Oyster Reef Golf Club: Classic Hilton Head, classic Rees Jones
Oyster Reef Golf Club makes the best of its roots and parentage.
The location provides the trees, Rees Jones provides the bunkers.
Upon opening in 1982, Oyster Reef was dubbed one of the Top 25 new golf courses in America and continues to land on a variety of "best" lists.
"It's a Rees Jones. He put a premium on a lot of bunkers," said Tom Kern, general manager.
Jones didn't go for lateral bunkers but specific bunkers right where one might drift. Sometimes, he puts them across the fairway, other times around the green. On occasion, both.
"It's a classic, and it's very pleasing to the eye," said Diane Homan, a long-time member.
If grounds crews wanted to, they could turn up the heat by letting the gnarly bermuda rough grow past 1 1/2 inches, but, as Kern said, "We want people to have a good time."
The golf course is fraught with doglegs and splays out to 7,018 yards from the tips, 5,288 up front, with two middle tees in between.
Oyster Reef Golf Club's second hole is the alarm clock, jolting you out of complacency with a formidable approach to a green surrounded by bunkers. You're going to have to fly the ball there. If there's an easy way around, I didn't see it.
Several other holes rely on a few strategically placed trees, so pay attention. Others, like No. 7, demand that you place your shots exactly so.
"If your drive on the hole is in the right place, you'll par it," said Homan. "If you don't, who knows?"
Trees dominate the right side of the hole its entire length, so if you don't clear the corner with your drive, it's going to be a quantity hole with strains of "Pinball Wizard" playing in your head.
The sixth hole, the signature hole, is a beautiful but wicked par 3 that backs up to Port Royal Sound. Distance is very difficult to gauge to start with, then factor in the wind. Plus, you have to land your ball on the elevated green because there are bunkers in front, to the left and down a drop-off, on the right. Here, it would be helpful to have more of a hint of pin placement, other than front, middle or back.
Oyster Reef Golf Club's 12th is a memorable hole because of the mess of bunkers one must shoot over on the second shot of the par 5, in addition to the quadruple bunkers at the green, again requiring an air ball to the green. It's a tough hole.
There are natural distractions on 14 and 15 in the form of a bird sanctuary the entire right side. To make life more interesting, the fairway on 14 slopes long and right, bringing you up close and personal to an avian habitat. You'll see birdies, you won't make them.
Oyster Reef Golf Club: The verdict
Once you're in the home stretch, dig in. No. 16 is a par 3 over water, then 17 and 18 are long par 4s in the 400-yard range. It's an endurance test that will make that drink at the 19th hole oh so much sweeter.
"We have three of the best finishing holes on the island," Kern said. Certainly the longest.
Oyster Reef is a thinking man's golf course with plenty of challenges at any length. It's a well-executed course with trouble in all the right (and left) spots.
On this course, you'll know exactly what a Hilton Head golf course should be, and you'll see the deft hand of Rees Jones while you're at it.
As Hamon said, "I never get tired of playing this course." You won't either.
February 19, 2010