Tom Fazio's Links Course at Wild Dunes golf resort near Charleston, South Carolina has a split personality
ISLE OF PALMS, S.C. -- When it comes to the Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms in South Carolina, one has a choice of only two golf courses, the Links Course and the Harbor Course. No matter, you'd play these courses no matter where they were.
Both designed by Tom Fazio, the Links Course, his first solo design, put this island near Charleston on the map. The golf course, celebrating its 30th anniversary on Labor Day 2010, is a gorgeous course teetering on a strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway.
The Links Course's signature elements are its approaches to the green and the creativity of the tips. Check out the back tees on Nos. 1, 2 and 9. Wow. The back tee on 11 provides a majestic view of the rolling fairway. Even if you don't play them, drink in the challenge they set forth.
But the Links Course isn't intimidating for everyone.
For the higher-handicap player, Fazio lays out a vast amount of real estate to accept drives, even with cutouts left or right, where most golfers tend to drift. He also provides a run-up alternative at every hole, albeit sometimes off to the side.
Fazio was sparing in his bunkers. Perhaps he wanted to distinguish himself from Uncle George, whose courses were riddled with traps at every opportunity. Fazio greatly relied on strategic Spanish moss-covered live oaks, which are ideal until those trees are threatened. A few key trees are propped up with 4 x 4s that have been there so long, the trees have absorbed them.
Wild Dunes Resort's Links Course: The pace
Wild Dunes Resort's Links Course starts gently, with a par 5 that has lots of room and few hazards between tee and green. It is equipped with the "resort roll" that does its best to bound errant tee shots back into the fairway. The trouble at the green is primarily on the right side, with a trio of bunkers along the green and a solitary bunker left.
The golf course's personality emerges on the par-5 fifth hole that requires a one-two-three punch in order to advance the ball the 418 to 508 yards to the green. But between you and the green, which is about 15 feet above your head, are strategic, stately trees on the right and bunkers center and left. Oh, and the green is sharply sloped to the front, too. What a great hole.
Fazio did well to incorporate the dunes' dips and rise. For example, No. 6 has a valley in front of the green that will influence club selection if one is going to run it up. Fazio added some visual deception on No. 8 with a two-tiered green that sharply slopes to the front. Any putt is going to be a challenge.
Although the name of the course is links, the true feeling of a links course is fleeting. It's most acute from holes 10 to 12, with a riotously rolling fairway on 10 that precludes carts from the fairway at the risk of them overturning, to No. 12, a stellar par 3 that gives one only a glimpse of the green and visual disturbances in between. If you play from the tips placed atop a ridge, you won't forget No. 11. Awesome.
Wild Dunes Resort's Links Course takes a breather after that trio until the best two finishing golf holes around. No. 17 and 18 are beautiful holes right along the ocean. Try not to be distracted by the beachgoers that occasionally cross behind the 16th and 17th holes.
On the 18th, as if the ocean wasn't enough of a distraction, the right side off the green is shaved to pull away shots that got caught by the ocean breezes. Kind of unfair, Fazio.
Accolades for the Links Course at Wild Dunes Resort
In its three decades, the Links Course is often mentioned among "top" courses, either resort courses or those in South Carolina.
"We're fortunate, being on the Atlantic Ocean," said Jeff Minton, director of golf and sports for Wild Dunes Resort.
The course's advantage over its nearby competitors of Kiawah Island, Patriots Point and Rivertowne is that "it's a links course and how the course is designed into the dunes," Minton said.
Fazio mimicked the swales of the dunes into the course, adding mounds and undulations to fairways and greens alike.
"Plus, having 16 through 18 on the Atlantic Ocean is pretty special," Minton said.
The golf course also handled a rare challenge -- the Atlantic Ocean claimed most of the 18th hole in just about a year's time, taking it from a par 5 to a par 3.
But the Isle of Palms and Wild Dunes Resort collaborated to take that hole back. An $8 million beach re-nourishment effort, with Fazio's help, restored the hole in 2008 to its par 5 former self. And now the 18th hole has better irrigation, a green planted in miniverde and more personality, giving more room off the tee, and vast waste bunkers left and right to offer risk-and-reward options.
Wild Dunes Resort's Links Course an excellent option for female golfers
Both Dean Sheridan and Linda von Gruttness appreciate the female friendly aspects of the Links Course, and its upkeep.
"It's very playable for the ladies," von Gruttness said. "We can reach the green in regulation, but if you don't [play] strategically, you can still score well."
Courses up north, where von Grutness played at Lake Placid, N.Y., aren't fun.
"I just wanted to give up," she said. "It's too difficult for a mid-level player."
Wild Dunes Resort is also a low-key, friendly place. The resort prides itself in service, not "over the top, but Lowcountry, Southern hospitality," Minton said.
The course offers a stellar short-game practice area. Space constraints restrict the area to long irons at most, but if you think about it, approach shots are what most people have to focus on anyway. It's almost an added service, to force people to hone the portion of their game that matters.
The Links Course at Wild Dunes Resort: The verdict
In a few areas, Wild Dunes Resort's Links Course is pretty tight between holes, with one fairway almost in play from another, but to be fair, look at a map. There's not a lot of dry land between the Atlantic and the Intracoastal. Given that, Fazio did a great job squeezing in a terrific course.
Overall, it's a challenging golf course for every level of player, but it isn't impossible. It oozes personality, from the marsh carries to the rollicking fairway on No. 10 to the oceanside No. 18. It's a course you'll want to tell your friends about.
September 6, 2010