BRAYS ISLAND, S.C. -- When a friend's family offers you the keys to their remote vacation house near Hilton Head Island for Memorial Day weekend, you take them up on it.
Their remote, Bray's Island Plantation house served as a fitting base camp for a golf-intensive weekend. In less than 72 hours, we played 63 holes on four different courses. Money passed through everyone's hands, and we never had more than a half-club wind to combat.
To start off the trip, we played the private Bray's Island Plantation Golf Club, one of those casual, exclusive clubs that promises an open first tee. That was true on a holiday weekend when muni golfers everywhere were enduring five-hour rounds.
Besides the faint patter of gunshots coming from the nearby shooting club, you're in your own little world at Bray's. The guy running the pro shop is the same guy running the cart barn, and golfers are their own bartender: Help yourself to whatever you please behind the bar, and write down what you take.
We played the golf course in three hours and walked off 18 just in time to catch the back nine of the HP Byron Nelson Championship. Our itch to play came back before a winner had even been crowned, and we zipped out for a bonus nine before sunset. The course itself, designed by Ron Garl, is nothing special, but the overall setting makes you take a peak at membership options.
During dinner at a casual little restaurant and bar, Luther's Rare and Well Done in Beaufort, talk amongst us soon arose of where we should play the following day: open fairways at Bray's or somewhere else? Between bites into a $13 top sirloin and $2.75 Buds, I surfed my smart phone checking the GolfNow.com tee times booking app for a morning deal.
We hadn't even asked for the check before I found a morning tee time for $35 from the Golf Club at Hilton Head Lakes. It's location is perfect as the first course you pass once you take Highway 281 east from I-95 towards Hilton Head, so we pulled the trigger -- and I had officially booked my first ever round of golf on an iPhone.
The Golf Club at Hilton Head Lakes has that unmistakable appearance of an upscale golf course community that opened in the mid 2000s: a handful of small pockets with completed houses but otherwise, acres of empty lots and a temporary clubhouse.
While the Tom Fazio Jr. layout is fun to play, with wide fairways and huge greens, the property probably won't last giving away many more $35 rounds on a holiday.
After scarfing down a couple of hot dogs, it was on to Hilton Head for the main event. We only booked one tee time in advance for our whole trip: a $72 twilight round on the Pete Dye-designed Heron Point Course at Sea Pines Resort.
We encountered the toughest course of our trip by far, thanks to the fastest, firmest greens I've played in a long time. Putts rolled pure and each of us rolled in a bomb or two, but approach shots were insanely tough to hold. Greens at Heron Point are small, raised and surrounded with humps, dips, bunkers and water. By the ninth hole, double bogies were winning skins. Dye had claimed another group of duffers. Could nearby Harbour Town possibly be tougher?
We putted out on 18 at 7 p.m., each of us bruised and beaten (and buzzed -- beverage cart ladies must make a killing on the back nine at Heron Point). Like a gambler bee-lining for the ATM having just lost $500 in a rotten shoe at the tables, we drove straight back to the first tee and put three perfect drives into the fairway.
We zipped around the front nine in an hour -- and redeemed ourselves on the ninth with two pars and a bogey, a full seven shots better than our first go around.
We celebrated a 45-hole day with about the same number of buffalo wings at Wild Wing Cafe just down the road. It was probably the beers talking, but we agreed we still had a little golf left in us.
Sore but not ready to throw in the towel, we pumped ourselves full of Advil and hit the road bright and early for our final round in Savannah, Ga., at Crosswinds Golf Club.
Not only is Crosswinds right next to Savannah-Hilton Head Airport, but the man we were paired with at Hilton Head Lakes the day before -- a regular to the area from Atlanta -- told us it was his favorite play in Savannah. So we confidently paid $35 on GolfNow.com for a prime morning tee time that would give us plenty of time before my flight.
Crosswinds delivered and was probably the best call of the trip. It's challenging enough to make par rewarding, and the greens were butter smooth but far more forgiving than Dye's Heron Point.
It's the kind of overachieving, affordable course I'd frequent if I lived here. But it still delivered on destination-worthy, Lowcountry scenery, even if you had to back off a few shots to give way to frequent planes soaring overhead.
From my window seat on the airplane later that day, we soared over the course, and I tipped my cap to a facility worthy of capping off our holiday weekend.
June 6, 2011