Harbour Town's big brother, the Ocean Course at Sea Pines Resort, holds its own

By Joel Zuckerman, Contributor

HILTON HEAD, S.C. - If you were to stop 10 people on a Hilton Head street and ask them about golf in Sea Pines, it's a fair bet that at least nine of them will mention Harbour Town Golf Links first. This Pete Dye masterpiece is the best known course on the island, and well deserving of its accolades. But the Ocean Course, located in the resort's east end, also merits serious consideration.

John Richardson is the head professional at the Ocean Course at Sea Pines Resort. He describes Ocean as "the oldest and one of newest golf course on the island." Originally designed by George Cobb in 1960, the Ocean Course was the very first course on Hilton Head.

PGA Tour pro Mark McCumber came aboard in 1995, and he redesigned the golf course, keeping only the original Cobb routing. "The golf course has matured extremely well since the redesign," states Richardson, who has been at his post for a dozen years.

"The biggest difference between the original and the revamped course is the degree of difficulty" claims Richardson. "The golf course has more forced carries then before, be it bunkers or water. The original design had more generous landing areas, with the majority of trouble on the periphery,instead of directly in the line of play."

The Ocean Course resembles many modern designs, in that hazards most often must be negotiated through the air. There are only three or four holes that don't require a carry over lagoon or sand. The option of running the ball up on to the green is virtually nonexistent. It makes for a continuous challenge, but will prove frustrating for a less skilled player who has trouble getting the ball airborne.

"Forced carries and some prominent mounding are definite features of our course," says Richardson. "A novice will have to play short or around some of our hazards."

Sage advice is to leave enough time for a proper warm-up before heading to the first tee. Many courses open with an easy hole or two before a golfer is confronted with a serious challenge. Not here. At just under 360 yards from the blue tees, the par-4 opening hole isn't very long, but has water in play off of either side of the fairway. The second hole, another par-4that's slightly over 380 yards, has water and then O.B. right, while bunkers guard the landing area to the left. When the starter calls you to the tee,be focused and ready, or you might well start off with a couple of bogeys or worse.

After the opening travails, the Ocean Course at Sea Pines Resort widens and softens, offering sizable fairways in which to land a tee shot, and receptive greens. Players will post lower scores by being sure to take plenty of club for approach shots. Landing short of the putting surfaces will almost always result in a ball that's wet or bunkered, but there is very little trouble to be found behind the greens. Attempting to hit it past the pin will take most of the trouble out of play.

Unfortunately, the Ocean Course only lives up to its name on one hole, the par-3 15th. This is a solid one shot hole of 190 yards that will usually play into the prevailing breeze off of the ocean. By this juncture in the round, one might either be overheating, or tending to a scorecard that's beyond repair. In either case, a prudent course of action might be to continue on behind the green, and walk about 30 yards to the beach. There, you can take a quick dip, and forget about your golfing woes.

This golf course concludes much as it begins; with a couple of holes that can leave you reeling. The 17th is the longest par-4 on the course, 430 yards, with water everywhere. The par-5 finisher is almost 540 yards long, with water all the way down the right side. If the wind is against you, then a bogey on either of them, particularly 17, is an acceptable score.

Ocean Course at Sea Pines Resort: The verdict

The course is in generally good condition, with putting surfaces that aren't overly fast, but produce a solid roll. The Ocean Course is a golf experience both attractive and arduous. It may not be Harbour Town, but its well worth a visit nonetheless.

"This course fits beautifully into the Sea Pines family," Richardson says.

"Harbour Town is undoubtedly the main attraction, and the single most compelling reason for golfers to visit us here," he continues. "The Sea Marsh course has several very challenging holes, but is generally a real resort style course, more friendly and forgiving, and our best choice for beginners and families. But the Ocean Course fits a certain niche also. We have a difficult course here, but one that's also playable for the less skilled. This is probably the best course at Sea Pines for a scratch player and a novice to play together. If each golfer plays from the tee box that best suits their ability, they will both have a good time."

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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