Before there was Bandon Dunes, Sand Valley, Streamsong and the American Club, there was Hilton Head. This iconic golf destination in South Carolina’s famed Lowcountry region that came of age in the 80s and 90s remains one the East Coast’s premier strongholds for high-end resort and daily fee golf. Buoyed by a $200 million-plus investment in its hotels, resorts and golf courses over the past decade, “Golf Island’s” future is just as bright as its storied past.
In addition to the region-wide refresh, golfers will also appreciate Golf Island’s depth and breadth of courses. More than 30 18-hole layouts are conveniently clustered within the island’s 70 square-miles and sprinkled throughout neighboring Bluffton and Beaufort, off-island. No matter where you stay, the next round of golf is never more than a few minutes away, setting up perfectly for those who love to log 36 holes a day.
For those considering a Golf Island Getaway, here’s a lineup of the premier on- and off-island courses, as well as the inside scoop on accommodations, dining, and transportation.
Harbour Town Golf Links at The Sea Pines Resort is the long-time home of the PGA TOUR’s RBC Heritage (recently won by Jordan Spieth) and is a must-play for golf course architecture aficionados. This Pete Dye/ Jack Nicklaus collaboration epitomizes Lowcountry course design replete with live oak-lined corridors, diminutive greens and Dye’s trademark bulkheads lining languid lagoons.
For 16 holes, Harbour Town winds its way through the languid lagoons and towering pines of the island’s south end. But walking off the 16th green and toward the tee box on the par-3 17th, the Calibogue Sound comes into view with a panoramic parade of shrimp and sailboats passing by. Harbour Town then concludes with one of America’s most famous finishing holes, the par-4 18th, with the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse as its backdrop.
Just a smooth 3-wood away from Harbour Town, Sea Pines Resort’s Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III is a masterful overhaul of the resort’s historic Ocean Course, the island’s first course. Completely reinvented by Love Golf Design, native seaside grasses and coquina shells meld with pines and oaks to create a calming coastal ambiance that puts golfers at ease.
Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort is less than a Darius Rucker song away from the Sea Pines gates, and its Robert Trent Jones Course at 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 most of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Rulewich spent considerable time reworking every tee box and green.
Situated in east Bluffton just a cart path-drop off the island, Old South Golf Links is widely considered one of the area’s most underrated layouts. Designed by Hilton Head-based golf course architect Clyde Johnston, Old South is the only public access course playing along the Intracoastal Waterway. Johnston cut his teeth with Willard Byrd, Ron Kirby and Dennis Griffiths and is known for his non-penal, player-friendly approach to design.
The front and back nine views at Old South, with MacKay Creek and the Calibogue Sound in the distance, are among the best in the region. The endless views and overall vibe are perfect for welcoming 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.
Circling back to The Sea Pines Resort, Heron Point by Pete Dye (formerly the Sea Marsh course) was a labor of love for the renowned golf course architect, who returned several times to tweak its putting surfaces and green surrounds. From its 7,035-yard tips and with a slope of 140, it gives Harbour Town a run for its money as the resort’s most demanding track.
Playing to more than 7,000 yards with a 139-slope rating from the tips on the island’s north end, Oyster Reef beguiles low handicap golfers while appealing to players of all skill levels with its spectacular setting. The redoubtable Rees Jones returned in 2018 to lead a full-scale bunker renovation project at this Heritage Collection flagship facility, restoring the course to its circa 1982 splendor.
From one of Golf Island’s most postcard-ready venues to perhaps its most difficult – the George Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes is Hilton Head Island’s only par-70. With a slope of 144 from the 6,873-yard back tees, it’s considered by many to be the most challenging resort course on the island. With just two par 5s and a series of meaty par 4s, birdie opportunities are few and far between.
Where to Stay
For sheer convenience during a multi-day golf trip, it’s hard to top a rental home or villa at The Sea Pines Resort or Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort. These vacation residences are fully-appointed with all the amenities of home, including flat-screen TVs, washers and dryers, wireless internet and fully-equipped kitchens. For smaller groups or shorter stays, Golf Island obliges with brand flag hotels from Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt, and historic and charming inns and B & Bs.
Dining and Nightlife
More than 250 restaurants on Hilton Head Island range from celebrity chef-driven restaurants to locally owned seafood joints, as the region has emerged as a foodie destination over the past decade. Check out Skull Creek Boathouse or Skull Creek Dockside for a true taste of Lowcountry waterfront dining.
Replenish calories burned from a long day on the links with a full Italian meal 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.
Options abound for those who prefer to grab a bite at or near the golf course. At Palmetto Dunes, Big Jim’s BBQ, Burgers, Pizza at the Robert Trent Jones Course clubhouse is open seven days a week, serving three meals a day. In the stunning new Harbour Town Clubhouse, Links, an American Grill, serves up signature filet, strip and porterhouse steaks. The LagerHead Tavern at Oyster Reef showcases Southern comfort food with a twist.
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. Southwest Airlines service began in March with six flights from five markets. SAV is an approximate one-hour drive to Golf Island, and golfers should allow for more time getting over the James F Byrnes Bridge to the island during busy periods.
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