ISLE OF PALMS, S.C. -- Looking for Lowcountry golf near Charleston without the sticker shock of the Kiawah Island Golf Resort? Seek the shore at Wild Dunes Resort, a Destination Hotel.
Wild Dunes -- a 1,600-acre escape on a barrier island 30 minutes north of Charleston -- offers a diverse menu of fun for all golf groups, from buddies and families to bachelor parties and couples. The recent renovation of the Links at Wild Dunes -- Tom Fazio's first solo design -- highlights 36 holes on the Intracoastal Waterway and even the Atlantic Ocean.
Both the Links and Harbor courses are short but sweet, playing plenty long at sea level. Wild Dunes is as good as any four-star resort on the eastern seaboard.
Wild Dunes: The resort
The AAA Four-Diamond Boardwalk Inn and the Village at Wild Dunes, stocked with shops, are the centerpieces of Wild Dunes, home to plenty of private condos and luxury home vacation rentals just minutes away from this hub.
I stayed in a massive three-bedroom home by myself during a one-night stay in November, while the Inn was receiving a bit of a facelift. The home was steps from the beach, although I was too busy with golf to even put sand between my toes.
I had a fantastic chef's tasting with wine pairings and breakfast the next morning at the Sea Island Grill & Lounge at the Inn. The meal served up roasted and raw beet salad, blue crab, Carolina Snapper and New York strip steak and scallops. To work off the calories, I should have gone straight to one of the 17 tennis courts. Spa and natural recreational activities -- cycling, kayaking, exploring, fishing -- are popular choices.
Wild Dunes: The golf
The renovation on Wild Dunes' Links Course couldn't rebuild the 18th hole that has been lost to coastal erosion -- shrinking from a par 5 to a par 3 -- but it has certainly upgraded everything else. The cart paths, irrigation system and grass on the greens (Champion Bermuda replaced TifEagle) are all new. Fazio's team found a few extra yards, stretching the par 70 from 6,383 yards to 6,503 yards.
On certain holes, deep bunkers were added or old ones removed to frame shots. The two front bunkers guarding the elevated fifth green make for an exciting approach to a risk-reward par 5. The once-bunkerless seventh green is now protected by a menacing trap. Most greens have new collection areas that will force players to choose between chipping high or putting low. Director of Golf Jeff Minton said members have been thrilled with the changes.
Few courses have a better collection of par 3s. The 192 yarder at no. 12 squirts through a narrow passage in the dunes. The setting around the 198-yard 16th hole was cleaned up, revealing views of the ocean. The 185-yard 18th hole stares off into the sea of blue, too.
Wild Dunes' Harbor Course plays much shorter, tighter and tougher, bordering on claustrophobic. Even at 6,359 yards, the Fazio routing, altered after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, challenges everybody. Water runs up the left side of the first fairway. A constant barrage of hazards like this never seems to end.
It's not on the ocean, although the Harbor Course looks nearly as beautiful as the Links thanks to the waterway. Holes 9-11 -- a strong par 5, short par 4 and par 3 combination -- run along the Intracoastal Waterway. No. 16 (a par 3) and no. 17 (an intimidating par 4 that might be the hardest hole in the Charleston area) require tee shots over the waterway. On the 17th tee, I had some boaters compliment me on my tee shot as they floated past.
It felt like a dose of Southern hospitality -- golf style.