Golf with the 'gators at Hilton Head's Shipyard Golf Club

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

HILTON HEAD, S.C. - Shipyard Golf Club might not be everyone's favorite Hilton Head golf course, but it is indisputably the preferred hangout of your typical Hilton Head alligator.

Shipyard Golf Club - gator
Shipyard Golf Club in Hilton Head is home to some 250 alligators, according to course officials.
Shipyard Golf Club - gatorShipyard Golf ClubShipyard Golf Club in Hilton Head

"We have 250 alligators on the plantation," said Shipyard Assistant Professional Justin Lawson. "That's because we have 27 holes and 25 have water that come into play."

Nice job, counting the 'gators. You'll see them slithering through the small lakes and lagoons, eyes and snouts barely above water, throughout Shipyard's three nine-hole tracks. You'll see them sunning lazily on the banks, looking up at you with blank, reptilian eyes. As you make your way around the course, you're thinking, Let's hope we don't see them lining up a putt on the green; some of them are rather large.

Like most Hilton Head golf courses, Shipyard is cut through the Lowcountry island terrain of Carolina pine, flowering magnolias and the classic moss-draped oak trees. It does have more water than many area courses, though not the dramatic marsh and river views others sport. There are other critters at Shipyard, including 20 species of birds and some rather odd-sounding crows.

Built in 1970, the Shipyard Golf Club's Galleon and Clipper nines are some of the oldest golf on the island; the Brigantine was added in 1982. It all has a fresh, out-of-the-box look and feel, though, with the recent conversion of the greens from Tidwarf Eagle to Champion Bermuda.

"That Bermuda is just starting to pop up with all the warm weather we've been having. It's all fresh," Lawson said.

None of the nines are overly difficult, though some of the fairways are narrow, particularly on the Clipper nine, which is rated the toughest layout of the three. There are quite a few bunkers on Shipyard Golf Club's Galleon-Brigantine combination, many of them guarding the steady march of doglegs the track throws at you.

There are some semi-tough holes, and some very good risk-reward options. No. 2 on the Brigantine, for instance, wraps around the lake to the right; you can go for it or be a lady. A well-placed tee shot to the right, carrying most of the lake, will win you a short-iron into the green, over yet more water.

"I'm glad I came," said Harvey Barer of Long Island, New York. "They told me it would be scenic, and it is. It's not the most beautiful course I've ever played, even down here, but it's a nice course, with some challenging holes."

Shipyard Golf Club: The verdict

Shipyard is a good play if you don't feel like testing your "A" game. It does have narrow fairways that can easily get you into trouble off the tee, but a great deal of the water on the course is lateral.

The golf course is dotted with the small ponds and lagoons, but the surrounding houses do seem to be a little closer than at other, oh-so-tasteful Hilton Head courses. Still, Shipyard comes equipped with that patented Hilton Head peaceful, easy feeling, even in the midst of housing developments.

Stay and play

The 156-room Marriott Residence Inn is a good place to stay, especially if you're going to spend some serious time playing golf on the island. It's centrally located, right off Highway 278; all suites have full kitchens, with several grocery stores nearby to stock them, and the studios are much larger than typical hotel rooms. The complementary breakfast isn't bad either - you can get real meat to go with the usual continental-breakfast stuff - and there's a weekday "social hour" with food and cocktails. They also have an outdoor pool and whirlpool, tennis courts, a fitness center and a small putting green. Meeting space for up to 300 people is available. They even take pets, for a $75 non-refundable fee.

The Beachwalk Hotel and Condominiums, formerly the Holiday Inn Express, is on the north side of the island, two blocks from the beach and close to shops and restaurants, including Coligny Plaza. There is a bicycle rental shop across the street. The hotel does not have a restaurant, but there's a free (and typical) continental breakfast. The staff is particularly friendly.

The 91-room, three-story building is surrounded by landscaping and a lagoon, with an outdoor pool, sun deck and gazebo. Free, high-speed, wireless Internet is available throughout the hotel.

Hilton Head dining

Hilton Head has scads of good restaurants. For seafood, Alexander's is excellent, as is Kingfisher, Red Fish and Eugene's Waterfront Oyster Bar. Fiesta Fresh and The Studio are also recommended.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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