Heritage visitors: Five must-play golf courses in Hilton Head Island

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Planning to see the PGA Tour's top players compete in The Heritage?

The Heritage tournament - fans
Planning to see the PGA Tour's best compete in The Heritage? Bring along your clubs.
The Heritage tournament - fansOyster Reef Golf Club - hole 6Old South Golf Links - No. 16Cupp Course at Palmetto Hall Plantation - No. 13Arthur Hills course at Palmetto Dunes resort - Hole 2Heron Point GC at Sea Pines Resort - hole 16

We know watching the best of the best, particularly in person, triggers an insatiable itch to play golf. Whereas, Harbour Town Golf Links is out of the running this week, there are more than two dozen courses on Hilton Head alone, plus a slew on the mainland beckoning you to play.

Winnowing the list to only five must-plays is tough, but here goes:

Heron Point course at Sea Pines Resort

Heron Point at Sea Pines Resort is one of Pete Dye's latest designs, opening in 2007. He didn't hold back on punishing errant shots and throws everything at you, with waste bunkers that take a chunk out of the fairway or a bunker right in the middle of the landing area, forcing you to pick a side.

It's a sophisticated golf course that requires some submission on your part. Read each hole from the tee and play it the way Dye wants you to.

He provides hints all over the place, leaving a lone tree sticking out as a distant target and providing risk or safe options at nearly every green. It's a strategy of placement, not brawn, to work your way around the course. It's Dye all the way.

Arthur Hills course at Palmetto Dunes Resort

Usually Arthur Hills, a turf guy from Michigan, favors swales and rough to challenge golfers, but on the Arthur Hills course at Palmetto Dunes, he played in the water. A lot of water.

There are water carries on a half dozen holes, more if you're a risk taker. The 6,651-yard course is a lot of fun, but it's anything but easy. Hills tosses in a few unexpected hazards that aren't visible until it's too late and plays hide-and-seek with a few greens, particularly 18, crouched behind 8-foot mounds.

And no matter how you do on 17 -- a left, crescent par 4 around water to one more water carry to the green -- you'll likely do as well as Tiger Woods did when he was a junior player. He racked up an eight, according to local lore.

Palmetto Hall Plantation's Robert Cupp course

The Robert Cupp course at Palmetto Hall Plantation was way, way ahead of its time, one of the first courses designed solely on a computer. So it's a bit of a wonk course.

The bunkers are geometric shapes and the greens are of varying sizes and shapes but all fast, and a lot of doglegs tempt you with danger. Each hole is its own work of art, each with a unique challenge, such as mounds that hide landing spots behind them or a run-up-the-middle to a green you don't see until you're putting.

It's also the hardest course around from the tips, clocking in at 75.6/152. Whether you play them or not, check out the view from the back tees. It's a different world back there.

Oyster Reef Golf Club

At Oyster Reef Golf Club it is classic golf beneath Spanish moss-covered oaks that combines excellent conditioning with familiar Hilton Head Island foes of a gazillion trees, some water and bunkers everywhere you don't want them.

What sets Oyster Reef apart is the signature hole. "It's our sixth hole that overlooks Port Royal Sound and Parris Island," said Tom Kern, general manager. "You can look at that for hours." Well, in theory.

The course also features Rees Jones' attention to detail, said Kern. He requires an upfront strategy for each hole, giving you choices of safe or maybe sorry -- very, very sorry, given the vast number of bunkers. The course has a lot of doglegs and plenty of chances to hammer the driver.

Old South Golf Links

Old South Golf Links, a Clyde Johnston design, is just off Hilton Head, literally teetering between water and solid ground.

Nestled beneath 200-year-old oaks and pushed out into the marsh, it's a breath-taking course. Atop that, Johnston added mounds, elevation changes, pesky trees right in your way and yawing bunkers. And if that's not enough, the par-4 seventh hole has a double water carry, and No. 8 is an island green, with two more just like it on the course.

Eat, drink and be merry at Old South: "It's just a fun golf course and a fun place to be," said Scott Adams, general manager. "It's not a course that beats you up. We also have one of the best restaurants in the area and a full breakfast."

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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