Pleasant surprises found at Fripp Island Resort's Ocean Point golf course

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Contributor

FRIPP ISLAND, S.C. - There's a famous line from the movie Forrest Gump that I hear over and over again-in clips from the film, but also from general use in everyday vernacular (since the movie): "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get." This line's more useful than the movie's other famous quotable - "Stupid is as stupid does," - probably because that one really doesn't make sense.

At any rate, I see Fripp Island Resort - about an hour and a half drive north from Hilton Head Island, as similar to one of those 'good' surprises found in a box of chocolates - because I didn't really know what I was gonna get when I went there. For all I knew, Fripp Island could've been a solid piece of luscious milk chocolate, or just as easily a gooey lump of caramel with a thin chocolate covering. I've personally never liked caramel, and getting one of those lightly coated caramel nuggets in a box of chocolates isn't a pleasant surprise for me at all.

But Fripp Island was an excellent shocker-mainly because it was a relaxing slice of paradise I'd heard very little about before my visit. It's probably best known (as I found out) - not so ironically, for hosting the movie set productions of Forrest Gump and Disney's Live Action Jungle Book, amongst others, but will become increasingly known as a complete vacation resort destination once the word leaks out.

I even enjoyed the drive to the island - which runs through the quaint historic town of Beaufort, then east towards the ocean. You'll pass through incredibly scenic tidal marshes, and it's not hard at all to envision this as true shrimp'n country as depicted in several movies (most prominently in Forrest Gump, of course).

In addition to the pleasant surroundings, Fripp Island boasts two pretty darn nice golf courses - the George Cobb-designed Ocean Point course, and the Davis Love III signature Ocean Creek course - about a five-minute drive away. Both are excellent resort style courses with interesting stories, and each deserves a separate treatment. Here, I'll focus on the Ocean Point course.

Ocean Point's the older of the two, opening in 1964, designed by one of the Southeast's premier golf course designers from that era, George Cobb. What's especially unique about the layout is its proximity to the ocean. While the entirety of Hilton Head Island boasts only two true 'ocean' holes (one on Sea Pines' Ocean Course and the other on the Robert Trent Jones course at Palmetto Dunes), Ocean Point doubles that number in just one 18-hole layout - four holes skirt the deep blue off the island.

Ocean Point was renovated in 1996 to further enhance the ocean views and bring the course more of a modern look. Some tee boxes were heightened and a few forced carries were added off the tee-which makes the course play more difficult than it used to. Add in the tight nature of many of the holes, and it plays primarily as a target layout-starting with the opening tee shot and not easing up until the end of the round.

And because of its true oceanfront location, expect plenty of breezes to accompany you on your journey around the golf course.

Fripp Island Assistant Golf Professional James Emerson elaborates: "A lot of people are amazed when they come here - not only that the courses are so beautiful, but also because of the windy conditions. We've got the four holes along the ocean, and where there's a hint of wind elsewhere, it'll be howling here."

"In addition to the ocean, we've got a tremendous lagoon system on the Ocean Point course, and water comes into play on 15 holes. Since it's an older course, you won't see the wide-open spaces you'll find on a lot of newer layouts. Taking the wind, water and the tight fairways into account, you'll need to be precise to score well here."

Seeing as I was surprised at the pleasant and relaxing atmosphere of Fripp Island as a whole, I guess you could say I wasn't prepared for the 'bite' you'll get from Ocean Point. It's hardly long at 6,556 yards and a par of 72, but I'd say golf balls are more endangered on this course than any wildlife inhabiting it - and there are certainly plenty of wild creatures - I saw more gators here than any other Hilton Head area location.

Better leave the ball retriever in the bag, too. No golf ball is worth antagonizing those toothy things!

Emerson correctly points out, however, that just because the course is tight with lots of H2O, it isn't unfair. Just as you'd expect from an old-style resort course, there isn't a trick shot on the entire layout, and it's perfectly flat-with ample opportunities to get roll on the fairways. If you're straight, you'll be okay in most instances. If there was ever a course to leave Big Bertha at home, this is probably it.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the pace of play at both courses on Fripp Island. You may be stuck in golf traffic on any number of courses closer to the main population centers of Hilton Head Island, but Fripp's comparative lack of people guarantees you'll move right along.

One note: Ocean Point's fairways are bordered by quite a few houses (instant membership for a semi-private course) - and resort guests certainly will want to play it - but I finished both courses in under three hours, having waited on a tee box only once.

One last note before I describe some of Ocean Point's golf holes - Fripp Island offers excellent day play packages where you can play both layouts in the same day-which is easily doable without too much exertion. If you're going to make the drive here, I'd highly recommend this option.

The view from the first tee presents a not so subtle hint of what's to come. Water on the left, water on the right, water short and water long (probably out of range, though). Not exactly long at 346 yards from the back tees, but you'll need two straight shots with air to reach the green safely.

Number two is a picturesque par three, and quite a challenge from the back tees. A full water carry of 188 yards, you'd better be warmed up before you reach this hole-or look for the drop area.

Three's the longest par four on the course at 455 yards, and I can't quite understand its #11 handicap rating-because there's very little room to miss off the tee-water on the left and out of bounds right. If you're safe on the tee ball, at least there's no more water that seriously comes into play until the sixth hole.

Six is a nice short par five at 475 yards, but tight. You'll have water all down the right side and some room to miss left. If your tee ball's in the right place you might try for the green in two, but the same lagoon that borders the right side of the hole cuts in front of the green. A good hole to possibly get a stroke back.

Nine is one of the signature holes. An elevated tee allows for a panoramic view of a good portion of the front nine, and the hole plays 365 yards of dogleg left. Up near the green you'll see-and hear-the ocean. Don't get too caught up in the ocean views-you'll need to watch out for the steeply sloping putting surface on this hole.

A short drive through the clubhouse area and a residential street brings you to the back nine. The 10th hole's water forced carry comes from the tee box, and glancing to the extreme right you'll see groups finishing up on eighteen. The ocean lies just beyond, and it's quite a pleasant scene. The hole features a large waste bunker to the right side of the driving area, and I'd imagine gets a lot of play.

Skipping to 14, here's where you're moving towards the ocean. Not long at 378 yards, but Emerson says it plays much longer when the typical wind is blowing off the ocean. "I've hit lob wedges to that green, and I've also hit fairway woods-depending on how hard the wind's blowing," he said. This is a hole where local knowledge helps off the tee, because the right side looks like it presents a generous landing area-but I carried it into the lagoon. That's no fun on a good tee ball.

Fifteen's another challenging par three, 190 yards with a full water carry (sound familiar?). Check the wind, as there's water short and right-just where you'll be heading if the wind's coming off the ocean.

Sixteen's a long and tough par four-431 yards with water down the entire left side. The previous two holes presented problems for slicers-this one's a hooker's nightmare. The Ocean Point course distributes the trouble equally-no one gets out un-challenged!

Eighteen is one of the most visually stunning holes anywhere, with the ocean visible for virtually the entire hole. A risk-reward par five of 486 yards, the wind, again, will probably dictate how to play the hole. Smart play is to definitely take the safe route-not much room to miss on any of the three potential shots.

Fripp Island Resort's Ocean Point golf course: The verdict

All in all, if you're looking for a natural, un-crowded, scenic golf resort with lots of wildlife, Fripp Island is a good place to check out - as characterized well by the Ocean Point course. It's hard to think of a better spot to bring your sticks to come and take a load off - and just goes to show, some of the treats you'll get from a box of chocolates might turn out to be pleasant surprises after all.

Jeffrey A. RendallJeffrey A. Rendall, Contributor

Jeffrey Rendall is an avid golfer and freelance writer. After passing the California Bar in 1994, he moved to Virginia to pursue his interests in history and politics, where he's worked since 1995.

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