The history of the land where Dunes West Golf and River Club and the surrounding community are built dates back to 1696. The property changed owners multiple times between then and 1930 when Henrietta Hartford – one of the nation’s wealthiest women – purchased it. She developed the property into a stately manor, including a 32-room house furnished with imported European antiques, a guest house, a saltwater swimming pool, tennis courts, stables, servants’ quarters, and a nine-hole golf course. The estate burned to the ground a few years after she married Prince Guido Pignatelli of Italy in 1937, and was sold to the O.L. Williams Veneer Co., which is now part of Georgia Pacific.
The gated Dunes West community features ten tennis courts, three pools (one adult only and one with a slide and zero entry for toddlers), a fitness and aerobics room; a boat ramp with optional boat dry storage, a playground and miles of sidewalks for walking, running and biking. Property owners are not required to join the golf club.
Over the years, the golf course has received its fair share of accolades: 2009 Golf Course of the Year by the Charleston Golf Course Owners Association, Top Ten New Resort Course by Golf Digest, and America’s Fifty Best Courses by Golf Week Magazine.
Manager Rich Rankin attributes much of the club’s success to his staff, who “help us present a great product and a great experience for our members and guests.” He adds, “One of the special attributes of Dunes West is that the club’s owners are constantly upgrading the course and everything else about the club.” This has included everything from adding drainage and rebuilding sand traps to new maintenance equipment. A new wedding ceremony site was added and sits beneath three centuries-old oak trees overlooking Wagner Creek. To date, Dunes West has hosted over 1,200 weddings.
The golf course at Dunes West does not resemble the 9-hole original course in any way, however, the clubhouse does sit on the very spot of the princesses’ 32-room mansion. The oak trees that frame the drive up to the clubhouse and the right side of the 18th fairway were planted by Princess Pignatelli herself and serve as a reminder of the property’s history.
Dunes West Golf and River Club is ideally situated along Wagner Creek and the Wando River, which produces some spectacular views of the surrounding aquatic life. The course was designed by renowned golf course architect Arthur Hills and is a “must-play” for any golfer in or around Charleston, SC.
Dunes West offers golfers five sets of tees; the scorecard adds a “hybrid” yardage by combining the Blue and White Tees, so finding a yardage that fits your game shouldn’t be difficult. Yardages range from 6,826 yards for more skilled golfers to 5,048 yards for women, juniors, and seniors. I found that the Blue Tees (6,091 yards) provided a fitting challenge and still let me leave with a little dignity.
Hills took full advantage of both the Wando River and Wagner Creek when he built this masterpiece, yet water only comes into play on seven holes. As you make your way around the course, you’ll see saltwater marshes and coastal tidelands; all commonplace for those who live in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, but visually stunning for those who don’t. Many of the fairways are wide and forgiving with mounding on the peripheries, leading to new Paspalum-grass greens guarded by both sand and grass bunkers. The grass bunkers are every bit as challenging as the ones filled with light, fluffy sand. Greens come in all shapes and sizes, are mildly undulated, and all roll true.
Before your round, be sure to visit Dunes West’s practice facility. It’s a short cart ride from the pro shop and features a full-length driving range with multiple targets that will let you hit every club in your bag. There’s a sand trap in the short game area and a large putting green to get the feel of what you are about to encounter.
There are several challenging holes on the front nine at Dunes West, but none of them were more memorable than the three finishing holes. Number 16 is the toughest hole on the inward nine and plays 369 yards from the Blue Tees. Water comes into play over the trio of fairway bunkers on the right off the tee. An ideal tee shot between the 150-marker and the trees on the left will leave what many consider to be the toughest 2nd shot at Dunes West, over sand traps to a small green with water looming on the right, two sand bunkers on the left and grass bunkers behind the green right. Par is a great score here!
Number 17 is a par 3 that plays 159 yards and is by far the most challenging par 3 at Dunes West. With water on the right side and sand left and long, there is no room for error off the tee. Miss the left fairway bunker long and you’re facing a tough lie in a grass swale. The green is small, and slopes left to right towards the water.
Number 18 is a great finishing hole and will give any golfer all they can handle from the back tees; from the Blue tees, it’s a manageable 383 yards. The biggest challenge on this hole is to control your drive off the tee. Keep it in the short grass and leave yourself a clear shot into the green and you can finish strong, just be sure to avoid the marsh area short left.
After your round, step into The Grille Room for a bite to eat or your favorite adult beverage. They offer breakfast and lunch seven days a week, as well as dinner on Thursday nights. Friday is Charcuterie Night with wine, craft beers, and cocktails and brunch is served on Sundays. Also, be sure to check out their weekday specials like $3 beers on Tuesday and $10 lunch entrees on Wednesday.
As you can imagine, Dunes West Golf and River Club is also a popular venue for weddings and events. It starts with the drive up Wando Plantation Way with all of its arching live oak trees, to the antebellum-style clubhouse with its fantastic water views. They have an excellent staff of event coordinators and culinary artists who put together some of the area’s best cuisine.
Dunes West offers memberships for both residents and non-residents. As a member, you’ll receive advanced tee time booking, discounts on food and beverage as well as merchandise in the pro shop, charging privileges, access to member-only tournaments, activities, and events, and a whole lot more. Simply complete the form on the website for more information.
On my latest visit to Dunes West Golf & River Club in Mt. Pleasant, SC this past August, it was 97° outside with a “feels like” temperature into triple digits. I was amazed at the number of people who were already on the golf course and how many were waiting to tee off. According to the cart attendant, there were 237 rounds booked for that day. It was a great testament to what golfers think of this golf course.
If you are relocating to the Charleston area and are seeking an active lifestyle, then Dunes West Golf and River Club is where you need to be. For more information on becoming a resident or member, you can call Dunes West at (843) 856-9000 or visit them online at www.duneswestgolfclub.com.