Are you ready for Hilton Head Island's toughest golf courses?

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Numbers don't lie, especially when it comes to a course's slope and rating.

Cupp Course at Palmetto Hall Plantation - hole 18
Palmetto Hall Plantation's Cupp Course features flawless conditioning, fast and impeccable greens, and imaginative hole structuring.
Cupp Course at Palmetto Hall Plantation - hole 18Heron Point at Sea Pines Resort - 16th holeHarbour Town Golf Links at Sea PinesOyster Reef Golf Club - 11th holePalmetto Dunes resort - Fazio Course - hole 11

So here's a fairly indisputable list of the toughest golf courses on Hilton Head Island. The numbers are based on playing from the tips, but the slopes and ratings for these courses stay pretty high no matter which tees you play. And therein is the key.

Play from the best tees for you. The PGA has it right: "Tee it forward." You'll have more fun, and you'll get to see the best of what these courses have to offer.

Colleton River Plantation, Dye Course

Slope: 148, Rating: 76.1, Length: 7,365 yards Although the Dye Course at Colleton River Plantation is private, it's worthy of mention as the toughest Hilton Head Island-area course.

Pete Dye himself calls it one of his best courses anywhere, and it hosts annual qualifiers for the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur.

Although brutally long, that's not what makes the course so formidable, said Matt Lucchesi, director of golf.

"What makes it so tough is around the greens," he said. "They aren't very big, and there's a lot of movement. Your short game has to be very good to make par saves."

Thankfully, the course isn't brutal from start to finish. "Off the tee, it's very playable as long as you keep it out of the centipede (thigh-high grass that borders nearly every fairway). It's open, especially on the back," Lucchesi said. "But if you miss a lot of greens, you're in for a long day."

Palmetto Hall Plantation, Robert Cupp Course

Slope: 152, Rating: 75.6, Length: 7,056 yards Stewart Moore, chief operating officer for the eGolf Professional Tour, said the Robert Cupp Course at Palmetto Hall Plantation is one of the most arduous venues his golfers play each year.

"Our players come in from over 15 countries annually to compete, and by week's end, they are all in need of a respite from the game following the demanding shots and risk/reward decisions featured on virtually every hole," he said.

Moore credited the Cupp Course's flawless conditioning, fast and impeccable greens, and imaginative hole structuring as reasons why it's such a challenging venue.

"Our goal each week is for par to be a respectable score," he said. "At the Cupp Course, it always is."

Sea Pines Resort, Heron Point

Slope: 143, Rating: 75.4, Length: 7,103 yards The Heron Point Course at Sea Pines Resort is a traditional Pete Dye course with a good mixture of a lot of movement in the fairway and the traditional Pete Dye greens, which are fairly small and well guarded.

"What you have to do is choose the correct tee to play from," said Cary Corbitt, director of golf. "You have to think your way around the golf course. Placement is key to get to the greens."

Sea Pines Resort, Harbour Town Golf Links

Slope: 146, Rating: 75.2, Length: 6,973 yards Home to the PGA Tour's Heritage tournament for more than four decades, Harbour Town Golf Links put Pete Dye, Hilton Head Island and pro-turned-designer Jack Nicklaus on the map.

"Placement is essential," said Corbitt. "The trees frame the golf course, and you have to place your tee shot so you can get to the green without having to go over or around trees.

"It is not all about length. Although that plays a part, it is not the largest determining factor of challenge or difficulty. It's position. The greens open up if you approach them at the right angle."

Dye also made the course harder for better players and kept the hazards out of the way for higher handicap golfers.

"He almost always gives you a chance to bump and run to the green."

Oldfield Golf Club (private)

Slope: 142, Rating: 75.2, Length: 7,142 yards Oldfield Golf Club, a private club on the banks of the Okatie River, was the first Greg Norman design in South Carolina's Lowcountry.

"Marshland comes into play, and Norman added his unique wastebunkers along the narrow fairways for added challenge," said Jon Hundley, head professional. "The trickiest bunkers, though, are the tall sod-wall bunkers that border the greens. The large greens also have narrow openings, which allow for many different hole locations."

Oyster Reef Golf Club

Slope: 137, Rating: 74.7, Length: 7,018 yards Oyster Reef Golf Club is a Rees Jones gem in which accuracy is the key. The course is heavily protected with bunkers, especially around the greens, demanding precise approach shots from players.

"Off the tee you can expect bunker placement to entice players into risk/reward shots on several of the courses par 4s and 5s," said General Manager Tom Kern.

"The three finishing holes on the course are as mentally demanding as you will find on any course on the island, requiring the player to strategize every shot from tee to green."

Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, George Fazio Course

Slope: 135, Rating: 73.9, Length: 6,873 yards (par 70) The George Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes is known on the island as the toughest, said Brad Marra, Palmetto's director of golf.

"Most golf professionals play the Fazio Course to put their game to the test," he said. "Trouble comes in the form of a four-letter word: sand. There are more than 120 bunkers on the course. They're everywhere."

But if you play the right tees and go for strategy and placement over length, you'll be fine.

"If you play the blue tees on most courses, you should probably move up to the whites here," he said.

The landing areas are narrow, and the greens are pretty small. The farther back you play, the harder it gets.

But it isn't just sand that's problematic.

"The toughest hole is 17. It's 230 yards from the tips with most of it a carry over water."

Palmetto Hall Plantation, Arthur Hills course

Slope: 142, Rating: 74.1, Length: 6,918 yards "The best part about Palmetto Hall Plantation's Arthur Hills course is that there is no let up," said eGolf Tour's Stewart Moore. "We bring in over 200 of the best players in the game each February, and they never once utter the words 'birdie hole' or 'easy par' when referring to the Hills Course.

Moore said that every hole is a challenge and requires immense strategy, which is why the tour returns each year.

So there you have it by the numbers -- Hilton Head Island's toughest courses.

But you can master them with a little submission on your part and smart play.

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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