Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort: A challenge around every corner

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

HILTON HEAD, S.C. - Upon arrival, one can imagine why the Arthur Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort was selected as the 2009 South Carolina Course of the Year by the Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association.

Palmetto Dunes Resort - Hills Course - hole 10
The 10th green on the Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes is pure Arthur Hills: no bunkers, no tricks, just a flag taunting you to put the ball close to it.
Palmetto Dunes Resort - Hills Course - hole 10Palmetto Dunes Resort - Hills Course - hole 12Palmetto Dunes Resort - Hills Course - hole 17

The attention to detail begins in the parking lot, with meticulously trimmed shrubbery, well maintained flower beds and an impressive clubhouse. Modern and somewhat imposing, the clubhouse overlooks the driving range and is flanked by two practice greens.

The golf course itself is pure Arthur Hills: not a lot of sand, but swales and mounds to make one's lie a constant uncertainty. The course offers a series of surprises; whether it's learning (too late) how a tree comes into play if too far one side or the other, or trying to figure out if the green is thin and long or wide and shallow. Whatever its shape, it's going to be sloped at best, undulating at worst.

Expect the unexpected on the Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes

The surprises start with the first hole, which appears from the tee to be long and straight. And it is. The surprise is that the green can be seen only from the right side through a tiny opening between two mounds. If you're on the left side, you'll have to fly the ball to the green and land it ever so gently, particularly if the flag is in the front.

A similar trick is employed to a much larger degree on the 18th hole. You simply can't see the green until you're on it. It's completely hidden, off to the left, behind 8-foot mounds. It's a fun hole and one you'll take with you. The 18th alone is worth the price of admission.

In between the first and last holes are 10 holes with water, most of them involving some degree of carry. I imagine the pro shop sells a lot of golf balls as people arrive, a little stunned at the turn, having left a possible trail of submerged balls on the second, third, fifth, ninth ...

In fact, the ninth hole alone might have left them shaken as they trudge up for another dozen. It's another benign hole from the tee, but with a hint of trouble near the green, where water encroaches from the left. What's unexpected are the series of perpendicular swales all along that water. If a ball lands inopportunely even to the center or right of center of the fairway, it might bound sharply left and into the drink. Yes, that is demoralizing and unfair.

The back nine on the Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes

The back nine is notable for its collection of doglegs, most around water from start to finish.

The 12th is the hole everyone talks about. There's a lot of rough before the fairway even begins, then the thin fairway halts 90 yards short of the green, right before a line of trees that one will likely have to thread their way through. And, to add insult to ego-injuring golf, an alligator plied the water near the latest contribution to the drink. Sure, my scaly friend, you can have that one.

The 16th and 17th holes are also water-hazard heavy, with carries to the greens. Expect a lot of challenge in a short amount of time.

Players fond of the Palmetto Dunes difference

Frank Duffy, a member for 19 years and man who plays golf every day, loves the Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort.

"It's narrow and it demands that you keep your shots in the center," Duffy said. "No. 12 is the most difficult hole of any course on this island by far." He speaks from experience. With the various leagues he's on, he plays them all.

Duffy proudly recounts the local lore that when Tiger Woods was a college player, he racked up an eight on the par-4 17th. "That hole just ate him alive," he said, adding that Tiger didn't master the hole the entire tournament.

Brian Osborne, a 16-handicap player, also noted the 12th. "It's always challenging. You have to get off the tee."

Director of Golf Brad Marra said Palmetto Dunes Resort's Hills Course "offers a careful blend of beauty and challenge."

"Built on a series of rolling dunes, the course presents many opportunities for off-balance lies and an ocean breezes add to the challenge," Marra continued. "The importance of precision play is amplified by 10 holes on the water."

Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort: The verdict

Palmetto Dunes' notorious course provides some awesome golf and it will improve your game, no matter how good a golfer. That's because it has a dark side, which will occasionally punish good shots with diabolical bounces or rolls into trouble. It's a formidable course that keeps you on your toes the entire round.

It's characteristic Hills in that there isn't a lot of sand - instead it's a landmine-filled maze through trees, past water and atop hundreds of challenging lies.

Bring your best game, you're going to need it.

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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