Golden Bear course likes women, but don't get all freaked out about it

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

HILTON HEAD, S.C. - Describing a golf course as "women-friendly" is sometimes seen as a sort of back-handed compliment in some of the more macho golf circles.

What, you mean it's short, wide and easy?

In fact, some head pros and golf directors equivocate when the subject is brought up. They don't want what they perceive as the stigma of a "pink tee" course. That shouldn't be the case. A course can be women-friendly, junior-friendly and senior-friendly without sacrificing bite and bone.

It's simply a matter of giving some thought to the placement of the forward tees, instead of treating them as afterthoughts, a token gift to the lesser sex. The Golden Bear Golf Club on Hilton Head is such an example.

"It's a lot of fun for women," said Mary Beth Morgan of Tennessee, playing alongside her husband, Cecil. "I don't know that it's as much fun for men, but they give a lot of forgiveness for women. I bring a group of women over every October and we have a ball."

Actually, it's not that bad for men, either. It has nice length - at 7,014 yards, it's neither short nor overly long. Its conditioning is good, with all the little details Jack Nicklaus courses are usually associated with.

Nicklaus has always liked wide fairways, not because they're easy to hit, but because he's a fan of Scottish golf, which dictates that there be more options and angles into the green than American target golf.

A consequence of that is that such a hole can be played many times over, giving a different perspective each time. The fairways at this course aren't as wide as some other Nicklaus courses - not by a long shot - but they still give you choices.

Another plus for Golden Bear is its conditioning, which is quite good. At a time when some Hilton Head courses are struggling because of a string of bad weather, the Golden Bear appears to be flourishing. That wasn't always the case.

"When we first opened, we used to be one of the top courses on the island," said Head Pro Neal Ryan. "Last year, we had temporary greens. Hard to believe from last year to now it's looking as good as it is."

The Verdict

Have you ever played an unfamiliar course and run into holes where you had no idea where to hit it? Not at the Golden Bear - there may be few other vacation courses that give the first-time golfer more information.

First of all, there are hole diagrams and descriptions on the markers. If that weren't enough, there are even more detailed descriptions on the ParView GPS systems in the carts, which has the clearest and most precise hole replications I've seen to date: these things could win art awards.

You'll find yourself consulting them often, like at No. 2, a 551-yard par 5. It's a slight dogleg left with a blind water hazard you might not have known about if you're trying to cut some yardage. There is a series of bunkers to carry to reach the green in two; keep it right or you'll be trying to land it delicate as a ballerina over two high-lipped bunkers.

There are some other tough holes, in case you were embarrassed at that "pink tee" remark, like No. 3's 200-yard carry over a lagoon and No. 18, a 537-yard par 5 that only the big baboons reach in two; the water starts about 100 yards from the green, so don't be short.

"From the back tees, it's all you need," Ryan said.

Places to Stay

There are a number of lodging options in and around Hilton Head, including the Crown Plaza Beach Resort, which is on the south side of the island, with easy access to the area's golf courses. The resort is located on 11 acres inside Shipyard Plantation.

The Shipyard Golf Club, a 27-hole facility, has hosted PGA Senior Tour events in the past, and there are more than 30 courses in the surrounding area.

Hilton Head is also a tennis hotspot and the Van der Meer Tennis Center/Shipyard Racquet Club is a couple of minutes away from the resort, with 23 courts on three surfaces. The 11-mile beach itself is a good one - it was voted in the top 10 of beaches in the country by the Travel Channel.

The resort offers boogie boards, sailboats, floats, catamarans, water bikes and beach tricycles. It has a fitness center with saunas, whirlpool and an indoor swimming pool as well as an outdoor pool and wading pool.

Crown Plaza has 340 rooms, including nine suites, all with high-speed Internet access available for a charge, as well as private balconies. The resort is housed in a five-story single building with views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Places to eat

The island has a wide array of restaurants, more than 250, in just about every conceivable style, from French, German and Italian, to Caribbean, Thai and Mexican.

Crown Plaza has Brella's Café, with inside dining or its outside terrace, and serves salads, sandwiches and fresh seafood. It has a Sunday brunch.

Portz specializes in Mediterranean food. The resort also has Docker's, a poolside bar and Signal's Lounge, with a large dance floor.

Fast fact

The course is located in the Indigo Run community, which has two courses, the Golden Bear and The Golf Club Course, which Nicklaus and his son collaborated on.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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