Has winter got your game rusty? These playable golf courses in Hilton Head Island can help

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- It requires more than a look at the rating and slope to select a golf course that's gentle on a rusty game or suited for a player who doesn't knock the cover off the ball.

Robert Trent Jones golf course at Palmetto Dunes - No. 8
The Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes is about placement, not length.
Robert Trent Jones golf course at Palmetto Dunes - No. 8Port Royal Golf Club - Barony CourseHilton Head National - Player course No. 4Sea Pines Resort - Ocean golf courseShipyard G.C. in Hilton Head Island

Here are some options that afford a break if your clubs have been stowed in the basement all winter, or if you're errant, unlucky or just prone to flub shots from hazard to hazard ...

Shipyard Golf Club

Shipyard Golf Club offers three nine-hole possibilities for a mix-and-match approach. The most playable combination is Galleon-Brigantine. The hardest is Clipper-Galleon, by a smidge over Brigantine-Clipper. George Cobb designed Clipper and Galleon. Willard Byrd came along a few years later with Brigantine, so the newest nine presents a little different flavor.

Cobb provides a run-up, front and center, at every green, the best part of his designs. It helps those who play a bump-and-run game. His layouts are straightforward, so you can devise a good game plan at every tee. There are no surprises, but pay attention at Shipyard, because it's got a lot of overhead hazards -- tree branches that arch above the golf course.

Galleon includes a few water carries, but they're strategic and not overly long. Plenty of doglegs provide a chance to shave distance if you're playing well, but there's a lot of room away from those hazardous corners if your game is a little rough.

On the Clipper course, the third hole gets tricky as water poses a risk if you hit long. Easy does it on this par 4.

Brigantine's No. 2 presents one of the most interesting of the 27 holes. It wraps around water on the right, then requires a carry to the green over more water. But it's not long, so a well-placed tee shot on the wide fairway sets up a nice, short iron to the offset green.

Byrd went big on the water, placing it in play on eight of his nine holes. Overall, though, it's a short golf course without a par 4 of more than 350 from the white tees. Brains, not brawn, is the ticket.

"In the summer months, Shipyard Golf Club adds an additional tee box to accommodate juniors as well as the novice golfer," said Lisa Dahlstrom, director of revenue for Heritage Golf, which owns Shipyard and Port Royal Golf Club.

Port Royal Golf Club

Port Royal Golf Club offers a trio of its own, all launched from the same area. They share a beautiful new clubhouse.

If your game needs works, opt for Barony, a Cobb design. Planter's Row, designed by Byrd, is one of the tightest on the island, so that can cause frustration. And leave Robber's Row, jazzed up by Pete Dye, for another day, as it's fraught with bunkers and tight landing areas. Every tee is rated for men and women, a rare welcoming nod to female players who hit the links on Hilton Head Island.

Barony is relatively short, measuring 6,543 yards at the tips and 5,183 yards up front, with ratings of 71.9 at the back and 71.3 in front for women.

The front nine is the easier half, starting with a par 4 that includes a marsh area in front of the green. But there's a workaround to the right if your short irons are sporadic. The greens on Barony vary in size from smallish, 25-yard deep putting surfaces, to a few plump ones that push 38 yards. For the most part, you'll find sand at the greens and occasionally at the outside of dogleg corners. Golf course officials insist you dial it back.

No. 13 at Barony is a challenge, but the card doesn't make that clear, ranking the hole of moderate difficulty. It's a short par 4 that requires a perfectly placed drive, then a left-hand turn to the green surrounded by trees overhead and sand below. Enjoy the hole for the challenge, and don't get upset if it has its way with you.

"On Barony," Dahlstrom said, "large greens and forgiving fairway, along with four different tee boxes, allow golfers of all skill level to experience an enjoyable round."

Hilton Head National

The 18-hole Player-Weed course, part of the 27-hole Hilton Head National in Bluffton, S.C., offers a hybrid layout, with the front designed by Gary Player and the back by Bobby Weed. There's not a house on the golf course; it's just a really nice walk in the woods. You'll also notice the excellent customer service at Hilton Head National, from the bag drop to the starter to the pub staff.

You see everything from the tee, so plan accordingly. The trick to this golf course? Don't get too cute. Play it short and strategic, rather than long and risky. The front nine is more subtle, opting for strategic bunkers, undulated fairways and elevated, well-guarded greens -- but usually only on one side. Holes of note include the par-5 third, which is narrow with bunkers left and right. Off the tee, anything far right disappears into a pond, rolls into a bunker or lands behind a tree. On the left, there's an enormous bunker. Ideally, play short of the bunker on the left and plod your way to the offset green.

One of the most remarkable holes at Hilton Head National is the sixth, which features a tree, then a ridge to block your view of the green on the left. A bunker and water spans the entire right side, with nothing between the fairway and water. You're either OK on the right side -- or you're really, really not. It's a little punishing, but it's fun.

On the back, fairways slope side to side, up and down. There's plenty of room off the tee on most holes, but the challenge arrives on the large, undulating greens. A few are crowned, too, so hope the grounds crew comes to work in a good mood before placing pins. Every green is accessible, and there are no water carries.

The par-4 14th hole is enjoyable, with a waste bunker that begins halfway to the green. The green hides behind it, so approach from the left. The fairway slopes downhill, adding extra legs to your drive.

The finishing hole stays with you. No. 18 features a wicked drop-off on the right but plenty of room on the left. The elevated green has a wall-like false front, so give your ball more power if bumping it to the putting surface.

The Ocean Course at Sea Pines

The Ocean Course at Sea Pines Resort looks hard on paper, but really, it's not.

Just adjust your game to the golf course and put shots in the right spots. Not only can you choose your tees, from 6,906 yards to 5,325, but also the level of your adventure. There are corners to cut at some risk -- or you can take the longer, safer route.

This is one of the oldest golf courses on Hilton Head Island, designed by Cobb in 1960 and refreshed in 1995 by Mark McCumber. It's Audubon certified, which means you will see all kinds of winged creatures. And it offers a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean on the par-3 15th hole.

The designers understood the role of this golf course, gently plotted so players can enjoy the surroundings during their rounds of golf.

The Ocean Course starts with two interrupted fairways, but the first sits 75 yards from the hole, so a pitch shot will clear the rough. The second hole, a little trickier, includes a 30-yard interruption 130 yards out. The fourth and fifth holes curve around water. Calculate the distance to stay out of trouble.

There are no surprises. Like at Hilton Head National, everything is visible from the tee. For example, you can see the pine tree that juts out from the right at the bend of the doglegged, par-4 16th hole. The 17th hole is a straight shot, though another interruption awaits about 110 yards out. The golf course winds up with an arrow-straight par 5, with water along the right but a nice wide fairway.

Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort

The Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort is a great golf course, with a lot of variety, beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean and creative play. Its length varies from a yawning 7,005 yards at the tips to 5,035 yards at the front.

"The Robert Trent Jones course is extremely manageable to all golfers due to its links-style elements, wide fairways and generous greens," said Brad Marra, director of golf at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort.

The front side consists mostly of straight holes with some pesky bunkers mid-fairway, particularly on the left side of the par-4 seventh hole.

The eighth hole, a par 3, is visible from a major thoroughfare, so there might be some intimidation concerns in clearing the water to get to the green. The ninth, a dogleg right, is fraught with bunkers on the right to swallow your drive, then more on the left for your second shot. But you'll remember the par-5 10th, which marches to the edge of the Atlantic, and the watery 11th through 15th holes.

It's all about placement over length, and several ways exist to approach each hole, depending on your skills. After 15, a par 5 riddled with bunkers left and water right, you'll welcome the calmer pace, culminating with the dogleg-left, par-4 18th. It's a great wrap up to a stunning golf course.

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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