How many times have you heard or read the phrase ‘hidden gem’ about a golf course. I admit I use it too often. I have been visiting Hilton Head Island for some fifteen years for golf and or relaxing vacations. During those years I have played off Island, the surrounding Savannah courses and on the Island. So when John Brown from Brown Golf Management offered me the opportunity to play one of his real gems, I took full advantage.
Much to my surprise as I drove into Hilton Head Plantation and pass the gate, there are three championship layouts inside the sprawling residential community. Dolphin Head was the first to be built in 1974, designed by nine time Major Champion Gary Player, who took full advantage of his choice of the magnificent land offerings at the Plantation and created a beautiful and challenging golf course on the north end for his first Hilton Head offering. Gary’s main goal was to leave as much of the natural features of the terrain as possible to create a golf course that feels and plays like it has been there all along. The surrounding natural preserves and local wildlife were not disturbed as Player created true harmony in this masterpiece, resulting in a very scenic and playable layout. Redone by Clyde Johnston in 2010 with Champion bermuda fairways and tees and Mini Verde bermuda greens, Johnston kept the unique signature Player bunkers alone and the great routing.
Brown bought Dolphin Head in 2015 and now this once private favorite is available to the golfing public. Hidden away in the back of Hilton Head Plantation- I drove right by it trying to find it- Dolphin Head Golf Club has the best fairways and the quickest greens in the area. I would venture to say even more lush, and faster than where the RBC Heritage is played.
Upon arrival, the outside staff meet and greet you like you were a member, take care of your clubs and direct you to the well stocked pro shop. All the folks at Dolphin Head are friendly and accommodating. Right outside the shop is the practice putting surface which runs the length of the building and is a good example of what to expect once you tee off. After checking in and getting our memorabilia of Dolphin Head, we warmed up on the target driving range, which also has a practice bunker across the lake from the putting area.
You begin your golf experience at the 6606 yard Dolphin Head golf course on a 513 yard somewhat tight dogleg right par five. The course rating and slope from the tips of 72.7/140 lets you know the challenges are out there, but no matter your ability, you have the choice of six tee boxes to enjoy a suitable golf game. First timers of limited ability should play it forward, and the starter does recommend a proper tee when he asks for your handicap. After getting the lay of the land, facility locations and any restrictions, we were off. Our playing partners, a resident of the Plantation and visiting son, were more familiar with the course and helped identify our landing areas and layups if needed. Unfortunately for them, they did not listen to themselves and were often playing from wooded areas that border most of the course. Our drives were not as long but were in play most of the time.
The second and third holes, mid-length par 4s, we parred. The first par 3, # four, a 173 yard tester with water down the entire left side, gave us fits on the green. We all had a chance for par, but only the youngster came away with a smile. There was a little pond to cross near the tee on the dogleg right # five, a 359 yard par 4, which produced some high numbers for our friends who told us where not to hit the ball, but did. Most of our lost shots were made on the quick and undulating greens while theirs were unplayable and kick outs.
The number one handicap hole is # six, a 432 yard par 4 with a 90 degree dogleg left near the landing zone. If you can hit an accurate three wood to the turn, it would be my choice to give golfers a chance at still a long second shot to the green, rather than take on the woods or driving it through the fairway. I finally got the speed and breaks down on the greens and parred it and the 204 yard, par 3 seventh. Number eight is a 395 dogleg right par 4. If you have a long fade in your arsenal, you can make par at best. I do not and I paid for it. Both closing par 5s have water to cross near the green. My second shot did not give much of a chance to challenge the lake, so I laid up right for a wedge to the green.
The outward nine brings you back to the clubhouse so you can get some driver fluid of choice. One thing I found interesting in the men’s locker room is the nice collection of golf books. I could have spent a few weeks reading them. I did not ask whether they were there for loan, since we were visitors and leaving the island the next day.
The inward nine starts out with a comfortable 371 yard par 4 with slight dogleg left. I got my golf legs after # 9, and started playing real golf parring 10, another dogleg right par 4, 11th, and the 211 par 3, 12th. Number 13 is obviously not my lucky one, and I was back to army golf and double bogey on this dogleg left 523 par 5. Fourteen is unique in that you can see the Port Royal Sound from the left side of the fairway, avoiding the bunkers on the right, which is a sight to see and then birdie helps you remember the 341 yard par 4 very clearly. So much for any easy hole. I was back in trouble on the straight-away 444 yard par 4,15th and then parred the 360 yard 16th.
The back nine is a little more open than the front, so my score reflected it occasionally. We ran into the golf course superintendent on the back nine, and I complemented him on the overall condition of the golf course. He was very proud of the how things improved since Hurricane Matthew came ashore last fall and caused some devastation throughout Hilton Head Island.
The last par 3 was 17, a 181 yard to a C-shaped green with bunkers protecting the left. Choose the right club depending on the location of pin. Eighteen has two fairways to choose from; the right side is probably more direct with a healthy carry to the green. Since my drives are not real long I chose left where I could play my second shot along the lake with a high iron to the green for my third. That would have worked had I hit properly. Now I was playing five and two putts to finish. When I get back to Hilton Head, Dolphin Head will be at the top of my list to play again.
When we got back to the clubhouse there were youngsters all over the place. There was a practice round going out for the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour which is partially owned by Tiger Woods and Justin Tmberlake and played at Dolphin Head. How cool is that!
The Clubhouse Grill had a very nice menu and great service. For more information or tee times visit DolphinHeadgc.com.
Brown Golf Management, according to Golf Inc. Magazine, is one of the top 25 management companies in the country with offices in Pennsylvania and South Carolina. They either own or operate 21 golf clubs with 29 18 hole courses. To learn more about them and their facilities visit BrownGolfManagement.com.