HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA | After more than 43 years in the golf business on this enchanting island – the bulk of it running Harbour Town Golf Links – Cary Corbitt is retiring.
So when you’ve spent the better part of your life in a place most people dream of visiting, where do you go from here?
Corbitt and his wife live within walking distance of the golf course, have a nice water view, and he has a regular Saturday golf game with friends. He may go fishing a little more often and add a second round of golf to his weekly routine. But Corbitt isn’t interested in going anywhere else.
“We’re here to stay,” Corbitt said, sitting in the stylish Harbour Town clubhouse he helped bring to life in 2015.
A graduate of Lander College, Corbitt came to Hilton Head in the mid-1970s wanting to be in the golf business and he was willing to do anything. He started out picking up range balls at Harbour Town, handling golf bags for resort guests and staging carts.
It was an unglamorous start – “the absolute bottom,” Corbitt calls it – in a glamorous spot. But it spoke to the pull golf had on Corbitt, who played collegiately and worked golf jobs in Greenwood, South Carolina. A trip to Hilton Head and Sea Pines in 1969 had stayed with Corbitt. It’s what pulled him back.
As Sea Pines and Hilton Head evolved, so did Corbitt. He eventually became head pro at the Sea Pines Club which has two courses Corbitt would eventually help get redesigned.
Corbitt has dealt with multiple ownership changes through his four-plus decades and, at one point, he ran the courses at Shipyard, Port Royal, Wexford, Indigo Run and Sea Pines. Eventually, Sea Pines became his focus and his responsibilities reached beyond golf, handling facility maintenance, the marina and other recreational pursuits.
He has done his job when the resources ran thin, survived a corporate bankruptcy and also enjoyed the many good days, particularly now under the ownership of Riverstone Group which bought the resort in 2005. His title is vice president of sports and operations.
“It’s pretty awesome that I’ve had the opportunity to spend my entire career here at Sea Pines. I’ve done a lot of different things. But it’s still been great,” Corbitt said. “Today we have the financial backing to where we can pretty well do whatever our ownership would like us to do and they don’t do anything less than first class.”
John Farrell, who has worked with Corbitt for 32 years and has been hired as his successor, has seen it firsthand.
“He has never tapped the brakes once,” Farrell said. “It’s his enthusiasm and his passion for the pursuit of improvement, not so much for perfection but he wants to get better at everything we do every day and he never lets up.”
Over the past 15 years, Sea Pines has undergone an extensive refreshing, much of which has centered on the golf operation. Pete Dye redesigned Heron Point in 2007 and Davis Love III completely rebuilt what is now called Atlantic Dunes, drawing immediate praise when it reopened in 2016.
A new clubhouse, shared by both courses, was built as was the new Harbour Town clubhouse. When it came time in 2001 to update the Harbour Town course, a revered layout, Corbitt worked directly with Dye.
“I said, ‘Pete, we really want you to be involved.’ He said, ‘If anybody’s going to touch this course, it’s going to be me.’ That’s all we wanted to hear. We said we are not rebuilding Harbour Town. It’s a total restoration. He said, ‘I’ve got it,’ and that’s what we did.”
The resort is in the midst of a new golden age.
“It’s as though lightning struck twice in the same place,” Farrell said, referring to Sea Pines creator Charles Fraser and now Riverstone.
“We work for a family and a company that is so passionate about golf and they believe in doing things in only one way and that’s the finest possible way. We’re so lucky.”
Corbitt, always dressed immaculately, has had a hand in all of the changes, big and small.
“I’m proud of being a part of it and proud of being given the opportunity,” Corbitt said. “It’s been pretty amazing.”
As Farrell expands his role from his long-time duties as director of golf, he will be guided by the lessons he’s learned from his friend.
“There are almost too many (lessons) to count,” Farrell said. “But most notably, it’s, don’t let up. Keep looking, be happy and have a servant’s heart. Keep looking for ways to improve.”
Though Corbitt is retiring – just down the street from where he has worked all these years – Farrell doesn’t believe he’s going anywhere. He will still want to be involved.
“It means too much to him,” Farrell said. “We always tease him and say his only regret in life is that he only has one life to give to Sea Pines.”
Photos: Courtesy Sea Pines Resort
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