At Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Heron Point and the Ocean Course step out of Harbour Town's shadow
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- For many golf fans, teeing it up at Harbour Town is their goal when visiting Hilton Head Island. After all, the PGA Tour makes an early season stop there each year before the humidity spikes.
But on a recent visit to Sea Pines Resort, the venerable course was under reconstruction, so its pair of neighboring sister courses had a chance to shine, stepping out from behind the figurative shadow of Harbour Town's iconic red and white lighthouse.
Sea Pines' other courses may not offer as stiff of a challenge as the pros face on Harbour Town, but they are more difficult than many resort courses. And be sure to pack your sand wedge, it may get more work on these courses than a month of Sundays elsewhere.
If you haven't been to Hilton Head in a few years, you are in for a pleasant surprise that begins when you pull up to the Plantation Golf Club, named 2015 Clubhouse of the Year by Golf Inc. magazine, which is a considerable upgrade from the prior modest clubhouse.
The spacious 23,000-square-foot club is large enough to host events and outings but retains its Southern charm and hospitality without feeling cavernous and cold. It's a public facility where you enjoy meeting early for coffee or a lunch, but its restaurant has become a hot ticket in its own right for dinner, even among non-golfers. Families with young children can walk them right off the porch and stroll around the grounds while waiting for dinner to arrive.
The practice range is conveniently located just a few steps out the back door for warming up before quickly heading to the first tee for either course.
Sea Pines' Heron Point Course
Even long-time visitors to the golf island mecca may not have played Sea Pines' Heron Point Course. Pete Dye led a multi-million dollar redesign of the layout that is built into the surroundings and makes use of the lagoons and numerous bunkers.
Dye aimed to make it more player friendly than the old Sea Marsh Course while keeping it very eco-friendly and still challenging for better players. The early reviews are favorable, as Heron Point was named South Carolina's Golf Course of the Year for 2015.
The course starts off straight forward, but the undulations and numerous sand traps come into play early and often. Dye also uses the lagoons to guard the pin, starting at number four which has bunkers to snag short shots with wind a factor for aggressive shots at the green.
Precision tee shots will help cut corners on the doglegs and drop onto tricky greens such as the par-3 seventh and the high risk-reward 17th, where golfers are tempted to bomb their drives without going OB to try and reach the par 5 in two strokes.
And it finishes with the picturesque stroll along the water back to the clubhouse, where the gator gallery silently watches you putt out.
Updating the Ocean Course
Sea Pines' Ocean Course still offered a fun round on this visit, but it's now getting its own facelift after two decades of wear and tear since its last redesign in 1995.
Love Golf Design, the golf course architecture firm founded by PGA Tour pro Davis Love III and his brother, Mark, are tasked with re-imagining and re-making the layout. The Ocean Course was the first built on Hilton Head Island and offered one of the only two seaside holes on the island.
The Loves plan to not only rebuild the holes but also resurface with grasses similar to Harbour Town and Heron Point. The course is slated to re-open in fall 2016.