Pete Dye's Heron Point golf course at Sea Pines Resort: An exercise in obedience

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. - Everyone is welcome to play Heron Point at Sea Pines Resort. The question is, are you are going to try to impose yourself on the golf course, or succumb to Pete Dye's design.

Sea Pines Resort - Heron Point golf course - hole 18
The Heron Point course at Sea Pines Resort prompts loads of oohs and ahs throughout. But nothing tops No. 18, according to Lisa Allen.
Sea Pines Resort - Heron Point golf course - hole 18Sea Pines Resort - Heron Point golf course - hole 13Sea Pines Resort - Heron Point golf course - hole 2Sea Pines Resort - Heron Point golf course - hole 4

If you're stubborn and don't deviate from your game, I recommend the Ocean Course at Sea Pines, right next door.

The delight in Heron Point is the golf course itself - not how well one plays it. Drink in the complex bunkering, the undulating greens, the meandering fairway. Notice the risk and reward that Dye dishes out routinely, then take your best shot. And don't get angry with him if the hole doesn't work out like you planned.

Dye's a nice guy. He offers a near blueprint on how to manage his golf course, but you have to obey, kowtow to the master. If his design is built for a 3-wood and long iron into the green, just do it. Don't argue by pulling our your driver. You're not going to win this game. Pete is. Maybe he's getting a little cantankerous, but he earned it. Frankly, the Heron course is his way or the bogey highway. Or worse.

But listen to the artist and what he's trying to tell you, and you may experience the round of your life. Note that on nearly every hole, he provides a visual target. Nothing on this course is random.

Is that tree right in line with where you want to go off the tee? it's not a coincidence. The information is all there at the green. Just pay attention. The small greens are carved into five sections so you can plan accordingly, based on the pin position.

"When Pete Dye was designing the course, he was here every day, the whole time," said Bobby Downs, staff professional for the Ocean and Heron Point courses at Sea Pines. "It was really interesting to watch him get on his hands and knees (to examine undulation) at his age.

"He was so hands-on, it floored me. I was really impressed by his passion."

Dye sees everything is his mind, but he can illustrate that vision, too. "We were out there one day, it was 90 degrees, and he had people stand where the trees will be," Downs said.

He wanted others to see what he did.

Heron Point at Sea Pines Resort: The golf course

Five tee stations range from 7,103 yards and a slope rating of 75.4/143 for the Tournament tees to 5,220 yards, 71.6/123 from the forward, Palmetto tees. Three tees are rated for women; many thanks to Alice Dye. Sea Pines also added a family tee that comes in at 3,743 yards.

Heron Point sits on the former site of Sea Marsh. Dye took it down, well, even past the studs, in 2007. He tweaked it again in 2009 to remove some of the bite. "Members have a very loud voice, and they thought it was too difficult," Downs said.

Overall, though, the changes were subtle and didn't affect Dye's intent.

"It's a long course, and you have to put it in the right place on the green," Downs said. "Ocean is a softer course."

Heron Point's bread-and-butter par 4s are anything but vanilla

Even before arriving at the first tee, you know this golf course is different. On your left is the 18th green, a kidney-shaped contraption with water on one side, peppered with vertical ties shoring up the bank. But that comes later.

The first hole is a sight to behold. The tee itself is a peninsula, with a stripe of a waste bunker the length of the right side, and palmetto trees up close on the left. The green is just a wee thing amid an eruption of mounds and bunkers. And there is no such thing as a straight roll once on putting surface. Pete doesn't do level. The undulations are fun to try to calculate.

The third fairway is a spidery organism. It winds around a large bunker complex on the left that begins about 70 yards from the green. The fairway then dips into a valley in front of the green, eliminating most luck with the bounces. A jumble of mounds is situated right of the green for those who try to avoid the aforementioned bunkers. Phew, this hole is a lot of work, especially for a par 4 of 313 yards from the middle tees.

Every hole is a complicated matter

The golf course doesn't skimp on detail on the par 3s, either, placing trouble wherever you might land other than the green. And the green is highly recommended. Note the work of sand art on No. 7. That waste bunker oozes all over in front of the green, interrupted only by a couple pot bunkers if you'd rather.

The par 5s deliver the drama demanded by such a golf course. No. 6 features an S-shaped fairway with waste-bunker lined water at both curves and an approach to the green from the right. Easy? No. Gorgeous? Yes, with the bunkers and mounds. On the far side of the green is water, so beware.

Nos. 9 and 11, also par 5s, are similar, with sharp doglegs off the tee, then on to the green past a gamut of bunkers, water, mounds and what have you. You know the Dye drill.

No. 10 ranked as my favorite hole on the course, because it was so surprising from the tee to see that bunker about 60 yards from the green in the middle of the fairway. Luckily, although I didn't know it off the tee, my shot landed far left. The placement forced me to thread the golf ball between two bunker clusters down to the green - but not too far right, lest that huge, live oak, nor too long, because of a pond on the backside of the green. Great hole.

Despite all of the oohs and ahs on this course, nothing tops No. 18. It's a par 4 with a waste bunker-edged pond that spans the length of the left side. The fairway is wide as can be until about 120 yards out. Then it seems to disappear as the hole veers left to a small green. More than half of it is lined with water, and the rest is bunker laden.

Do yourself a favor: Play it like a par 5 and maybe you'll “par” it. If you try to get there in two, who knows where the strokes will stop.

Sue Morris, a high handicapper, likes Heron Point because it's challenging but offers options. When her game is lacking, she plays the family tees. "I like those tees," she said.

Other days, she plays the front tees but uses the escapes provided by Dye. "I find a way around the carries," Morris aid. "I always find the bailouts." They might be longer, but they're safer.

Stan McDonald, a single-digit player, played the Heron course before and after the modifications in 2009. The original second hole irked him. Because of a sharp dropoff behind the green, a shot just a tad long wound up wet. "You didn't get rewarded for hitting a good shot," McDonald said. Now, imperfect approach shots might land in a collection area, not sand or water.

Heron Point at Sea Pines Resort: The verdict

If you visit Hilton Head Island, try to play this course. It's fun, challenging and Dye all the way, but it does seem a bit detached from its surroundings. Honestly, one can imagine this course anywhere, because there is little that makes it uniquely Lowcountry. There are no marsh carries, and the topography is obviously manufactured. But if you want to be a golfer for the day, and not a tourist, give Heron Point a spin.

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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