Nearly from the start, Hilton Head’s golf reputation was stellar. It’s only gotten better.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of Monthly’s yearlong 30th anniversary celebration, we are highlighting 30 years of different industries in each issue. This month, we feature the golf courses that helped shape Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and the surrounding Lowcountry.
Golf is so much a part of Hilton Head Island that one might forget that the many courses that line William Hilton Parkway haven’t always been there.
Compared to other iconic golf locations like Pinehurst, established in 1897, or Augusta National, in 1933, Hilton Head Island golf is just a baby.
The first course on the island, the Ocean Course, opened in 1962 as part of Charles Fraser’s plan to transform the island from his family’s forestry enterprise and hunting preserve into a destination resort.
From the very beginning, Fraser wanted to make sure Hilton Head was classy, but accessible.
He didn’t want it to be a playground for the rich. There were plenty of places like that up and down the East Coast. He wanted Hilton Head to be for families, where they could enjoy the unblemished beauty of the island: its marshes and maritime forests, its beaches and rivers. He wanted to create an environment where families would spend time together playing golf and tennis and biking around the island.
Because of that emphasis on welcoming all visitors to enjoy what Hilton Head has to offer, most courses are open to the public. And these aren’t just any courses. These are top-shelf courses designed by the best in the business: Rees Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye, George Fazio, Tom Fazio, Arnold Palmer, Arthur Hills, Clyde Johnston.
Each makes the most of the beauty around us, carving courses through towering pines and around Spanish moss-cloaked oaks. Many provide stunning views of the marshes and waterways all around us.
The golf course building boom continued for 40 years, sprinkling the area with dozens of courses on Hilton Head and in Bluffton and Okatie. The standards haven’t slipped, nor have their reasonable rates. And to make sure area golf courses continue to live up to expectations, most have been refreshed over the years, be it significant redesigns (Pete Dye’s Heron Point in Sea Pines) or a new layer of turf over an iconic course (Harbour Town Golf Links).
Naturally, when you combine outstanding courses and a great resort destination, you’re going to attract national attention. Hilton Head Island and Bluffton certainly have, from the 48-year-old PGA Tour tournament, the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, to a long string of LPGA tournaments at Moss Creek Club from 1976-1984. Add to that countless pro qualifiers and amateur tournaments and a lot of hardware has been hoisted here. The area also has taken up permanent residency on nearly every “best” golf course list published.
You’ll also notice from the list below that virtually every course built continues to thrive. The only exception to date is Old Carolina, which recently closed.
TIMELINE OF LOCAL GOLF COURSES
Moss Creek has two championship courses, Devil’s Elbow South and North. Both courses were Fazio-designed more than 30 years ago, with the intention of making the game challenging for low-handicap golfers, as well as fair and playable for higher handicap golfers. Both courses have been completely renovated, and are truly hidden treasurers. Each course is lined with magnificent oak trees and tall airy pines, with strategically placed bunkers, large lagoons and the salt marshes, which change twice daily with the tides.
ROBERT TRENT JONES COURSE (PALMETTO DUNES)
Named South Carolina’s Golf Course of the Year, the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course is widely renowned for its open, inviting layout and spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean.
A true pinnacle of design, this course appeals to novices as well as experienced players. Home to one of only two oceanfront holes on Hilton Head Island, this much-loved course offers wide fairways, expansive greens, challenging bunkers and subtle elevation changes.
GEORGE FAZIO COURSE (PALMETTO DUNES)
Hilton Head Island’s only par-70 public golf course, the George Fazio course was named the 2014 South Carolina Golf Course of the Year by the S.C. Golf Course Owners Association. The layout offers an exhilarating experience and is revered as the island’s truest championship challenge. For beginners and advanced players, the Fazio course offers an exceptional golf experience. It is one of the youngest golf courses to be featured on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Best.
ARTHUR HILLS COURSE (PALMETTO DUNES)
Arthur Hills took full advantage of the Lowcountry’s dramatic coastal beauty when he designed this award-winning course at Palmetto Dunes. Tucked within the serene enclave of Leamington, this shot-maker’s favorite offers continuous lines of dunes, a rolling layout, numerous water hazards and thick stands of palmettos. This course emphasizes accuracy and precision over distance, providing formidable challenges at every turn.
Golf in its purest formawaits you at Berkeley Hall, the most distinguished private golf community in golf-rich Hilton Head area. With no interior homes or roads, two Tom Fazio core golf courses meander through an open coastal landscape framed by seaside grasses. Dramatic elevation changes, beautiful water features, and bold strategic bunkering showcase the designer's artistry.
Two private championship golf courses designed by Tom Fazio exemplify the Lowcountry beauty with deep-water views, fresh water lakes, majestic oaks and lush native grass. The 18-hole East Course, reminiscent of the links courses of Scotland, showcases deep-water views, open windswept fairway and fresh water lakes and lagoons. The West Course, a parklands design, exemplifies subtle beauty with its gnarled oaks, lush native grass and sparkling lagoons.
The setting is unique. So is the course. Haig Point’s Rees Jones Signature Course offers two different routings – 20 holes to bring out the best in the game and the golfer. Jones’ design was a clear innovation when the architect first laid it out in 1986. And he returned to Haig Point in 2007 for a restoration that has sharpened the course’s legacy as one of the best in the nation.
Haig Point’s stunning Signature course has appeared several times in Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Courses” and “Best in State,” and earned a position in Golf Magazine’s “Top 100 in the World.”
Colleton River’s two championship courses have both been ranked in GOLF Magazine's Top 100 Greatest Courses in the U.S. The Dye is a stunning links-type course that has unobstructed views of Port Royal Sound and the Atlantic Ocean from 11 holes. The Nicklaus course strikes an exceptional balance between challenge and playability with the last three holes overlooking the Colleton River.
SHIPYARD GOLF CLUB
Twenty-seven holes of spectacular golf in one fun, family-oriented package. Nestled within Hilton Head’s natural setting of majestic Carolina pine trees, flowering magnolias and moss draped oaks, the Shipyard Golf Club delivers memorable experiences for exceptional value.
OYSTER REEF GOLF CLUB
When Oyster Reef Golf Club on Hilton Head Island opened in 1982, it was immediately ranked as one of the Top 25 New Courses in America. This Rees Jones design has been voted one of the Top 20 Courses in the Carolinas and enjoys a reputation as a favorite among locals. Oyster Reef is known in the Hilton Head Island golf community for a warm greeting, a friendly hand whenever you need it, and a concierge program that is at your beck and call.
PORT ROYAL GOLF CLUB
Nestled along the Atlantic coastline on the northwestern point of Hilton Head Island, the Port Royal Golf & Racquet Club is located in the very pristine Port Royal Plantation along with the luxurious oceanfront Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa. In addition to being praised for its three exceptional golf courses, Port Royal Golf & Racquet Club is also well known as an award-winning tennis destination.
PALMETTO HALL PLANTATION
Palmetto Hall Plantation Club features 36 holes of pristine championship golf immersed in Southern elegance and natural beauty. A must-play for every golfer. The two Arthur Hills and Robert Cupp designed courses are premier properties for enjoying the true Hilton Head experience. Palmetto Hall Plantation Club is part of the Heritage Collection on Hilton Head Island.