Beyond the Lighthouse: Great golf in Hilton Head, Bluffton, Beaufort and Savannah

The fairy tale-like, red and white, candy-striped lighthouse at Sea Pines Resort and the lush Harbour Town Golf Links are the images most people conjure up when Hilton Head Island is mentioned.

For golfers, the Pete Dye-designed Harbour Town course is on everybody's must-play list. Thanks to the televised PGA Tour event at Harbour Town every April (the RBC Heritage), golf enthusiasts are familiar with the course and the immediate surroundings.

Somewhat less familiar are the wide variety of golf courses on the island and the nearby communities of Bluffton, Beaufort and Savannah. These areas offer a phenomenal selection at varying price points to accommodate any budget.

Golf on Hilton Head Island

Twelve miles long and five miles wide, Hilton Head Island is an ideal setting for its 23 golf courses with soft ocean breezes, tidal marshes, moss-draped oaks and towering pines.

Its golf centric resort/residential communities like Sea Pines, Palmetto Dunes, Indigo Run, Shipyard, Port Royal and Hilton Head Plantation feature courses designed by Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Arthur Hills, Robert Trent Jones and other notables.

At Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, a 2,000-acre tree-laden and lagoon-studded development, three championship courses are the magnet for golfers. The Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course features a lagoon system that winds through 11 holes and a fantastic ocean hole; the Arthur Hills Course is built on a series of rolling dunes with views of the Historic Leamington Lighthouse, and the George Fazio Course is named for the designer who received assistance from his famous nephew Tom Fazio.

In addition to Harbour Town Golf Links, Sea Pines is home to Heron Point by Pete Dye and the Ocean Course, which was recently renovated by Mark McCumber.

Elsewhere on the island, the Golden Bear Golf Club at Indigo Run on the north end is a Jack Nicklaus design weaving through a lush setting of white pines, palmetto and Spanish moss-draped oak trees.

Situated between Hilton Head Island and Interstate 95, Bluffton is a rapidly growing community with 10 golf courses. Founded in 1852, it has an old town district with views of the May River and several newer golf course communities.

Heading the list of great places to play in Bluffton are Old South Golf Links, a Clyde Johnston design with stunning views from the island greens abutting the Intracoastal marshes of McKay's Creek; Old Carolina Golf Club, a course built on a former horse farm with rolling hills and marsh; and the Golf Club at Hilton Head Lakes, a Tommy Fazio design highlighted by pristine lakes and natural wetlands.

More choices in Bluffton include Hilton Head National, which has nine holes designed by Gary Player and nine by Bobby Weed, and Crescent Pointe Golf Club, an Arnold Palmer Signature Course that was voted the 2010 Golf Course of the Year by the Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association.

Located 25 miles from Hilton Head Island, Beaufort is an historical seaport at the head of one of the largest natural harbors on the Atlantic Coast. Architects like Tom Fazio, Arthur Hills and Davis Love III have designed courses in Beaufort.

The local citizenry loves to play golf and some of their favorite places to tee up are The Legends at Parris Island. Located within the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot On Parris Island, it winds along salt marsh wetlands and deep water creeks; Pines Course at Lady's Island Country Club, a layout situated in heavily wooded, natural terrain; and Sanctuary Golf Club, an original George W. Cobb design oozing with Lowcountry charm.

A strategic port city in the American Revolution and during the American Civil War, Savannah, brimming with historical buildings, restaurants and shops is situated 22 miles from Bluffton and 31 miles from Hilton Head Island.

Topping the list of golf choices in the area are The Club at Savannah Harbor, home to the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends, a PGA Champions Tour event, and Southbridge Golf Club, a Rees Jones gem dotted with pines, oaks and large greens framed by grass mounding.

Things to do

Once you sink the last putt for the day, there's a seemingly endless list of activities in the area, including biking, deep sea fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, zip-lining, dolphin tours, historical sights and dinner cruises.

When you want to celebrate a great round with a few libations and dinner, some of the more popular places golfers congregate include the area surrounding the lighthouse at the Sea Pines Resort, the Skull Creek section on the north end, home to three waterfront local restaurants and Shelter Cove Harbour, an expansive waterfront marina, shopping, dining and entertainment complex located across the street from the Palmetto Dunes Resort.

For shopping, The Tanger Outlets Hilton Head in Bluffton have 88 stores and designer outlets at two locations on the way to the island and the downtown districts in Bluffton, Beaufort and Savannah are dotted with antique shops.

Ed Schmidt, publisher of The Golf Travel Guru Blog, is the author of two books on Florida golf and more than 2,500 articles and columns on golf resorts, courses and destinations around the world. Follow Ed on Twitter at @golftravelguy.
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Beyond the Lighthouse: Great golf in Hilton Head, Bluffton, Beaufort and Savannah