Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Tue December 08 2015

Another Day, Another Resort? Not at Wild Dunes

Hotel & Resort | Lisa Allen | December 08, 2015

Another Day, Another Resort? Not at Wild Dunes

Photos by Lisa Allen

Not to sound thoroughly spoiled (which I am), but I’ve stayed at a lot of resorts as a travel and golf writer. Over time, it becomes a challenge to find a new angle to make a place stand out for the reader, and well, honestly, for me.

That is not the case at Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms, located just minutes from downtown Charleston, S.C.

I really liked that Wild Dunes purposely clustered houses and condos together to create the “heart” of the community. (Heart of Palm. Get it?) It’s resort-y, but not isolated. Sure, you can stay to yourself if that’s your thing, but if you’re a social animal, Wild Dunes’ Village Plaza concept is genius.

My most recent trip was arranged so a gaggle of writers could test drive (and putt) $4 million in renovations to the resort’s Links course. Wild Dunes enlisted the help of the Fazio Design group for the work. It was an apt choice, since the 36-year-old course was one of Tom Fazio’s first designs.

For the refresh, the design team beefed up the greens from about 60,000 square feet to more than 100,000 and coated them in lush Champion Bermuda. They added 300 yards to the back tees, pushing the par 70 course to nearly 6,400 yards and opened up great views of the Atlantic Ocean on the final four holes.

To initiate the weekend, we gathered after dark on a fall Friday night on the deck of the also-under-renovation Links clubhouse. We stuffed ourselves with trademark Charleston fare of shrimp and sausage pilau, boiled peanuts and a small mountain of fresh crab legs. We chased our meal with an assortment of local Firefly vodkas and white lightning. (A few regretted that latter choice the next morning.)

Below us, I could see what I assumed to be the new putting green glowing green and pink for some glow-ball putting, but I couldn’t figure out what was generating the bright yellow flame on the newly cemented cart path.

“That is our ironwork artist working on our new clubhouse logo,” said one of the many resort and marketing reps in attendance. “He hosts iron-working classes twice a week for our resort guests.”

Artist James Irving of Pirate’s Forge had set up his portable propane-fueled forge for our amusement and was pulling apart the heat-softened petals of an iron rose.

When it cooled, he returned it to the forge and pulled out a pulsing red-hot golf iron that he began hammering into shape. It would serve as a palmetto tree frond for the club’s three-dimensional logo.

“I’ll ask young kids to help, too," Irving said between blows of the hammer. “We put a leather apron on them that goes to the floor and a big glove to protect their hand. They love it!"  (Their parents are a little less enamored and a lot more fretful, but that’s beside the point.)

A resort with its own blacksmith? Score one for Wild Dunes for offering something different for their guests.

We played a round Saturday on the Links course where we could see the renovation was money well spent. The greens are challenging, but fair and smooth as glass. They complement the course’s natural layout and varied challenges. Not only are there beautiful views of marsh and ocean, but you’ll enjoy the surprisingly rolling terrain for a seaside course — a testament to the expertise of Fazio Design.

Saturday evening we gathered in one of the resort’s “penthouses.” While the property couldn’t build higher than five stories, they made the most of it with opulent decor.

The resort’s catering crew appeared again, this time laying out a Romanesque dinner feast featuring a roasted suckling pig and two whole grouper. Great food does make for great theater.

After dinner, we strolled out on the balcony to watch Lewis Nelson from Charleston’s Cigar Row roll bourbon-soaked cigars for us.

Cigar Row isn’t a part of the resort, so score two for the resort staff for thinking to enlist local resources to create memorable moments.

But they saved the best for last.

Sunday morning, we boarded the Osprey at Isle of Palms Marina for yet another beautiful brunch spread of chicken and waffles, along with shrimp and grits. Keeping the theme local, the bloody mary bar was stocked with three brands each of Charleston-made vodka and mix.

After a leisurely cruise into the marsh, things got interesting.

The crew beached the front of the Osprey on a sandbar and brought out two shotguns so any interested guests could try some skeet shooting. Straddling the anchor chain is a clay-throwing station bolted onto the bow. This is not your typical Sunday cruiser.

I noted immediately that the boat crew takes this part of the cruise very seriously. Certified firearms instructor-slash-Capt. Donnie Buhrmaster never leaves the shooter’s side. He loads and unloads the firearm for each person and provides one-on-one lessons before telling them how to flip off the safety. Only then can they take up to six shots off the port side at sailing clays. 

With Donnie’s help, nearly everyone hit at least one clay so they could brag later around the water cooler.

Without a doubt, it was the part of the trip people will tell their friends about.

I give Wild Dunes another point for creating a vacation beyond the typical. 

Then on the cruise back, two dolphins surfaced just feet from the bow to cap off the morning. As a marketer said, “Yup, we cued the dolphins.” Awesome.

So, thanks to the creativity of Wild Dunes’ staff, I have stories to tell and a trip to remember.

Isn’t that what vacation is all about?

Lodging at Wild Dunes

The resort offers accommodations for any scenario. You can opt for the Boardwalk Inn for nice hotel stay, condos for a couple people, or four-bedroom, four-bathroom row houses for golf foursomes or family reunions. There are even larger homes fronting the Atlantic.

I stayed in a house designed for family or friends travel. The main floor has the master bedroom suite, but also serves as the gathering spot with a large kitchen, a big dining table for festive meals, a cozy living room and a small deck overlooking the boardwalk to the beach.

The next floor up has two bedrooms, each with a full bathroom, and the top floor has yet another bed and bath combo.

It is just a short walk to Hudson’s Market to collect appetizer ingredients, a bottle of wine or a cigar. It’s just as easy to wander over to the Lettered Olive or the Sea Island Grill in the Boardwalk Inn for great dining. You aren’t limited to those choices; the resort has a half-dozen restaurants and the fabulous catering staff can follow you around like it did us and lay out meal after amazing meal for you, from intimate dinner parties to gala events.

Call their trip planners and challenge their creativity. They’ll come up with a trip you won’t forget.

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