Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort: Hilton Head resort golf at its best

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

HILTON HEAD, S.C. - Arthur Hills. Not a name that rolls off the educated golfer's tongue like "Tom Fazio" or "Robert Trent Jones Jr." But a quick run down of the Toledo, Ohio native's golf course credits and you may wonder why this contemporary of some the greatest modern architects in golf is not mentioned in the same breath as his peers.

"If you are from Toledo Ohio, you know who he is," says Clarke Sinclair, head professional at the Arthur Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes. "What he does is so subtle that many people don't notice. Hills courses tend to give way to the land they are built on, while many other course designers tend to move a lot of dirt."

Arthur Hills may be at his best at Palmetto Dunes Resort, where he has produced a layout that is as cozy as a warm southern night, and as beautiful as a South Carolina sunrise. If Hills is under appreciated by players and his peers, then his layout at Palmetto Dunes could very well be dubbed "Arthur's Revenge."

The Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort is the most sought after, well-conditioned track at the facility which includes one of the oldest golf courses on Hilton Head Island, the Palmetto Dunes Robert Trent Jones Course, and one of the island's most difficult courses, the Palmetto Dunes George Fazio course.

"The Hills Course is strategic golf at its best," says Tim Drygula, an assistant professional at the Hills Course. "In fact, the Hills Course may be the best course outside of Harbour Town that the public can play on the island."

Played from the white tees (where the average golfer should be teeing up) the Hills Course plays to a gentle slope rating of 119. Instead, the course places an emphasis on the ability to shape shots and to employ imagination around the greens.

The flavor of Palmetto Dunes Resort's Hills Course is set from the first hole, which is a fairly normal par 4 opening-hole until players attempt to stake the pin with their approach shots, only to find that they can't see the pin due to mounding that extends along the entire front left portion of the green. Unnatural? Not if Hills had anything to say about it.

"Arthur didn't do a lot of moving of the original dune lines - the terrain that you see on this course is actually natural," says Sinclair.

The Hills Course, like most other Hilton Head golf courses, is guilty of playing through a housing development, so chances are you aren't going to feel at one with nature no matter how much of the character of the original land that Hills preserved.

But with the exception of the par-3, third hole, and a few of the other fairways on the front nine, the ubiquitous Hilton Head homes fall by the wayside as you make your way around this magical layout.

Not a long course, Palmetto Dunes Resort's Hills Course makes it's living on its par-4's, which range from interesting to awe-inspiring. For starters, there are holes No. 4 and No. 5 on the front nine, which bend around the old Port Royal Lighthouse and feature some of the most beautiful hardwood backdrops on the island.

The lighthouse was operable as far back as the Civil War, but its heaviest utilization was between 1881-1930 when it was used to guide ships into the island's Port Royal channel. "We have some people, lighthouse hunters, who ask if they can just walk and see the light house," says Sinclair.

Perhaps the lighthouse should be stationed on the back nine, where a beacon of hope is truly needed. With the par 3, 399-yard 12th hole, the Hills course seems to toughen up, culminating with the course's signature hole, No. 17.

The No. 4 handicap hole in your yardage book, but the No. 1 handicap in your mind, the 17th plays along side an omnipresent water hazard to a green perched just on the other side of a lagoon.

The approach shot to the green is intimidating on a good day, terrifying on a bad day. The hole's wispy green measures 13 yards across at its narrowest point and only 19 yards across at its widest cross section.

If you think the hole is hard now, there was a time when the green was not fortified with its current bulkhead retaining wall, and short approach shots were known to spin back into the lagoon.

The 17th may be cursed occasionally, but once around the course, players tend to look back on the hole with a sense of awe, and a shared sense of perseverance. Funny - sounds like a microcosm of the entire golf course.

If you've decided upon Hilton Head as your golfing destination, then for all intensive purposes you've decided to spend some money, and that is just what you'll do at the Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort. Rest assured, however: It's worth every penny.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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