Port Royal Golf Club's Planter's Row course: A thin strip of heaven in Hilton Head

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

HILTON HEAD, S.C. - Designed by Willard C. Byrd and built in 1984, Planter's Row was the last of the three courses built at Port Royal Golf Club, but it should be one of the first on your list to play.

Port Royal Golf Club - Planter's Row course
A tiny fairway squeezed between trees is standard operating procedure at Port Royal Golf Club's Planter's Row course.
Port Royal Golf Club - Planter's Row coursePlanter's Row at Port Royal Golf Club - hole 5Planter's Row at Port Royal GC - hole 18

Planter's Row is claimed to be one of the narrowest golf courses on the island; one could put that claim to the test by counting the bark scuffs on your ball at the end of the round. There will be plenty. On second thought, count the scuffs as you go - you might lose a few spheres along the way.

The 18 holes are carved out of a forest of mature trees and feature relatively small but PDQ (pretty darned quick) greens. It put me in mind of the many 80-year-old, old-fashioned country clubs up north that were set into the woods, leaving as many trees as possible.

"Planter's Row offers a different look than its sister courses at Port Royal, with rolling, tree-lined fairways in a park-like setting," said Director of Golf Ken McNerney. "It's the only course of the three without any homes on it. Water comes into play on 10 of the 18 holes, and avoiding the trees on any given hole is a challenge," he added.

The golf course doesn't go hog-wild with bunkers, but those that are there are very strategically placed. Water, when it appears, is anything but subtle. There is a water carry to the green on three holes, depending on where you put your approach shot.

Planter's Row requires well-thought-out and perfectly executed golf. Either your game is up to it, or you'll become aware of your flaws in a hurry.

Port Royal Golf Club's practice facilities

Port Royal's three courses share an elaborate practice facility, with several putting areas, at least two bunker areas and a dozen driving range stations. The golf club just added a short game area for shots up to 80 yards (a.k.a. the score-trimming shots).

Instruction is through the PGA Tour Academy, one of six Tour Academies in the country, according to McNerney. There are two full-time teaching professionals on site who offer multi-day golf schools, private lessons or through clinics three days a week.

The starter area is a little chaotic because it's the orchestration area for all three courses at Port Royal Golf Club - Barony, Robber's Row and Planter's Row. All of the courses get a lot of play, about 100,000 rounds per year total, so be patient and arrive in plenty of time to make your tee time.

After your round, check out the new Port Royal clubhouse. Built two years ago, it's regal, elegant and offers nooks and crannies for intimate settings of any size. I liked the library area, with dark wood bookcases surrounding a flat-screen TV. The veranda is a nice place to be for private events or in-season Sunday brunch.

Standout holes on the Planter's Row course at Port Royal G.C.

Planter's Row's fifth hole, a par 5, is a calculation nightmare because the middle portion of the fairway is a peninsula that juts out from the right side. One has to clear water off the tee, but avoid the watery left side, then clear water again at about 200 yards. If that's not enough, there is more water, then sand, on the right side from mid-fairway on to the green. Yes, it's the toughest hole on the course. Short of hitting through fire, I'm not sure they could come up with any other challenges.

Thankfully, they tone it tone to a benign par 3 for the sixth.

The stress level rachets up again at the thinking-man's eighth hole, a sharp dogleg right with sand at the far corner and a 26-yard-wide amoeba-shaped green amid three large bunkers. Shot placement is everything on this one.

The 10th hole plays a little trick in that the right bunkers near the green don't abut the putting surface, but are about 20 yards in front of it. It's important information to know, an inside joke on first-timers.

The second hardest handicap is on the 12th, a rough par 4 with lots of water between your second shot and the green. Chances are, you'll lay up to launch your shot over an interrupted fairway onto the green, making a one-putt required for par. Oh, and by the way, it's narrow, too.

Port Royal Golf Club's Planter's Row course: The verdict

Planter's Row is a challenging course that mixes it up a bit, so it's anything but tedious. The golf course is not excessively long - 6,625 at the tips and 5,920 from the whites - so keep that in mind and leave the driver in the bag. Given that trees pin in nearly every fairway, a 3 wood will keep you golfing instead of playing ping-pong through the woods.

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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