America’s Best Golf Road Trips, Part III: The Carolina Lowcountry Loop, from Pinehurst to Harbour Town
Buckle up, folks, and welcome to the third installment of America’s Best Golf Road Trips, a six-part GOLF.com series in which our well-traveled writers will guide you through some of the most thrilling itineraries for golfers with a nose for the open road. Part I covered the Lake Michigan Loop, while Part II took you through the Appalachian Mountains Trail. Each journey will be built around golf but we’ll also sprinkle in a few other sights and stops along the way. Next up: a leisurely trek through the Carolina Lowcountry. Bon voyage!
A road trip through the Carolina Lowcountry and its quilt work of loblolly pines, saw palmettos and marsh grasses is a feast for the senses — and the drive time is just as laidback as the countryside, with no leg of the journey exceeding two-and-a-half hours of on-the-road time.
This particular loop starts at the Raleigh-Durham airport. Your first destination is Pinehurst, one of the bastions of American golf. You’ll then head south to Myrtle Beach, before continuing along the coast to Kiawah Island and Harbour Town. You’ll enjoy the history and beauty of the Atlantic shoreline and the antebellum South — as well as a handful of Top 100 courses and resorts along the way. So put the pedal to the metal — y’all have an epic trip in store.
Start point: Raleigh-Durham International Airport
End point: Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, S.C.
Day 1: Pinehurst No. 2 (North Carolina)
Your trip starts with a bang — a visit to not only one of the most historic courses in the country, but also the onsite resort, ranked No. 2 on GOLF’s recent list of the best buddy-trip resorts in North America. You’ll be happy to have a decadent place to rest your head for the night, because Pinehurst No. 2 presents a stern test. The host of six U.S. Opens (and future “anchor site” of our national championship starting in 2024, when the U.S. Open will retun every six years), Pinehurst is everything you could ask for in a golf experience.
The best part? It’s just an hour-and-fifteen-minute drive from the airport, so you could easily play an afternoon round on No. 2 or any of the resort’s other eight (yes, eight) tracks. Regardless of where you decide to tee it up, make sure to carve out some time for a quick spin around Thistle Dhu, Pinehurst’s 18-hole putting course, and cap the experience with a pint at the Ryder Cup Lounge in the Carolina Hotel, which is drenched in history from the biennial event staged at Pinehurst in 1951.
Day 2 and 3: Myrtle Beach (South Carolina)
Two-and-a-half hours south of Pinehurst and you’re in Golf Mecca, also known as Myrtle Beach. With more than 80 courses to choose from, you could spend years visiting and fail to play them all. Our advice? Knock off several of the finest in one stop. Barefoot Resort, another GOLF Top 100 Resort in North America, is a great choice, and home to four courses designed by names you just might recognize: Greg Norman, Davis Love, Pete Dye and Tom Fazio.
Two other multi-course locations that are well worth your time are Legends Golf Resort, home to five championship courses as well as on-site accommodation, and Mystical Resort, which boasts three courses, all of which feature newly rebuilt bunkers after a recent $750,000 renovation. No matter where you play, make room on your itinerary for a stop at Dirty Don’s Oyster Bar and Grill. It has a tropical, divey vibe that befits its name, but, oh my, the oysters are out of this world.
Day 4: Caledonia Golf & Fish Club (South Carolina)
Your next stop is a half-hour drive south of Myrtle Beach into Pawley’s Island, S.C. The Caledonia Golf & Fish Club is a stunner: quiet and gorgeously manicured with just a touch of quirk. The experience begins with a long driveway entry through an arcade of giant oaks, dripping with Spanish moss, a majestic corridor that evokes a thrilling tingle of anticipation. It’s the Lowcountry’s Magnolia-Lane feels. Word to the wise: Before you hit the first tee, take a seat in one of the rockers on the wraparound clubhouse porch and you’ll feel transported to another time.
The late, great Mike Strantz designed Caledonia as his first solo project in 1994, and ever since, the course has gained a cult following of appreciative players. The routing meanders through towering oaks and serene streams, and there is nary a home to be found on any of its 18 holes, further enhancing its uniquely unencumbered atmosphere.
Day 5: Kiawah Island (South Carolina)
Hop back in the car for an easy two-hour ride south to Kiawah Island, home to yet another Top 100 resort, Kiawah Island Golf Resort, and five courses, including the famous Ocean Course. You can’t go wrong with any of the Kiawah courses, but since you’ve come all this way, it would be criminal to miss out on Pete Dye’s iconic Ocean Course, featuring 10 eye-popping holes along the Atlantic and up to eight clubs in wind variance, depending on the day.
Water is in play on nearly every hole, making the course both visually stunning and, in typical Pete-Dye fashion, ultra-treacherous. One of the few courses to host both the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup, the Ocean Course will be back in the spotlight in May for its second major-championship go-around, the 2021 PGA.
Note: If you have some pull, do yourself a favor and plan a lunch at the private Kiawah Island Club where you can indulge in the house-specialty Shem Creek Shrimp Rolls. You won’t be disappointed!
Day 6: Harbour Town (South Carolina)
The final leg of your journey is a two-and-a-half hour shot south to Hilton Head Island, home of Sea Pines Resort (another Top 100 gem), and three fantastic courses, including Harbour Town Golf Links, host of the PGA Tour’s annual RBC Heritage.
There’s no beating the spectacular setting: 5,000 acres of oceanfront beauty, with the illustrious red-and-white striped lighthouse framing the famous finishing hole. Harbour Town is a treat, and there’s no better place to rest and recuperate from your long week on the road.
As your day winds down, treat yourself to a killer sunset view at Sea Pines’ Fraser’s Tavern. Located in the shadow of the lighthouse, this amiable outpost offers superb waterside dining, and the best shrimp and grits around. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the view.