HILTON HEAD, S.C. - Jeff Sanders and his family sat at a large table at the Salty Dog Saloon on Hilton Head Island, sipping cold drinks and indulging in some seafood appetizers. Well, John and his wife sat, while the kids ran around with a couple of coloring books.
Sanders is not a professional golfer, but he brings his family to this beautiful, low country island every other year for the same reason that PGA Tour players covet the WorldCom Classic: the beach, family atmosphere, and pure rest and relaxation.
A few tables down, 25-year-old Johnny Vaughn and a group of his friends from Charlotte order their next round of Corona beer slap on another coat of sun block, and wonder out loud which bar their next beer will come from. Vaughn et. al. are all young, single professionals that covet the WorldCom Classic for another reason: It is one of the state's biggest parties of the year.
One thing that Sanders and Vaughn do have in common is they love good golf courses with great settings. Hilton Head has more than its fair share.
Unlike Myrtle Beach to the north, Hilton Head is an aesthetic masterpiece. Urban design guidelines pervade the architecture, so that every building, home and shopping center retains some type of civic value. If you ride a non-motorized bike in the Grand Strand, you take your life into your own hands. In Hilton Head, there are miles of off street bike paths that make the old two-wheeler a viable form of transportation.
And while Myrtle Beach is just now seeing a glut of high priced, semi-private golf courses, Hilton Head has been the state's capital for upscale golf for years.
Forty years ago, Hilton Head was a lightly populated low country island, accessible only by boat or ferry. In 1961, the first golf course opened and the island began to gain a favorable reputation among Sandlappers and visitors.
Fast forward to 2001, and more than two million visitors flock to the island each year. It is safe to say that no weekend attracts more touristas than that of the WorldCom Classic, the Heritage of Golf. And it is even safer to say that nothing attracts those visitors to the island like area's 40 golf courses.
Here is a rundown of where to play and stay if you and yours become one of the two million strong this year.
Look no further than Sea Pines Plantation (800-seapines), home to the Harbour Town Golf Links, which hosts the WorldCom Classic. Pete Dye designed the course, with an assist from Jack Nicklaus back in 1969. The course is known for its tight fairways, small greens, and famous 18th hole with the lighthouse.
The Robert Trent Jones Course (843-785-1136) at Palmetto Dunes Plantation was the first course built at one of the island's premier resorts. Unlike Harbour Town, Jones' fairways are wide and his greens generous. But the seven-mile lagoon system makes for some challenging holes, and some of the best scenery on the island.
Arnold Palmer designed the Crescent Pointe Golf Club on an excellent piece of land that features plenty of marshland views, a boatload of bunkers, and wonderful strands of magnolias, oaks, and pines. Look out for the par 5, 518-yard 17th hole that features marsh down the right side, a waster bunker to the left and a hidden green.
Author Pat Conroy (Prince of Tides) used to live and teach here, and now you can play two of the best courses in the area by taking a trip across the Calibouge
Sound to Daufuskie Island. Jack Nicklaus designed Melrose (843-842-2000), which features a trip into the islands dense vegetation on the front nine, and a back nine that opens up for some amazing holes.
Old South Golf Links (800-257-8997) was selected by Golf Digest as one of 1992's best public courses. Hilton Head based architect Clyde Johnston designed the course, which features spectacular views and memorable holes at a price that bust your wallet.
The Shipyard Plantation (800-234-6318) sports 27 holes divvied up between the Galleon, Clipper and Brigantine nines. The facility once hosted the Hilton Head Seniors International tournament. All nines feature interesting layouts routed through lagoons and ponds.
Fripp Island Resort (843-838-1521) hosts son of the south Davis Love III's Ocean Creek and venerable George Cobb's Ocean Point. The Creek course plays along the water and provides players with a more linksy feel a la the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.
Pull the trigger now - on securing your accommodations in Hilton Head for resort golf and the MCI Classic for next year that is. The island's busiest week of the year leaves every hotel, motel and bed and breakfast booked from Georgetown to Savannah.
Bedding down at the Motel Six with a pack of buddies is great if you are in Hilton Head with the sole purpose of catching thirty-six holes, a beer and a bed. But if you want to step it up a notch and throw down a few bones for first class accommodations that should lead to as many romantic interludes as pars, try Hilton Head's Main Street Inn.
This $6.1 million, 34-room European style hotel is nothing if not luxurious. The lobby is set amidst expensive furniture and China, and a breezeway takes to behind the Inn to what has to be one of the most stunning gardens in the state, much less Hilton Head.
"We want to appeal to the seasoned traveler and create the experience of a European vacation with panache and service here on Hilton Head Island," Main Street Inn General Manager Stuart McPherson told the Island Packet upon the Inn's opening back in 1996.
If you are in town for the MCI Classic, the Inn makes for a cozy hideaway from all the action at Harbour Town, as it is located just far enough away to be a reprieve, but close enough to the action to be convenient.
A historic library on the first floor A baby grand piano and a Louis XIV fireplace mantel
A tea room with heart pine floors that looks out to the arbors in the garden Bathrooms feature marble floors, robes, and small balconies that open to the front of the Inn. Complementary European Breakfast Short walk across the street to shops, the Main Street Pub, and the Harris Teeter grocery.
P.O. Box 23886
Hilton Head, SC 29925