The Country Club of Hilton Head is a Rees Jones gem

By Joel Zuckerman, Contributor

HILTON HEAD, S.C. - Architect Rees Jones has created notable golf courses all over the country, and fortunately for residents of the South Carolina Lowcountry and coastal Georgia, Jones has done some of his finest work in this region. Hilton Head itself is home to three Rees Jones courses, while Haig Point, widely acclaimed as one of his finest creations, lays a short boat ride away on Daufuskie Island.

The Country Club of Hilton Head is the most recent addition to this Rees Jones foursome, following Bear Creek Golf Club, Oyster Reef Golf Club and the aforementioned Haig Point. Located on the island's north end in Hilton Head Plantation, it has been challenging and intriguing area golfers since it opened in 1987.

It's a championship venue by almost any definition. It's recent designation as local qualifying course for the 2005 United States Open is proof of that.

"This is a challenging layout to be sure," offers Head Professional Mike Hayes. "A player needs to hit many different shots because about two thirds of our holes are doglegs. Using the driver off the tee isn't an automatic choice."

The Country Club of Hilton Head has a lower profile than many area golf courses; an understandable occurrence when you're sharing the same area code as world class venues like Harbour Town Golf Links, Long Cove and Secession Golf Club. Nevertheless, this scenic semi-private course, which stretches to almost 7000 yards from the back tees, has long been acknowledged as one of the island's most rigorous and memorable tests of golf.

The course features a variety of different types of holes, elevated greens, and ever present pot bunkering. Players must negotiate the Intracoastal Waterway, marshland and other water hazards to reach the greens safely.

The Country Club of Hilton Head is a very pretty and pastoral golf course, winding as it does through pine forest, marshland and lagoons. Five different sets of tees vary the course yardage by as much as 1,600 yards, and depending on the tees chosen, the slope rating ranges from a benign 119 up to a formidable 132.

Regardless of length, every player is faced with similar difficulties. The doglegs are sometimes subtle and sometimes severe, and proper fairway positioning requires careful consideration. The elevated greens are no trifling issue, either. In some cases the mounding is so dramatic, that an approach shot missing long or to the wrong side of the green will leave a pitch shot to a flagstick that can barely be seen.

"The bump and run shot isn't really an option in approaching the greens," continues Hayes, who arrived on Hilton Head last spring. "A high approach shot is the only way to get close to many of the pins."

The forward tees don't provide much in the way of driving obstacles, but in several instances, gold or even blue tee players will have to fire their ball through a tree lined chute to find the fairway. The best example of this disparity can be found near round's end, on the 17th hole.

A fairly straightforward and gentle par-4 hole that plays less than 300 yards from the whites, the hole transforms into a 390-yard gauntlet from the blues, complete with a framed tee shot that must negotiate a crossing lagoon. The signature hole is also found on the second nine. No. 12 is a truly memorable golf hole; a sweeping, downhill par-5 hole playing to a length of 575 yards from the back markers.

A solid tee shot will land in the vicinity of the highest point on Hilton Head, and though the elevation might only be about 25 feet, (this is the Lowcountry, after all) players will be rewarded with the vista of the Intracoastal Waterway and Skull Creek lurking behind the green. This is no time for daydreaming or picture taking, because of more immediate concern is the ball eating ravine located in front of and slightly left of the putting surface.

The one-shot holes are notable, as well. No. 7 is a mere 143 yards from the middle tees, but features a fairly steep bank leading to an ominous lagoon located on the right. The 14th hole requires a tee shot that must clear a wide expanse of marsh to reach the green 160 yards away.

Beyond the marsh are a series of green side bunkers guarding yet another elevated putting surface. The stiffest challenge comes early in the round, at the third hole. At only 156 yards from the middle markers, length isn't the issue. This is a wide-open hole, one of the few such perspectives on the course. A sizable lagoon fronts the green, featuring a bank so steep at first glance it looks more like a wall. The successful shot will travel high and land softly on the putting surface.

Any sort of line drive runs the risk of slamming into the bank and drowning, or sailing well over the green. This tee shot is a microcosm of what makes a golf course exciting and rigorous. A player must execute the required shot at the right moment, or face the score swelling consequences.

Country Club of Hilton Head: The verdict

Even with the occasional harsh weather of mid-winter, the Country Club of Hilton Head is among the best conditioned courses in the Lowcountry, and the uniformly fine conditions of both fairways and greens are yet another reason to visit a course that's in the top tier of public access facilities on this golf-centric island.

Joel ZuckermanJoel Zuckerman, Contributor

Joel Zuckerman is based in Savannah, Georgia and Park City, Utah. He is the author of five books, and his golf and travel stories have appeared in more than 100 publications around the world, including Sports Illustrated, Golfweek, Travel+Leisure Golf, Continental and Golf International.

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