HIL­TON HEAD

It has one of the PGA Tour’s most dis­tinc­tive stops and a re­sort that has ranked as Amer­ica’s best for fam­i­lies. Chris Ber­tram re­turns from this South Carolina golf Mecca im­pressed..

Golf World (UK) - - FRONT PAGE -

Three days at one of Amer­ica’s finest re­sorts.

Day One

It was fab­ric en­tre­pre­neur Jim Self who saw the po­ten­tial for a re­sort in the mid­dle of an un­in­hab­ited bar­rier is­land off the coast of South Carolina.

In the early 1960s Charles Fraser, the mod­ern-day founder of Hil­ton Head Is­land and the de­vel­oper of Sea Pines Plan­ta­tion, ap­proached Self as he felt the de­vel­op­ment needed a golf course. Self was part of a golfing fam­ily and was able to share the vi­sion of Fraser. But while the lat­ter wanted an ‘ex­ec­u­tive course’, Self in­sisted on a cham­pi­onship lay­out. That course was Har­bour Town Golf Links, which is usu­ally ranked among the Top 20 pub­lic cour­ses in Amer­ica.

It is was de­signed by Pete Dye and Jack Nick­laus and is char­ac­terised by la­goons and in­ner coastal wa­ter­ways, while its fair­ways are nar­rowed by im­pos­ing oaks, pines and pal­met­tos. It is es­pe­cially easy to be blocked out by trees on the start and fin­ishes to both nines.

Opened in 1967, it boasts rel­a­tively small greens that add sig­nif­i­cantly to its chal­lenge. Back then, it was 6,655 yards but now stretches to more than 7,000 – al­though even that is not es­pe­cially long by PGA Tour stan­dards, with Har­bour Town the es­tab­lished host of the Her­itage Clas­sic.

Wa­ter plays a key part in its ex­act­ing na­ture, with the 4th, 8th, 14th, 17th and 18th – the lat­ter two lined by the tidal Cal­i­bogue Sound – all fraught with dan­ger.

The 17th is a splen­did par 3 that plays into the pre­vail­ing wind and is fol­lowed by the fa­mous cli­max, with wa­ter all the way up the left and out of bounds on the right, but most no­tably the red-and-white striped light­house in the back­ground.

Of the holes not dom­i­nated by wa­ter, the 9th is a clas­sic risk-re­ward par 4 to a small green with typ­i­cally tricky-to-read un­du­la­tions.

The other cour­ses within the high-end Sea Pines Re­sort are At­lantic Dunes – which used to be called the Ocean and was com­pletely ren­o­vated by Davis Love – and Heron Point, also by Dye. At­lantic Dunes now lives up to its name while Dye re­designed the swales and mounds of Heron Point – which has four holes where wa­ter guards the green – in 2007.

Day Two

We de­tail else­where why we think Pal­metto Dunes should be your base for the trip and in turn, we be­lieve if you play one other course out­side of Har­bour Town, make sure it is this re­sort’s Robert Trent Jones.

There are on Hil­ton Head Is­land more than 20 golf cour­ses within 30-minute drive and in­deed there are three at Pal­metto it­self, but the RTJ is def­i­nitely the best of the rest.

It is one of old­est cour­ses on the is­land, is usu­ally in pris­tine con­di­tion and is ex­cep­tion­ally pop­u­lar, of­ten cater­ing for more than 220 golfers a day.

It is a bit more open and longer than its sis­ter cour­ses and has a real RTJ feel. Hous­ing is well set back from a spa­cious course that re­quires a buggy un­less you re­ally want a good walk.

The 1st plays to a clas­sic RTJ pushed-up green and it’s also no­tice­able how un­du­lat­ing the fair­ways are. That theme con­tin­ues on the 2nd – a wide, straight hole com­pli­cated by a pond in front of the sad­dle­back green with bunkers right and left. This al­ready feels a proper course, and here one also gets a sense of the wa­ter­ways that run through­out.

In fact, the la­goon that runs through­out this course and some of the com­mu­ni­ties is 11 miles and the se­cond long­est man-made la­goon sys­tem in the United States.

There is good va­ri­ety too. So while the 3rd is a get­table par 4, it bites back with the 4th, which is a long and nar­row par 5 to a green tucked be­hind a mound on the left. The 6th is also a strin­gent, tighter two-shot hole and in be­tween comes the 5th, a short hole with a look of the 4th at Au­gusta to it.

There is lots of wa­ter off the 7th tee and the 8th is a short hole over a tongue of wa­ter stretch­ing to­wards you. There is plenty of un­du­la­tion in that green too, as there are on many here.

Wa­ter is also in play up the right of the 9th, and from there you turn at a right an­gle to play the 10th... and can al­ready feel the ocean breeze whistling down it.

This is the best-look­ing hole on the RTJ, play­ing to a palm-fringed green that slopes away from you... but with the call­ing card of the At­lantic Ocean be­hind it.

The 12th is a nice par 3 over wa­ter with no mar­gin for er­ror... and might be a bet­ter golf hole than the spec­tac­u­lar 10th.

The fine 17th main­tains the mo­men­tum to the end, play­ing across a stream to a shal­low green on 17; one of the best holes on a very solid re­sort course.

Day Three

Pal­metto Dunes has been ranked the num­ber one fam­ily re­sort in Amer­ica, and it is not hard to see why once you’ve vis­ited here. If they have for­got­ten to in­clude an amenity or other, we couldn’t think of it! Once you’ve checked into this com­pre­hen­sive re­sort, there’s ev­ery chance you won’t feel like leav­ing other than to per­haps play Har­bour Town.

And a key part of that com­pre­hen­sive al­lure is its three-pronged golf of­fer­ing. Be­cause in ad­di­tion to the RTJ there is also the Ge­orge Fazio and the Arthur Hills.

The Arthur Hills needs good place­ment of shots and is the se­cond-most pop­u­lar af­ter the RTJ; it’s pop­u­lar with shot-mak­ers who en­joy a pre­ci­sion game.

Birds, al­li­ga­tors and deer all en­joy this beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, punc­tu­ated by wa­ter haz­ards – with the la­goon sys­tem fea­tur­ing on 10 holes – and stands of pal­met­tos. Oh, and the Hil­ton Head Range Light Sta­tion, to keep up with Har­bour Town...

The most no­table hole is the 13th, played across the la­goon which you’ve got to cross twice as you ne­go­ti­ate this dog leg.

The Fazio is con­sis­tently good without hav­ing the stand-out holes of the other two. It has a lot of sand on it and is in some ways a com­bi­na­tion of its sis­ters.

Ex­pect pushed-up greens and tree-lined gently un­du­lat­ing fair­ways but wide play­ing ar­eas – es­pe­cially on the back nine – dec­o­rated by white sand bunkers and wa­ter snaking through­out. It sits on Carnoustie Lane and this par 70 – Hil­ton Head Is­land’s only par-70 pub­lic course – is lauded as one of the is­land’s tough­est tests.

There are only two par 5s and in­stead it serves up a suc­ces­sion of par 4s start­ing with the 432-yard 1st and end­ing with the 462-yard 18th. The greens are rel­a­tively small and un­du­lat­ing.

The last four holes are ex­cel­lent and sum up the Fazio; three well-bunkered par 4s and a great short 17th over wa­ter.

112 Golf World Septem­ber 2018 The Robert Trent Jones at Pal­metto Dunes: pere­nially busy for very good rea­son.

Pal­metto Dunes, a golfing nir­vana with three ex­cel­lent cour­ses. Al­li­ga­tors not pic­tured.

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