Hilton Head is the rich man's Myrtle Beach, with fewer but better golf courses, and sans all the U.S. 17 neon detritus. The place has a timeless feel; it didn't even have electricity until 1951 and its second golf club until 1967.
Today, of course, it is one of the most sought-after golf destinations in the U.S., with courses designed by the likes of Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Rees Jones and Arthur Hills. TravelGolf.com writers, like everyone else, have flocked to the area, and we now bring you our list of top 10 Hilton Head area courses.
• No. 1 - Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head: The lighthouse at Harbour Town is one of the most recognizable landmarks on the PGA Tour. This is the course that launched Dye's career and established Nicklaus as a course designer to be reckoned with, a course that many of the top pros always name on their favorites list. It's also one of the few, perennial choices on "top 100 lists" open to the public, albeit at a pretty penny. It's Dye at his "target golf" best; you have to hit to certain spots on the fairway and be at your best with your irons.
• No. 2 - Long Cove Club, Hilton Head: This private club could have easily been the top choice. Those lucky enough to play it have raved about it, tossing around words like "spectacular," and even comparing it to revered names like Merion and Pebble Beach. It's a Dye design, opened in 1980, that features rolling, tree-lined fairways, most of which are bordered by a series of creeks. The greens are difficult and the course is almost always in immaculate condition. It plays from the back tees to 6,900 yards with a tough slope rating of 140.
• No. 3 - Secession Golf Club, Gibbes Island: Named after the Articles of Secession that were taken to Charleston before the start of the Civil War, they keep the experience decidedly Old South. There is no real estate around the course and no aggressive membership drives. It's low-key golf, where walking and caddies are mandatory. Designed by Australian Bruce Devlin, the course is slightly more than 7,000 yards, a links-style design that wanders confidently through lowcountry terrain. Located by the Intracoastal Waterway, you also get breezes from the ocean 10 miles distant and from the Sound of Port Royal just a couple miles away.
• No. 4 - Haig Point Club (Calibogue), Daufuskie Island: A private course just across the Calibogue Sound from Hilton Head, the Calibogue course is a Rees Jones layout - scenic, seaside golf. It rolls through sea island forests and along wide stretches of pristine salt marsh. "I knew when I first saw it we could build a word-class golf course," Jones said. The greens are fast and sloped, and the back tees stretch to 7,113 yards.
• No. 5 - Hills course at Palmetto Dunes, Hilton Head: A very playable, Hills course that favors aerial approach shots on a number of holes, as lagoons come into play. "The design of the course is timeless, with one hole flowing into the next at a languid, lowcountry pace," one TravelGolf.com review said. "Hills draped the course over the original rolling dunes lines of the property, and gently snuggled all 18 holes into thick strands of palmettos and palm trees."
• No. 6 - Melrose Golf Course, Daufuskie Island: Another Nicklaus piece of work, Melrose has three of the most dramatic finishing holes in the Hilton Head area. They run along the Atlantic coastline, where you can see the lighthouse at Harbour Town and deep out to sea. The rest of the course isn't too shabby, either, traversing through sleepy residential areas, palmetto trees and scenic wetlands. "Melrose has all the elements you'd expect from a Hilton Head-area course and even some you don't," TravelGolf.com wrote in a review. Named for the old mansion that burned down in the early 1900s.
• No. 7 - Colleton River Plantation Golf Club (Nicklaus), Bluffton: There is also a Dye course here, but the Nicklaus layout is considered superior. It starts you out through live oaks, pines and magnolias, through meadowlands, tidal marshes and palmettos, before eventually opening onto a wind-swept stretch of dunes bordering the Colleton River. Nicklaus, as usual, gives you multiple options to the greens, including bump-and-runs and ample bailout areas.
• No. 8 - Belfair Golf Club (West), Bluffton: Belfair is home to two excellent courses; they moved a lot of earth to create elevation on the East course, and the fairways are narrower than the West and the greens are fast and undulating. But, the West has more large oaks that come into play and the final 10 holes play along a series of freshwater lakes and the salt marshes of the Colleton River.
• No. 9 - Oyster Reef Golf Club, Hilton Head: This Rees Jones design at the Hilton Head Plantation has been through some rough stretches, after opening in 1982 and winning all sorts of national awards. The course installed bentgrass greens - notoriously difficult to maintain in this part of the world - that never really took hold. In 2000, they went to Tiff Eagle Bermuda and conditions have improved steadily. "Jones' clever use of doglegs, elevated greens and oyster shell-shaped bunkers makes the course one of the most fun on the island," TravelGolf.com wrote in a review.
• No. 10 - Oldfield Golf Club, Okatie: Greg Norman's first effort in the region, the course sits along the Okatie River, between Hilton Head and Beaufort. Norman said he wanted his course to be a little more "natural" than other Hilton Head courses and he moved precious little earth to prove it. It's a low-profile design, with giant live oaks frame landing areas and greens on most of the course. The back nine is built on former pecan orchards and open fields, with fairly flat greens and a "soft flow," like Australian courses.
February 7, 2006