Golf course construction may have ground to a halt over the past two decades, but that hasn’t stopped a stable of high-end resorts and destinations from opening in recent years. Traveling golfers have been treated to the likes of new brand-new properties like Sand Valley, Streamsong, Cabot Cliffs and Big Cedar Lodge.
And storied resorts like Pinehurst, Pebble Beach and Bandon Dunes have added renovated and restored courses, such as Pinehurst No. 4, and sporty short-courses, like The Cradle, in recent years.
But Hilton Head Island, S.C. will have you know, it can still trade blows with the game’s golf-travel heavyweights. Namely, more than $200 million has been invested in upgrading “Golf Island’s” hotels, resorts and golf courses over the past 12 years.
The Sea Pines Resort has led the rejuvenation charge on the island with the opening of (like new) Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III and two new clubhouses servicing its three world-class courses (more on that, below) and learning center.
All told, there are more than 30 courses clustered within the island’s 70 square-miles and sprinkled around neighboring Bluffton and Beaufort. The next round of golf is never more than a few minutes away, and multi-course resorts like Sea Pines, Palmetto Dunes and The Heritage Collection make 36-holes-a-day the norm, not the exception.
Here’s a lineup of 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, a fan and player favorite. 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.
Walking off the 16th green and toward the tee box on the par-3 17th, the Calibogue Sound comes into view with shrimp and sailboats passing by. Harbour Town concludes with one of America’s most famous finishing holes, the par-4 18thplaying into the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse.
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.
The Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort 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 10thhole for even better views of the Atlantic Ocean. Credited with designing the majority of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Rulewich spent considerable time reworking every tee box and green.
While it’s technically in Bluffton just off the island, Old South Golf Links is the area’s most underrated layout. Designed by local golf course architect Clyde Johnston, Old South is 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 among the best in the region and are a great way to welcome 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.
Back at 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 greens 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 toughest track.
Playing to more than 7,000 yards with a 139-slope rating from the tips on the island’s north end, Oyster Reef continues to challenge low handicap golfers while appealing to players of all skill levels with its spectacular setting. Jones returned in 2018 to lead a full-scale bunker renovation project, restoring the course to its circa 1982 splendor.
At Palmetto Dunes, 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.
The Private Side
It’s a well-established pattern: a week-long visit to Hilton Head Island one year turns into a month-long stay the following year. Eventually golfers fall in love with Golf Island and relocate to enjoy its laid-back lifestyle year-round. And when they do, Sea Pines Country Club is often the private golf venue of choice.
The only private club located inside the gates of the Sea Pines community – a 5,000-acre masterplan including the resort, Beach Club, shops, dining and more – Sea Pines Country Club’s Arnold Palmer-Clyde Johnston-designed layout is a pure Lowcountry offering replete with live oaks draped in Spanish moss, languid lagoons and native grasses.
While not as widely known as the 18th hole on Harbor Town, the finishing hole at the club, set along one of the island’s largest tidal marshes, is an absolute stunner. Post round, members enjoy their favorite beverages and a variety of eats at the Blue Heron Pub and Grille or relax by the club’s expansive resort-style pool.
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.
Dining and Nightlife
There are more than 250 restaurants on Hilton Head Island ranging from celebrity chef-driven restaurants to locally owned seafood joints. For a true taste of Lowcountry waterfront dining, check out Skull Creek Boathouse or Skull Creek Dockside.
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.
For those who prefer to grab a bite at or near the golf course, options abound. 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. Links, an American Grill, in the stunning new Harbour Town Clubhouse, 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. Seasonal Saturday flights to/from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) are offered as of April 10, 2021
The new route complements year-round service from Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) and seasonal service from Washington Reagan Airport (DCA), Chicago (ORD), Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW) and Philadelphia (PHL). Book your flight to Hilton Head Island at www.AA.com.
Delta Air Lines Airlines also offers nonstop and one-stop service to HHI via its Atlanta (ATL) hub with connections from 200+ cities worldwide.
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.