Some days are just not meant for the playing of golf. Today was one of those days. Let me expound: I arrived at the Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach, at 7:00 am. I had anticipated this round for a long time. Many of my golf course architecture buffs are not fans of Robert Trent Jones, senior. He built challenging courses (some say overly penal and one-dimensional) in the 1950s and 1960s, then gently rode off into the sunset, building fewer and fewer in the 70s, 80s and 90s. The Dunes Club is recognized as one of his top five courses. RTJ Sr., as he was known, is my secret vice. I’ll get more into that a bit later.
They say that Trent loved water. Couldn’t get enough of it on a golf course. You get plenty at Dunes Club. I started shooting on the back nine and found water on each of the first seven holes. After a respite on the 17th, there was more of the wet stuff fronting the 18th green. Speaking of wet stuff, rain was one reason I couldn’t play today. I had to make a decision at 7:00~keep my 8:30 tee time and play the course in the rain, and forfeit an opportunity to shoot the images you see in this article; or, start shooting around 7:15, miss my tee time but get an entire set of images of Trent’s famous 18 in Myrtle Beach. So, I made the call.
Trent loved his sand. Not rustic, blow-out bunkers like those you see in the classic courses of Ireland or Australia, or on the neo-classical courses of Hanse, Coore, Doak and others. Trent loved oversized cookie-cutter bunkers. His tended to erupt from fronts of greens or both sides of the drive zone. Trent enjoyed pinching the target area off the tee, as well as isolating the green from the fairway. He seemed to believe that the aerial game was first and foremost desirable, so he often took the running shot out of his courses.
Trent Jones the elder (his son, Bobby Junior is also a golf course architect; hence the distinction) began to build courses as the golden age of golf course architecture came to a close. His early courses in upstate New York (Durand-Eastman, Cornell, Green Lakes) showed an appreciation for the land and fewer of the characteristic hazards that made him famous. Whether he rebelled against this style of architecture (desiring to invent his own novel approach) or whether his clients demanded punitive golf from him, that is the direction he took. By the time he arrived to build the Dunes Club in the late 1940s, his transformation was complete; in the next two decades, it came to fruition.
If you can hit the high ball consistently, you’ll love Trent’s courses. He was a fan of immaculate conditioning (you’ll find none better than at the Dunes Club) that allowed a high, soft shot to land softly. He didn’t like rumpled fairways or rugged grasses; green-green-green was his favorite triumvirate. His Crag Burn golf club near Buffalo, built two decades after the Dunes Club, remains an anomaly: a heathland-style course with rugged features. At the beginning, though, it was all about the neat and tidy.
A starter at another area course commented, “Dunes Club has more vertical movement than any other course in Myrtle Beach.” He was right. I hadn’t imagined that one could drop and rise naturally along the Grand Strand, but there it was. Trent located his greens on lowered peninsulas and on shelves above the typical flat. His fairways are true to form, very flat, but they meander left and right in most cases (he didn’t like straight holes, eschewing them for the dogleg, sometimes a double, sometimes a boomerang!)
The one aspect of the course that I was unable to truly experience were the putting surfaces. Robert Trent Jones, Senior was known to take great care in building challenging if not completely unique greens, unless the course interested him in a transcendent, permanent way. Knowing that the Dunes Club would be used for professional events and top-shelf member play, I suspect that what I saw as I passed by on a cold, windy day were greens of this ilk. When I return to Myrtle Beach in the future, I hope the weather is kinder but if it is not, I will still play this renowned layout. I already have my pictures.