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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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”

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Rose hasn't visited restroom at Colonial - here's why

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 12:20 am

In case you're unaware, it's pretty hot in Texas.

Temperatures at Colonial Country Club have approached 100 degrees this week, leaving players to battle both the golf course and potential dehydration.

With the help of his caddie Mark Fulcher, Fort Worth Invitational leader Justin Rose has been plenty hot himself, staking himself to a four-shot lead.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"Yeah, Fulch has done a great job of just literally handing me water bottle after water bottle. It seems relentless, to be honest with you," Rose said Saturday.

So just how much are players sweating the heat at Colonial? Well, it doesn't sound like all that water is making it all the way through Rose.

"I haven't even seen the inside of a restroom yet, so you can't even drink quick enough out there," he shared.

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Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

"I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had a four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

"I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've got experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since his last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

But he isn't celebrating just yet.

"It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

"So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."

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Grillo still hunting follow-up to debut win

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:53 pm

Following a round of 1-under 69 Saturday, Emiliano Grillo will enter Sunday's final round at Colonial four shots behind leader Justin Rose.

Grillo is hunting his first win since he took the 2015 Safeway Open in his rookie debut as a PGA Tour member. 

The young Argentinian finished 11th in the FedExCup points race that season, contending in big events and finishing runner-up at the 2016 Barclays.

In the process, Grillo had to learn to pace himself and that it can be fruitless to chase after success week to week.

"That was a hot run in there," Grillo said Saturday, referring to his rookie year. "I played, in 2016, I played the majors very well. I played the big tournaments very well. I was in contention after two, three days in most of the big events.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I think, you know, I wanted to do better. I pushed for it. Some of the tournaments I ended up being 50th or 60th just because I wanted to play. I wanted to play well so badly. That played against me, so I learned from that. In that rookie year, I learned that."

Grillo was still plenty successful in his sophomore season, advancing to the BMW Championship last fall.

But now he's beginning to regain some of that form that made him such an immediate success on Tour. Grillo has recorded four top-10 finishes year - a T-9 at Mayakoba, a T-8 at Honda, a T-3 at Houston, and a T-9 at Wells Fargo - and will now look to outduel U.S. Open champs in Rose and Brooks Koepka on Sunday at Colonial.

"Well, he's top 10 in the world, so everything he does he does it pretty well," Grillo said of Rose. "You know, he does his own thing. Like I say, he's top 10 in the world. Nothing wrong with his game. ...

"He's in the lead on a Sunday. Doesn't matter where you're playing, he's got to go out and shoot under par. He's got 50 guys behind him trying to reach him, and I'm one of those. I've just got to go out and do what he did today on those first five or six holes and try to get him in the early holes."