HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – I have a dirty little secret to tell that’s been eating at me. Here it goes: I have vacationed in the South Carolina Lowcountry for the past five years and have never – I repeat never – played a round of golf.
There, I feel better. I realize leaving the clubs at home for an annual trip to Hilton Head Island is blasphemy for a long-time member of the golf industry.
Enough was enough, though. This year I finally broke the dry spell.
The itinerary called for rounds at two of the island’s goodies, which is easy to do because there is such a smorgasbord of great options.
Harbour Town Golf Links was the obvious must-play option. The Pete Dye design looks fabulous each spring on TV during the RBC Heritage, which is a big reason why it was ranked No. 2 in Golf Digest last year by 81 PGA Tour pros as their favorite course to play during the year.
Harbour Town's dramatic 18 hole hugs the Calibogue Sound.
So I went out with Jeff and Jeffrey Mullavey and met up with Bill Gibson, a high school teacher from Jacksonville, Ill., a day before the greens were aerified.
The narrow, tree-lined track was pristine and each hole memorable. Still, it was virtually impossible not to let the mind wander to the closing stretch, particularly the tee shot on the 18th hole that runs along the Calibogue Sound and faces the historic red and white Harbour Town Lighthouse.
'I don’t get to play course of that level so it was a neat experience,' said Gibson, who packs a mean hockey-type golf swing with a lethal short game. 'It was a little intimidating for a while with the narrow fairways and small greens. I can’t imagine playing where the pros play.'
It was refreshing to play a place that calls for creativity and shotmaking rather than distance, even if my game was not up to the task. Although temps were steamy and our overall games were mediocre, the course was great and the camaraderie was spectacular on this day at the island’s most indelible spot.
'Trying to navigate the narrow fairways with an inherent hook was no easy task,' Jeff Mullavey quipped.
The following morning the Mullavey boys and I took my 6-year-old son Brady out to tame the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort, a place that I had driven past dozens of times during previous stays at varying Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort properties.
On this calm, Lowcountry morning we played a competitive game of Wolf where Brady was always partnered with the person who dared to go it alone against the other two. An ideal set of black tees played 2,625 yards and were the perfect distance for the little fella to feel like he was able to hang with the big kids.
'When your group ranges from 6 years old to 50-something and the 6 year old has a few chances to put for legit pars, it just makes for a fun time for all,' Jeff Mullavey said.
Jay Coffin and his 6-year-old son Brady take on Palmetto Dunes Resort's Jones Course.
A lagoon winds its way through more than half the holes on the Jones Course and the par-5 10th hole butts up against the beach with a beautiful view of the ocean, one of the most picturesque spots on the entire island.
'The Jones course is very playable for the average golfer,” Mullavey said. “The generous landing areas combined with big greens allow for some drift on both tee ball and approach shots. But it’s not uncommon to have a 40 foot putt on many greens.'
After two days of fun on the links, I spent the remainder of the visit on the beach with the family. It was enjoyable, but I found myself yearning for more golf, anticipating places I could try during next year’s vacation.
Since I was man enough to spill my secret earlier in this piece, I’ll now make a promise: I’ll never go to Hilton Head again without golf clubs.
The Coffins and Mullaveys are all smiles after a round at Palmetto Dunes.