Old South Golf Links in Bluffton never gets old
BLUFFTON, S.C. -- Old South Golf Links affords a prime example of a trend that's become increasingly pervasive in recent years. Some of the best public golf on Hilton Head isn't actually found on Hilton Head at all.
This fine daily-fee facility is located across from Moss Creek Plantation off of US 278, just a mile or so west of the Hilton Head Bridge. Old South is as close as you can get to the island itself and still be golfing on the mainland. The course makes for a fine day on the links, with some scenic vistas, staunch shot values and an excellent routing plan.
This Clyde Johnston design is too short for most from the forward tees at less than 5,800 yards. Most players will prefer the blue markers at 6,350 with a slope rating of 125, or the gold tees at little more than 6,700 yards, carrying a slope rating of 129. Length is a secondary issue though, as either water or wetlands intrude in some combination on virtually every hole.
"I tried not to impose too much artifice on the golf course," explains Johnston, whose offices are on nearby Hilton Head. "I attempted to adhere to the surrounding environment. The land there is very pretty, with a real variety of terrain. There are open holes, and holes that are framed by beautiful live oaks. Practically half of the holes are skirting the salt marsh also, which is pretty tough to beat."
The opening hole is a microcosm of the course's personality. A straightforward par 4 of only 365 yards, any tee shot that can avoid a lagoon hugging the left side of the fairway will result in a middle or short iron to the green. Steering the ball down the middle makes the hole a cakewalk, but a pulled or hooked shot will start you on the wrong foot.
The two most interesting holes are mirror image doglegs; the seventh and 16th. On the front side the hole bends hard right, while the back nine version veers hard left. Again, length isn't the key.
Both holes are about 350 yards from the penultimate tee box, but require substantial marsh carries of 180 yards to a tight landing area. From the safety of the fairway it's just a short iron over another marsh to the green, but both shots, particularly the tee ball, give you plenty to think about. The 16th in particular is one of the best par 4s in the Lowcountry. From the tips, the tee box is tucked back in the woods, and the green is hidden from view on this long dogleg left. The landing area lies 220 yards away and is bordered with trouble. Short or left is wet, long is in the trees and a shot to the right might be playable, but requires a long iron to the green.
A fine drive leaves a player some 170 yards over the salt marsh once again to a two-tiered island green. It's a natural occurrence to let one's guard down once safely on the putting surface, particularly after hitting two fine golf shots to get there in regulation. But the disciplined player won't allow the mesmerizing views of the Intracoastal waterway and Hilton Head Island available from the putting surface to distract from the task at hand.
The drama of these two fine holes is lessened somewhat by a logical local rule that allows a penalty drop on the far side of the trouble off of the tee for the multitudes that won't clear the hazard. It helps immeasurably with pace of play, but for first-timers who don't realize they're entitled to drop their ball in mid-fairway if they fail to negotiate the wetlands, that first shot will undoubtedly make for an extra tight grip on the driver.
While in certain respects Old South offers a fairly typical Lowcountry golf experience, there are some notably positive differences.
Unlike Harbour Town and a dozen other higher profile public access golf facilities, there is a minimum of housing adjacent to the links. Designer Johnston didn't go overboard with green side bunkers either. Almost half of the holes are either bunker-less near the green, or have an incidental presence only. Several of the green settings, particularly toward the middle portion of the inward nine, are situated beautifully.
Lastly, Johnston's routing plan is exceptional. There are very few consecutive holes that are aligned in the same direction, nor do they simply head back and forth. Instead they proceed to all points on the compass. It's a treat under any conditions, but on breezy days particularly it gives players the opportunity to experience a variety of shots with wind affecting the ball flight from all different directions.
Old South Golf Links: The verdict
Old South Golf Links is definitely in the top tier of public-access facilities in coastal South Carolina.
Most average players will benefit from the fact the course isn't defined by length. It's a golf course where the ball needs to be shaped, not necessarily bashed. Very long hitters will overwhelm the course, but everyone else will find a reasonably challenging layout in one of the most attractive golf course settings in the area.
July 3, 2004