The Dunes tops out at 7,140 yards and
comes in distinct packages, or series of holes. Holes two through six play
through the pines over relatively level ground. The green complexes in this
series are industrious, set down or cradled among mounds to reflect the
captured feel that the surrounding pines impart.
Seven, eight, and nine, as well as
number one, leave the woods and begin to explore more meaningful, less
wooded ground. Here the irregular green shapes are better defended and
situated at thoughtful angles to the fairway. The first nine sets the player
up for the exhilarating second nine run, which absolutely takes off after
solid but straightforward holes at 10 and 11.
The cavernous sand pits that mark The
Dunes’ reputation do not occur every hole. In fact, only at 1, 12,13,14, and
17 do they appear in full force either dramatically or logistically. But
when they are incorporated they are incredible, harrowing features that
beget heightened expectation of the next.
Though much of the existing Dunes
lore centers on the source of these interesting landscape features, Hills
notes that “mostly these craters were natural occurrences” and not primarily
the result of bombs. Indeed it’s difficult to discern what is bomb-made and
what might be indigenous, but the hollowed out sand pits certainly look like
they were blasted by something.
Hills, able to take the routing where
he wanted to go (quite surprising considering the plethora of environmental
and zoning restrictions that usually limit an architect’s plans), made a
decision to not make The Dunes a purely heroic course. Instead of using the
sand washes as cross hazards or putting them in the line of play, they
primarily appear laterally and in support of the green complexes.
Using the hazards in this way was the
result of simply following the lead of the land. “We tried to locate the
best possible green sites, incorporating sand areas when possible. We wanted
to actively incorporate them and their character into the design,” he says.
Even when not utilized for do-or-die shots, the sand pits influence play by
penalizing, sometimes severely, those whose accuracy fails. Visually they
are more powerful, lending
The Dunes an impression that can be striking, magnificent.
The pit behind and to the left of the elevated, plateau green at the first
is both frightening and awe-inspiring at once. Its effect is as much
psychological as strategic, but it sets the tone for a baited, exciting
The action really picks up at the
416-yard 12th and the 158-yard 13th, two holes that are set brilliantly
among the sand washes and together act to catapult the round from a
pleasurable walk through nature into an energetic, triumphant homeward
The twelfth green is placed at the
top of a rise between a deep man-made bunker to the left and a larger,
sprawling and sinister natural bunker on the right. To get to it, a
mid-sized cross-bunker ninety yards short of the green must be cleared, and
a large oak and bunker short and left must be avoided.
The 13th plays over a valley to a
green that curves away from the tee at a right-to-left angle. Anything hit
short on the inside elbow dribbles 12 feet down a steep slope into a bunker.
To the right and long of the green is one of the biggest sand caverns on the
course, and left of the green tumbles away down into scrub and nothingness.
In short, there is no room to miss. This is potentially a world-class par
three, but whoever decided to build the white utility shed on line directly
behind the green has seriously compromised the great naturalness and
aesthetic of the hole.
There is excellent work, particularly in and around the greens, at 14
through 16, and 17 is a dynamite uphill par five that at last utilizes a
natural sand formation as a serious cross hazard. At only 508 yards, the
green is potentially reachable for the long player, but to do it the hazard
must be attacked directly with a blind second shot over it and up the hill.
The small green is cocked at a right-to-left orientation, guarded by a
bunker inside left and more sandy wash beyond.
While there is no reason to bemoan
anything about the wonderful course that is here, there might be wistful
dreams of the course that’s not. If there’s anything critical to be said of
The Dunes it might be about the lack of heroic shots given the stimulus.
It’s possible that golf in such a dramatic, raw landscape wants for more
true heart-pounding shots and opportunities to gamble.
This is playing armchair architect to be sure, but what does Hills think,
considering that he designed the course a full 13 years ago? “I would probably do some
things differently, but I like what is there,” he says, leaving the door
open slightly for at least some “what ifs.” Still, we too like what is there, and
so will anyone who appreciates a thought provoking, cut-above golf course in
a beautiful and isolated setting.