Tucked away in the woods 15 miles outside of Palestine, the people at Pine Dunes Golf Club have used natural landscape and simple word-of-mouth to turn a once nine-hole course into one of the best in the nation.
In fact, according to Golfweek magazine, the course is the best “Course You Can Play” in Texas for the past two years running. The magazine’s annual series ranks the nation’s top resort courses open to the public.
Also this year, Pine Dunes came away with the No. 21 spot nationwide.
“It makes me feel better because you’re doing something right,” said Chris Edmonson, who’s been the general manager of Pine Dunes since 2002. “You feel good that the hard work is paying and people that are avid golfers are recognizing our courses.”
Jodi Lutz purchased Pine Dunes — then a nine-hole course — in the mid-1990s, making the transition to a full-blown 18-hole course at the start of the new millennium.
Even before opening, the major golf publications were taking notice.
In its annual rankings of the best new courses opening across the country, Golf Digest named Pine Dunes No. 6 overall back in 2001.
The course still holds a prestigious 4.5-out-of-5 stars ranking from the magazine.
“I don’t know of any courses that have five (stars), so four-and-a-half is almost your max,” Edmonson said.
Much of the beauty, and difficulty, of Pine Dunes comes not from course design, but from East Texas itself.
By utilizing “waste areas” with overgrown grasses and natural sand dunes, as well as the rolling East Texas hills, the course’s architects Jay and Carter Morrish designed a championship caliber course without adding much beyond the right grasses.
All totaled, Pine Dunes boasts 89 bunkers, a very large number that both increases the beauty and difficulty of the course.
“A lot of guys that like the beauty of seeing bunkers on golf courses, they like that,” Edmonson said. “It’s neat to look at.”
To add to the natural appearance, Lutz has decreed that minimal signage be placed on the course and the course also only utilizes cart paths around the tee-boxes and greens.
Pine Dunes is more than just a golf course, it also is a resort, with 10 condominiums available for rent for group golf excursions.
Those who “stay-and-play” get preferential tee times set up when they book their stay. All other players are encouraged to call ahead at least two weeks to book tee times for play, Edmonson said.
“This time of year, the sooner the better,” Edmonson said with a laugh.
The most surprising part of the Pine Dunes story may in fact be its location. Courses in metropolitan areas in the state are bound to gather more traffic, meaning Edmonson and his crew have to work that much harder to make each player’s time at Pine Dunes a good one.
Pine Dunes doesn’t advertise, instead using the accolades it gains and the testimonies of the people who’ve played it to bring in players, who’ve come from as far as Kansas and Wisconsin to play the course.
“To be No. 1, especially here in East Texas where we don’t get the traffic like Houston or Dallas, it’s pretty special,” Edmonson said.
The course has even hosted some high-profile players, like National Football League Hall of Famer and former broadcaster Pat Summerall.
“Pine Dunes is a perfect home,” he says on the course’s Web site. “The course is a beautiful, fair test of anyone’s golf game. What a great place to golf and relax. I know I’ll be there as often as possible."
Sports Editor Justin Rains can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 903-729-0281 ext. 242