Hilton Head Island: Perfect for Pirates, Even Better for Golfers


The old joke goes, the South Carolina Lowcountry has attracted two types of people over the past 300 years: pirates and golfers. This collection of barrier islands and low-lying coastal plains stretching from Myrtle Beach down to Daufuskie Island is one of the country’s most unmistakable landscapes. Its covert coves and shallow waters were perfect for privateers like Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet who preferred to remain hidden when they weren’t raiding coastal communities.

As for golfers, who are more relevant to this missive, the Lowcountry’s scenic atolls attracted dozens of big-name developers over the decades. None were bigger than Charles Fraser, whose company forged The Sea Pines Resort and community from the live oaks and loblolly pines of the island’s south end. With development came golf courses, and with the golf courses came famed architects like Pete Dye, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Rees Jones, Arthur Hills and George Fazio.

George Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes

And while Myrtle Beach may lay claim to inventing the golf package, Hilton Head Island prides itself on offering a wide variety of golf sojourns, ranging from bucket list and buddy trips to family vacations and couples’ getaways. Early summer is the optimal time for planning a fall excursion to “Golf Island,” and here are a few itineraries to get the ball rolling toward the hole.

On-Island Buddies Trip

Focusing specifically on Hilton Head Island, the “On-Island Buddies Trip” features golf at famed Harbour Town Golf Links, Heron Point by Pete Dye and Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III at The Sea Pines Resort. It also includes the redoubtable Robert Trent Jones and George Fazio courses at Palmetto Dunes, and Rees Jones’ Heritage Golf Collection masterpiece, Oyster Reef. For golf course architecture aficionados, the On-Island Buddies Trip offers an unforgettable experience.

Heron Point by Pete Dye, Sea Pines Resort (Rob Tipton)

On-Island lodging is highlighted by Sea Pines and Palmetto Dunes rental homes and villas, fully appointed with all the amenities of home, including flat-screen TVs, washers and dryers, wireless internet and fully-equipped kitchens. Dining and nightlife options abound, with more than 250 bars and restaurants. The “BarMuda Triangle” just outside the Sea Pines gates is home to five bars, while Main Street Village is a bit lower-key, with shops and restaurants.

Off-Island Buddies Trip

Centered on the charming riverfront town of Bluffton, the Off-Island Buddies Trip starts at Old South Golf Links, a long-time local favorite. Designed by Hilton Head-based architect Clyde Johnston, Old South plays along the Intracoastal Waterway with front and back nine views that are among the best in the region. Holes are hemmed by oak forests and pastures and marked with several tidal marshes.

Old South Golf Links

Next up in the Off-Island course lineup is neighboring Hilton Head National, designed by Gary Player and Bobby Weed. “National,” as the locals refer to it, serves up two decidedly different nines: Weed’s nine presents larger greens with more severe undulations, while Player’s nine offers smaller, flatter putting surfaces. Both facilities offer golf packages with the Hilton Garden Inn, located less than a mile from either venue. This pair makes for the perfect 36-hole combo with minimal time spent in transit.

Old Town Bluffton, situated on the shores of the May River, is the place to grab a warm meal, a cold drink and relax with friends. Over the past decade, it has emerged as one of the South’s most desirable small towns. Old Town has a little bit of everything, from rustic seafood joints and fine dining to coffee shops and galleries.

Golf Couples Getaway

With its array of award-winning restaurants, boutique accommodations and women-friendly courses, HHGI is the perfect getaway for couples who love the game. So, grab your favorite playing partner, clubs and sunscreen, and enjoy this getaway for two.

For lodging, rest and revitalize at the Inn and Club at Harbour Town (ranked as one of the top 10 hotels in the country by U.S. News World Report) or at the charming Old Town Bluffton Inn, a 14-room boutique property in the heart of the action.

Inn & Club at Harbour Town

The recommended golf course docket presents a compelling mix of courses – including Harbour Town and Oyster Reef – with multiple tees rated for women. Dining highlights include the aforementioned Main Street Village, home to award-winning restaurants and several specialty shops.

Family Golf Vacation

A record number of juniors took up the game in 2020 and 2021, and the uptick in youth participation continues to surge in 2022. Golf Island is primed for an extraordinary family trip, with various camps, activities and other programming offered throughout the year for golfers of all ages and skill levels.

Toptracer Range at Palmetto Dunes

Options range from the FUNdamentals Camp at The Sea Pines Resort and late afternoon “family play” nine-hole rates, including a cart throughout the summer at Port Royal Golf and Racquet Club to the new Toptracer Range at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort. Summer is peak family vacation time, so be sure to check online or call well in advance about availability.

Getting Here

Hilton Head Island Airport (HHH) on the island’s north end offers non-stop and one-stop service from multiple hub cities and connections via American Airlines, Delta and United. American offers daily non-stop flights from Charlotte and seasonal service from Dallas / Ft. Worth, Philadelphia and Washington National (DCA).

Delta has daily flights to Atlanta and United provides daily non-stop service to Newark (EWR) and Washington Dulles (IAD). Golfers can also utilize Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV), with direct flights from numerous East Coast, Midwest and Texas airports on several major and discount airlines.

For those who prefer to hit the open road, major metro areas in the Carolinas, Georgia and north Florida are under a half-day’s drive, while several Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern cities are seven to nine hours away.

Planning Your Trip

There are dozens of amazing golf destinations across the U.S., but only a select few can accommodate a wide variety of golf trip types. One of America’s original golf hotbeds, Hilton Head Island can wear several golf hats, ranging from a week-long, 36-hole-a-day golf gorge to a quick weekend couples golf getaway.

Golf resorts and standalone courses on and off the island came together over a decade ago to create “Hilton Head Golf Island (HHGI),” which comprises 26 courses across Beaufort, Bluffton and Jasper counties. The idea was simple, yet powerful: create a centralized marketing entity to help golfers plan, book and execute the ultimate golf vacation.

In addition to its website, www.hiltonheadgolfisland.com, HHGI also publishes an annual “Golf Vacation Planner” that can either be downloaded from the site or mailed directly to a residence or P.O. Box. The 2022 edition offers have-clubs-will-travel golfers a series of sample itineraries to help with trip planning and overall inspiration.

The 2022 Vacation Planner covers a variety of golf trip types, including:

Shane Sharp

Shane Sharp is a longtime golf writer based in Greenville, S.C. In addition to running his content marketing business, Southbound 4, he's a regular contributor to GOLF Magazine, Golf Inc., Club Management and other golf magazines and websites.

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