The Sea Pines Resort,
32 Greenwood Dr,
Hilton Head Island,
South Carolina (SC) 29928,
- +1 800 925 4653
15 miles SE of Charleston
Welcome - contact in advance
Harbour Town Golf Links is the best of the three courses at the Sea Pines Resort and it was created by Pete and Alice Dye and Jack Nicklaus. The resort's two other courses, Heron Point and Atlantic Dunes, both feature prominently in our South Carolina Best in State rankings.
Home to the annual Heritage Classic (now called the RBC Heritage), Harbour Town opened for play in 1969 and it has remained in the top echelons of resort golf ever since. The course is laid out on relatively flat ground with the fairways flanked by pines. The smallish greens are very fair and not tricked up in any way.
With a wonderful closing hole, it’s likely that Harbour Town will remain lodged in the memory for years. The 18th is a brutish par four which measures 478 yards from the tips. A solid drive on the line of the lighthouse will find the landing area which juts out into the Calibogue Sound. The lighthouse here at Harbour Town reminds us of a jollier version of the other famous lighthouse at the fabulous Turnberry Resort in Scotland.
Writing in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses , Tom Doak said: “Harbour Town hold a special place in my heart, because it gave an impressionable 10-year-old an interest in design. It is rightly famous as a turning point in the history of American golf architecture, and it remains one of the favorite courses on Tour, because few others place such a premium on straight hitting off the tee and precise iron shots to small greens. There are also a lot of excellent strategic holes, and plenty of endearing features like its picture-postcard par-3’s, and the V-shaped 9th green, the boarded bunker that fronts the 13th green, the world’s first waste bunker alongside the 16th, and the two iconic finishing holes. The course continues to fall in the rankings because of the things it doesn’t have, but maybe we should focus more on the things it does.”
As a South Carolina resident the continued propagation of Harbour Town as a masterpiece is not the feeling of nearby residents who understand golf design.
Were Harbour Town not on TV, had not been distinctive in its presentation at onset, it would be far less highly thought of. It has a nice history of Mr Jack Nicklaus being asked to design a course and then basically running to Pete Dye for help. Actually HT continues its desirable position in rankings because it is public access and follows the Masters the next week on TV. It helps expose the flaws in revering where tournaments have been played and that effect on ratings and rankings.
It is far less narrow than its initial iteration. The greens are expanded. The Par 3 holes are quite good, but Dyes built excellent, strategic par 3's almost unlike any other design team. So 17 - 18 finish benefits from 17 being Dye doing Dye and 18 is an unusual-looking hole that is really just visually different and with a much-softened green complex post - Matthew. A few holes here and there and corridors directing play coupled with correct side misses of greens add to the "Magic of the Golf Professional".
The two Dye private courses (whichever you prefer is your call) in the HHI area are far more interesting designs architecturally and are more intellectually stimulating. However they suffer from not being on TV and being rather difficult to access.
As the four balls rating implies - it's worth meriting a full day out, even a night's stay (Because it's over an hour from I-95) but doesn't get that eagle lip-out.
It's always fun to play what you see on TV and it's a good anchor for a golf trip, but it's been surpassed.
Played on punched greens, but still the most thought provoking course I have ever played. Would play 1,000 more times.
Harbour Town is a great Pete Dye design that may not test your length, but will certainly test your accuracy. Many who say the course is "overrated" don't appreciate the angles Pete and Alice Dye want you to use while playing the course. After you wind your way through the trees on holes 1-15, one of the best closing stretches anywhere in 16-18 await to cap off a fantastic golf course.
My first-time playing Harbour Town was during my college days at South Carolina and I thoroughly enjoyed the course. It was the complete opposite of the muscular brawny layouts that were often times mindless long slogs. Harbour Town showcased the need for shotmaking -- getting the ball into the correct positions and being able to demonstrate the wherewithal to hit top tier irons to the small targets.
Harbour Town is where the Pete Dye design motif hit its stride with full force.
The main issue that developed in the years that followed was the inconsistent nature of the turf preparation and how a number of the tree canopies were allowed to exceed their proper role. For the Heritage the event went all out in doing its utmost to have everything look spectacular. At other times of the year -- the conditioning --- especially the greens -- were clearly below what it should be given the caliber of the layout.
In the recent years I have played the course that specific issue seems to have been corrected.
The course still provides an engaging array of holes -- more so on the inward half but the outward side has its fair share but a bit less so, particularly on the visceral side.
The back nine is Pete Dye displaying tour de force talent. The lengthy par-4's that commence the final 9 holes are superbly counterpointed with the likes of the short 13th, the devilish par-3 14th and the gorgeous par-3 15th. This all come before the rightful fanfare of the final trio.
It's too bad the success Davis Love III showed in winning multiple events here -- but that did not translate to that kind of success in his overall career.
Harbour Town has been rightfully touted as an architectural "page turner." That's true without doubt. One only needs to simply see what the most sought-after architects have done with their efforts. The Harbour Town impact has provided a trail of fingerprints. Think of the re-establishment of the short par-4 as a hole of consequence. Where placement was given equal footing with power as well as how green configurations can be created that accentuate precision approaches.
After a stunning entrance onto the world scene when the course first opened -- there were some lean years when the overall conditioning was suspect and the general tender loving care of the layout was a bit slow in coming. That setback is now in the rear-view mirror and the folks running the place have a healthy regard in the helpful stewardship role they now provide.
If the front side were of equal caliber, I would not hesitate in giving rating of five (5) golf balls. Harbour Town is indeed a special place. One of the delightful Dye designs any architectural student should certainly seek out.
M. James Ward
I came to play just after a tropical storm and in the off-season, so my review might be a bit more critical than the others here. Nonetheless, it was still an incredible course and one of Pete Dye's finest. Even after a storm, the course was still incredibly manicured and an absolute blast. Played with my father and the caddy we were assigned was top-notch. All of the employees were incredibly helpful and made our experience amazing. Do not skip the opportunity to play this masterpiece!
Was in Sea Pines with a friend who lives there last week. We played Harbour Town and it was in pristine condition. The greens were so smooth. The course is berated for being short but as it's at sea level and was over seeded. I found it played longer than what the card depicted. And we played it at 6300. The back nine is much stronger than the front. The front has a few holes of mention while the back has nearly every hole as mention. There are a few totally unique holes. Pete Dye RR ties, Ha. The facility depicts every best practice which you expect at a place like this. I can't recall playing any course where I had to strategize playing around a tree as often as I did here. They utilize singular trees near the greens as hazards better than anywhere I have played. It's a fabulous day out and a must play if in the area. My precise rating would be a 5.25....I'll be kind and go the 5.5....As they were just starting to set up the stands for the Tournament shortly, conditions were near best case......
In 2001, my wife, Beth, wanted to surprise me for my fortieth birthday. She planned to take me hostage for a weekend and wasn’t planning on telling me where. Here is a quick tip. If you are planning to surprise someone, do not use their frequent flier miles, as the tickets and notifications will be forwarded to them.
Our destination was going to be Hilton Head, South Carolina. Sounded great to me. Beth said, “It is just as well you found out, because I was planning to play golf with you one day and all the courses are very expensive. And I did not know where you would want to play.”
I immediately said, “Harbour Town.”
Beth said, “That is what I thought. The one with the red and white lighthouse? It is almost $200 for each of us to play.” There really wasn’t a very polite way to say, “Us?”
I ended up playing with two older gentlemen from New York named Don and George. They had been coming to Hilton Head for over twenty years. Don was 83 and George was a young whippersnapper of 78. Harbour Town was one of Pete Dye’s earliest designs. The holes are very tight; tree lined with houses beyond the trees. The greens are relatively small with the bunker in the sky concept. I do not know if this was the original design concept and intent, or as the course has matured and the trees have gotten taller they have come into play more. Also, Harbour Town was Dye’s first course with railroad ties. The first par three is number four, and plays approximately 187 yards. I hit a good tee shot that was on line, but a little bit long. Don said, “Thought you were going to have a hole in one there for a minute.”
I replied, “I am certainly due; it has been over 25 years since my last one.” Overall, I played pretty well on the front until I got to nine. The ninth hole has a heart-shaped green with a bunker in the cleavage of the heart. That particular day the pin was back left, which caused me some consternation as my approach shot ended up back right. I was lucky to escape with a double.
The 17th is quite a change of pace from the previous 16 holes where you felt hemmed in by trees. The 17th is 174 yards heading out to Calibogue Sound, and the wind was howling. You must clear marsh and water, and then a bunker protecting a redan green. When I hit my tee shot I knew it had to go. I had been aiming for the center of the green and had pulled it a bit. I have a tendency to talk to my golf ball. As a married guy with three daughters, I keep hoping that maybe something will listen to me. I started hollering, “Get up! Get up!” I then saw it bounce; never being satisfied, I then hollered, “Get back there! Get back there!” It was getting back there, so I switched to, “Go in, go in.”
At that point the ball disappeared. I turned to Don and George, and said, “Did you see that? It went in.”
Without missing a beat, Don says, “Son, I can barely see the green.” The foursome behind us heard the hollering and they started yelling, as did the foursome teeing off on 18. Of course, we did not really know that it was in. The guys behind us were very pragmatic, and they asked how they would know if it went in, because they wanted to make sure they got their free drink. I said, “Tell you what; I will do a cartwheel next to the green if it is.”
I then had to wait for George and Don to tee off. I felt like a groom waiting for the reception to end so that the real party could start. Once they were done, I hauled up to the green, jumped out of the cart, ran to the green, circled the pin, headed to the fringe and executed a passable cartwheel. As I was doing this, Beth was walking down the 18th hole with her camera. She saw me acting rather peculiarly and immediately thought I must have made some kind of crazy bet. It worked out great; this was the pre-cell phone camera technology era, so we were able to get a group picture on the 17th green.
Now for the hardest shot in golf, the tee shot after a hole in one. And this was on one of the most recognizable golf holes in the country. The 18th at Harbour Town is intimidating regardless of what you just scored on 17. It is an interesting contrast to the previous 16 holes in that it has one of the widest fairways on the PGA Tour. I hit a decent drive, topped my second shot, flew the green on my third, and finally sank a ten footer for a smooth post ace double bogey. As we were leaving the bar, George said to me, “Congratulations on your hole in one. I hope you don’t have to wait for over 25 years before you get your next one.”
I have a sweet spot for Harbour Town, not sure how objective my rating is.
I agree with the previous reviewer in that the course presents visually as tighter than it really is in reality. Certainly you want to be in the correct landing spot in order to have the best approach to the green but being in the wrong spot didn't automatically rule out par or better, particularly if you can work the ball even slightly. I actually played close to my handicap here despite fighting my swing on the back and having to accept bogies on holes that were not always an easy par but certainly not automatically over par. That being said it's not a course that I would want to play every day as while the conditions were fantastic and the last few holes are scenic there's not enough there to justify the price and the slower pace of play. Still worth playing once, if not a few times.
Without a doubt, this is a tough track. Of everyone I know that has played it nobody has scored inside 10 strokes of their index. From the tee, the intimidation is mostly visual (I don't think it is actually as tight as people say). Most holes have a safe landing area (although you might not see it). Almost exclusively, though, the safe landing area makes the approach shot exponentially more challenging and you must be prepared to accept a lot of bogeys. If you challenge the hole from the tee in search of birdies and pars you most definitely bring doubles and triples into play for mildly errant tee shots. The beauty of the design for me is that you get to choose. This is the best collection of par 3 holes I have played. The back nine is exceptional without a miss. Hope to shape it both ways and work on your short game from the parking lot before you go. You will need every shot in your bag. It is tough, it is a blast, and if you can - have lunch in the men's locker room over looking the 9th green.
If the wind is up, its very tough. Small greens, TV history, and the iconic finishing hole with Lighthouse.