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Golf in Hilton Head, South Carolina: Five must-play courses

Lisa AllenBy Lisa Allen,
Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines
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Sea Pines Resort's Harbour Town Golf Links is a course you would not forget even if it didn't appear on TV each April. (Courtesy of Sea Pines Resort)

Picking the top golf courses in Hilton Head Island, S.C. is like declaring one's favorite flavor of ice cream. They're all good. So knowing there isn't a bad course on Hilton Head, here are five you won't regret choosing.

Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort

Of course. Harbour Town Golf Links is the annual PGA Tour haunt one week after the Masters. The golf course itself consistently ranks among the favorites of PGA Tour pros. For the rest of us mere mortals, Pete Dye has designed a dream come true. It starts straight forward, but Dye begins to toy with you by the fifth hole, threading the fairway between a spray of bunkers. From then, look for mosiac-like sandy hazards, some with grass in the middle and others with trees. The clear shots to the green are usually razor-thin.

Harbour Town builds to a crescendo with the 18th hole along the Calibogue Sound and its whirling winds - the famous red and white lighthouse as a backdrop. This is a golf course you would not forget even if it didn't appear on TV each April.

Country Club of Hilton Head

For some reason, the Rees Jones-designed Country Club of Hilton Head rarely garners the attention it deserves. It consists of a string of memorable holes that use a variety of tactics to keep you on your game. Gulleys dump mishits into the drink. Ponds wrap around greens, and golfers must contend with a half-dozen bunkers that line a fairway or surround a putting surface. The service is great. The course is in sound shape, and a robust teaching program welcomes players of every age and skill level. Because it flies under the radar, your round will move at a nice pace.

George Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes

The George Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort is sand city, when it's not presenting a water carry. The only missing element is fire. It's a fun golf course that requires some complex math at each tee to plot your path to the flag. Slightly wayward shots land in expertly placed bunkers. Vast and sharply waved, they offer a wall of sand to navigate, sometimes shoulder-high. You'll lose a stroke in a fairway bunker, because a wedge is the only way out. The golf course is tightly packed, but you'll not notice as you think your way around it.

Heron Point at Sea Pines Resort

The Heron Point course at Sea Pines Resort is one of the most challenging courses anywhere. Recent renovations scaled it back a little, but this remains formidable. It will test every golfer with undulating fairways that erupt violently near the green, making essential approach shots that land on the putting surface.

It's Pete Dye in a diabolical mood. He adds lone trees to the middle of fairways and angles greens to require extra precision. His creation includes sand, mulch, limestone and a mixture of grasses. It features six tee boxes, providing a range 5,261 to 7,103 yards, a daunting 143 slope and 75.4 rating from the tips. There's no shame in choosing a shorter tee on this course. It's a smart play from the start.

Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort

The secret is out about the Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort, so expect a bit of a crowd at the first tee. But once you get going, it's a delight.

Jones throws a wide variety at you, from the relatively benign front nine he wove between trees and sand, to the back, which skips over the island's canal system. Regardless of the hole, course strategy is a must at nearly every tee. There's not much grip-and-rip golf here, despite the length in excess of 7,000 yards.

The signature hole, No. 10, marches right to the beach as just a chain-link fence separates sunbathers from golfers. Not to worry, though. Given the amount of sand on this course, you'll spend time at the beach in your cleats.

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Palmetto Dunes - Robert Trent Jones course - hole 13Palmetto Dunes - George Fazio golf course - hole 17Country Club of Hilton Head - 12th GreenHeron Point GC at Sea Pines Resort - hole 16

Lisa Allen is a golf, travel and business writer based in Beaufort, S.C. She has edited newspapers, magazines and books in Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @LAllenSC.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
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  • Hilton Head

    Gary C wrote on: Dec 1, 2009

    Just played Harbor Town- greens were very bad. Lots of bare spots sanded over, and a 5 hour plus round. I'm sure it will be great for the tournatment in April, but not now. I would avoid it for a while unless you get a great deal. Heron Pt is the old Sea Marsh. 1000% improvement- excllent course now, and better value than Harbor Town.