In its “Golf Town USA” series, GolfGuide.com is highlighting the cities and towns across the U.S. in which golf is a way of life. We’ll feature must-play daily fee and resort courses, premier private clubs and other indelible connections to the golf industry.
Golf Town USA: Hilton Head Island, S.C.
As the saying goes on Hilton Head Island, even the mail carrier has a single digit handicap. Outside of Pinehurst, N.C. and St. Andrews, Scotland, there are few places on earth that exude golf like this semitropical atoll on South Carolina’s southern tip.
With 24 courses gracing the island’s 70 square-miles, “Golf Island” boasts one of the highest concentrations of 18-hole equivalent tracks in the country. Few golf destinations can satiate a 36-hole-a-day diet like Hilton Head Island, as the next round of golf is never more than a couple minutes away.
Golfers crossing the bridge from Bluffton over Mackay Creek are greeted with a sampling of courses from the likes of Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Rees Jones, Davis Love III, Bob Cupp and Arthur Hills, to name a few.
Must Play: Harbour Town Golf Links at The Sea Pines Resort is home of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage, a fan and player favorite. This Dye/Nicklaus collaboration epitomizes Lowcountry course design replete with live oak-lined corridors, diminutive greens and Dye’s trademark bulkheads lining languid lagoons.
Walking off the 16th green and toward the tee box on the par-3 17th, the Calibogue Sound comes into view with shrimp and sailboats passing by. Harbour Town concludes with one of America’s most famous finishing holes, the par-4 18th playing into the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse.
Solid Second: The Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort is widely considered one of the most scenic and challenging courses in the state. Having opened in 1967 just two years before Harbour Town, the two courses’ histories are forever linked by two World Golf Hall of Fame architects.
Jones’ former protégé Roger Rulewich updated the course in 2002, elevating the fairway on the signature par-5 10th hole for even better views of the Atlantic Ocean. Credited with designing the majority of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Rulewich spent considerable time reworking every tee box and green.
Hidden Gem: While it’s technically in Bluffton just off the island, Old South Golf Links is the area’s most underrated layout. Designed by local golf course architect Clyde Johnston, Old South is the only area public course playing along the Intracoastal Waterway.
The front and back nine views, with MacKay Creek and the Calibogue Sound in the distance, are among the best in the region and are a great way to welcome your golf group to the Lowcountry. The variety of indigenous terrain is also surreal – oak forest, pastures and tidal marshes are all on display, and in play.
Preferred Private: It’s a well-established pattern: people start with a week-long visit to Hilton Head Island, which the following year turns into a month. The next thing they know, they’re relocating from points north to enjoy an islander way of life year-round. And when they do, Sea Pines Country Club is often the private golf venue of choice.
The only private club located inside the gates of the Sea Pines community – a 5,000-acre masterplan including the resort, Beach Club, shops, dining and more – “SPCC’s” Johnston-designed layout is a pure Lowcountry offering replete with live oaks draped in Spanish moss, languid lagoons and native grasses.
While not as widely known as the 18th hole on Harbor Town, the finishing hole at SPCC, set along one of the island’s largest tidal marshes, is an absolute stunner. Post round, members enjoy their favorite beverages and a variety of eats at the Blue Heron Pub and Grille or relax by the club’s expansive resort-style pool.
Dine out: Hilton Head Island is a foodie’s paradise, with more than 250 restaurants dotting “The Rock,” as locals refer to it. For a true taste of Lowcountry waterfront dining, check out Skull Creek Boathouse or Skull Creek Dockside.
Hit the Main Street area for Italian at Frankie Bones or a dry aged steak from WiseGuys. And whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, do not miss the chance to visit Java Burrito for the region’s best “Fresh Mex” and espresso.
411: For more info on golf courses, resorts and packages on the island and surrounding Bluffton, Beaufort and Fripp Island, visit www.hiltonheadgolfisland.com. Golfers can fly into Hilton Head Island Airport (HHH) on the north end of the island or Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV), with direct flights from numerous East Coast, Midwest and Texas airports.