Standing in the 18th fairway at Harbour Town is a pretty cool deal. You’ve watched the scene for many years on television as players come down the stretch for the PGA TOUR’s RBC Heritage, so to stand there with a club in your hand and have that iconic lighthouse staring at you from behind the green, it seems so familiar.
(This article appeared in the online version of Golf Georgia, Jan-Feb. 2019 edition.)
The best part is that anyone can stand in that same spot – although the fairway would probably be a little more to your liking – because Harbour Town is a public facility, a resort that is open to anyone. And even if you yanked a second shot on that iconic hole into the Calibogue Sound, just being able to hit that shot is high on any golfer’s bucket list.
And Harbour Town can be an attractive centerpiece for a family vacation or buddy trip to Hilton Head Island, S.C. Whether you’ve got a couple of days or an entire week, there’s enough golf, food and fun to fill your planner.
Hilton Head is easy to reach. It’s about 45 minutes away from Savannah and Delta can drop you off at the airport in less than an hour. It’s about a five-hour drive from Atlanta and worth the effort once you arrive at one of golf’s truly great destinations.
Most of the golf courses on Hilton Head carry great pedigrees, were built by top-name designers and can be enjoyed on a near year-round basis. Here is a look at a handful of the top Hilton Head destinations.
Harbor Town Golf Links is capable of being enjoyed by golfers of all skill level. Professionals embrace the course each year like an old friend and enjoy its low-key, laid-back approach – especially since the tournament falls the week after the pressure-packed Masters. Average Joes and Janes will find the Pete Dye layout playable, regardless of their skill level.
There are actually 54 holes available to the Sea Pines Resort – Harbor Town, Heron Point and Atlantic Dunes (formerly known as the Ocean Course). The Plantation Golf Club learning center is a great place to take a lesson or attend a golf school, particularly if you’re fortunate enough to get time with director of instruction Tim Cooke.
Harbour Town is where Pete Dye became an architect and laid the foundation for his life’s work. The course is very playable and doesn’t fit today’s blueprint of bomb-and-gouge. The trees that line the fairways ensure that players work their way around the course or risk a big number. This is where Pete Dye made railroad ties a staple in course construction, which is notably on display throughout the round.
Don’t miss a chance to visit the new Harbour Town clubhouse, which has an expansive pro shot and luxurious locker room – complete with jars of jelly beans and cookies – and the Pete Dye Room, which features artifacts, memorabilia and video presentations that honor the legendary designer.
Palmetto Dunes has been setting high standards for four decades. There are three courses, one each by Robert Trent Jones, Tom Fazio and Arthur Hills.
The Jones course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, has wide fairways, big greens and plenty of sand. This track is fun to play and features a par-5 10th hole that will having you putting out with the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop, one of two ocean-front holes on the island. The Jones course should be on your short list of courses when you come to Hilton Head.
Palmetto Dunes is also home of the SwingFit club-fitting service. You can make an appointment to see Chris Wycoff to go through a process to determine the ideal club and shaft combination. Wycoff has more than 20,000 combinations and will hook up the customer with the proper mix after going through a computer-driven process.
The Fazio course is considered the most demanding course on the island and the Hills course is more rolling, with swales and mounds and water hazards.
Oyster Reef is part of The Heritage Collection that includes Shipyard’s three courses (Clipper, Brigatine
and Galleon) and Port Royal’s three courses (Robbers Row, Planter’s Row and Barony). Oyster Reef has a vibe that makes you feel at home, from the golf staff to the restaurant staff to the crew that greets you at the front door.
The Rees Jones design is fun to get around and the par-three sixth hole is a lovely hole set against the background of the sound. Jones finished a redo in 2018, a project that included reworking the greens and cutting the number of bunkers by more than half. What remains is more playable and more enjoyable.
Golden Bear Golf Club at Indigo Run roams through the oaks and pines to create a memorable round. The course was designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 1993. The course has a parkland feel and has a great variety of different holes.
Where to stay
If you have a choice, book yourself into the Westin Hotel at Hilton Head. The ocean-front property features three pools and four restaurants. Each room features a private balcony, many of them on facing the Atlantic. It makes for a peaceful, quiet place to relax after a long day on the golf course. Guests at the Westin also have to the Port Royal Golf and Racquet Club. Port Royal has two golf courses, the Barony, designed by George Cobb and one of the first courses on the island, and Robber’s Row, which was originally designed by Cobb and Willard Byrd, and redesigned by Dye in 1994.
For information on planning your golf trip visit HiltonHeadIsland.org.