The old joke goes, the South Carolina Lowcountry has attracted two types of people over the past 300 years: pirates and golfers. As one of the country’s most unmistakable landscapes, this collection of barrier islands and low-lying coastal plains stretches from Myrtle Beach south to Daufuskie Island, and with its covert coves and shallow waters, it was perfect for privateers like Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet, who preferred to remain hidden when they weren’t raiding coastal communities.
As for golfers, the Lowcountry’s scenic atolls have attracted dozens of big-name developers over the past half-century. Most prominent among them is Charles Fraser, whose company forged from the live oaks and loblolly pines of the island’s south end The Sea Pines Resort. With community development came golf courses designed by notable architects like Pete Dye, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Rees Jones, Arthur Hills and George Fazio that put the Lowcountry on the (treasure) map.
With the RBC Heritage coming to town this week, we thought it would be a good time to revisit just exactly what Hilton Head Island has to offer.
There are more than 30 resort, semi-private and public courses on and around Hilton Head Island. Paired with a vast array of accommodations, “Golf Island” offers a diverse range of vacations, from epic bucket list and buddies’ trips to family and couples’ getaways. Spring is the optimal time for planning an excursion, so here are a few itinerary ideas to get the ball airborne and rolling.
A proper golf buddies’ trip on this 70-square-mile atoll includes a selection of courses from The Sea Pines Resort, Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort and the Heritage Golf Collection. Sea Pines is home to famed Harbour Town Golf Links (host of the Heritage since 1969) – designed by Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus – Heron Point (also designed by Dye) and Atlantic Dunes, the island’s newest course created by Davis Love III’s firm Love Golf Design.
Just a few miles down Highway 278 is 54-hole Palmetto Dunes with a formidable triumvirate: the Robert Trent Jones, George Fazio and Arthur Hills courses. The Heritage Golf Collection ups the ante even further with 18-hole Oyster Reef, 36-hole Palmetto Hall, 36-hole Port Royal Golf and Racquet Club, and 27-hole Shipyard Golf Club.
Sea Pines and Palmetto Dunes both offer ample rental homes and villas. Nearby dining and nightlife options abound, with more than 250 bars and restaurants spread around the island. The “BarMuda Triangle” just outside the Sea Pines gates is home to five bars, while Main Street Village is a bit lower-key.
Centered on the charming riverfront town of Bluffton, golf off the island begins at Old South Golf Links, a long-time local favorite. Designed by Hilton Head-based architect Clyde Johnston, Old South plays along the Intracoastal Waterway with front and back nine views that are among the best in the region. Holes are hemmed by oak forests and pastures and marked with several tidal marshes.
Neighboring Hilton Head National is designed by Gary Player and Bobby Weed. “National,” as the locals refer to it, serves up two decidedly different nines: Weed’s nine presents larger greens with more severe undulations, while Player’s nine features smaller, flatter putting surfaces. Both facilities offer golf packages with the Hilton Garden Inn, located less than a mile from either venue. This pair makes for the perfect 36-hole combo with minimal time spent in transit.
Old Town Bluffton, situated on the shores of the May River, is the place to grab a warm meal, a cold drink and relax with friends. Over the past decade, it has emerged as one of the South’s most desirable small enclaves. Old Town has a little bit of everything, from rustic seafood joints and fine dining to coffee shops and galleries.
With its award-winning restaurants, boutique accommodations and women-friendly courses, Golf Island is the perfect getaway for couples who love the game and spending time together on or off course. Harbour Town and Oyster Reef feature multiple tees rated for women, as do several other island layouts. Generally, forward tees at many courses limit the number of forced carries over water, especially at Harbour Town, where Alice Dye’s input is undeniable.
Best bets for lodging include the Inn and Club at Harbour Town, steps away from the first tee and the charming Old Town Bluffton Inn, a 14-room boutique property in the heart of all the action. Couples flock to Main Street Village, home to several award-winning dining establishments and specialty shops, as well as Shelter Cove, with its myriad of shops and restaurants set on 285 acres of saltwater coastline across from Palmetto Dunes.
Bring the kids
Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and Beaufort are all family-friendly destinations in their own rights, with various camps, activities and other programming offered throughout the year for golfers of all ages and skill levels.
On the island, the summer is peak season for family vacations, and Sea Pines typically offers its annual FUNdamentals Camp teaching kids the basics of the game, including rules, etiquette, short game and full swing. Port Royal’s “family play” afternoon nine-hole rates are ideal for logging actual on-course time, while the new Toptracer Range at Palmetto Dunes features 14 state-of-the-art hitting bays.
The pirates might be long gone, but there are still plenty of treasures to be found all around Hilton Head Island.
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, Delta and United. American offers daily non-stop flights from Charlotte and seasonal service from Dallas/Ft. Worth, Philadelphia and Washington National (DCA).
Delta has daily flights to Atlanta and United provides daily non-stop service to Newark (EWR) and Washington Dulles (IAD). Golfers can also utilize Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV), with direct flights from numerous East Coast, Midwest and Texas airports on several major and discount airlines.
For those who prefer to hit the open road, major metro areas in the Carolinas, Georgia and north Florida are under a half-day’s drive, while several Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern cities are seven to nine hours away.