When Atlantic Dunes was unveiled at Hilton Head's Sea Pines Resort in November 2016, it marked the completion of the resort's updates to its three courses. It also marked a new chapter for five-time RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing champion Davis Love III as a course designer.
Love, who previously designed some 20 courses including three in South Carolina, now was joining a Sea Pines lineup dominated by legendary architect Pete Dye, creator of both Harbour Town Golf Links and Heron Point by Pete Dye. Heady company for a relative newcomer to the course-building business - but nothing Love and his team couldn't handle.
That fact was confirmed in December 2017 when Atlantic Dunes (formally known as the Ocean Course) was selected as National Golf Course of the Year for 2017 by the National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA).
Atlantic Dunes, which has hosted a pre-Heritage pro-am since April 2017, was chosen after being named South Carolina's Golf Course of the Year by the state's course owners in August 2017. That automatically nominated it for national honors, with the winner chosen based on "exceptional course quality, exceptional quality of management, outstanding contribution to the community and significant contribution to the game," according to the NGCOA.
"We are thrilled to recognize Atlantic Dunes, and (Sea Pines vice president of Sports & Operations) Cary Corbitt and his team (who) have always been ‘all-in' with regard to the quality of their courses, as well as what they do for golf and the (South Carolina) Lowcountry," said NGCOA chief executive Jay Karen.
Corbitt in turn congratulated Love and his Davis Love Golf team, who "did an incredible job creating the new course (which) our members and guests have been raving about since it opened."
Even more impressive, Atlantic Dunes did so after that opening was delayed by damage from Hurricane Matthew in the fall of 2016. Leading the project for Love and his brother, Mark, was designer Scot Sherman, a Furman University graduate and resident of Greenville, SC.
"The award really highlights the quality of Sea Pines and what they wanted," Sherman said. "They gave us a free hand to do what needed to be done to be excellent, and they made our job easy. You look at their other golf facilities, and they always want to do it right."
"I was especially thrilled for Corbitt, who's a 20-year member of the owners association. For us, it's always nice to be recognized, but for him, it's being recognized by your peers."
Sherman, who got his design start under Pete Dye (after, he said, seeing and falling in love with Harbour Town), undertook to update course last updated in 1995 by former PGA Tour player Mark McCumber. That redo resulted in a rather flat design, one Sherman sought to "make more memorable" by removing some 600 trees, moving 55,000 cubic feet of dirt and adding 50,000 native plants to the site's 42 acres, which is twice the footprint of Harbour Town.
"We replaced everything: grass, irrigation, drainage ... and moved three acres of water," Sherman said. Total cost of the project was nearly $11 million.
The result is a "pronounced seaside ambience and Lowcountry feel," the NGCOA award says. The course's signature four-hole finish begins with the par-3 15th hole, one of only two beachfront golf holes on Hilton Head, and concludes with two long, tight and water-lined holes, the par-5 17th (with its peninsula green) and the par-4 18th.
The course, Sherman said, is a triumph of well-framed corridors that make it look and feel narrower for players than it actually is - in fact, Atlantic Dunes offers wider fairways than either Harbour Town or Heron Point. "It can intimidate you visually; it looks harder than it is," Sherman says.
"The owners wanted something different (from Harbour Town and Heron Point), and it needed to be resort-friendly, a course where you can have fun playing it," he added. "It had to be playable for the juniors but also a challenge for really good players. We think we did that, and we're thrilled that (Sea Pines' owners) think we exceeded their expectations."
With its designation as 2017's best course in America, Atlantic Dunes now has the stature to round out Sea Pines' illustrious trio of courses. For information on all three, visit their website or call 866.561.8802.