Island hopping in the Lowcountry (where the water is wide and the golf is great)
HILTON HEAD, S.C. - In the South Carolina Lowcountry, there's little separation between the mainland and the region's numerous barrier islands. Sometimes it's a short span of antiquated bridge. Other times it's a small but formidable swath of Intracoastal Waterway traversable only by ferry.
But what the Lowcountry islands lack in modern transportation infrastructure it more than makes up for with thought-provoking, scenery-soaked resort golf.
Lowcountry golf resorts
The island golf vortex of the region is Hilton Head, home to megaresorts like Sea Pines, Palmetto Hall, and Palmetto Dunes. With the widening of highway 278 to four lanes and the masses of inlanders who skip town every weekend to partake of its many wares, a visit to Hilton Head hardly feels like an escape from the mainland anymore.
It is still too early in the game, however, for traveling golfers to lament the loss of secluded, Lowcountry island golf. The less traveled island retreats are still there if you look long and hard enough among the live oaks and reed-choked marshes.
What you'll find is well worth the search - a Jack Nicklaus gem that rivals Harbour Town Golf Links in design and scenery, if not historical significance; a rare Jay Morrish/Tom Weiskopf Lowcountry offering; local PGA Tour professional Davis Love III's first solo layout; and a remodeled resort course from the late Robert Trent Jones Sr., replete with some of the area's only bentgrass greens.
Daufuskie Island golf
Native son and best-selling author Pat Conroy immortalized Daufuskie Island's past in his novel, The Water is Wide, while Nicklaus, Weiskopf and Morrish have lent their hands in scripting the island's future by designing two of the Lowcountry's more intriguing, lesser-known golf courses.
First a word about the local geography: Daufuskie is the southernmost of South Carolina's barrier islands and is accessible only via a 40-minute ferry ride from Hilton Head. Golfers in search of post-round parties and other forms of extraneous entertainment need not apply. Tired souls looking for spiritual replenishment, historical perspective and quality golf will find a sleepy island resort graced by an historic inn, an equestrian center and a handful of colorful beach cottages.
The Nicklaus-designed Melrose Club golf course is Daufuskie Island Resort's pride and joy and is the most popular play among guests. All 18 holes ooze Pete Dye - the Golden Bear's mentor at nearby Harbour Town Golf Links - but are forgiving enough to be deemed "resort" golf. The final three holes play right along the Atlantic Ocean. The par-5 18th, with the ocean in play along the right side of the fairway, is widely considered the most scenic finishing hole in the state.
The Bloody Point Course, on the island's south end, is a Weiskopf/Morrish design that originally was crafted as a walking course fit for caddies and other hoofers. The trek takes golfers along the banks of the Mungen River and the course is considered the more difficult of the two layouts. Both courses are currently available for outside play, but the resort's new owners plan to limit play to resort guests and members in the near future.
Seabrook Island golf
Kiawah Island and Wild Dunes get most of the ink when it comes to the Charleston golf scene. All the better for guests of Seabrook Island Resort who can sample the property's two top notch golf courses in relative anonymity. Seabrook is located a half-hour south of downtown Charleston, just beyond the rustic environs of John's Island. With air travel moving from tenuous to tedious, Seabrook Island offers thousands of golfers a first-rate Lowcountry resort experience within driving distance of some of the Southeast's largest metropolitan areas.
The Island is home to 29 golf villa complexes with 190 spacious one, two and three bedroom units. There are also 15 private homes available on the resort's rental program that range in size from three to six bedrooms. Anchoring the experience are 36 holes of pure Lowcountry golf. Only guests of the resort can procure tee times at the Willard Byrd designed Ocean Winds Course and Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed Crooked Oaks Course.
Crooked Oaks recently underwent a $2.4 million overhaul that included the installation of the Charleston area's only bentgrass greens. Fairways are tight, but appear even tighter as groves of live oaks and Lowcountry hardwoods encroach upon landing areas. Gentle doglegs lead you through the heart of the island, and smallish greens wait to receive only the most accurately placed approach shots.
At Ocean Winds, the front nine plays through the interior of the island while the back nine takes you on a wild and windy ride around the resort's perimeter. The course takes on a markedly different feeling on the par 4 10th hole as it turns out towards the ocean.
Fripp Island golf
Fripp Island Resort sits 19 miles east of sleepy Beaufort, a 3,000-acre resort playground equipped with three 18-hole layouts, swimming pools, spas, croquet courts, a basketball arena, shuffleboard and bocce courts. Accommodations range from one-bedroom villas to behemoth beachfront homes, accounting for over 300 guest rooms. You'd be hard pressed to find a more self-contained resort experience in the entire Lowcountry.
As is the case with so many of the barrier islands of the region, Fripp Island's history is inexorably tied to the coast's swashbuckling, 17th century pirates. Johannes Fripp was awarded the island by King Charles of England for defending the English settlement in neighboring Beaufort against the ruthless buccaneers.
Fast-forward to the 22nd century and traveling golfers are rewarded with three oceanfront golf tracks courtesy of Carolina mainstay George Cobb and local boy made good, Davis Love III. Cobb's Ocean Point Golf Links is one of the Lowcountry's oldest layouts, having opened its fairways in 1960. Love III's Ocean Creek Golf Course opened in 1995 to rave reviews from regional and national golfing publications. Fripp Island Resort's third course, South Carolina National, is Cobb's final design and is actually located 18 miles away on Cat Island.
December 4, 2002