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Arthur Hills' golf course at Palmetto Dunes on Hilton Head: The brain outweighs the driver

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. - When you play the Arthur Hills course at Palmetto Dunes, make sure you stick your thinking cap in your bag. You'll probably need that more than your driver.

The Arthur Hills Course - Par-3
The par-3 eighth hole plays longer than its 166 yards.
The Arthur Hills Course - Par-3The Arthur Hills Course - Scenic LayoutThe Arthur Hills Course - Wildlife

The driver will occasionally come in handy here, on this tree-lined, Hilton Head golf course with bumpy fairways, but your cerebellum will be more important.

Hills likes to design golf courses that force you to make decisions before you take action, and this layout, one of three at the resort, is no exception.

The members like it because of that: A course that requires thought and finesse rarely gets boring.

The Hills course isn't one of Hilton Head's monsters at only 6,652 yards from the back tees, but it has traditionally been a favorite of both island regulars and newcomers.

Decisions, decisions.

They start right off the bat, at the par-4 first hole. With the pin tucked behind a mound that fronts the left side of the green, with only the top half of the flag showing, you must decide whether to play safe to the right, visible, side of the green, or feather in a high, soft approach. If you're off, your approach can kick off the back side of the hill and end up well off the green.

On the relatively short second, big hitters will have to decide whether to use the driver when water is 260-270 yards out, particularly because placement is paramount here; you should be in the right-center of the fairway lest your approach be blocked by a big, spreading oak left.

The yardage book tells you to stow the driver on No. 5, where the fairway narrows dramatically, and even on the par-5 sixth hole, you might want to consider a fairway wood unless you have a thunder fade in your arsenal.

You must make the same decision on the next couple of par 5s. No. 9 has a tight fairway, and you also have to decide whether or not to lay up to the 150-yard marker in order to avoid the water on the left side of the green.

The 507-yard 13th hole has a substantial water carry off the tee, and a good drive will put you in position to reach it in two. But do you want to try? The green sits at a right angle to the fairway, fronted by water that reaches up to the bulk-headed green, with bunkers to the left - water if you push it, sand if you pull it. The smart play is a lay-up over the 150-yard marker, leaving a short pitch shot in.

A fairway wood is also the right choice on the par-4 16th, with water short and long and a small landing area, but the 380-yard 17th looks like a driver might be too much, because of a thin ribbon of water that starts left, cuts across the fairway and ends up to the right of the green. But the landing area is deeper than it looks, so this is one of the few holes where the driver is gold.

In fact, there are only a few holes where you can pull out the big stick with impunity, like No. 4, 7 and the aforementioned 17th.

All this decision-making isn't for everyone.

"It's a nice course, but I didn't particularly like it," said Seth Tomas, of Georgia. "I paid a lot of money for my driver, and I like to hit it every chance I get. I got into too much trouble out there."

Hills course at Palmetto Dunes: The verdict

The Hills course is an imaginative layout in excellent condition and, as with all Palmetto Dunes courses, excellent service. There are relatively few fairway bunkers, and the green complexes are nicely contoured and sloped.

You can spot abundant wildlife, like the eagle I saw sitting on a squirrel on the back nine.

The Hills course opened in 1986, and they re-did the greens in 1993.

Hilton Head lodging

Chechessee Creek Club is a good place to stay within striking distance of Hilton Head, and you can get in some good golf on the course to boot. Chechessee Creek has 10 cabins now, most of them privately owned and for rent to members. They conform to the aesthetic standards of the club, with hardwood floors, old-time fixtures and working fireplaces.

The wide porches have barbecued grills, and they all have either golf course or marsh views and sometimes both. They come as small as two-bedrooms up to four.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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Dates: March 1, 2017 - May 31, 2018
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