Mike Keiser and Dick Nugent (as well as Jim Urbina for more recent renovations) deserve credit for many things at Dunes Club. Swapping flag positions after players have completed nine holes goes a long way in diversifying two rounds, particularly on the par threes. Allowing the last hole’s winner to choose the tee on the next may have inspired the same admirable policy at Ballyneal, Ohoopee, and others. The Pine Valley aesthetic offends few, of course.
Does any combination of new flags and new tees really make for a new course the second time around? No…this claim has been exaggerated on social media. Granted, the scorecard does offer an opportunity to turn your back nine into a Monster energy drink commercial…every par four can be played as a 3.5 from the forward tees.
Should you? Probably not. Short par fours are fun, and the option to make par four drivable is fun. But five within one eighteen-hole routing waters down the concept, and ultimately weakening the course*. Should you get an invite, however, you’ll want to make at least two gettable. This ranking aims to help you choose wisely when that day comes.
* = Bethpage Black Metal has been described as an “uptight prick” by several noted sources.
There’s a tendency to take a shot across the pond to this green, but really all you need to know is right here. (Photo Cred: Jeff Kissel)
NUMBER 5: No. 5…273 yards
Jim Urbina has reworked / redesigned eight greens at Dunes Club since becoming its consulting architect. His most notable work, or least most noticeable, comes at No. 5, a wide shortgrass patch intersected by spines that help the putting surface roll like nearby Lake Michigan (which you may have forgotten was there).
This green, among the club’s better features, comes with one I appreciate less. Although Pine Valley features a few forced water carries, none carry as far from fairway-to-green as that preceding No. 5’s green. The hazard evokes Muirfield Village more than Pine Valley. Keiser and Nugent shouldn’t take blame per se; Dunes sits on an unusually tight parcel, just 90 acres. I’m in no position, technically or strategically, to suggest a better location for a retention pond. The hazard plays reasonably from the “traditional-ish” yardage, 380 yards, because the fairway measures 55 yards-wide. If you blow your tee shot bad enough to not have an iron into the green, we can’t help you.
The pond becomes more problematic when considering the hole as a one-shot option, however. You’re looking at a 250-yard carry to get there. As a mid-handicapper, I have no issue acknowledging that I only occasionally hit anything that far in the air, and probably downhill when I do. I can only, realistically, play an 150-yard lay up, then take a pitching wedge across.
To be fair, this makes legitimate strategic sense, using the same logic that laying up to a Biarritz makes sense. After all, the guys who can carry 250 yards must also stop the ball on a green less than 30 yards wide, which seems a tall order with wood in hand. If they carry past the green into the scrubby bunkers behind, they’ll need a deft recovery onto a back-to-front green. A pitching wedge from 120 doesn’t seem so bad.
Regardless, I’d suggest this particular mental calculation hardly equates to a fun short four.
A look uphill at the No. 7 approach. The drivable version of the hole removes the severe dogleg. (Photo Cred: Jeff Kissel)
NUMBER 4: No. 7…240 yards
I suspect No. 7, at just 240 yards, attracts the most attention as a par 3.5. The lead caddie knew the course, and he also knows fun rounds tend to merit tips.
Having not played Pine Valley myself, I still sensed some (perhaps misdiagnosed) authenticity around the hole when played from its “normal-ish” tees. Although 374 yards, even my 3-Wood ran through the fairway when hitting down to this sharp dogleg. The second shot, up the hill, causes your gaze to slow; a slew of seven sand centurions lurk beneath the ideal line during the uphill approach (those who drive too far may need to hit a more pronounced fade to accommodate the dogleg).
As a drivable hole, the tee essentially removes the dogleg. You stand off to the right, staring straight at the target, and then firing a rocket over bunkers and dense growth toward the green. This is a feel-good hole for most; although I may not have had a tap-in eagle like one playing partner, the slope to the left offered a kicker down to the putting surface.
Fun-for-all as that may be, it creates a situation similar to No. 15 at TPC River Highlands, where no tactical reason exists for laying up. Good television, perhaps, but less interesting from a strategic perspective. In fact, the lay-up here seems the scarier shot, the bunkers raised brows rising to make an already-skinny landing area appear attenuated.
Fire away from the tee. After all…all that’s stopping you is that one bunker right in the middle of the fairway ahead of the green. (Photo Cred: Jeff Kissel)
NUMBER 3: No. 9…257 yards
Yes, if you must know, they nicknamed the round bunker sitting centerline at the No. 9 green “Devil’s Asshole,” in allusion to the notorious pit at Pine Valley’s No. 10. Despite this, the final sand hazard at Dunes behaves more like a Lion’s Mouth in the MacRaynorian sense.
The player, when going from its “traditional-ish” yardage, 391 yards, should identify the flag’s placement on the green, and then direct your tee shot to the fairway edge that offers the clearest line in.
If you play this one in its drivable iteration, you’ll likely be taking the ground route to the green, landing your driver or wood short in an attempt to run it up, left or right of the bunker. The window to the right opens a touch wider, but squeezing a strong draw through there seems unlikely. The gap between the trees and the bunker to the left makes the power fade less plausible.
Although “Asshole” escapes less severely than its namesake, you’d probably prefer to pitch up from the bottom of the slope instead. Similarly, if you make the correct contact but on the incorrect line, you could be putting back across the green…no significant benefit versus pitching into the green.
Dunes might not have quite the drainage that Keiser’s other projects, but it will run enough during dry conditions to make this hole work. That the yardage is so attainable goes a long way in making the hole a worthwhile endeavor for the daredevils among us.
The reward for keeping your tee shot left is evident up close. Less evident is just how much the turf around the bunkers feed in, removing the ground option. (Photo Cred: Jeff Kissel)
NUMBER 2: No. 4…312 yards
No. 4 shows out less than its compatriots at Dunes, and perhaps gets lost in the woods more so for it.
I use “subtle” to describe tee shots where the player’s intuition guides them from the tee, with no bunkers or other hazards to define the line of charm. Granted, both that line and a technical hazard exist: A tee shot along the left travels in the most direct line toward the green, and the forested barrier on the left will swat the attempted fade that opens too dramatically. Likewise, ample fairway awaits on the right for the more conservative shot.
Navigating that risk brings additional reward, aside from the line, when attempting the green in one. A well-struck tee shot will benefit from natural mounding front-left of the green, which will give the ball a little extra roll down onto the putting surface (if you end up short on the left, you’ve still got the ideal line). Similarly, equal penalty, aside from the line, appears for those who lay up right. The land begins to tuck down toward the greenside bunker at the right, which removes bumping-and-running as a viable tactic toward all but the most frontward flag positions.
If anything holds No. 4 back from being the top drivable par four at Dunes, the shortest tees don’t quite allow players in the shortest 90 percent to take an honest stab at it. That makes it, for weaklings such as myself, a good Dye/Doak-style short par four instead. Dye proclaimed (despite No. 15 at TPC Highlands, referenced above) his distaste for drivable par fours, but created a litany of tricky, short par fours, which just barely crack the 300-yard mark. This skill might be the nearest similarity between Doak and his industry mentor, when it comes to designs themselves.
No. 4’s shortest version merits comparison.
The innermost tree is evident on the left. Look a little farther and you’ll see fairway as well, the best place to be for a second shot…aside from the green of course. (Photo Cred: Jeff Kissel)
NUMBER 1: No. 1…294 yards
The opening hole at Dunes uses three bunkers to make this more than the simple “drive it or not” equation.
The first bunker, located along the right 210 yards from the front tee, offers palatable reasons for avoiding the alpha-male lifestyle. Lay up ahead of it, and 100 yards to the center of the green sounds like a full-swing attack wedge (for this guy, at least).
The second bunker begins about 50 yards behind the first, also along the right, coiling further up along the green’s front. As the putting surface curls back to the right, flag hunters should attempt the slightest fade. Any more than “slightest” and you’ll run in here. These two bunkers also enforce tee option two: If you feel confident with your accuracy above 210 yards, but below 275, you could land between these two sand sets and consider a short approach from 50 yards. Half-wedge, long runner…your choice from there. The land and angle allow it.
Before discussing the third bunker, consider a tree. Keiser compares to William Flynn, it seems, in that he values a strategic tree (more than his linksland resort empire might suggest). My caddie informed me throughout the round regarding the boss’s treasured trees (she suggested that the short pine growing out of the bunker to the right of the No. 3 green was his favorite on property). One pine on the left stands notably nearer to the fairway than its kin and, in doing so, limits the amount of fade a player can call upon from the tee. The best drive to the green will be straight.
That said, you could theoretically catch the front of the green by hitting a draw in from the right. The farther right you start, to avoid the tree, will require a more dramatic arc to get back to the green. The more dramatic the arc, the more likely your ball lands and runs toward the third bunker, a more nativistic affair that begins about 50 yards out from the green and runs all the way up, into a proper waste area.
That’s a lot to think about on the first hole. So if you choose to make this one drivable, wait until the “back nine,” and enjoy the hamburger at the turn.