebunkers guarding left and short.

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The par 3 18th

General Comments: Wild Dunes’ clubhouse is nice and the practice facilities are average with a practice green near the 1st tee and strange range that narrows and features water hazards after about 200 yards. Pace of play was strong when I played. Bring your bug spray – the gnats here are about as bad as I’ve seen anywhere, especially as you near the water.

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Wild Dune’ driving range

Verdict: While Wild Dunes reputation has diminished dramatically since it opened in 1979, this is still Tom Fazio’s first design featuring some excellent holes and a beautiful finish on the water. It is a worthy public option for all those visiting Charleston/Kiawah.


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