As each new year rolls around there are few premier courses that I try to put on my list to play. Some of these are Bethpage Black, The Homestead, Kingsmill, Dormie Club, Bulle Rock, and a couple courses in Myrtle Beach. I can cough up $100 to $150 a couple time a year for a memorable golf experience, but that is about the top of my price range. Dormie Club has been on my list of nice places to play for the last couple of years and was the focus of my weekend trip.
Dormie Club is highly ranked and depending on which magazine someone reads it falls into the top 100 public courses in America, top 1000 courses in the world, and top one or two in North Carolina. I’m always trying to save a few dollars on green fees so I opted to play the course on Memorial Day when the rates drop for the summer. It cost $95 to play a top 100 course and for that price I think it is reasonable. If I played on Sunday (the 25th) it would have cost $215 which I don’t have any interest in paying.
I had a cautious excitement about playing Dormie Club because the designers, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed Bandon Trails in Oregon. I played that one a few years back and thought that some ridiculous holes ruined the course but I thought that I would give another one of their designs a try. Dormie Club was intended to be a private club so I figured that most members don’t want to get their butt kicked all the time so it might be a tad more fair. The course has been allowing public play for the last couple years, but I’ve heard rumors that it is going private again in 2015. Thankfully, Dormie Club didn’t have any holes that I thought were too severe.
I called the Wednesday before I played to discuss the possibility of setting up a tee time. The gal I talked with was very helpful and told me that she could take a tee time for a single. I was looking to play around 9am, but because of the holiday all that was available was 7:39am or 10:30am. I opted for the early time so that I could get back home sooner or try for another round somewhere else. She actually gave me a preference of being paired up or playing by myself. I requested to go off by myself and that worked out as planned. I was able to drive up and take a look at where I needed to hit some shots, walk around the hole to look at a putt from multiple angles, and even hit a couple balls off some tees because the shots were blind. I made it around in 3 hours and 15 minutes which is a quick pace.
The course is a par 71 and I decided to play the Blue tees at 72.3/130/6576. Based on that, I wouldn’t have thought that the course would challenge me with the long irons and driver, but there are some short holes so that allows for a couple of extra long holes. The course is one of those courses that tests every shot when it comes to preparation and execution. Because the course is in such natural surroundings there is trouble off the rough line on each hole. Even though the fairways are wide and the greens are large, they are made more difficult to hit because of all the slope. The course has a lot of contour and there were times when I didn’t know about it until it was too late. Most of the time the ball wasn’t going to run into trouble that was unplayable, but I struggled trying to pick the correct lines for my shots. To get around the course in the best way someone would have to know the correct line and then shape the shot to that line. A draw landing in the same spot as a fade is most likely going to end up in a much different spot. This allows for many different options and I could see the course playing very different from one round to the next. The course has a few too many blind shots for my liking but it was tolerable because trouble wasn’t lurking everywhere. I will add that the course has caddies available and one certainly would help to navigate around the course but my GPS saved me some strokes.
It is apparent that a lot of thought went into designing the green complexes. The greens are massive and sometimes I just had to guess where to land my approach because of all the knobs and slopes in them. There were openings to run the ball onto the green, but because the course was a bit damp from the sprinklers early in the morning I didn’t have much success doing that. However, if the course was playing firmer then landing it short on some holes might be the only option. The pin locations could make it play very difficult and even some “easy” pin locations had me intentionally missing the green when I was out of position off of the tee. This way I was able to give myself a decent chance to make a par. I hit more bump and run chips than in a normal round and had a blast playing shots around the greens. There are some false edges on the greens which required precision chipping or a putt to 5 or 10 feet. The edges won’t repel balls, but they will have it trickle 5 or 10 feet off. It is a place where someone could overthink and hit a poor shot because of indecision.
As expected, the course was in good shape. The greens were fast, but not so fast that I couldn’t control the speed. They didn’t bounce or wobble and I could count on it dropping with a good read and stroke. The fairways and rough were nicely conditioned and I always had a nice lie in the fairway. The tees were the worst maintained part of the course as some were thin and starting to brown out already. It wasn’t horrible, but something that I would expect to find at a course charging half the price. Some of the edges of the greens had been re-sodded and a couple other spots on the course could use the same treatment but I don’t have any complaints.
While the course had too many blind shots for me to love it, I enjoyed it much more than Bandon Trails as I didn’t have to hit perfect shots to score. I had a great day at Dormie Club and will say without hesitation that it is the type of course to plan a golf trip around. I will also say that it lived up to the hype that it gets in the golf community.
#1 (402 yard par 4):
This opening hole shouldn’t be too difficult with a tee shot in play. I like the fairway bunkers down the left side to catch a poor tee shot before it runs into the woods. The approach plays uphill to a deep green.
#2 (378 yard par 4):
This one sweeps left around that fairway bunker. The safe play is out to the right with something less than driver to keep it from running through the fairway. The approach plays to what looks like an elevated green, but there just a few false edges around it. I missed it short and had to chip it over a hump on the green and let it trickle down to the flag.
#3 (298 yard par 4):
I think this is one of the most fun holes on the course. The longer hitters might be able to get it close to the green but it plays up a pretty severe hill. The idea is to thread a long or even mid-iron between the bunkers and then try to hit a short iron close. There is a false front on this green and my ball hit a knob which kicked it closer to the pin. This isn’t a green that I would want to chip to.
#4 (415 yard par 4):
The tee shot is a similar angle to the 2nd as it moves left. I hit it down the right third of the fairway and ended 10 yards from the left edge of the rough because of all the slope. I had just a wedge into the green which slopes from left to right. I tried to land it left of the flag which was on a little perch but came up short.
#5 (414 yard par 4):
I think this is a tougher par 4 than it looks on the scorecard or even from the picture. It plays up a gradual rise that was just blind enough to worry me. I could also see that the fairway moved from left to right so the trouble right could come into play with a slice. The good news is that the water shouldn’t come into play from the tee unless it is really bad. The green sloped a bit left to right as well and I favored the left side which left me a long birdie putt.
#6 (511 yard par 5):
This is easier hole than it looks even with a blind tee shot and it should be a good birdie chance. The fairway is wide so anything ending up over the left third of the waste area will be perfect. I had 240 yards to the front of the green and decided to go for it in two. The hole narrows up near the green so I decided to take less club trying to chase it on the front edge. I missed left, but was but was able to chip it on to about 20 feet from the trees. I don’t think that I would try to get it pin high in two very often because over the green didn’t look any good.
#7 (206 yard par 3):
This is a straightforward, but tough par 3. There is some slope left of the green that should funnel the ball towards the green. However, missing left will leave a quick chip that might need to be landed short of the green depending on the pin location.
#8 (472 yard par 4):
The 8th is the hardest hole on the course. The distance is the main challenge, but it is also a bit tricky. In order to have the best approach shot someone is going to have to end up down the left side. Because of the slope in the fairway a tee shot down the center should kick left and be in a great spot. I was worried about hitting a hook and missing left so I decided to hit 3 wood off of the tee. I didn’t catch it solid enough to get down the slope and had 240 yards to center for my second shot. However, I was still able to chase a long iron near the front of the green as I carried the bunker that is maybe 70 yards short. There is also a slope to the right of the green which can be used as a bailout because left is probably a lost ball. The green is deep so that made judging the distance on my approach and chip difficult.
#9 (147 yard par 3):
This is a good, short par 3. I hit and iron and didn’t get all of it and was lucky it didn’t roll back into the left bunker. The pin was short of a ridge and I used that to stop my chip because I didn’t have a good lie. If the pin is on the right side then that pine just right off of the tee could come into play every now and then.
#10 (632 yard par 5):
This was my least favorite hole on the course. The tee shot is semi blind and hole doglegs left. I ended up down the left side of the fairway with just yards to spare before it would have ended up in the hazard which runs down the left side of the hole. The layup is awkward as the hazard cuts into the fairway and almost has to be challenged as the play is left of the pot bunkers. I couldn’t tell what kind of trouble was over the green and had a long putt from the front third of it. I would have liked it a little more if the hazard was a waste bunker.
#11 (395 yard par 4):
The 11th is a mid length par 4 that played much tougher when I was there because it was into the wind. There is some mounding on the right where a driver would end up so the smart play is a 3 wood to keep it short of the junk. I hit it a little right and made a nice par from the waste area. Even if the tee shot finds the fairway, the 2nd shot is going to be semi-blind.
#12 (108 yard par 3):
This is a short par 3 which is a made a little tougher because I couldn’t see the bottom of the flag. However, it is a wide green so I played 20 feet right of the hole it worked out fine. I am a little surprised that there weren’t any tricks to it as really short par 3’s can have greens in crazy shapes, big fall offs, or tiny areas to fire at. It was tame for being so short and with just a wedge someone should have a birdie putt.
#13 (465 yard par 4):
This is the 2nd hardest hole on the course, but I’d argue that it is the hardest. I hit two of my best shots of the day and the best I could do was roll a 10 footer for par. The tee shot is blind and the fairway slopes from left to right. There is a tree down the right which pinches the landing area. The trouble is left but that is where the tee shot needs to start unless someone plays a draw. I had a long iron into a green with a false edge at the front.
#14 (296 yard par 4):
The tee shot is a long iron to someone’s favorite distance and then a wedge into an elevated green. It is a little tougher than it looks because of all of the slope.
#15 (360 yard par 4):
This is a brilliant hole as there are so many options off of the tee. If someone wants to challenge it and maybe leave a chip into the green then a driver is the play. However, I don’t think that is the best play because of the trouble down the right side. I hit a cut 3 wood and ended up with 110 yards into the green, but even a hybrid should be fine off of the tee. The nice thing is that when the ball hits the fairway it shouldn’t run too far into trouble on the left side because of the uphill slope. My approach was semi-blind over a mound short of the green.
#16 (178 yard par 3):
This plays about a club less and the key is not to miss it on the short side. The pin was cut over on the right when I played so I made sure to aim at the center of the green. I hit it on the left side and had a roller coaster putt over a couple of ridges.
#17 (489 yard par 5):
I struggled to pick a line off of the tee here as I don’t like to move it from right to left. Even though it is a short par 5, I think only the longer hitters will be able to get there in two because the green sits on a hill. My 3rd shot from 115 yards was uncomfortable as I couldn’t tell what type of shot would be best.
#18 (410 yard par 4):
This is a good closing hole. It plays a little uphill and is pretty with all of the bunkering. The green is large so it gives someone a chance to hit it even with a long iron.