Hampton Hall C.C. in Bluffton, S.C. is Pete Dye at his toned-down best

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

BLUFFTON, S.C. - One of the Hilton Head area's newer golf courses, Hampton Hall Country Club is already gaining a well-earned reputation as one of the better layouts.

Hampton Hall Country Club
Hampton Hall is one of the newer Hilton Head-area courses and one of the better ones.
Hampton Hall Country ClubHampton Hall Country Club - Pine ForestHampton Hall Country Club
If you go

It's a Pete Dye design, but you wouldn't know it from its subtle shaping. Hampton Hall has few of the wild touches Dye is known for - the railroad-tie bunkers, the spectator mounds, the island greens.

Rather, this is an understated, links-like layout with wide and generous fairways, artful bunkering and traditional, though challenging, green complexes. It's as if Dye, the Salvador Dali of course architects, had a rare moment of self-restraint and stripped down his vision to lean and clean - the master artist going back to his roots.

The result is an exceptional layout, wide and inviting but subtly challenging. There are no wild carnival rides here, just good, fun golf in a (for now) nearly pristine setting.

"This is about the nicest we've found in the years we've been coming down here," said Kentuckian Gary Gillis, playing with his wife.

The conditioning matches the design. Hampton Hall hardly looks a day old: The fairways and green surrounds are full and lush; the tee boxes look like no one has ever hit out of them.

The greens, also in good shape, do show hints the Dye diabolism that has confounded so many golfers, from weekend hackers to touring pros. Many have dramatic slopes and severe undulation, particularly on the front nine. Still, the paths from tee to green are generally open, receptive to running the ball up.

Dye still loves his length - Hampton Hall is 7,489 yards from the back tees and plays like it. But the course can be tamed from the middle tees if you're accurate in your approach shots and around the greens. That's a must if you want to score well - with these sloping, undulating greens, in accurate approach shots and chips up far from the hole.

Nearly every golf course on earth proclaims itself "challenging for all levels," but that's more true here than at most. Dye gives you safe routes to the green in almost every instance while still providing scarier, riskier options.

No. 5, a 470-yard par 4, is a good example. It's a dogleg left that can be cut if you can negotiate the thin strip of water, leaving a short to mid-iron in, depending on your length. There is more water further right of the fairway that can be a problem for big hitters if they stray too far right off the tee. The lake on the right extends to the green, which is guarded on the left by a repelling mound.

The 495-yard closing hole is excellent. The fairway narrows from the tee and drops off right to a waste area, with unseen wetlands on the left. There's a narrow ditch about 50 yards short of the elongated green, one of the course's more undulating.

"I don't know if this is rated the toughest hole on the course," Gillis said. "If it isn't, it should be."

The verdict

Hampton Hall opened in March 2004 and still looks like it just came out of the box. With green fees in the $80-$100 range - $50 in the afternoons - it is cheaper than some other, inferior Hilton Head courses.

Located in Bluffton, Hampton Hall is a 10- to 40-minute drive from Hilton Head Island, depending on the traffic, but even at the high end of the spectrum the drive is well worth it. There are few homes along the course now, though construction is ongoing in the ritzy new Hampton Hall gated community, so the peaceful, serene feeling on-course may not last for long.

The interior of the layout is fairly open and many of the holes are lined by thick pine forest, particularly on the front nine. This is a playable, enjoyable course that offers all sorts of interesting options.

Stay and play

The Beachwalk Hotel and Condominiums, formerly the Holiday Inn Express, is on the north side of the island, two blocks from the beach, and close to shops and restaurants, including Coligny Plaza. There is a bicycle rental shop across the street. The hotel does not include a restaurant, but a free continental breakfast offers most of what you'd expect.

The 91-room, three-story building is surrounded by landscaping and a lagoon, with an outdoor pool, sun deck and gazebo. Free, high-speed wireless Internet is available throughout the hotel, and the staff is particularly friendly.

Dining out

Hilton Head has scads of good restaurants. For seafood, Alexander's is excellent, as is Kingfisher, Red Fish and Eugene's Waterfront Oyster Bar. Fiesta Fresh and The Studio are also recommended.

Fast Fact

Hampton Hall is a private golf course that offers limited public play.

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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