Only 12 miles long and five miles wide, Hilton Head is a maritime jewel off the southernmost coast of South Carolina, about 40 miles northwest of Savannah, Ga. Remarkably, golf wasn't introduced to this thickly forested barrier island until 1956 when the first course, the Ocean Course, opened. The course is in Sea Pines Resort, a 5,500-acre residential and recreational development pioneered by Charles Fraser, son of a timber magnate, who's heralded as modern Hilton Head's founding father.
Sea Pines Resort is a model of wise planning in a spectacular natural setting. Clean roads snake through a lush forest of pines and hardwoods that drape like huge umbrellas over widely spaced luxury homes and condominium rental complexes. The resort includes Harbour Town, a village of restaurants, shops and a circular yacht basin.
Sea Pines also has a large tennis complex and four other golf courses, led by world-famous Harbour Town Golf Links, home of the PGA Tour's MCI Heritage, which is held every year right after The Masters. Created by Pete Dye with Jack Nicklaus consulting and opened in 1969, the course is a favorite among Tour professionals. The Heritage is the single biggest event on the Hilton Head calendar and a major draw for tourism.
Towering directly over Harbour Town is a 200-foot-tall, candy-striped lighthouse, the island's most visible landmark. Visitors climbing to the top of the lighthouse are rewarded with a spectacular view of Calibogue Sound to the south and west and Harbour Town Golf Links' signature finishing hole.
Just to the southwest is Daufuskie, a sparsely populated island popularized by Pat Conroy in his novel The Water Is Wide. Accessible by ferry or private helicopter, Daufuskie reflects a bygone era of the Old South. There are no traffic lights on the island, but it does have three of the best golf courses in the Hilton Head area. These include two courses at the Daufuskie Island Resort by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf/Jay Morrish, and Haig Point, a private Rees Jones product.
Hilton Head is warmed by the Gulf Stream. It has an average temperature of 70 degrees F that assures a year-round golf season. Plus, there's no shortage of things to do on Hilton Head. The island has more than 200 stores, some of which are at Shelter Cove, the island's lone shopping mall. There are over 250 restaurants on the island serving every type of cuisine, especially seafood fresh off the boat.
In addition to nature and boat tours, biking is very popular on miles of trails and the hard-packed sand beaches. Visitors to Hilton Head and its environs quickly notice the absence of billboards and other intrusive features of modern commercialism. Hilton Head's nightlife is somewhat tame, for sure, as it's primarily a family destination. And though a couple of popular dance spots and sports bars are sprinkled throughout the island, Hilton Head is designed to offer a respite from a frenzied world.
Golf Tips Selects Hilton Head Island's Best Places To Play Hilton Head proper is made up primarily of plantation-style communities. Some have resorts and all have private homes. In addition to Sea Pines, these include Palmetto Dunes, with three fine golf courses and two hotels, the Marriott Beach and Golf Resort and the Hilton Oceanfront Resort. Also, Port Royal Plantation includes the Westin Resort and three courses, which are ideally suited for casual resort play and outings. Hilton Head Plantation doesn't have a resort hotel, but boasts one private and three semiprivate courses, including the Country Club of Hilton Head and Oyster Reef, both Rees Jones creations.Indigo Run has a public and private course, both signature Jack Nicklaus designs. Palmetto Hall Plantation has an Arthur Hills course, one of the best on the island, and a course configured entirely on computer by Robert Cupp. For all its quirky geometrical features, including triangle-shaped bunkers, this is a fine, scenic test of golf.
Popular courses off the island include Old South in Bluffton, a marsh-dominated venue designed by Clyde Johnston. Closer to the island bridge is another Johnston offering, Old Carolina, built on a former horse farm. If you have the connections, two private clubs are worth using your reciprocal: Long Cove and Colleton River Plantation. Both feature outrageous Jack Nicklaus designs.
Accessible by ferry or private helicopter, Daufuskie reflects a bygone era of the Old South. There are no traffic lights or grocery stores on the island, but it does have three of the best golf courses in the Hilton Head area. These include Nicklaus and Weiskopf courses at the Daufuskie Island Resort, and Haig Point, a private Rees Jones product. _Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê Top 5 Hidden Gems 1. Oyster Reef _ÊWhen this Rees Jones effort opened in 1982, it found a place in the Top 25 New Courses in America list. 2. Golden Bear Golf Club A challenging and enjoyable test from Jack Nicklaus at Indigo Run. 3. Ocean Course at Sea Pines A redesign by Mark McCumber brought the tradition back to Hilton Head's first course. 4. Robert Cupp Course at Palmetto Hall Though sometimes overshadowed by the Arthur Hills Course, the Cupp is unique in that its namesake architect plotted the full 18 on computer. 5. Crescent Pointe Outside Hilton Head in Bluffton sits an excellent Arnold Palmer design that's rapidly gaining popularity. _Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê Top 5 Hidden Challenges 1. Harbour Town This Jack Nicklaus/Pete Dye masterpiece changed golf architecture forever. It will change your index, too (in the up direction). 2. Arthur Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes Considered the best of the three excellent tracks at Palmetto Dunes. 3. Arthur Hills Course at Palmetto Hall You won't mind the demands Mr. Hills places on your game in such a spectacular setting. 4. The Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes Features only two par-5s and a string of long, challenging par-4s. 5. Long Cove It's considered the best layout on the Island–the challenge is getting on this ultra-private course. _Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê Top 5 Hidden Experiences 1. Harbour Town There's nothing like following in the footsteps of champions, especially on a finishing stretch like this. 2. Ocean Course at Sea Pines A classic course that reminds you what island life is all about. 3. Bloody Point Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mungen River on Daufuskie Island, this Weiskopf/Morrish effort never lets up in terms of challenge and aesthetics. 4. Sea Marsh An excellent Clyde Johnston renovation of a George Cupp keeper features a blend of challenge, playability and beauty. 5. Colleton River Plantation Both the Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye courses at this private resort are in the most respected Top 100 lists._Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê Top 5 Player-Friendly Courses 1. Robert Trent Jones Course At Palmetto Dunes Palmetto Dune's 11-mile lagoon system comes into play often, and at 7,000+ yards from the back tees, you'll have your hands full. Play it forward and enjoy a great round on a world-class golf course. 2. Old South A sweet Clyde Johnston design that flows with–rather than cutting through–existing forests and marsh. 3. The Barony at Port Royal If your game is more about accuracy than length, then George Cupp's timeless design will leave you smiling all the way. 4. Hampton Hall Whether you play it forward at 5,300 yards or all the way back at 7,500 yards, your time at Hampton Hall will be richly rewarded by this fun and challenging Pete Dye design. 5. Eagles Point Perennial MCI Heritage contender (and oftentimes winner) Davis Love III created a beauty at Eagles Point, a course that allows you to get wild with the driver. Be careful with your irons, however–Eagles Point will penalize an errant approach.