HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA – Half a century ago, Sports Illustrated magazine sent Dan Jenkins to tell the story of a new, provocative golf course in the South Carolina lowcountry, a place intended to be the centerpiece of a new development that would transform an overgrown barrier island into an international vacation destination.
The Harbour Town Golf Links, co-designed by Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus (who was making his debut as a course architect), was unlike anything else being built in the golf world. Railroad ties supported green complexes. Sand surrounded a par-3 green. There would be a red and white striped lighthouse framing the 18th hole, which played alongside the Calibogue Sound.
It was both charming and dazzling in a moss-draped way.
It still is.
As the centerpiece of the Sea Pines Resort (www.seapines.com) on the southern tip of the shoe-shaped island, Harbour Town with its golf course, marina and relaxed vibe has retained its magnetic appeal. Whether you’re looking for a golf getaway with friends, a special spot for a business gathering or a relaxed family vacation, Sea Pines has it all.
Among its charms are what Sea Pines does not have. No busy highways. No neon lights. No all-you can buffets situated alongside t-shirt shops and gentlemen’s clubs.
If you’re looking for a crowd, you can find folks gathering at the Quarterdeck beneath the lighthouse for an afternoon cocktail as the sun goes down. The area’s top restaurants, including Ombra, Red Fish and the Fish Camp (all outside the Sea Pines gates) may require a reservation to avoid a wait but they are worth the advance planning.
Otherwise, Sea Pines is like an afternoon in a hammock with a beach breeze blowing.
In terms of golf, Harbour Town Golf Links is the crown jewel, hosting the annual RBC Heritage while demonstrating the art and challenge of a well-designed layout without demanding 300-yard tee shots on every hole. Few courses anywhere have a better collection of par-3 holes and the famous finishing hole is selfie-worthy.
If you want to learn more about Dye, one of the game’s foremost architects, there’s a room now devoted to him in the Harbour Town clubhouse.
Where Sea Pines has made a leap in recent years is with its Atlantic Dunes and Heron Point courses. Pete Dye designed Heron Point which features narrow corridors and small greens while Davis Love III reworked Atlantic Dunes into a new star with large greens and a par-3 that plays out to the edge of the ocean. It opened in 2017.
“Atlantic Dunes has been an absolute home run,” said Cary Corbitt, vice president of sports and operations at Sea Pines.
Heron Point and Atlantic Dunes play out of the same clubhouse with the Sea Pines Learning Center, featuring top 100 instructors Tim Cook and Dana Rader, located on site.
Like Harbour Town, both courses feature Tifeagle greens and an emphasis on conditioning, overseen by superintendent Jonathan Wright.
“Our course conditioning on an everyday basis has dramatically improved in recent years,” Corbitt said. “We place a high emphasis on top conditioning and the staff has bought into it. The courses have done nothing but improve.”
After an aggressive approach to updating the courses and the resort, there’s a momentary pause at Sea Pines. It’s only momentary, however.
There are plans to expand the luxurious Inn & Club at Harbour Town, just off the first tee of the PGA Tour course, while maintaining its boutique appeal. The addition of a world-class spa is also on the to-do list in the relatively near future.
A wonderful place keeps getting better.