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By Brad King
Golfers residing above the Mason-Dixon Line know the feeling.
It’s an itch that typically strikes around December or January. A cabin fever that makes golf nuts eagerly map out their annual spring trip, with a yearning anticipation of warmer days ahead.
Many of the more discerning Northeastern golfers have discovered Hilton Head Island — a crown jewel of South Carolina’s hauntingly picturesque Lowcountry.
Snuggled on the east coast between the iconic destinations of Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, Hilton Head is the largest barrier island off the Atlantic coast between Long Island and the Bahamas, covering 42 square miles — 12 miles long and 5 miles wide at its widest point. The local population of Hilton Head hovers around 38,000. But with more than 2.5 million visitors a year, “The Golf Island,” as Hilton Head is often referred to, never feels small.
The first eco-planned vacation destination in the United States, Hilton Head regularly generates impressive headlines and accolades. Travel + Leisure magazine has ranked Hilton Head as the “No. 1 Island in the Continental United States.” Meanwhile, Condé Nast Traveler has proclaimed Hilton Head its top choice in the Readers’ Choice “Best Islands in the U.S.”
“These awards are annual occurrences for Hilton Head and they certainly validate what we see every day,” said Cary Corbitt, longtime Vice President of Sports and Operations at The Sea Pines Resort and President of the Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association. “Hilton Head is simply one of the most appealing getaways anywhere, particularly for families. There is truly something for everyone here, the weather is ideal and the island’s beauty is unforgettable.”
Golf is a year-round proposition on The Golf Island. While locals may consider the spring and fall to be the most delightful seasons to take to the tees, a value can be found both in the winter and summer months, as well. The Hilton Head-Bluffton area is home to 26 top-shelf golf courses, world-class beaches and an unparalleled variety of vacation accommodations, Lowcountry dining choices, and off-the-course amenities and activities.
With limitless things to do and a delightfully perennial climate beckoning to be savored throughout the seasons, Hilton Head is a natural magnet for a spectrum of sports, recreation and outdoor leisure. More than a million rounds of golf are played on Hilton Head annually — more golf per capita than any place in the country. While some of its top courses are private, Hilton Head has earned its reputation as one of the world’s finest golf destinations primarily due to its outstanding public and resort courses that will satisfy the palate of even the most selective golfer.
The breathtaking natural beauty of the area attracted some of the game’s most legendary architects — names such as Robert Trent Jones, Davis Love III, Rees Jones, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, George Fazio, just to name a few. Hilton Head Island is also home to the RBC Heritage, an area tradition at Harbour Town Golf Links at The Sea Pines Resort, where the world’s best golfers try to tame one of the most challenging stops on the PGA TOUR.
Hilton Head is shaped like a boot. Sea Pines Resort, home of Harbour Town Golf Links and two other storied layouts, is located at the “toe,” or the south end of the island. The late Pete Dye’s masterpiece at Harbour Town remains a lasting monument to southern coastal golf and a bucket-list golf course for any aficionado. Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III is a complete reconstruction of Sea Pines Resort’s historic Ocean Course performed by the popular five-time Heritage champion. Not to be outdone, Sea Pines Resort’s original Sea Marsh Golf Course received a multimillion-dollar transformation in 2007 and is now called Heron Point by Pete Dye.
Just a smooth 9-iron from Sea Pines on Hilton Head’s south end is Shipyard Plantation, which offers 27 holes designed by Cobb and Byrd that can be played in a trio of 18-hole combinations. Each 9-holer — called Clipper, Galleon and Brigantine — possesses its own merits, but there is one constant: water comes into play on nearly every hole. Nevertheless, all 27 holes at Shipyard are imminently and enjoyably playable.
Located at the Hilton Head “heel” — meaning mid-island and north end — are Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, with its Robert Trent Jones, George Fazio, and Arthur Hills courses, and Port Royal Resort, with 54 holes designed by Pete Dye, George Cobb and Willard Byrd. Each layout is unique in its own right and considered a must-play on any Lowcountry bucket list.
Bounded by three miles of Atlantic Ocean beach on one side and a sheltered Intracoastal Waterway marina on the other, Palmetto Dunes serves up a storied history of unparalleled golf experiences for guests from all corners of the globe. The trio of golf courses at Palmetto Dunes has each been honored with South Carolina’s “Golf Course of the Year” award in the past 15 years.
On Hilton Head Island’s northwestern point is Port Royal Resort — home to the original landing site of William Hilton, the explorer for whom the island is named. Similar to Sea Pines and Palmetto Dunes, Port Royal is also renowned for its world-class tennis center and other outstanding amenities, including the luxurious Westin Hilton Head Resort & Spa.
Hilton Head Island boasts plenty of culture and nightlife and fancies itself more sophisticated and upscale than its neighbor four hours to the north, Myrtle Beach. Following a round or two of golf, locals and visitors often visit the numerous bars and restaurants on the south end, although Hilton Head Island’s north end has emerged as a nighttime hotspot of its own.
Before hitting one of the eclectic selections of outstanding restaurants on the north end of the island, golfers enjoy challenging one of the two courses by Nicklaus and his son, Jack II at Indigo Run Plantation. Winding through forests of pine and oak, and along freshwater lowlands, the Golden Bear Golf Club, which debuted in 1992, will not soon be forgotten.
Also on the north end, Hilton Head Plantation is the island’s second-oldest private gated community, occupying nearly 4,000 acres. Hilton Head Plantation offers a wide variety of golf, with a quartet of gorgeous layouts: Oyster Reef Golf Club, Country Club of Hilton Head and Bear Creek Golf Club — all designed by Rees Jones — along with Dolphin Head, designed by Gary Player and Ron Kirby.
Finally, while Hilton Head has always been a convenient drive destination for many from the north, now, getting to the island is easier than ever. Most of the major airlines offer flights to either the uber-convenient Hilton Head Island Airport (HHH) or into Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV), which is fewer than 45 minutes off-island.
For prospective visitors to Hilton Head, a variety of custom golf and resort packages for small and large groups are worth investigating. The “Golf Island” has made planning your golf vacation very easy through its website — HiltonHeadGolfIsland.com. When planning your trip, marvel at Hilton Head’s golf courses, browse custom resort packages and attractive rates, and see all that Hilton Head Island has to offer away from the links.
Planning your dream golf trip is just a click away.