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Hilton Head National Golf Club in Bluffton, South Carolina: Consistency among chaos

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

BLUFFTON, S.C. - Hilton Head National Golf Club, at least part of it, is lying in the path of progress.

Hilton Head National Golf Club - Weed Course - Hole 3
The third hole on the Weed course at Hilton Head National Golf Club puts a lot of hazards at the green.
Hilton Head National Golf Club - Weed Course - Hole 3Hilton Head National Golf Club - Weed Course - Hole 4Hilton Head National Golf Club - Hole 6Hilton Head National Golf Club - Weed Course - Hole 9

The county has approved a new road that will cut into the 27-hole golf course near Hilton Head Island. Soon to be asphalt will be holes No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 on the course's Player nine, including its signature No. 8, a par 3 over a pond, according to Shannon Archer, general manger and director of golf.

Exactly when the county will seize Hilton Head National is unknown, but Archer expects it to be by the first quarter of 2010.

Gary Player designed the original 18-hole course that opened in 1989. Bobby Weed designed another nine in 1999, creating the trio nines of the Player, National and Weed.

So there is a nostalgia factor now. Golfers can play out on a course that is doomed and in on a course that will survive, the Weed. The other surviving nine, the National, is closed so Scratch Golf, LLC, can convert the greens from tifEagle to tifdwarf to match the Weed nine and replace cart paths, Archer said.

Consistency in the land of uncertainty

Despite the turmoil, Hilton Head National Golf Club remains true in its core offering - a fastidiously maintained course with an friendly, efficient staff. A remarkable attribute in the Hilton Head golf world is that the course has had only one owner, and Archer has been at the course's helm since 1999.

The golf course survives on daily golf alone; there are no houses on the course, no members. When all three nines were open, more than 50,000 rounds were played a year. "One year, we were on pace for 60,000," Archer said. Once pared back to 18, Archer still expects to run 40,000 to 45,000 rounds on the course.

To do so, the ranger gently nudges slow players. "I'd rather make four people a little unhappy than 200," Archer said. The starter announces parties over the loudspeaker so one can work on putting or on the range until the last minute.

And once golfers play Hilton Head National Golf Club, chances are they will be back. Archer figures the course draws players with its conditions, and, "It's not crazy with bunkers in front of the greens or a lot of forced carries. It's not intimidating. You don't have to worry that you'll hit into someone's backyard."

Overall, the golf course is in stellar shape. The fairways are carpet-like, many mounded and sloped, leading to greens that are fast and undulating. Three putts? Get used to them if you're not close to the flag.

Unlike many golf courses in the Hilton Head area, there are elevated greens and tees and (gasp!) hills on this course, keeping in mind the term's context in a flat, coastal area where the elevation doesn't exceed 30 feet.

Frequent sources of trouble are waste bunkers, pappus grass and tall pines. In all, it makes for a very attractive course that will stay in the memory bank.

What stays: The Weed Nine

The Weed nine puts bunkers right where you don't want them, including in the middle of the fairway or in front of the green. For example, the No. 3 par 5 puts a huge bunker right out from the mid to back tees with water to the right of that.

A pair of bunkers are in the way if your approach shot goes awry to the left. Trees and yet another large bunker guard the green. No. 6, a par 4, throws down the gauntlet. A foursome could find itself behind a tree, in the sand or wet from the tee. Then there's always the guy in the middle.

Whatever. Just walking from the cart to the green is interesting. The carts park high above the green, which is on a shelf above the water.

The last three holes of the Weed course offer a visually intimidating par 3 with an enormous bunker left and a sea of pappus grass right. Nos. 8 and 9 are long holes, a par 5 and 4, that require long, straight shots, quite a switch from the other 15 holes.

What goes: The Player Nine

Course management is key to a Player course, where the bulldozer was put to good use to create mounds and swales. Long and straight drives are not always your friends. For example, the No. 2 par 4 is only 294 from the tips, 197 up front, so leave something for your approach shot. No. 3, a straight shot from the mid tees, begs you to go for it, but beware of trying to drive the par 4. A desert of sand serves as a backstop for the green.

The par 3s are interesting, using water and sand at various spots to shake your confidence. The not-long-for-this-world No. 8 has a ring of tee boxes around the pond , so where you'll hit from on a given day is a mystery.

The two par 5s, No. 6 and 9, both require a strategy from the start. No. 6 is a sharp dogleg right with a string of bunkers waiting for your drive and second shot. Water lies between the green and your approach shot. The ninth hole has water all along the left, with a portion of it jutting into the fairway. It's an elevated green, so anything short is going to stay just that.

Hilton Head National Golf Club: The verdict

Wayne Price, from Linden, Ga., played Hilton Head National Golf Club for the first time. "It's challenging; it's beautiful. It's narrow - I was playing from the trees a lot. I like the greens, they were fast." He particularly liked No. 8 on the Player course over the pond. "I parred that one, so I like that the best."

Dan Windsor, of Hilton Head, plays Hilton Head National often. "It's the best course for the price. The greens are great. It's not trampled on like some of the courses around here. And there aren't houses around."

He enjoys No. 6 on the Weeds course, the par 4 that's drivable. "But you take a risk."

It's an excellent course for the money. The staff is friendly and helpful, and it's well organized. The varied terrain is a treat in the land of flat. It's a course truly worth many return trips.

Lisa AllenLisa Allen, Contributor

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.

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