The Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort: A trip to the beach

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

HILTON HEAD, S.C. - It's pretty easy to sum up one of the three golf courses at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort. The George Fazio Course? Oh, you mean the one with the all the sand?

Fazio golf course at Palmetto Dunes - hole 14
The par-3 14th hole on the Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort positions the green between a rock and a hard place – water left, sand right.
Fazio golf course at Palmetto Dunes - hole 14Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort - 11George Fazio G.C. at Palmetto Dunes - 12

Precisely. A round on this course is a truly a trip to the beach.

Two other notable aspects of the George Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes: Play crosses canals four times, and it's a densely packed course. Spray your shots here and be prepared to say hello to the foursome on the next hole because you'll be sharing their fairway.

"The George Fazio Course is regarded by many golfers as the island's most challenging championship course," said Brad Marra, director of golf at Palmetto Dunes. "It is ranked among America's top 100 courses."

Somehow, Fazio managed to squeeze 6,800 yards onto the course and used up only 70 for par. The golf course is lacking a par 5 on each side, but lordy, those par 4s are long, no matter which of the four tee boxes you use. Even the forward tees play nearly 5,300 yards and the whites jump up to 6,239, the blues 6,534 and the tips 6,873.

"The course demands a combination of long play and precise golf shots," Marra explained. "Its long par 4s are beset with bunkers and water hazards, which makes it very challenging."

All of the greens are elevated, and each comes with its own gauntlet of bunkers in front, but none in back. I think the designers figured once you reach the green, you've earned a break. The fairways are lush, dense with rough ball-sucking bermuda. The greens are a little slow, but no complaints there. They roll true and a few are mildly undulating.

When water features on a hole, it couldn't be more conspicuous. On No. 2, and the signature No. 16, everything short of the green rolls right into wet. On Nos. 3, 11 and 12 you have to get your tee shot to clear it, and on two par 3s, No. 14 and 17, water is pretty much all there is between the tee and green. Did someone mention a beach analogy?

Palmetto Dunes' Fazio Course: Bunkers, bunkers, everywhere ...

As for the sand, let's just say it's a Fazio thing - George or Tom, take your pick. I counted about 60 bunkers overall and visited about half, up close and personal. Some of those bunkers are large enough to land aircraft in and all are peaked on the far ends, requiring a short iron to get out no matter how far away the green. Each bunker is carefully calculated and calibrated to be right where most golfers tend to land their shots.

Bunkers also flank fairways, like on the ninth hole, where the window between them is more like a gun slit on a military fort. Bunkers take up the majority of the fairway on the par-4 16th and the par-3 sixth. Sometimes they seem to have overtaken all turf, like on the par-4 11th (and that's once you clear the water, with an ocean breeze in your face).

Bunkers tempt you to clear them in an effort to cut corners on doglegs (2, 9, 11, 13), and finally, on 18, a large bunker interrupts the fairway fore and aft. The green? Two more massive bunkers. This course is a blast. Literally.

Joe Loya, a 10 handicap from Savannah, Ga., had played the George Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes once before. No. 11 sticks out in his mind because of the one-two punch of teeing off over water to a sea of sand along and on the fairway.

Kevin Myers, also from Savannah, said the course "has fast greens and a lot of undulation.

"Great stuff," Myers continued. "The par 3s are nice and long and the sand is positioned very well."

Barry Heckard of Gainesville, Fla., was playing golf in Hilton Head for the first time, with a friend who works at the course. Although Heckard is a 30-handicap, he played from the tips to see the whole of Fazio's course. "It's wonderful," he beamed. "Open fairways, a nice combination of holes."

The eighth hole, a long 431-yard par 4 from the tips, was particularly challenging, he said. "I had a 10 because I hit it into the water off the tee."

"The course penalizes you for any mistakes you make off the tee," Heckard added, admitting he spent a lot of time in the sand.

"We don't have anything like this in Gainesville. You can tell it's top-notch and beautifully maintained and manicured."

George Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes: The verdict

The best part of a Fazio course is standing on the tee, looking out at the hole and saying, "Oh, my goodness," or words to that effect. The holes are overt, daunting and forthright. They're also a lot of fun. Okay, so it's not exactly as mild as a day at the beach, but your creative juices will be flowing as you try to handle a host of troubles.

Lisa AllenLisa Allen, Contributor

Lisa Allen is a golf, travel and business writer based in Beaufort, S.C. She has edited newspapers, magazines and books in Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @LAllenSC.

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