Bluffton emerges from Hilton Head Island's shadow in South Carolina's Lowcountry

By Travel ArticlesJanuary 22, 2013, 4:06 pm

BLUFFTON, S.C. -- It wasn't all that long ago when cars raced by this undeveloped stretch of the Lowcountry headed for the hot, hip and happening Hilton Head Island.

Those days are long gone, my friends, especially for golfers.

Bluffton can legitimately stand on its own among the top golf destinations in the Southeast, even though it continues to lurk mostly in the shadows of its higher-profile neighbors like Charleston/Kiawah Island and Hilton Head Island.

I spent a week hanging out in Bluffton under mostly sunny skies in November. I only crossed the toll bridge to Hilton Head Island once -- a messy experience where I forgot to pack money to pay the toll and the directions on my GPS turned out to be way off. Never once did I feel regret that I was missing the fine living of the island, its high-end restaurants or the PGA Tour experience of Harbour Town Golf Links.

Nor did I tee it up on Bluffton's best public course, May River Golf Club at the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Jack Nicklaus design from 2004.

Bluffton's mix of courses and restaurants -- and my perfectly comfortable accommodations at the Hampton Inn & Suites Bluffton-Sun City -- were just what this sun-starved Michigander craved. Crescent Pointe Golf Club Head Professional Stephen Neville said when he invites family and friends down, he recommends they stay in Bluffton, too.

'You can spend a whole week (here) and not even go on the Island,' he said. 'There are a lot of local restaurants people don't even know about. It's still growing. Other places in the country are not doing well, but we are still growing. I like that we are halfway between the island and Savannah. You can go in either direction (for a day trip).'

Angelo Cammaruno, a member at Crescent Pointe, said Bluffton used to have the reputation as the place for people who couldn't afford Hilton Head. Not anymore. 'It shouldn't be (that way),' he said. 'It had that stigma.'

The birth of Bluffton golf

Although Rose Hill Golf Club was the first public course in Bluffton in the 1980s, the catalysts for the building boom that lined Fording Island Road with golf course real estate developments were the openings of Hilton Head National Golf Club in 1989 and neighboring Old South Golf Links in 1991.

'We take pride in knowing we made Bluffton more of a golf destination,' Old South Head Professional Jim Uremovich said. 'We are Hilton Head, but we are Bluffton, too.'

Ironically, both Hilton Head National and Old South take pride in not having any real estate intrude on their peaceful settings. Old South climaxes for a stretch of holes on the front nine (6-9) and the back (16-17) skirting the Intracoastal marshes of McKay's Creek with the Calibogue Sound on the horizon.

Eminent domain for construction of the new Bluffton Parkway forced Hilton Head National to shrink from 27 holes to 18 in 2009, but the front nine by Bobby Weed and the back nine by Gary Player still deliver the wonderful conditioning that attracted players in the first place. 'Our biggest sellers are if you don't want 'condo golf' and slow five-hour rounds, your best option is out here in Bluffton,' said Sterlyn Mitchell, the head professional at Hilton Head National.

From there, the courses continued to sprout up farther inland each time along the main drag, also known as Highway 278. Many are exclusive private clubs -- Berkley Hall Golf Club, Colleton River Club and Belfair Plantation. The tourist will still find plenty of action at the semi-private clubs.

Eagle's Pointe Golf Club, one of Davis Love III's first designs, came on board in 1998, followed in 2000 by its tougher sister course, Crescent Pointe, a dynamic Arnold Palmer design that ends up on the banks of the Colleton River. Neville and the members boast they never tire of playing Crescent Pointe.

When I caught up with Peter Brewer on the range at Eagle's Pointe, he mentioned it was the course farthest out from the island he will play. Brewer, a Missouri resident, visits annually for a golf trip.

Just across the street is Rose Hill, with the three courses inside the Sun City Hilton Head community, and the Golf Club at Hilton Head Lakes further west. Hidden Cypress Golf Club by Mark McCumber is considered the best of the three courses inside the sprawling retirement community by Del Webb.

The challenges of an overcrowded market

Rose Hill and Hilton Head Lakes are the best examples of clubs facing challenges in an oversaturated market.

Although Rose Hill is a solid course, it continues to fight the reputation that the place is in poor condition, a problem that plagued the club when it re-opened in 2008. The 27-hole course sat neglected for 2 1/2 years, closed by a previous owner, before the Rose Hill Plantation Property Owner's Association began operating it as an 18-hole club (with two practice holes salvaged from the third nine) built around the mantras of bargain golf and friendly service.

'Rose Hill has always had the worst reputation in the Lowcountry,' Head Professional Ed Sealy III said. 'To me, it's about telling people we are going in the right direction. It's a slow march, but we keep marching.'

Hilton Head Lakes (formerly named Tradition National) sits tucked into a mostly undeveloped community in Hardeeville. Grand towers along the road signal the entrance, symbols of its unfulfilled promise. The golf club, opened in 2007, operates out of a trailer. The course by Tommy Fazio and its 36-acre practice facility, including a par-3 short course, will impress, nonetheless.

'You can make a mistake because of the wide fairways. When you get near or on the greens, that's when you have to focus,' said Bo Madeo, who made the trip from Hilton Head Island to practice and play.

Oldfield Golf Club, a Greg Norman design that opened in 2002 just off of Okatie Highway (170) in Okatie, faces similar hurdles. The private club sits hidden in a development of high-end homes that will take years to fill out. While it looks for more members, Oldfield remains open to limited public play. Risk-reward elements and the Okatie River create a special loop around the back nine.

Golfers should play it while they can. Those who don't will just have to settle for the 200-plus other holes scattered about town. Oh, how will they manage?

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.