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.”
We have seen Harbour Town Golf Links on our television sets most of our lives. It's finishing hole, with distinctive lighthouse behind, is one of the most recognized in all of golf...
We had received mixed reports on the merits of playing Harbour Town, but decided to make our own minds up!
The day we played was the second day of a bit of a cold snap after some glorious weather, and the punters obviously decided to stay indoors. We were 2 of only 13 players for the day booked in, and first off - so we had a clear run at the course.
Harbour Town is largely built in a housing estate and this was one of the criticisms from those suggesting it may not be worth playing .... however the homes were set well back in the trees, were largely unobtrusive, and generally tasteful (and expensive) residences.
Our first impressions were of a VERY tight course, winding delightfully through the stunning Live Oak trees draped with Spanish Moss. Most holes had these large Oak trees strategically placed on the dogleg or protecting angles to the green. Golfers need to be vary accurate or have the ability to shape the ball... It certainly was easy to hit a tree!
I liked both the routing, and the variety of holes tucked in the trees - but I felt it was a quietly impressive course rather a spectacular one.
The Pete Dye trademark sleeper walls were in play on the par 3's - all very pretty and quite challenging. Many of the par 4's were interesting too, with the shorter ninth and it's boomerang shaped green, and the thirteenth with its fortress like, sleeper-walled bunkers surrounding the green the most notable.
By late in the round Heather was beginning to wonder if we were on the correct course - only a few holes to go, and no sniff of terrain anything like those famous last holes..
And then you play to the16th green and the par 3 17th with its marshy surrounds opens up behind. The 17th protrudes into the marsh and an audience of waterbirds are perched on the timber sleepers, waiting for you to take on the water carry to the well bunkered green.
You finish your round on that wonderful 18th tee with the lighthouse as a backdrop. All you need is a great drive, and a better approach... A strong finish indeed!
I liked Harbour Town and would recommend it to anyone. If you ever get the chance don't listen to the naysayers - you won't regret the experience, and you certainly won't forget it!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review
In a non-COVID world, Harbour Town is a traditional stop on the PGA Tour that takes place the week after the pressure of the Masters and generally has a relaxed feel. Guys just look like they’re having fun there striping the ball down the narrow hole corridors and chipping and putting around this set of greens that must have been considered ridiculous when designed in the 1960s. It’s a ball-striker’s course but not a bomber’s course due to that narrowness – you simply can’t afford to spray it around due to OB and water lurking beneath many of the overhanging pine trees. Short game wizards can score, too, however, as the greens are small enough that they’ll have birdie looks on nearly every one that they find in regulation. Frankly, it’s as fair a course to all players as you’ll find on tour as it tests every aspect of one’s game except length.
I was lucky enough to play Harbour Town twice before the age of 15, in an era of persimmon woods and Zebra putters. I don’t know how much, if any, it’s been changed since - I'm guessing not much - but I recall the layout as being exceedingly narrow and full of wild humps and bumps. Being in the fairway wasn’t a guarantee of a shot at the green. The first time I played it, I made a par on #15, which was a big deal at the time.
My favorite holes (colored, obviously, from years of watching on television since): #9, a driveable par four with a narrow fairway and a unique heart-shaped green; #12, a long and narrow par four which requires multiple different shot shapes; #13, a mid-length par four to a green fronted by railroad ties – a front pin is fun!; and the finishing stretch, starting with #16, a boomerang dogleg left par four with options galore; #17, an intimidating par three playing into the teeth of the prevailing wind; and #18, the iconic long par four finishing hole along the marsh with an extremely wide fairway but extremely tiny green.
Tight course that offers a wide array of challenges. The trees surrounding the fairway may look intimidating but if you find yourself underneath them, be sure to take your medicine and punch out, Greens typically well maintained, and pace of play not an issue. Would I play it again, yes if I was in the area. But would I make a journey out of my way to play here, No (And I came from Washington State to play this course!)
One of Dye's best efforts and I'm admittedly not a huge fan but he deserves accolades and credit for this course which is now becoming iconic. Small greens narrow fairways and a lot of great golf holes. It does wrap through a residential area in Sea Pines so that kind of takes away from the experience a bit, but who wouldn't want to live there right? Number 17 and 18 are fantastic closing holes. 17 is a par three going towards the ocean and the wind typically is a factor but you can't necessarily feel it from the tee. Could ruin a round if you aren't careful. And 18 we all know has the candy can striped lighthouse with a very wide landing (although from the back tees its a pretty good carry up the left side. And then the real kicker is the tiny green at 18. Very tough to hit. Conditioning was great when I played it even though it was the middle of summer which was impressive because it was HOT and dry. Schedule a game with your buddies here, its well worth it.
This is a true shotmaker's golf course. You must be able to move the ball both ways as you will invariably be blocked out by overhanging trees. This is a refreshing venue for professional golf tournaments but frankly it isn't a course that begs me for a replay.
A parkland championship course located on an island seriously full of golf courses and at a resort (Sea Pines) which has three courses of its own. The course is the annual home of the PGA Tour stop for the Heritage Classic. Quite a tight course and with small greens which place a premium on accuracy for decent scoring. The feature hole is the 18th, but my favourites were the relatively short par 4 13th with it's horse-shoe shaped bunker and the dog-leg left 16th, again with a giant bunker asking the approach shot to be bold. Other high points were seeing the spanish moss hanging from the old branches (a first for me in real life rather than just the zoom-in on TV!) and the quality of the conditioning.
But there's just a bit too much sameishness with the narrow holes, overhanging branches and small greens, especially on the front nine, to make this a full 6-ball course for me.
To summarize Harbour Town: narrow fairways and small greens. The design, layout and routing are imaginative and good, even though the course is completely flat. You can't just get up and hit driver on every hole. It is designed to really make you think about the type and shape of the shot before hitting each one. The narrowness of the fairways and the over-hanging trees force you to have to hit a certain side of the fairway in order to have a decent shot at the small greens. In this regard, Harbour Town reminded me of Merion.
Although the fairways in reality are not that narrow, they give the appearance of being so. This is because so many of the holes have overhanging trees that encroach over the fairways, making it a visually difficult golf course to drive the ball. Harbour Town represents the type of short, shot-makers course that seems to be out of vogue. It's nice to have world-class courses like this that are not all about length and brute force.
The other thing I appreciate about Harbour Town as a student of golf history is that this is one of Pete Dye's earliest designs and one of the first he used railroad ties on. As essentially the first course of its genre built in the modern era, this makes it a historically important course. Jack Nicklaus was a co-designer, and it was the first course he was involved with from a design standpoint. Also, I like the Low country setting with all the live oak trees with their hanging Spanish moss. The course also has a very interesting combination of palmetto trees, pine trees, elm trees, pampas grasses and other native plants.
My two favorite holes on the course were the 13th and the 16th, which showcase Dye's bunkering abilities. The 13th has a narrow landing area off the tee. It is critical to hit your drive to the right-hand side of the fairway to have a reasonable shot at this unique green. The green itself is 'Y' shaped, with an imposing railroad-tied bunker half-way around it.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
When the trip you have had planned for months takes you towards an impending hurricane that may or may not hit land, may or may not dump 25+inches of rain on the courses you aim to play you start to wonder if jumping in a plane to Savannah is all that wise an idea. Everyone has their turning point so we watched carefully and after a very rough flight in we were set to go at Harbor Town. The storm missed us by about 2 hours dumping 30 inches of rain on Kiawah Island (the next stop) and forcing evacuation. Harbor Town to our surprise was absolutely fine albeit a touch wet with all the recent rain.
Interestingly enough this was only my second Bermuda grass experience. If you can remember your first games on this turf you will no doubt remember how tricky it is, how it catches the balls that you think will release and roll up onto the green and how the rough catches your club like trying to hit out of a large soft wet sponge.
The course is infamously known as a pure ball strikers course and requires heavily shaped shots to play it really well. The routing is semi tight and tree lined. Not the kind of course to bang drivers on but the type to carefully plot your way around setting up your next shot or facing circus act approaches over, under and around trees and branches.
Despite the narrowness of the course Harbour Town makes this work with excellent greens and bunkering. Make no doubt about it, it’s a championship course and easy for even the best of players to run up high numbers even when the wind is down.
While the entire routing is excellent my favorite part is the infamous finish. Holes 16-18 are a fantastic climax with 17 and 18 being the most picturesque holes on the course. 17 is a mid length par 3 out toward the Atlantic with slightly raised two tiered green that is fronted by a bunker and water and runs away from the tee from right to left calling for a perfectly judged ball flight into the wind that is nearly always present.
The 18th holes plays towards the famous red and white striped lighthouse and runs along with Atlantic. An excellent drive taking on the water on the left affords you with the best angle of approach. The approach requires a mid iron into the wind over water to fairly narrow green, a challenging finish to a great championship course.
I liked Harbour Town, especially the short par 4s. There are three holes that are 330 yards or less, and each of them offers a unique challenge. The overall length is only 6,500 yards (short by today’s standards), with postage-stamp greens and very strategically placed trees and pot bunkers. I hit irons off the tee on these three holes and had only wedges in, but each approach had something very challenging about it, especially if wasn’t in the right spot on the fairway. Of course, walking up 18 was a trill as I drove it to the right of the salty marsh and approached the famous red-and-white-striped lighthouse behind the 18th green. Every morning in South Carolina, I awoke to predictions of rain, but no rain fell until the 17th hole of Harbour Town, when it started raining and kept raining until I got on the plane at 5 p.m. Larry Berle.