What’s clear to me now is that if you have a golf course, and your location starts with D-A-U and ends with “Island”, you should probably not let me play.
I previously shared my experience of Isle Dauphine Golf Course in Dauphin Island, Alabama. That course closed since I played it, but has later re-opened. The potential for a comeback story is still there.
A course that’s had a much more dramatic history is the Melrose course on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina. Unlike Isle Dauphine, the story of this course gets worse and worse, and I fear the ending will not be happy.
Certainly, most golfers have heard of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The island and its surrounds are littered with golf courses. One lesser known location in the area is Daufuskie Island.
What makes Daufuskie Island unique is that you must ferry to the island. There are no bridges or roads to the island. This has its pluses and minuses. If you like to be completely secluded from civilization, this is a good place to be. This sounds very similar to Dauphin Island, though at least Dauphin Island is accessible by car. If you like more entertainment options, you should probably look on staying on the main island or its surrounds.
Indeed, many have. While the island’s private club, Haig Point Club, seems to be doing okay as far as I can tell, the public golf courses and resorts have had less than stellar histories. Given the state of the Melrose course (see below) and the plans for Bloody Point, I think we’ve seen the last of public golf on the island.
Originally, the Daufuskie Island Resort had two courses under its belt: Melrose and Bloody Point. Melrose is a Jack Nicklaus Signature Course and Bloody Point was originally a Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf design, later renovated by Davis Love III and Love Golf Design. Unfortunately, The resort itself went bankrupt, though both courses eventually reopened under different and split resorts.
To be clear, you have to make a concentrated effort to get on Daufuskie Island. Haig Point’s ferry service is more convenient, both on its Hilton Head Island dock and Daufuskie Island dock locations, which get you to the island quicker. The one that was used by the resort, on the other hand, took 45 minutes and ran on certain intervals. If you missed the last ferry going out, you were S.O.L.
I was fortunate to play Melrose at a very good time in its history. I first found out about the place through a Travel & Leisure Golf Magazine article. The picture that stood out was the par 5 18th, which ran completely along the Atlantic Ocean, and was the stunning conclusion to a memorable closing hole stretch. While my camera didn’t capture it, you could see the Harbour Town lighthouse from the 18th hole at Melrose.
Overall, I found Melrose to be a pretty nice course. A lot of it was stuff you’ve seen from Nicklaus before. I thought 7-9 were an interesting way to end the front 9. 7 had a split fairway bunker with trees, but clearly the aggressive play to the left gave you the best angle. 8 was an all-carry par 3 across a stream. 9 was gettable par 5, where you had to carry the tee-shot and approach, testing another middle-of-fairway bunker on your tee-shot.
Aside from the ending, I don’t remember a whole lot about the back 9. There was a nice stretch from 12-13; the former with a Hell’s Half-Acre-ish bunker and 13 a par 3 carry over water.
The true delight was coming up to 15 green, where you could see and hear the ocean getting closer. Is it really the ocean, or is it technically Calibogue Sound? Either way, 16-18 at Melrose was one of the most fun finishes I’ve played yet. 16 was a par 3 with an interesting mounding complex which left right pin positions nearly blind. 17 was a par 4 that did finally bring you along the ocean. The water was never really in play until you reached the green, though a horseshoe bunker complex surrounded the green back, right (water-side), and front.
18 was a fantastic finishing hole, and I struggle to think of others I’ve enjoyed more. Another bunker complex in the middle of the fairway, but wide enough on either side to pick a safe or riskier tee option. Depending on the wind, the hole was gettable. The green perched right out into the sea. I remember playing the hole as a 3-shot hole with a right-to-left wind. I needed to aim my shot over the water and let the wind blow it back on the green. Instead, I chickened out, aimed to the middle of the green, only to watch my ball find the greenside bunker. After splashing out and getting wind in my face/hair, I did not get up-and-down for par.
I should pause here to say the rest of the story gets much more bleak. For a wonderful, in-depth analysis, check out this gem of an article from ESPN Outside the Lines. It details the first bankruptcy, and how a bare-bones staff did all they could to maintain the course with next-to-no budget or material. It’s a sad, yet remarkable story.
What’s happened since I played in 2005? Well…
To answer the question… basically, not good things. Most dramatic was to be the loss of the 18th green that perched out to the ocean. The picture above shows what it used to look like. That whole sea wall is gone. With minimal maintenance, there wasn’t enough to hold off the erosion and destruction of the sea-wall. From Google Earth, it appears the breach in the green happened around 2012, looking at aerials from 2011 and 2012.
Compare my above photo from 2005 to this from October 2016. It’s sad.
While a new green was created, it paled in comparison to the original, and the hole suffered from it. This fun approach shot is gone, presumably forever.
Given another bankruptcy, and the damage one can clearly see on Google Maps thanks to Hurricane Matthew, it’s unlikely this course will recover. 17 and 18 pretty much look destroyed in the most recent aerial. It would take a tremendous effort to re-establish those holes.
I haven’t been to the area since, so I can’t speak for the current status. But given what I’ve detailed above, things don’t look good. Let’s remember the better times at Melrose with pictures I took during my round.