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.”
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.
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.