Mention Hilton Head Island to most golfers and visions of Harbour Town come to mind. But the South Carolina low country is home to more than 30 courses by Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and other top designers—many of them off the island in Bluffton, Jasper, and Beaufort. With moderate winter temps, excellent package deals, and frequent, inexpensive flights, Hilton Head is a great last-minute golf idea in February and March.
“The winter packages offer outstanding opportunities for golfers to escape the cold and experience Hilton Head Golf Island at our lowest rates,” says Cary Corbitt, President of the Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association and Vice President of Sports and Operations at Sea Pines Resort. “Golfers can play some outstanding layouts designed by the top names in course architecture, while also enjoying everything Hilton Head Island has to offer off the course.”
JetBlue Airways is currently running special non-stop flights from JFK to Savannah / Hilton Head International Airport (SAV). Rates are as low as $59 for one-way travel on select dates through the end of March.
If you go, here are two mainland courses not to miss:
Photos courtesy of Hilton Head Golf Island
Hilton Head National
From the time this Gary Player signature design opened in 1989, Hilton Head National has won kudos from visitors to the eponymous golf mecca. The course is a user-friendly track with just enough difficulty to justify numerous repeat rounds.
Hilton Head National plays over 6700 yards from the tips, but given the soft fairways and heavy sea-level air, it plays longer. Most golfers are going to find the 6,160-yard blue tees, with a 70.0/126 rating/slope, an adequate test of their game. There are two shorter sets of tees for others.
Gary Player always seems to find the best use of the properties he’s given to work with, and Hilton Head National is no exception. Over all, the course isn’t punitive off the tee although there are places you’ll want to double-check your aim before you swing away. Greens are generally quite accessible and even usually have an alley for those who have a solid bump-and-run shot in their arsenal. There are a few that are elevated, but nothing not in keeping with the low country geo-forms. Bunkering is designed to challenge the big hitter while (usually) the guy or gal who hits it under 250 off the tee will find a friendly landing area.
The front nine has two short-ish par fives and no par fours over 400 yards, so this is the place you can do some scoring. The most interesting hole on the nine is the 273-yard par four sixth hole, a real test of your ability to control distance as well as direction. Water is the dominant trouble element with a lake that runs the entire length of the hole just off the right side of the fairway. The multiple bunkers, including a big cross bunker at 200 yards from the tee, will give you problems, though, so consider a mid-iron off the tee followed by an accurate wedge. Careful, though—the green is turtle-backed.
The back nine has a little more length and only one par five, so that’s where much of the threat to your score card will come in. The fourteenth hole, a 369-yard par four, has a narrow fairway and a bunker that’s partially hidden off the tee to the right side. You’ll encounter it again for your second shot since it fronts most of the green as well. The sixteenth hole is the only par five on the side. At 523 yards, it’s not a killer but keeping your ball in the fairway is essential. It’s a gentle dogleg left that you’ll be tempted to hug, but don’t over-cook your draw—the left side is just one long, thick line of pines from tee to green.
Old South Golf Links
One of the most popular courses in Bluffton is Old South, located just a short drive from Hilton Head national. The gently rolling terrain, moss-draped live oaks, and intra-coastal marshes that wind through the course yield a delightful low country golf experience.
The opening five holes are a good warm up for tougher tests to come on the par-72 layout. The 370-yard seventh hole demands an accurate shot off the tee and has two forced carries before you reach the green. The eighth hole calls for a 160-yard shot to an island green. All the par threes, in fact, have water very much in play, as do most of the other holes on the course. Old South offers five sets of tees ranging from 5,135 to 6,772 yards. The rating/slope from the tips is 72.4/129.
The finishing holes are varied and challenging. Sixteen requires the precision of a surgeon and the power of an iron worker to make both shots over water to reach the green 417 yards away. Seventeen has water all along the right side for its complete 185 yard distance—and a big bunker in front of the green. The final hole is a text-book 550-yard risk-and-reward par five. A drive to the wide fairway sets up your options for the second shot. Do you go for the green over the creek and then one of the largest waste bunkers in the Western hemisphere or do you play it safe for an easy par?