Many men and women, upon turning 65 (or thereabouts), will feel the urge to “get work done” in order to stave off or even reverse some of the aesthetic ravages of time. The same is true of golf courses, especially Myrtle Beach’s recently-65 Dunes Golf and Beach Club, which is set to reopen after a summer’s worth of touching-up that will strike a balance between the embrace of modernity and preservation of the past. It’s for a good cause: the club will host the 2014 PGA of America’s Professional National Championship, where 312 top-playing PGA professionals will tee it up in hopes of becoming one of the 20 who make it to the 2014 PGA Championship, to be held in Louisville, Ky. at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Valhalla Golf Club.
The Dunes, for its part, was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., who is regarded as one of the influential golf course architects of the latter decades of the 20th century. The Dunes opened in 1948 and is one of Jones’ earlier efforts, but is universally regarded as one of his best. The course exemplifies the concept of “hard par, easy bogey,” which came to define Jones’ architectural philosophy: holes with ribbon-like fairways which dart left and right, doglegging around trees, bunkers and water hazards with green complexes stridently defended by more of the same. It is little wonder that so many of Jones’ courses have hosted high-level competitive golf tournaments at all levels, and smaller wonder still that in addition to hundreds of original designs, Jones would be repeatedly called upon to stiffen the challenge of older clubs for championship golf. Major championship golf courses like Baltusrol Golf Club’s Lower Course, Oakland Hills Country Club’s South course and Oak Hill Country Club’s East Course (site of the 2013 PGA Championship) have all been touched by Jones. Other major championship venues Hazeltine National Golf Club and the Championship Course at Tanglewood Park are original Jones efforts.
Jones died in the year 2000, but not before he trained sons Rees and Robert, Jr., in the art of golf course architecture. Both sons have made lasting marks on the grounds for the game in their own right, and it is Rees who was asked by head professional Dennis Nicholl and other club officials to do this year’s work on the course.
To speak of that work, it is subtle but important. The most important aspect of it has less to do with architecture than agronomy. The greens at the Dunes, until 2013, had been bentgrass, which is known for its smoothness and speed tolerance in cooler-weather climates but which can suffer mightily under the high-heat, high-humidity strain of South Carolina summers. But the relatively recent development of strains of heat-tolerant Bermuda grasses have prompted mass conversions at golf courses across the country’s entire southern half. The Dunes, for its part, is replacing its greens with Champion Bermuda. The grass will have nearly ten months to mature before hosting the country’s best club professionals—more than enough time, considering grow-in will have taken a scant nine weeks when the club officially reopens around Labor Day.
Greens, aside, keen observers will notice a few other alterations at the Dunes. Long-hitters and golf masochists will remark on the increased length of the golf course—from 7,195 to some 7,400 yards, maintaining a par of 72—and shorter hitters, juniors and female golfers will be likely to enjoy some new forward tees, which add a bit of fun to the course. Many greenside bunkers’ high edges, heightened from years of sand deposits from hundreds of shots being hit out of them, are being lowered to restore approach shot sightlines and restore some putting surface space lost over the decades.
A lone new fairway bunker will be added to the golf course: down the left side of the first fairway, designed to catch longer hitters’ opening tee shots and make players rethink notions of grip-and-rip golf around the Dunes. Add an expanded, laser-leveled practice range tee area and brand-new short game complex and the Dunes is a top-quality golf facility that will sparkle for its competitors come June 2014.
The 2014 PGA Professional National Championship takes place at the Dunes Golf and Beach Club June 22-25, 2014. The first and second tournament rounds will be contested at both the Dunes and Grande Dunes Resort Club, some three miles inland. To book golf at either of these courses, visit myrtlebeachgolf.com.