I *finally* played Harbour Town. Here’s why you should too

The 18th hole at harbour town golf links

After years of wanting to tee it up at Harbour Town, host of this week's RBC Heritage, I finally got the chance. Here's what it was like.

Sea Pines Resort

One of my favorite weeks on the PGA Tour calendar is the RBC Heritage.

For starters, my family has always had a connection to the South Carolina low country. When I was young, my family’s vacation spot was on the island — not unlike this week’s defending champion. Even after we stopped heading down U.S. 278 to Hilton Head itself, golf trips with my dad and brother were often to a golf course in Beaufort County.

I also love it because of the atmosphere surrounding the event, with the island vacation vibes of Hilton Head providing the perfect low-key setting. It’s truly one of a kind.

Plus, Harbour Town is also one of the most intriguing golf courses the PGA Tour visits. But in all the time I’d spent in the low country, I’d never gotten to tee it up at what GOLF’s expert panelists say is the best course in the area and the symbol of the region.

But here’s the thing — it’s not cheap and is usually busy, so that tee time was elusive. But that changed on Christmas Day morning 2024.

As our family was planning to spend the end of December in Hilton Head, I decided it was finally time to tee it up at the fabled Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus design. But while Hilton Head in December is a sneaky good time to visit since it’s not as crowded, the weather can also be hit or miss. On Christmas Day it was indeed a miss.

It was pouring, cold and just miserable. But my father and I are no fair-weather golfers. We decided to play anyway, so we kept our 11:42 a.m. tee time. But then the rain kept coming. And it rained hard. It was even too much for us. We called the pro shop to cancel, sadly thinking it would be unlikely we could reschedule since we were heading home in a few days.

But our call was met with good news for all.

“You were the only guys still on the tee sheet,” the staffer in the pro shop told us. “We’ll just go home now.”

Had we known we were the last holdouts, we would have tried to cancel earlier, but we were thrilled to hear the staff could head home to be with their families for the holiday. Better yet, there was a time available on Thursday afternoon, the last day of our trip.


I walked Harbour Town last year, so I knew the course was tight. But it’s something else to actually hit the shots in person.

The first tee shot is a prime example. For someone who hits a lower-flighted draw off the tee, this shot gave me nightmares. I didn’t take a picture of the tee shot itself, but you can kind of tell how tight the gap is from the background of this photo (also pictured: the sweet lighthouse tees).

The author may or may not have stuffed his bag with these tees. Jack Hirsh/GOLF

You’re supposed to wait until you’re fully committed before you start the club back on any swing. That was nearly impossible with the right trees looming. Somehow, my ball just cleared the limbs and curved back into the center of the fairway — and we were off. This was the first of my three miracle shots on the day.

The great thing about Harbour Town is that the tee shots are tight and it’s clear where you want to put your ball, but it’s far from claustrophobic like so many tree-lined courses. Great examples are the 5th and 6th holes, which don’t feature overhanging limbs on the tee shot like the first, but if your tee shot is too far to one side (the right on No. 5 and the left on No. 6), you risk dealing with limbs on your second. Otherwise, those holes are relatively open. The same thing happens on Nos. 11, 12 and 15.

I’m also not sure it gets talked about enough what a spectacular and demanding set of par-3s Harbour Town has. The water on the first three looms large while the 17th is where you emerge from the trees and play out to the marsh and Calibogue Sound.

On No. 4, while the front-center pin we got was tempting, the prudent play was for the right edge of the green, which appeared much smaller than it really was.

The 4th (left) and 7th holes at Harbour Town.
Jack Hirsh/GOLF

Meanwhile, at No. 7, the goalpost trees on either side of the green make what is actually a fairly large putting surface (at least in comparison with the rest) look significantly smaller. Most people have probably seen the carnage No. 14 causes at the Heritage, and I’ll add it’s nearly impossible to see anything but the water short right with how small the green looks (notice a theme?) from the Heritage tees — which I perhaps too confidentially chose to play.

Harbour Town also has two of my favorite short par-4s on Tour in Nos. 9 and 13.

At 9, I almost drove onto the driving range and had to chip through the trees and over the bunker to the unique U-shaped green. The conditions were firm despite the pouring rain just a few days earlier, so I decided to take a gamble and play my second to bounce in the fairway short of the bunker, then skip into the face of the trap to pop it out on the green.

Somehow, this was the second miracle shot I pulled off. The ball rolled out to about 15 feet. The greens here, by the way, were beautiful and smooth, perhaps 10 or 11 on the Stimpmeter, exactly what you want to play every day.

I knew I would love 13 because I love short holes where driver is taken out of your hands. But I liked it even more because I realized the tee shot needs to be either played well out to the right, or long enough to give you an angle to the green and around a pesky tree.

A look at the green on No. 13. Jack Hirsh/GOLF

When we got out to 16, we knew time was not on our side. Our tee time that day was 1 p.m. — the second-to-last of the day — and sunset was 5:26 p.m. It was already 5:05 p.m., and the group ahead wasn’t in a hurry.

But this meant we were in for a special treat. When we rounded the corner on the dogleg par-4 16th (the site of my lone birdie on the day), the 17th was glowing against the sunset and Calibogue Sound. My phone could only capture the beauty so well.

Jack Hirsh/GOLF
Jack Hirsh/GOLF

There are two tees to 17. The left one was in play on the day of our visit, presenting a more challenging angle over the bunker. The right tee is the longer one, used for the majority of the tournament rounds at the Heritage. I found that huge left bunker.

This is where I need to give a quick shoutout to our forecaddie, Steve. All guests are required to take one, and a cart, unless you want a walking caddie. Steve was an ace with reads, strategy and general course knowledge. That was on top of being an all-around outstanding dude.

On 18, he offered to record me playing down the iconic hole.

“Aim for the lighthouse,” he said.

Thwack! Dead center — my best of the day — on the PGA Tour’s widest fairway.

It was (really) dark. Jack Hirsh/GOLF

Only problem was, it was dark enough that I couldn’t see the green. It was 5:40 p.m. The sun officially set 14 minutes earlier.

The lighthouse is too far to the right to aim at on the second shot, but Steve and I found a window on the Quarter Deck, the bar below it, to shoot for. I hit the ball and had no idea where it was headed.

“That sounded so good,” Steve said. I wasn’t so sure.

But when we arrived at the green, I started laughing. My pitch mark was three feet from the hole, with the ball about 10 feet long.

I didn’t post a great score that day, but it was impossible not to have fun on that course, especially with a finish like that.

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