I couldn’t believe it. Surely I wrote it down somewhere. Nope, no luck. Embarrassed, I had to call the front desk. A woman answered. She was very polite.
“Hi,” I said, before quickly getting to the point. “I was there a few months ago. Sorry, this is pretty random — but what was the dog’s name again?”
“Oh,” the woman said, “you mean my favorite co-worker?”
Cauley. Of course! That’s the name of the canine ambassador at Montage Palmetto Bluff, the sprawling Low Country resort nestled along the May River in Bluffton, S.C., just 20 miles from Hilton Head Island (and this week’s RBC Heritage). Cauley, a cheery black lab mix with a touch of white on her chest, was a rescue from Hilton Head. After some training, she’s become the resort’s canine ambassador. I was there in February, and I wanted to start this travel piece with the dog — the dog my daughter fell in love with — but her name had escaped me. So that’s why I had to call the front desk. Because Cauley is the carefree dog welcoming guests to a stress-free week at Montage Palmetto Bluff, and so I thought it was best she do that for this virtual trip, too. So, now that we have that settled — thanks, Cauley! — here’s what you can expect from a trip to Montage Palmetto Bluff.
How to get there
Located just a few miles west of Hilton Head Island, the luxurious Montage Palmetto Bluff — one of GOLF’s Top 100 Resorts — is just 25 miles from Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, which is conveniently not big enough to be a hassle and yet not small enough to lack necessities and flight options. Montage Palmetto Bluff also has a shuttle service to pick you up and drop you off at the airport. The resort sits in a 20,000-acre community and consists of two villages, Wilson and Moreland.
May River Golf Course
This is a golf website, after all, so we have to break this down right away. The course at Montage Palmetto Bluff is May River, an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus design built in 2004 that’s only accessible by resort guests or local members. (There’s also a dynamite practice area, which I made good use of before my round.)
May River plays fast and rolls beautifully through its natural surroundings. It can be intimidating off the tee, as the water, bunkers and waste areas are always looming (and mess with your mind), but there’s plenty of room to pull off the necessary shots.
The greens are fast and most are bordered with speedy run-off areas that will penalize any shot that misses its mark, meaning shaky wedge players like myself might elect to try and get up and down with a putter more often than we’d like to admit. (Chipping off those tight lies is for the brave.)
The par-4 1st hole is a great opener, a little dog-leg right with a big fairway that won’t scare you off right away. The par-3 3rd demands one of your most precise approaches of the day — and provides a gorgeous view from the tee — and the 6th is one of the course’s signature holes, a daunting par-3 to a small green. Our pin was tucked in the back left, which I foolishly went for and hit my best shot of the day (yet still missed my 8-footer for birdie).
But the par-4 7th was my favorite hole at May River, and it also gives you your first view of the actual May River. It’s short at just 336 yards, but it forces you to commit to a shot and see it through — and the wrong decision might haunt you for the entire round. Going with less than driver off the tee — I hit a hybrid — sets up nothing more than a 150-yard shot across a marsh to a wide green with little depth. But this is where the trouble starts. Here’s a gorgeous aerial view via photographer Patrick Koenig:
Hard up against the marsh of the May River, any angle most players will have is grim: misses short of the green, left or long go to the alligators. There’s plenty of bail-out room behind the green, which for most players would be to the right based off where their tee shots land, but are you really going to tell yourself to take the safe route and hit a gap wedge (what I used) that far right of the target? No, you aren’t. But that’s where I got in trouble. I went for the pin — hey, this is vacation! — but hit the front bank and saw my ball bounce back into the muck. But even making a golfer contemplate bailing out with a wedge is what made me love this hole. Here are two more shots of the tricky angles you get with the 7th hole:
There are memorable holes on the back nine, too. The 10th is one of the most scenic, with water shooting out miles to the right of the green, the 14th is a fun downhill par-3 — May River has great par-3s — and the 15th uses a rollicking punchbowl green. The par-5 finisher, the 18th, sits under a cluster of trees that was the inspiration for the course’s logo.
Montage Palmetto Bluff is basically its own little village (well, two villages). There are more than 70 rooms at The Inn — the sparkling new central facility built in 2016 (along with a massive spa) — and the other lodging options (cottages, homes and residences) are easily accessible by walking, biking or grabbing a ride in a complimentary golf cart. The cache of rooms can accommodate small and large groups and provide whatever bells and whistles you are after.
We stayed in a Lagoon View Cottage, under the canopy of shady trees doused with Spanish moss, feet away from the tranquil water and about 200 yards east of The Inn. We ate all of our in-room meals in the screened-in porch. Things such as the cozy fireplace, massive walk-in shower and stocked wet bar are enough to satisfy anyone away from home.
We ate most of our meals at the Octagon, which is located at The Inn. There’s seating when you walk in and a bar in the middle (plus sushi on the right), but continue straight and down a couple of steps and you’ll enter a warm room sprinkled with Southern charm that has a connecting patio. We ate all of our breakfasts there (I recommend the bourbon milk jam French toast), and had dinner there one night (get the beef short rib).
There are other restaurants, too, like Buffalo’s (Italian), The Canoe Club (fancier with more seafood options) and Cole’s (comfort good and BBQ), not to mention a few quick grab-and-go spots.
As for my favorite food of the week? That’s the free cookies. Montage Palmetto Bluff offers free complimentary iced tee and cookies during “porching” hours every evening (around happy hour), and the cookies were out of this world. So good, in fact, I already wrote about them here (which includes the recipe). You are welcome.
Once you are on site, you really don’t have to leave. You can drive a car if you need to get to certain spots, but the resort takes care of you otherwise. Golf carts with ample seating can be requested free of charge at any time to pick you up at your residence or anywhere else on the property to zip you to your next location. You usually don’t even have to call — they drive the property’s loop about every 10 minutes 24 hours a day.
We traversed the property’s loop more often on the bikes we rented. They’ll deliver them to your door and they can stay outside your rental all week. We got a little kid’s buggie for ours, and our daughter loved cruising along (with her dolls in tow) as we went from one place to the next. The bike ride in itself was more recreational joy than it was a means of transportation, as you wind through miles of paved sidewalks lined with tall pathway lamps or little-traveled roads past quaint houses, shops and other friendly vacationers.
We used the outdoor pool, visited the property’s massive kid-friendly tree houses and cruised the May River on a Dolphin Watch. Cole’s even has four lanes of bowling.
One activity we really enjoyed was the nightly s’mores behind the River House. A wagon gets pushed out every evening with different kinds of marshmallows (they rotate) and all the fixins’ you need to cook up your late-night snack over one of a few fire pits out back.
The bottom line
Montage Palmetto Bluff, for our family, was the break we needed. Warmer temps. Delicious food. Craft cocktails. Winding bike trails and every amenity necessary to forget the 9-to-5 work life. It’s perfect for romantic getaways, families and large gatherings, and while having only one golf course might scare off some buddies golf trips, remember, this is the Hilton Head region. There are hundreds of courses at your disposal. There’s no one way to do a golf trip.
Oh, and one parting thought. If you are looking for Cauley, the aforementioned Wonder Dog, she’s usually hanging out around The Inn. A good guess would be in the Discover Palmetto Bluff room, which is a left after guest reception, down the hall and the last door on the right. Tell her our daughter says hello.