Played by NCG: Harbour Town
Reason for a Harbour Town Golf Links review
As South Carolina’s No. 1 course, a Harbour Town Golf Links review is a must. This is a Pete Dye masterpiece and also the first design Jack Nicklaus worked on as a course architect. Like Valderrama, it features tight, tree-lined fairways with strategic openings to tiny greens.
It’s been home to the RBC Heritage for 51 years with legendary champions such as Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Bernard Langer, Greg Norman, Davis Love III, Payne Stewart, Nick Price, Jim Furyk, Graeme McDowell and Matt Kuchar headlining the list.
Played the week after the Masters, it’s a favourite stop for European players to chill out and relax off course after the grind of Augusta’s greens. Even “Frankie” Molinari has made the trip this year after his great play at Augusta.
I’m lucky enough to live in South Carolina and have had the pleasure of playing dozens of times. It is a course you never tire of.
The changing wind and weather conditions make it a new experience every time.
Where is Harbour Town Golf Links?
It is part of the Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. So the best news is anyone can play and tackle the shots they see the pros make during the tournament.
You can fly into Hilton Head directly or it’s about an hour from Savannah airport, in Georgia, or a little over two hours from Charleston airport, South Carolina.
Harbour Town Golf Links review: What to expect
Unless you hit it straight, you might want to consider leaving your driver in the bag for much of the round. The tight tree-lined fairways aren’t the only score-wrecking hazards Mr Dye has weaved into this natural landscape – there are also well placed bunkers, waste areas and water hazards to negotiate. And, oh yes, watch out for alligators!
Along with enough balls, you will need to bring your wallet to play this bucket list “must play” layout.
High-season morning rates can reach $369 but that does include the services of an appreciated forecaddie (suggested gratuity not included).
Harbour Town Golf Links review: Favourite Hole
Hate to be predictable, but it is the (in)famous 18th. If the 18th at Pebble is the most famous hole bordering an ocean on the west coast of the US, then Harbour Town’s 18th owns that distinction on the East Coast, especially with the iconic red and white candy-cane-striped lighthouse standing guard.
When you reach the tee you may feel a sigh of relief as there are no trees bordering the left side of the fairway, but the winds coming off Calibogue Sound can play havoc with your drive reaching the wide (for this layout) landing zone and avoiding the trees, waste areas and condos on the right or the watery grave to the left.
If the drive is intimidating, your approach shot will really test your mettle. The green sits tantalisingly nestled next to the marsh on the left and many a single digit has gone for it in two and left it short, in the bunker or the marsh.
If you don’t think you can reach, your best bet is to leave it out to the right and chip up for a chance at par and walk off feeling accomplished.
Harbour Town Golf Links review: My Best Bit
Along with the iconic 18th, Harbour Town has a storied and celebrated collection of par 3s, each one more “dye-abolical” than the next.
They look pretty and even seem benign, but you are more likely to bogey than birdie if you don’t find the dance floor with your tee shot.
The very first time I ever played the course, on a very cold, blustery February day, more reminiscent of Scotland than South Carolina, I hit my best shot to date onto the 7th green to within 5 inches. The shot garnered me a closest to the pin prize and I still have the shirt, as a fond reminder of what started a loving relationship with one of the world’s great designs.
Harbour Town Golf Links review: What to look out for
Don’t miss spending time in the new clubhouse, where there is a wonderful exhibit room dedicated to Pete Dye. There are also portraits of all the previous stellar champions of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage adorning the walls.
While sponsors of the tournament have changed over the past 51 years, the word “Heritage” has always remained. That’s because the tournament was founded as a tribute to the game of golf and its history.
The South Carolina Golf Society is recognised as the United States’ first golf club, founded in Charleston in 1786.
The Society was re-chartered at the tournament in 1986 for its 200th anniversary and includes Jack Nicklaus as a signee.
The champion’s red tartan jacket is a nod to Scotland, as is the “drive in” to a cannon shot at the opening ceremony by the previous year’s champion – in this case Japan’s Satoshi Kodaira.
Charleston’s Citadel (military college) pipe band leads the opening-day parade in uniforms that are replicas of those worn in 1786 and many of the invited dignitaries sport kilts on the day.
Harbour Town Golf Links review: When I go back
There are two holes at Harbour Town that seem to have my number (and it isn’t par) – the short, watery par-3 14th, and the par-4 13th whose large, green-surrounding, deep bunker showcases Dye’s love of the railroad tie.
Every year my goal is to confidently conquer these holes so I look forward to the middle of my round, rather than fearing a large handicapping keeping score.
• For more information please visit www.seapines.com.