Appeared in Spring 2013 LINKS
AS EVERYONE WHO HAS EVER tuned into the Masters knows, there’s no prettier place in the country than the South in the springtime. And just a couple hours’ drive from Augusta—and the next stop on the PGA Tour calendar—is the idyllic island of Hilton Head. Although the island has a small airport serviced by U.S. Airways Express, it’s perhaps quicker and cheaper to fly into Savannah and make the 45-minute drive.
Most visitors to Hilton Head stay in one of the many rental condo units that populate the 12-mile-long, foot-shaped atoll, particularly those in Sea Pines, Shipyard, and Palmetto Dunes. Also inside those three resort communities are four good hotel choices if you want to go that route: The Inn at Harbour Town is a boutique hotel, with a Forbes Four-Star rating, located next to the first tee of Harbour Town Golf Links; the Sonesta Resort in Shipyard is just finishing up a $30 million renovation of its 340 rooms and amenities, which now include a zero-entry, lagoon-style pool; The Omni and Marriott inside Palmetto Dunes are both located right on the beach, as is the Westin a couple miles down the road.
Choosing your accommodations is just about all you have to do because we’ve done the rest for you.
Morning: Heron Point by Pete Dye. Playing Dye’s newest course on the island (he completed a multi-million-dollar remodel of an existing layout in 2007) is a great warm-up for an afternoon round on Harbour Town Golf Links. Both are in Sea Pines and Heron Point has all the Dye architectural trademarks.
Afternoon: Harbour Town Golf Links. There are plenty of lunch spots in Harbour Town—like The Quarterdeck and The Harbour Town Bakery & Cafe—but for a quick bite, try the Harbour Town Grill in the main clubhouse before playing the course that in 1969 launched not only Hilton Head as a destination but Dye’s career, as well. It’s a treat to play the course you see on TV every year during the RBC Heritage, though it doesn’t make navigating the course’s twisty corridors and overhanging limbs any easier.
Off-Course Option: Hit the beach. Next to golf, a visit to the island’s duney beaches should be top of your list. The waves are usually pretty puny, but the sugary sands couldn’t be prettier or cleaner and they compact nicely for bike riding at low tide.
Evening: One of the oldest restaurants on the island, CQ’s, is still one of the best. Located in Harbour Town, the homey, oak-shrouded eatery serves up artful American cuisine inspired by the seasons.
Morning: Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course. The name of this Palmetto Dunes course is a little misleading since only the 10th green and 11th tee box are on the ocean, but 11 of the holes do wind around part of the resort’s 11-mile lagoon system.
Afternoon: Have lunch in the newly opened Big Jim’s BBQ in the clubhouse before teeing it up on the Arthur Hills Course, where you’ll encounter a lot of greens well protected by lakes and a real 19th-century lighthouse (not some candy-striped phony).
Off-Course Option: Biking. With more than 60 miles of interconnected bike paths and no hills, Hilton Head is a pedaler’s paradise. It’s a great way to find out-of-the-way parks and shops, not to mention get some easy exercise.
Evening: Vine. The island’s newest and hottest restaurant is tucked away in Coligny Plaza and features an eclectic farm-to-table Mediterranean menu and a great wine list. It’s very intimate (read: small), so be sure to reserve well in advance.
Morning: Robert Cupp Course. Located inside Palmetto Hall Plantation on the north end of the island, this semi-private layout is unique for its geometric-shaped mounding, bunkers, and greens. The shot values and conditioning are excellent.
Afternoon: Arthur Hills Course. Yes, there are two courses on the island with the same name inside communities with Palmetto in the title, but don’t let the déjà-vu factor stop you. This is a wonderful test with fast, sloping greens. You might need to play this first and the Cupp course second, depending on the day (course availability to the public in the mornings alternates daily between the two).
Off-Course Option: Shopping. Just off island are two Tanger Outlet malls with dozens of stores each, including Polo, Adidas, and Johnston & Murphy. Tanger II just reopened after a complete remodel.
Evening: Sage Room. Locals love this place. Tourists would, too, if they could find it hidden in the back of a shopping plaza on the island’s south end. With savory dishes and a 10-seat “chef’s table” bar overlooking the open kitchen, it’s worth searching for.
Morning: Oyster Reef Golf Club. Located inside Hilton Head Plantation on the north end, this Rees Jones design is a quintessential Carolina course with holes routed through tall pines. While the fairways might be a tad narrow, recovery shots off the pine straw are always a possibility.
Afternoon: Country Club of Hilton Head. Another semi-private Rees Jones course inside Hilton Head Plantation, this dogleg-heavy layout winds around wetlands with water in play on half the holes. The greens were recently restored.
Off-Course Option: Water sports. You can’t visit Hilton Head without getting out on the water that surrounds it. Kayaking the creeks and salt marshes at high tide is a great option, as is a sailing or dolphin-watching excursion on Calibogue Sound.
Evening: Skull Creek Boathouse. For the best al fresco setting, visit this lively restaurant just outside the back gate of Hilton Head Plantation. You’ll probably have a good wait for a table but there’s a great outdoor bar where you can watch the sunset over Skull Creek. The food is much improved, too, after a new ownership group took over.
By: Tom Cunneff