HILTON HEAD: MY KINDA TOWN
21 June 2016
Sarah Stirk pays a visit to Hilton Head in South Carolina, home of the feared and revered Harbour Town Golf Links
In between covering last year’s Wells Fargo Championship and The Players Championship, I checked out Charleston and got to tackle the famous Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. This year, I was lucky enough to get to sample more of the famous Carolina hospitality and went day tripping to Hilton Head.
It’s the course that put Hilton Head Island on the map, and Harbour Town Golf Links remains one of the most revered layouts in the world.
Home to the RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour, this distinguished venue places a premium on finesse, imagination and shot making, rather than raw power. It features a wonderful collection of par threes, ranked among the best in the world, while the par-four 18th hole is one of the most stunning and recognisable holes in golf. Pete Dye is a master, and Harbour Town is one of his crowning achievements.
At 6,973 yards, it’s not very long by tour standards, and with only four feet of elevation change, it’s pretty flat too. With pine trees and specimen oaks draped in Spanish moss hanging over the fairways and greens, it requires real precision and good course management to score well. Its signature feature is the size of the greens, which are less than half the square footage of most other championship-level courses.
Not surprisingly, the course has led the PGA Tour in hole-outs from off the green for the last two years. When Boo Weekly won here for the first time in 2007, he chipped in on the final two holes to secure a one-stroke victory.
If you plan on playing Harbour Town during a Hilton Head holiday, here are a few tips to keep in mind. First off, unless you’re a low handicapper, expect the course to pose a real challenge and even if you survive most of the front nine, the eighth and the ninth can wreck your scorecard – to which I can attest!
The eighth is a long par four, ranked the toughest on the course, with sand and water left of the green. The ninth is a short par four, but with bunkers guarding the front and back, even the world’s best players fear the consequences of trying to drive the green. The best play is a towering approach shot, which lands softly – which is easier to write than it is to execute.
The three best holes on the back nine are the par-five 15th, the par-three 17th, featuring a steeply elevated sliver of a green, and the par-four 18th, Harbour Town’s signature test that runs along the Calibogue Sound. It’s nice to finally open your shoulders on 18, after and after a drive to the widest fairway on the PGA Tour you aim at the iconic, candy-striped lighthouse and try not to get distracted by the gorgeous views. There’s water left, and there’s absolutely no shame in bailing out right – trust me!
One of the highlights of my trip was the overnight stay at the , a boutique 60-room hotel situated adjacent to the first tee. They try to make it feel like a home away from home, and that’s exactly the vibe I got. It’s small, intimate, and the butler service was incredible.
Hilton Head is one of America’s most famous family destinations, and there’s plenty on offer apart from world-class golf. Within the Sea Pines Resort you can hire bikes, ride horses, chill out at the beach club, kayak in the Calibogue Sound, take an eco-tour or play tennis. After my round at Harbour Town, I hired a bike and pootled round the island – it’s laid back, chilled lifestyle is something I could get very used to.
Dye’s celebrated layout is the must-play at Sea Pines, but there are other great options. Heron Point, also a Dye creation, is Harbour Town’s sister course and it to underwent modifications in 2015 to increase playability for visitors. Davis Love III has also recently remodelled the Ocean Course. Outside Sea Pines there are an abundance of options. Too many to note here, but the Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort offers a trio of layouts by noted architects, while Palmetto Hall Plantation is another great option. Counting courses on the island, in nearby Bluffton and others within 30 minutes, the choice adds up to more than 25 within a small proximity, although not quite as small at Harbour Town’s greens.
It’s a true golfers’ paradise and enough to keep you occupied for days on end, but without question the centrepiece is Harbour Town. Do play if you get the chance, you won’t need your driver a whole lot, but you will need a cool head and plenty of extra balls.