Robber's Row at Port Royal Plantation in Hilton Head gives you history, old oaks and wide fairways
HILTON HEAD, S.C. - When you play the Robber's Row golf course at Port Royal Plantation, pay particular attention to the eighth and ninth fairways.
You'll have to use your imagination, but try to envision the way it looked in 1862: the main street of the town of Port Royal, a rowdy strip bustling with saloons and tattoo parlors, not to mention the 20,000-30,000 Union troops stationed there.
Life wasn't much different then in some respects; all these goings-on attracted some unsavory characters, con men itching to separate the milling port mobs from their wallets. Thus, the name, Robber's Row.
It's a place filled with history, particularly for Civil War aficionados. You can still see some of the earthworks Union General Quincy Adams Gilmore built to help defend what he believed were imminent Confederate attacks. They're now no more than tree-filled golf obstacles.
The golf course itself has a little history, much more recent, but probably of greater interest to golfers. It was built in 1966, the first of the three Port Royal Plantation courses. Designed by Willard Byrd and George Cobb, two names probably familiar to Carolina golfers, it went through a complete re-design in the late 1990s by Pete Dye.
Now, there are some strange bedfellows: the refined Carolina designers filtered through one of the most innovative - some would say excessive - golf architects of our time.
To Dye's credit, he didn't mess much with the ambiance. The course still traverses the north part of the island through canopies of old oaks and magnolias. It still features a series of doglegs that will tempt you to cut corners over the tall, Carolina pines and oaks
In fact, most people consider Robber's Row the most scenic of the plantation's triumvirate, including the Barony Course and Planter's Row Course.
"Robber's Row is more scenic, Barony is more friendly and Planters is probably the tightest and most challenging for the low-handicap player," Plantation Director of Golf Brian Bartolec said. "But, they all have the same look."
That would be the traditional, tree-lined fairway look, with wide fairways. There's the Spanish moss hanging from the old oaks, found all over the island, and the maintenance crew has thrown in some well-trimmed native grasses. It is a scenic course, with all this as well as some nice marsh views.
It's also a very playable golf course, at only 6,675 yards from the back tees with a slope rating of a relatively benign 134. You can play this course from the back tees and not be overwhelmed.
In fact, if you have some distance off the tee, I'd advise you to play it from the tips. Particularly, No. 17, which offers one of the few forced carries on the layout, with the marsh guarding the dogleg right.
There are some holes that will test you - probably Dye's influence. No. 3 is a 405-yard par 4 with a narrowing fairway and smallish, well-guarded green.
No. 7, rated the toughest hole on the course, has a very small landing area because of the marsh intruding into the fairway left. You have to take it right, over the bunker, and you approach is into a wide, but shallow green with a false front. If you're at all left, you'll be facing a delicate approach to the green over a pond.
But No. 18 was my favorite hole, a medium-length par 5 that takes a prodigious drive to carry the trees guarding the dogleg right. It's reachable, but big oaks snake in on the right and water looms to your right. The elevated green drops off to a bunker left. With the clubhouse framing the green, it is a very picturesque hole.
Robber's Row at Port Royal Plantation: The verdict
Robber's Row is a fun course to play, but not overly difficult. It's in good shape - both fairways and greens - and there is little rough to slow you down. The only way you'll get in trouble here is to knock it into the trees or get into one of the many bunkers. There is water, but not a lot.
"I like the course," said Jerry Plasman of Toronto, playing with his wife and friend. "It's well-maintained, and not too hard. The greens are a little slow, but other than that, I enjoyed it.
June 13, 2006