The Sea Pines Resort,
32 Greenwood Dr,
Hilton Head Island,
South Carolina (SC) 29928,
- +1 800 925 4653
15 miles SE of Charleston
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Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus
Harbour Town Golf Links is the best of the three outstanding courses at the Sea Pines Resort and Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus designed it.
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.
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
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.