Robber's Row course at Port Royal Golf Club sells you on its variety
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- The Robber's Row course at Port Royal Golf Club was first built in the early 1970s and freshened up in 1994 by Pete Dye.
The golf course is diverse. There is no pattern to the holes and no consistency in length, so take each hole as it comes. What that means is standing on the tee, surveying the hole and formulating a plan. Rarely does that mean grabbing the driver and blasting away.
"One of the things that's neat about the course is that you can hit everything in your bag, hit every shot you've got," said Jeremy Cadorette, director of golf operations for the trio of courses that make up Port Royal Golf Club: Robber's Row, Planter's Row and Barony.
Port Royal Golf Club offers a jaunt through Civil War history
Atop cerebral golf is an in-your-face encounter with Civil War history. The embankment you went over between holes No. 2 and No. 3 and again at No. 13? They were hand-dug by Southern soldiers to ward off Union troops. It didn't work so well: The Union army captured Hilton Head Island in only a few hours.
The ninth and 10th holes follow the old main street of a Civil War village in which islanders hawked wares, much of it whiskey and women, for 30,000 Union troops stationed on Hilton Head Island. That it was a bit of a seller's market is an understatement, thus Robber's Row.
So perhaps it's fitting that the golf course is a little unsettling.
"I like that it starts out short, so you're thinking there's nothing to this," Cadorette said. "Then it gets long."
Overall, the course, carved through stands of live oaks, runs 6,657 yards from the tips and earns a 73 rating and 133 slope. But there are five tee stations, so you can decide how much of the course to bite off.
Shots you rarely play
Throughout the course, you can see Pete Dye's influence in the form of bunkers right where you don't want them, undulating greens and variety.
The first two holes are warm-ups in length, but not hazards. No. 1, a par 4, doesn't exceed the 400-yard mark from the back tees, but it curls around water on the right and a mounded bunker on the left can snatch your drive if it draws on you.
The par-4 third hole is a wake-up call, with a very narrow, tree-lined fairway and bunkers running up the right side, then another farther up on the left. The green has a few more bunkers and a drop off short left. It's a tricky hole.
The par 4s on the front side have similar elements in the form of military-march hazards. For example, the fifth hole's cadence is left (bunker), right (bunker), left (water), right (bunker). Seven and nine also have a side-to-side progression of hazards.
The par-3 fourth hole is long to start and plays into the wind. You might just be looking at a chip and a putt for par.
Surprises on the par-5 sixth hole are grass bunkers and knolls at the green when you reach the end of the dogleg right. You might not see them until you're dealing with them. It shakes things up a little.
The trio of par 4s from Nos. 9-11 are tight holes with a gamut of hazards. Go easy on these holes to stay at par and pay attention. For example, on No. 10 branches overhang the edges of the fairway, so try to stay in the middle to the left side. Switch over to the right on No. 11 for the best approach and to avoid a humongous bunker that starts about 90 yards out and gobbles up the left side.
The pressure eases up a little on No. 13 and No. 14, both shorter holes that require a deft touch off the tee.
The 15th hole is a nearly island green for the par 3, but it's surrounded by sand, not water. It's elevated, so you might want a little more club.
The final two holes are relatively long and have memorable approaches, the 17th because of a big bunker short right and the par-5 18th because of a water-sand combo on the left to a skinny, deep strip of a green.
Robber's Row course at Port Royal Golf Club: The verdict
This golf course stands out among the great courses on Hilton Head Island for three reasons: The course's architecture, a close brush with Civil War history, and excellent service. You won't hit the same shot twice and you'll have to think your way around all 18 holes. The course is kept in top shape year round, service is great and the food in the classy clubhouse is delicious. Try the grilled asparagus sandwich or the tuna salad (greens topped with seared tuna steak) for something different. All of the courses at Port Royal Golf Club are worth your time, but if you had to pick one, I'd go with this one.