Golden Bear Golf Club a pleasant, reborn Hilton Head course

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

HILTON HEAD, S.C. - When Golden Bear Golf Club at Indigo Run opened in 1992, it was generally considered one of the better courses on Hilton Head. It has had its share of conditioning problems over the years like other island courses; in 2004, for example, temporary greens had to be installed. There were complaints from some golfers who expect Hilton Head golf courses to be in immaculate condition.

Golden Bear Golf Club - Jack Nicklaus' Design
Golden Bear Golf Club at Indigo Run was designed by Jack Nicklaus' design company.
Golden Bear Golf Club - Jack Nicklaus' DesignGolden Bear Golf Club - No.6Golden Bear Golf Club - Par-3

But, by last year, the greens had come in and the course was in good shape. This year, it has a leaner and more open look to it, though the fairways are still tree-lined and relatively tight, uncharacteristic for a Jack Nicklaus design, even if it was Nicklaus' firm and not the man himself who designed the course.

"We cleaned it up, removed a lot of debris like peat moss," Head Professional Neil Ryan said during a visit earlier this year. "We worked on the trees and improved the circulation. It's in much better shape this year. It has a much cleaner look."

Yes, it does.

And if you're looking to go low, you will also have little to complain about as Golden Bear Golf Club is very playable, especially for women, who are force-fed few forced carries.

"I like it," said Hilton Head resident Dan Vogel, playing with friend John Labib. "It isn't overly hard like some of those on the island, but if you get in the wrong place, it can be hard."

Yes, like off the fairway and under the trees that line so many of the holes. If you're off to either side, and manage to stay in bounds, you'll find yourself punching out quite a bit just to get back in the fairway.

With the golf course winding through a dignified, Indigo Run neighborhood, there are quite a few out-of-bounds markers. It's a flat course, with not a whole lot of water, but Nicklaus' design team did a good job of lending variety to the holes.

You'll find yourself shaping shots around some of the doglegs, due to the height of the trees - mainly oak with some pines - that guard the short way to the hole.

There are also some fun holes, like No. 13, a sharp, dogleg left where the tee shot will either make or break you, or the 512-yard 15th, with a lagoon to the left that's hard to see. It's a dogleg right where a good layup is critical - beware, because the layup area is narrow with out-of-bounds right and water left. For long hitters, it's reachable in two.

Golden Bear Golf Club's sixth hole is the toughest on the front nine, a par 4 with a lagoon running down the length of the right side and a narrow fairway. Watch out for the water beyond the big fairway bunker to the right. Also, watch out for No. 3, a dogleg right where you can run out of fairway fast, and into unseen water.

Golden Bear Golf Club: The verdict

Golden Bear Golf Club is a very pleasant South Carolina course, nicely wooded and tranquil, despite the fact there are homes around the perimeter. There is nothing tricky about the course, though there are a few hidden water hazards - make sure you check the GPS, which is the excellent ParView that gives you nearly everything you need on a hole but a good swing.

The golf course is 7,014 yards from the back tees with a slope rating of 132.

"We had a pro tournament last week, and you put those guys back there at 7,200 yards and tight fairways, it's a good test," Ryan said.

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 doesn't include a restaurant, though there is a free continental breakfast that offers most 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 high-speed wireless Internet access is available throughout the hotel.

Dining out

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • golden bear golf

    bob arnold wrote on: May 30, 2013

    Has to be the worst course I have played on the island. No grass on tee boxes, fairways terrible, sand traps never raked out by staff and grass growing in the bunkers. There was sticks and other material laying every where. I bet Jack would be very unhappy to know his name was on this course. Also all reviews on the web site are nonot accurate. Would not play again