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Cotton Dike golf course at Dataw Island blends bunkers and coastal Carolina beauty

Lisa AllenBy Lisa Allen,
Cotton Dike golf course at Dataw Island - hole 9
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No. 9 on the Cotton Dike course at Dataw Island is a bear of a hole. From the mid to back tees, one must put their ball on the fairway from a right angle. (Lisa Allen/WorldGolf.com)

SAINT HELENA ISLAND, S.C. - Borrowing from the song, Cotton Dike golf course at Dataw Island starts out nice and easy and finishes kinda rough.

The first hole on the Tom Fazio-designed course is a short par 4 - a wood off the tee, a short iron to the green. A piece of cake that lasts no longer than 310 yards from the back tees. Even the second hole is a nice little par 3 of 166 yards without much trouble.

But the golf course builds, ending in a crescendo at the par-5 18th hole that throws at you moguls, mounds and swales on a sporadic fairway that tips in its entirety toward a length-long marsh on the left. A progression of bunkers march along the right. At the end of the dogleg left awaits a tiny (by comparison to its sisters) green with ring of bunkers around it. A beer afterward will never taste so good.

Cotton Dike: A course in cotton

Dataw Island's Cotton Dike course was created during the plantation days on marshland drained by a series of dikes built a century ago to generate more land for cotton fields. Alcoa, the aluminum-producing giant, once owned the island and decided to develop it in the 1980s into a 890-acre gated island community. The Cotton Dike course opened in 1985.

In between the first holes and the last are early-Fazio bunkers, most with lipstick, and some violently mounded fairways, a few with their spines raised that bounce shots left or right. The bermuda rough is thick, long and sticky. The tifdwarf greens are large, fast and accurate - but with only minute entrances for bump and runners.

"There are a lot of challenging shots that make you place your ball," General Manager Ted Bartlett says. On a couple of doglegs, the turn is gradual, so shot placement is key to getting around them in the fewest shots.

Two par 3s are noteworthy. The fifth hole puts tee boxes on one side of marsh and the green on the other, which has marsh on three sides and sand on the fourth, just for good measure. No. 16 promises something similar, but with a pond instead of a marsh.

Hypnotic views for golfers at Dataw Island

Players can expect some pleasant diversions during the round, primarily stunning view of marshes and waterways, as well as little identification cards at various trees and shrubs showing their common and Latin names. Birdhouses placed throughout the golf course are busy places, and deer tracks traverse nearly every dew-covered fairway.

Most memorable, though, are holes 8, 9, 17 and 18, which snuggle up to the marsh their entire lengths. The coup-de-grace of the course, they are beautiful holes and well worth the price of admission. You can tell Fazio enjoyed designing these; he added to the physical attributes severely sloped greens and fairways and lots of bunkers.

Dataw Island member George Beck quickly listed those four holes when asked about his favorites. "They're gorgeous," he effused. Overall, he said the course is "very fair and not overlong, but fun for medium to short hitters."

Mary Gray Kelleher is a high-handicap player who likes the ambiance of the Cotton Dike course at Dataw Island, and the views. "No. 9 is very pretty," Kelleher said. "The course is user friendly and very fair."

Renovation on the horizon for Cotton Dike

Next spring, Dataw Island's Cotton Dike course is getting a makeover, according to Dave Britton, director of golf. The hydraulic drainage system put in when the course was built is, as Britton notes, "1970s technology." That will be replaced and, for the first time, the bunkers will get drainage systems and new sand. Cart paths will be upgraded from aging asphalt to smooth concrete.

Greens will change from tifdwarf to miniverde, which will eliminate the need to overseed, Britton explained. Fairways will convert from run-of-the-mill bermuda to celebration bermuda, which does well in shade and heat. Tee boxes will be seeded with zoysia, another blend that does well in the shade, a must for the tree-lined course.

Even the practice facilities will be made over. Britton said they plan to tear up the practice pitching greens and move them to the other end of the range, as well as expanding the short game practice facility.

Dataw Island's Cotton Dike golf course: The verdict

The Cotton Dike course on Dataw Island has beautiful attributes and certainly showcases Fazio's style, but it's Fazio-lite. He doesn't impose his dramatic flair here, but lets the views take center stage. It's a nuanced course that is well-suited as a private facility. It would take an awful lot of rounds to master - and then tire of - the course.

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Dataw Island - Cotton Dike G.C. - tee 8Cotton Dike golf course - hole 18

Lisa Allen is a golf, travel and business writer based in Beaufort, S.C. She has edited newspapers, magazines and books in Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @LAllenSC.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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