What it’s like hanging out in one of the PGA Tour’s most iconic vantage points
HILTON HEAD, S.C. — They’ve made the trip from Virginia to Hilton Head a handful of times for the RBC Heritage, but Laura Gorsuch and her son John always seem drawn to the same place: The Harbour Town Lighthouse.
“I like coming up here because honestly, there aren’t really many places, you get this view to see way down there to South Beach and all the other things like the boats and the water,” John, a junior golfer himself, said from atop the lighthouse Saturday. “It’s just iconic.”
For more than 50 years, the lighthouse has dominated the horizon from Harbour Town Golf Links’ 18th hole.
The instantly recognizable, 90-foot, candy cane-painted structure sits just on the other side of the Harbour Town Marina from the 18th green. The lighthouse is not just a symbol of the golf course (it is the logo) and Sea Pines resort, it’s become a beacon for the island of Hilton Head itself.
The lighthouse was originally built by the resort in 1969 as a private navigational aid, but it soon grew to become a public asset. Today, the area surrounding the lighthouse has a full restaurant and rooftop bar. The interior of the structure also includes a museum.
Most of us won’t get to drive down Magnolia Lane to Augusta National, walk across the Swlican Bridge at St. Andrews or hit a tee shot onto the island-green 17th at TPC Sawgrass. But during tournament week, $5.75 earns you admission into the lighthouse and access to climb 114 steps to the top of it.
And tournament week might even be the best time of the year to do it. Views of the expansive 18th green and surrounding golf course make the top of the lighthouse one of the best spectating areas on the course. And with car access even more limited to Sea Pines this week — there is a fee normally to enter the resort if you’re not staying there or playing golf — the viewing area is restricted to only those who can reach the lighthouse by foot.
A museum worker told me the lighthouse’s busiest days see around a thousand people climb up to the top. But even on Saturday at the RBC Heritage, she only expects 300-400.
The museum part of the lighthouse starts immediately with the climb up as each level and landing on the staircase is filled with either maritime, nautical or other memorabilia with explainers about the history of Hilton Head and Harbour Town. But the real treasures are found on level eight, just a few feet from the top, where the artifacts and photos from the area’s golf history are located.
“If you’re sitting at home watching the last day of the tournament and they show the shot down 18 and the lighthouse in the background,” he said. “It’s always neat to say you could physically climb to the top of that and you could look out at that vantage point back on the 18th as something that you can’t necessarily do at every other tournament.”
That is John Gorsuch’s favorite stop on the climb.
“I think that one is what really made this lighthouse popular and like more of an attraction,” he said. “So I think that really drew a lot of attention to this. I think that’s a good one to read about.”
In the “Legacy of Golf” exhibit, you’ll find all kinds of photos and memorabilia. On one side, there’s a replica of the tartan jacket awarded to winners of the Heritage, while on another there are photos of Heritage winners like Arnold Palmer and Payne Stewart.
From there it’s only a few more steps to the top and breathtaking views of the Calibogue Sound and the 18th hole, where you might even discover something new. For instance, one of the info boards on the observation deck explains how the 18th fairway at Harbour Town became the widest on the PGA Tour. The fault for that, it seems, is owed to a dredging accident.
You can see the aftermath of that incident far off in the distance, just as you can see Harbour Town’s famed 18th green. In fact, spend long enough looking and you’ll realize there’s not much you can’t see from up here.
There are worse views.