PHOTO: Robert Trent Jones Course, Hole 10, Palmetto Dunes, Hilton Head Island. (photo courtesy of the Hilton Head Island Visitor and Convention Bureau)
If you’re planning a golf getaway to South Carolina, you likely already know that Hilton Head Island’s golf scene has vaulted the destination to epic status among those who love to swing away for the day.
In 2016, Golf Magazine listed Hilton Head among the top five golf havens for retirees. Golf Digest recently ranked it in seven of the eight top categories for golf destinations in its “Top 10 Best Courses” listing, while the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO) recognized it as the 2017 Sustainable Golf Destination of the Year.
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Golf enthusiasts can tee off on more than 33 world-class Hilton Head golf courses in the Lowcountry area—including Bluffton and Daufuskie Island—and enjoy such PGA Tour Events as the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links that’s slated for April 10-16, 2017.
Many of these challenging courses have been sculpted by notable architects and playing greats like Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and Pete Dye. Those seeking to sharpen skills will also find top-flight golf schools with professional instructors providing helpful tips coupled with state-of-the-art resources.
Here’s a look at 10 of Hilton Head Island’s top public courses:
1) Harbour Town Golf Links
It’s the legendary course that literally put Hilton Head Island on the map. More than 40 years later, Harbour Town Golf Links remains one of the most revered courses in the world.
Home to the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing—South Carolina’s only PGA TOUR event—this distinguished Pete Dye course places a premium on finesse, imagination and shot-making above strength. Adding to a collection of renowned par threes is the par four 18th hole with its famous view of the Calibogue Sound and iconic candy-striped lighthouse.
2) Heron Point by Pete Dye
Another highly acclaimed Dye course, Heron Point emerged in 2007 from a multimillion-dollar reconstruction project that transformed Sea Pines Resort’s original Sea Marsh Golf Course. Dye and his associates dramatically reshaped the fairways of the original course: Mounds and hillocks now constantly keep players off-balance through dramatic angles and shifting elevations.
At 7,035 yards from the back tees, Heron Point can play considerably shorter if needed, with seven sets of tees on each hole (including tees for juniors). Golfers are challenged by risk-reward long and short holes, fairways that move toward and away from hazards, and Dye's mounds and swales that frame target areas. It all adds up to the 18-holer being considered one of the Lowcountry’s most exciting and exhilarating golf experiences.
3) Atlantic Dunes
Hilton Head Island’s newest course, the 7,010-yard Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III is a complete reconstruction and recreation of the historic Ocean Course.
Tens of thousands of indigenous plants have been installed in these areas to complete the seaside feel. The course features a playing surface that blends cutting-edge grasses to match the superior strains at Sea Pines Resort’s Harbour Town Golf Links and Heron Point.
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4) Robert Trent Jones Course
Though Hilton Head Island is surrounded by water, few courses feature waterfront views. Robert Trent Jones Course’s par-5 10th hole is a coveted exception. This Palmetto Dunes favorite features wide fairways, expansive greens and subtle elevation changes—all garnished with lakes and bunkers.
The most wide open of the three Palmetto Dunes courses, Jones changes with breezes rolling in from the Atlantic to make every hole play differently whenever the wind changes.
5) George Fazio Course
Hilton Head Island’s only par-70 public golf course, Palmetto Dunes’ George Fazio Course offers an exhilarating experience with small greens and undulating fairways. With only two par-5 holes, the heart of the course lies in a series of long par 4s that roll out from the 432-yard first hole and end with the 462-yard 18th.
The tree-lined fairways roll gently on the front nine, while the back nine offers tighter shots that require strategic positioning off the tee. Golfers especially enjoy the challenge of the final four holes; they encompass three well-bunkered par 4s and the great par-3 17th over water with out-of-bounds creeping in from the left.
6) Arthur Hills Course
Showcasing its designer’s signature style of undulating fairways that wind through towering pine and moss-draped oaks, the Arthur Hills Course at Palmetto was instantly named a classic by Golf Digest when it first opened in 1989. The layout takes full advantage of the area’s natural beauty, creating a round that is both beautiful and challenging.
Hills’ layout features continuous lines of dunes and thick stands of palmettos. Although fairway bunkers are absent, off-balance lies, ocean breezes and lagoons add an element of challenge.
7) Country Club of Hilton Head
If only two words could describe the Rees Jones-designed Country Club of Hilton Head, they would be “beauty” and “variety.” The course presents a variety of holes not typically seen in the Lowcountry as it weaves a gorgeous trail through stands of live oaks.
Each distinctive hole on the 6,919-yard championship course provides multiple opportunities for players to test skills:13 doglegs and water on virtually all holes, boldly contoured fairways, pot bunkers and grass hollows.
The course’s 12th hole ranks among the most picturesque in the destination.
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8) Golden Bear Golf Club
Settled on a gorgeous landscape of gently rolling terrain, thick woodlands and a chain of beautiful lagoons, Golden Bear Golf Club is all about finesse and strategy: The course plays 7,014 yards from championship tees.
Flawlessly winding through the pristine and elegant community of Indigo Run, the championship course features fairways with generous landing zones and plenty of recovery room greenside. With the common factor being “strategy over muscle,” each hole adopts a character all its own.
9) Oyster Reef Golf Club
When it opened in 1982, Oyster Reef Golf Club was immediately ranked as one of the Top 25 New Courses in America. Surrounded by winding lagoons, lush vegetation and scenic views of the Island, the Rees Jones course carved out of 190 acres of breathtaking low country terrain and is widely recognized as one of the best pure golf experiences on Hilton Head Island.
Ranging 7,014 yards from the championship tees to 5,288 yards from the forward tees, the course is part of Hilton Head Island’s Heritage Golf Collection.
10) Planter's Row
Designed by William C. Byrd and built in 1984, Planter’s Row is the youngest and toughest course of the Port Royal golf course trio. As opposed to its sister courses—Barony and Robbers Row—Planter’s Row offers narrow, tree-lined fairways that lead up to small, undulating greens.
As water comes into play on 10 of 18 holes, players will face a great challenge on the front nine. The par-3 fourth hole requires carry over water, the short par-5 fifth requires players to cross over water twice and the par-3 sixth is described as a “better get it there” challenge.