Country Club of Hilton Head more than just eye candy

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

HILTON HEAD, S.C. - The Country Club of Hilton Head's golf course has that relaxed, lazy, country club feel to it on the front nine: a pleasant layout, birds chittering in the trees, leisurely people doing leisurely things. There are some challenging holes, but still you almost find yourself nodding off.

Country Club of Hilton Head - 12th Green
The 12th green at the Country Club of Hilton Head is framed by the Intracoastal Waterway and Skull Creek.
Country Club of Hilton Head - 12th GreenCountry Club of Hilton HeadCountry Club of Hilton Head - 14th hole

Then, on the back nine, it opens up and - bang. The South Carolina scenery hits you in the face. It's still relaxed and leisurely, but now you have something close to spectacular to look at as you work your way around this fine, dangerous, parkland course.

The 12th hole is certainly one of the most scenic on Hilton Head Island. It's a long, 575-yard par 5, ending with a panoramic vista of the Intracoastal Waterway and Skull Creek just past the green and the big oaks bordering the water.

You're not nodding off now; you're chastising yourself for not bringing your camera. Maybe you breathe in the salt air, take a little time to commune with nature. It's a beautiful hole.

The rest of the way, you play around shady little creeks and ride over little wooden bridges over ponds with deep blue water, listening to the neighbors playing basketball in their back yards. All the while in the shade of some very old moss-draped oak trees.

The course, designed by one of the biggest names in the business, Rees Jones, has salt-water marshes and freshwater lagoons pretty much all through it, but they are seriously on display on the back nine.

Jones also did Bear Creek, Oyster Reef and Haig Point. The island and surrounding area sports some bigger-name courses like, Harbour Town Golf Links, Long Cove and Seccession Golf Club, but don't miss the opportunity to play the country club course just because of its glitzier and higher-profile neighbors.

Located on the north end of the island in the Hilton Head Plantation, the country club of Hilton Head can be as tough as it is picturesque, particularly from the back tees. It was a qualifying site for both the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Open, so you know it isn't all that leisurely; only two pros and top amateurs shot below 70 during the latest qualifying round.

In fact, the USGA recently re-ranked the course, raising the slope rating between five and seven points, making it 129 from the white tees, 135 from the blues and a 138 from the back, at 6,919 yards. There's water on 15 of the 18 holes, including all the par 3s.

They renovated the green at the short, par-4 17th, removing an oak tree and nearly tripling the size of the green to 6,300 square feet, making it the second largest on the course.

Jones made the course Dogleg Derby, with fully two-thirds of the course crooked as a dog's hind leg. Far from becoming wearying, it makes the layout interesting, with always an option to go for it or take the safe route. Nearly every dogleg is protected by bunkers.

If you want to shorten the 432-yard dogleg left fourth hole, for example, you'll have to knock it over a stand of tall, stately pines you were admiring minutes before. Bunkers are the obstacle on the dogleg right, 491-yard sixth hole, and the closing hole is another long, par 5 dogleg that must be dealt with dangerously.

"It's a great golf course," said Wes Stilly, playing with his friend, Tom Barnard, both from Gloucester, Va. "I belong to Williamsburg (Va.) Country Club back home and this is just like that, except they have hills and this one doesn't."

All the greens are elevated, testing your short game, and each hole seems to bring out the need for a different shot. Nod off too much and you'll pay for it. Also, most of your approaches will be of the aerial variety, as the course doesn't really allow bump-and-run.

The Country Club of Hilton Head: The verdict

The Country Club of Hilton Head is a terrific experience and should be better when they complete a planned $3.1 million renovation. In fact, in March, we were warned that some holes must be skipped because of the bunker work going on. They're also re-doing some greenside irrigation.

"When they get all that renovation done, it's really going to be nice," Stilly said.

It isn't a perfect experience: some of the greens had bare patches on them as of this writing, and some of the tee boxes could use some work. But, overall, that could be considered a quibble.

And all the great holes aren't on the back nine. No. 5, for one, is a very pretty, 358-yard par 4 with an approach over Brumgart's Creek.

The semi-private course, nearly 20 years old now, winds through a neighborhood, but the houses are all circumspect, painted gray, green or tan to blend in with the area, like most of Hilton Head.

Stay and play

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 include a restaurant, though there is a free, continental breakfast that offers most breakfast food you would expect. The staff is particularly friendly here.

The 91-room, three-story building is surrounded by landscaping and a lagoon, with an outdoor pool, sun deck and gazebo. Free wireless Internet access is available throughout the hotel.

Hilton Head dining

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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