This week, the PGA TOUR’s RBC Heritage returns to its traditional place on the schedule the week after the Masters. As per usual, it will be contested at storied Harbour Town Golf Links at The Sea Pines Resort, the Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus masterpiece that’s synonymous with golf on Hilton Head Island.
For going on 53 years, “Golf Island” has been a refuge for players to decompress from the pressure of the season’s first major championship. Its Spanish moss-draped live oaks, tropical palmettos and laidback vibe smooth the soul and put smiles on the faces of even the most stoic players.
The 2021 RBC Heritage will allow fans – about 20% capacity according to longtime tournament director Steve Wilmot. But you can also count on hundreds of spectators taking in the event from their backyards abutting Harbour Town’s fairways, and their boats out on the Calibogue Sound.
And with South Carolina and Beaufort County open for business and restaurants mostly operating at full capacity, hundreds more golf-loving folks will make their way onto the island just to be a part of the festivities.
We asked a fistful of longtime Hilton Head Island residents and golf insiders for recommendations, ranging from their favorite courses and clubs to local watering holes and hidden gem restaurants. Here’s what we found out.
Best Golf Course for Avoiding the Crowds: Old South Golf Links is one of the region’s best kept golf secrets. Designed by local golf course architect Clyde Johnston, it’s 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 as good as it gets. The variety of indigenous terrain is also captivating – oak forest, pastures and tidal marshes are all on display, and in play. The finishing stretch, holes 16 through 18, is vintage Lowcountry with target fairways and greens requiring carries over marshland.
Best Golf Resort to Visit After the RBC Heritage: Fripp Island Golf and Beach Resort is a wink-wink, nudge-nudge golf destination that’s well known among Palmetto State residents. “We’re heading to Fripp” is a common refrain around fall, spring and summer break in the Carolinas.
This diminutive atoll is home to Ocean Point, designed by the redoubtable George Cobb, and Ocean Creek, Davis Love III’s first signature design. Both feature jaw-dropping views of the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway.
Both tracks are typically in sublime condition, and because Fripp is a private island limited to residents and renters, the pace of play is usually brisk. Purists love that walking isn’t just allowed, it encouraged. The holes on both courses are ideally routed for hoofers, and both clubhouses offer pushcarts.
On the way to Fripp Island, but sure to fit in a round at The Legends on Parris Island at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.
Best Resort That’s a Lot Like The Sea Pines Resort: Obviously, Harbour Town Golf Links is off limits this week, but Sea Pines’ other two outstanding layouts, Heron Point by Pete Dye and Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III are available for play.
But for golfers seeking triumvirate of tracks to sample throughout the week, Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort sits just a smooth fairway metal to the north along Highway 278 Business. Its Robert Trent Jones Course is widely considered the island’s best supporting actor. The par-5 10th is one of only two oceanfront holes on the island.
The George Fazio Course is Hilton Head Island’s only par-70, and with a slope of 144 from the 6,873-yard back tees, it’s considered by many to be the most difficult resort course on the island. With just two par 5s and a series of meaty par 4s, proper tee selection is paramount.
Rounding out the troika is the Arthur Hills Course, which fills in nicely as the most aesthetically pleasing of the three venues. Lagoons dot the layout, giving it an unmistakable Lowcountry feel. The Hilton Head Rear Range Lighthouse, featured on the National Register of Historic Places, overlooks the 15th green.
Best Private Club for Those Who Fall in Love: Fall in love with the island, that is. And that private club would be Sea Pines Country Club, located within the Sea Pines gates and owned by a collection of like-minded members.
Clyde Johnston updated the club’s classic Arnold Palmer-designed course in 2001. Slight shorter than its resort siblings, the languid, Lowcountry layout makes its way gracefully around the property before culminating with one of the island’s most scenic finishing holes playing along an expansive tidal marsh.
Golf, however, must compete for members’ attention and time with tennis, pickleball, a new bocce setup along the marsh, as well as a resort pool and sundeck on par with any upscale resort. The club’s practice facilities will be upgraded and expanded later this year, and long-term plans call for even more course enhancements.
Best Place to get Java and Burritos: There’s only once place, actually, and that’s the aptly named Java Burrito. And this breakfast, lunch and dinner hotspot just a pitching wedge from the Sea Pines gates also serves up a mean margarita, not to mention wine on tap and craft beers in the can. What’s better than that?
Best Dive Bar Amid a Sea of Dive Bars: As you might expect, a semi-tropical paradise like Hilton Head has plenty of local watering holes. Cool Cats Lounge, Hinchey’s Chicago Bar and Grill and Callahan’s Sports Bar get the nod from many a tried-and-true islander. The British Open Pub, with locations on the island and in Bluffton, puts a classy U.K. spin on the traditional U.S. version of a hole-in-the-wall.
Best Spots for True Lowcountry Seafood: There’s no shortage of fine dining on the island these days. Culinary tourism is actually a thing, here. The Lowcountry Backyard, owned by Dave and Raina Peck, is quite literally a backyard full of old island charm. Its shrimp and grits are famous, and the Lowcountry boil, family style, is more than enough for two.
Takeout is still the preferred dinner option for many, and for that, it’s hard to top Sea Shack. The line forms about 30 minutes before this locally famous joint opens at 5 p.m. Patrons line-up for fried, blackened and grilled fish – usually consumed at picnic tables or back at the hotel or vacation rental.
For more information on Hilton Head Island golf courses, resorts and packages, visit www.hiltonheadgolfisland.com.