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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Wild Dunes- Links Course - Isle of Palms, SC


10001 Back Bay Drive
Isle of Palms, SC

Architect: Tom Fazio
Par - 72

Excitement Level – 8/12
Difficulty – 6/12
Cost - $130 Peak, $45 replay and twilight
Yearly memberships – No
Design – Three stars (all ratings out of seven)
Conditioning – Five and ½ stars
Natural setting – Five stars
Value – Three stars
Overall rating – Three stars

In the book The Greatest Golf Courses in America, Wild Dunes is listed beside Augusta National, Pinehurst, Oakmont, Baltusrol, Pebble Beach and Oakland Hills.

I respectfully dissent.

As most of you know, I swear by every course Mike Strantz has done, and Strantz worked on this project, but while the course may have been groundbreaking when it opened, the addition of houses and the ferocity of Hurricane Hugo completely changed the golf course. Sadly little remains of its former glory and charm.

Located on the Isle of Palms, the course sits on the sandy soil that is the holy grail of all the great designers, yet underwhelms through flat greens, mundane hole design and too much “Florida-style” palm trees, ponds and a collection of holes that look and play the same. By the time the player gets to the “money shot” – the last two holes which play along the sound, the ordinariness of the other holes fail to turn the tide of opinion. Five great holes do not make a golf course - not even on the seaside.

A good candidate for the mantle “a six hole wonder,” the course is strikingly similar in design, scale and appearance to the Ocean Course at Amelia Island Plantation, which has a much nicer resort.

Fazio once again proves a slave to the doctrine of symmetry (par 72, 36-36, two par-5 and two par-3s each side, does he know you’re allowed to do something else?), the doctrine of framing (read: spoon-feeding), too much water, way too much out of bounds and flat featureless greens.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some inspired moments. The excellent par-5 fifth features a Strantzian blind shot over enormous bunkered dunes to a green set high in a tree-sheltered dell. This terrific hole washed away the bad taste of the preceding three, all overly narrow holes guarded by dense marshy scrub. But while the penal nature of the start fades as the course progresses, the rest of the front nine is lackluster. The short par-4 ninth is a puzzling folly, featuring a blind pond guarding the left side of the fairway. (A blind pond?! Why?)

Few greens and fairways have any undulation, despite being built on excellent terrain for golf. One exception is the really short par-4 10th, which despite being quirky looking actually works from architecture standpoint with several landing areas amid heaving swales in the fairway. 12 and 13 are also good holes, playing among natural looking sand dunes.

Perhaps the course is best summed up by what it lacks - punchbowls, biarritzes, redans, false fronts, in short, it lacks interesting greens and holes shapes.

Guarded on all sides by out of bounds and houses and looking particularly unnatural, the course looks and plays nothing like Fazio's work at World Woods. It’s hard to believe those two courses were built by the same designer. Even the practice facilities are sub-par; irons only off mats at a severe angle into a broken net. While those satisfied by resort courses won’t complain much as it will feel at home to them, perhaps a day at Caledonia or Kiawah is a better choice.


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