Old Tabby Links on Spring Island: Golf courtesy of God and Arnold Palmer

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

SPRING ISLAND, S.C. - You enter a world of God's own making when you take the little bridge onto Spring Island, and a world of Arnold Palmer's own making when you pull into Old Tabby Links.

Old Tabby Links
Arnold Palmer himself said Old Tabby Links is one of his better designs.
Old Tabby LinksOld Tabby golf courseOld Tabby golf course - Spring Island
If you go

You know you're in for something special on the lonesome drive there. After leaving the strip malls and traffic lights of Hilton Head behind, you drive over marsh onto Callawassie Island, with wide views of pristine estuaries, and then into thick, canopied forest with shafts of sunlight pouring through oaks. It looks like something from an Old South postcard or an antebellum dream. But wait, you aren't there yet.

You take another bridge over marsh to Spring Island, which is even more remote than Callawassie. Maybe it's your imagination, but the woods seem to get a little deeper, the land a little wilder. You see the sign for Old Tabby Links; when you pull in, you're met with a subtle wood-and-brick clubhouse overlooking marsh and, beyond that, Port Royal Sound, where the biggest naval engagement of the Civil War took place.

They don't forget that sort of thing around here; the place is awash in history, and plaques placed around the course let you in on some of it. The ruins of the old plantation house are only yards away from the clubhouse, tabby walls (made of oyster shells mixed with sand, lyme and water) still standing as a reminder of the days when men could still be slaves.

That's the setting for the private Old Tabby course. Palmer and associate Ed Seay designed an excellent, challenging golf course, but perhaps the smartest thing they did was let that setting take center stage. You never lose the feeling of being on an isolated coastal island, sharing space with nesting egrets, alligators and other water wildlife. It's so quiet the birdsong seems louder, and you can hear critters rustling in the woods.

The course proper is no letdown: 7,004 yards with a slope rating of 139 from the tips, and every hole hits you with a different scenario.

"It has a lot of variety," said member Brock Anderson. "There are some great spots to put the pins in different locations on the greens, and every hole is different. The design is interesting; you've got a lot of good-looking golf holes out here. It's one of those courses you never get tired of playing."

Old Tabby Links: The verdict

Old Tabby is a private course, and if you can get on, you should. This is excellent golf in the kind of surroundings you don't often find. Before 1992, the only way to get to the island was by boat. The area has seen development since they built the bridge, but so far they've done a good job of keeping the houses set far back from the course; still, there are plans for around 200 more homes, so it remains to be seen if the place can keep its relative isolation.

It plays mostly though the deep woods, but the three closing holes have spectacular views of the marsh, water and nearby Paris and Rose islands.

Stay and play

The 156-room Marriott Residence Inn is a good place to stay, especially if you're going to spend some serious time playing golf on the island. It's centrally located, right off Highway 278; all suites have full kitchens, with several grocery stores nearby to stock them, and the studios are much larger than typical hotel rooms. The complementary breakfast isn't bad - you can get real meat to go with the usual continental-breakfast stuff - and there's a weekday "social hour" with food and cocktails.

They also have an outdoor pool and whirlpool, tennis courts, a fitness center and a small putting green. Meeting space for up to 300 people is available. They even take pets, for a $75 non-refundable fee.

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 have a restaurant, but there's a free (and typical) continental breakfast. The staff is particularly friendly.

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.

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.

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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