Top 10 courses you can play in and around Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

From Harbour Town to some off-island hidden gems, these golf courses represent some of the best of the Lowcountry.
The fourth hole is the first of four excellent par 3s at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Hilton Head Island is one of the best golf destinations in South Carolina and southeastern United States. It's home to Habour Town Golf Links and the Heritage Classic on the PGA Tour as well as several other high-end resort golf courses and some pretty stellar private clubs as well.

With more than 15 courses open to the public, Hilton Head Island an ideal spot for a golf vacation or retirement. And when you throw nearby Bluffton, S.C., in the mix, the opportunities for great public golf expand even more to include well over 20 public access courses in the area.

Many of the courses are on the premium side with green fees well above $100 (Harbour Town's rack rate is $365 in peak season in fall, including cart and forecaddie fee), but you can get lower rates through a resort golf package or in the shoulder seasons (Heron Point by Pete Dye goes down to $99 after Oct. 21) and on some of the courses in Bluffton.

With that said, the area offers a bucket-list golf experience or two to go with lots of other solid options to go with exceptional dining, water sports, biking, hiking and other activities. Here's a rundown of my top 10 courses you can play on Hilton Head Island and nearby Bluffton.

1. Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort

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The history of Harbour Town at Sea Pines Resort

This is no-brainer for me as Harbour Town Golf Links, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, is one of my favorite courses in the world, period. It's also very highly respected among PGA Tour players, and comes in at no. 14 on Matt Ginella's top 50 U.S. courses you can play. This Pete Dye & Jack Nicklaus collaboration has everything – tradition, interesting holes, small greens, and a great routing that opens up to some of the best views in golf with the 18th framed by Calibogue Sound and the famous red and white lighthouse. Add in a world-class clubhouse, locker room and restaurant with impeccable service, and you've got a five-star experience in every way.

2. Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III at Sea Pines

You get a view of the ocean from the par-3 15th at Atlantic Dunes at Sea Pines Resort in Hilton Head Island, S.C.

The newest course at Sea Pines, Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III, opened two years ago after a complete makover by Davis Love III, his brother, Mark and design associate Scot Sherman of what used to be the Ocean Course. They took out hundreds of trees, restored dunes and gave the course the ocean character that it lacked before the redo. The result is my pick for second best public course on the island. Like Harbour Town, the holes are interesting, but there's more water that comes into play and the greens are much larger. While pretty much all the holes are good, the highlight is the par-3 15th, which is one of just two holes with true Atlantic Ocean views on the island. The finishing stretch after that gets no less interesting.

3. Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort Robert Trent Jones Course

Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort Jones Course: An aerial view of holes 9, 10 and 11.

The oldest course at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort (1970), the Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes is still one of Hilton Head's best. It's also the other course on the island where golfers can see the Atlantic Ocean, which comes into view on the par-5 10th. While the 10th is certainly the signature hole, it's simply part of a great transition to a terrific back nine, where the finish, with water coming into play on most of the holes, is among the best in the area. The course, which is always in good shape, it seems, features a great variety of holes overall, and the par 3s are stellar.

4. Heron Point by Pete Dye at Sea Pines

The new clubhouse at Sea Pines' Heron Point is one of many recent enhancements to the Hilton Head Island resort.

If money is no object, you'll want to play all three courses at Sea Pines, including Heron Point by Pete Dye. It has all the elements you might expect in a Lowcountry Dye design – water, bulkheads, plenty of sand and perfect conditions. Play it from the back tees, and you've got quite a test, but there are six more sets to make it enjoyable for most every level of player.

5. Old South Golf Links

View of the 12th green at Old South Golf Links

Built on one of the best settings in area just over the bridge from Hilton Head Island, Old South Golf Links near Bluffton is a must play if you an extended stay in the area. Several holes of this Clyde Johnston design are right up against the intracoastal marshes of McKay's Creek with views of the Calibogue Sound in the distance.

6. May River Golf Club

May River Golf Club is a Jack Nicklaus signature design at Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, S.C..

This high-end Nicklaus design is arguably the most well-conditioned course in Bluffton. May River's championship layout makes its way around the May River as well as the coastal wetlands. Caddies are required, so it's a premium experience, but like the Sea Pines courses, well worth it, if budget isn't a concern. It's also a good stay-and-play option with The Inn at Pametto Bluff, an Auberge Resort.

7. Oyster Reef Golf Club

The signature hole at the Rees Jones-designed Oyster Reef Golf Club is the par-3 sixth hole, which backs up to Port Royal Sound.

Recently renovated by original architect Rees Jones, Oyster Reef is the flagship course of the Heritage Golf Group courses on the island. Known for its signature par-3 sixth with the Port Royal Sound as its backdrop, Oyster Reef is a solid design from start to finish, and certainly playable by all levels. With new greens and bunkers, it's that much better, and the clubhouse restaurant, Lagerhead Tavern, offers terrific food and entertainment.

8. Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort George Fazio Course

The 11th on the George Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes actually shares a green with the 16th hole.

A favorite course among locals is the 1974 George Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes. I do like the Arthur Hills Course at Palmette Dunes, too, but I think the Fazio Course is a little less tricky and more enjoyble. (The first hole, for example, on Hills is a real bear.) Fazio's par 70 plays more than 6,800 yards from the back tees (just two par 5s), so it's pretty challenging, but play a tee or two up and it's pretty friendly as well. It also doesn't lack in the scenery department. The par-4 16th, with water down the left side and plenty of bunkers, plus a double-green shared with the 11th, is the signature hole.

9. Hilton Head National

The first hole on the Player Nine at Hilton Head National in Bluffton, S.C.

A standard in the Bluffton area since 1989, Hilton Head National features two nines (it used to be 27 holes before growth in the area claimed nine holes for development). The remaining nines were designed by Bobby Weed and the other by Gary Player, which are distinctively different. With no homes on the course, the layout delivers a terrific natural setting. Tee times here are also a bargain and the course earns high value marks.

10. Crescent Pointe Golf Club

View of the 18th green at Crescent Pointe Golf Club

Another Bluffton favorite is Crescent Pointe, which was designed by Arnold Palmer and opened in 2000. It's another challenging layout that incorporates the natural terrain and water features of the Lowcountry. Among the highlights is the par-3 ninth, that plays nearly 220 yards from the back tee to an island green. The last three holes play along the banks of the Colleton River.

What are your favorite courses to play in the Hilton Head Island lowcountry? Let us know in the comments below!

FROM $237 (USD)
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC | Enjoy up to 5 nights' accommodations at The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa and and up to 4 rounds of golf at Palmetto Dunes Golf Club (Fazio, Hills & Jones Courses) and the Country Club of Hilton Head.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Atlantic Dunes is in great condition. Greens are large so important to know when not to go after back pins. They need a combo tee between white and blue tees 6300 yards which they can easily do. Need GPS on the carts considering what you pay for which would help.

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Bear Creek Golf Course in Hilton Head Plantation

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Just played Atlantic Dunes , Harbor town and May River could not disagree more on your rankings . Played the two sea pines courses as a package . Atlantic Dunes was a very nice course and in good condition , Harbor town was a complete ripoff , poor shape , boring holes except 16-18 ,80’s style condos and homes on every hole, have no idea how anyone can rate this course number 1 , May River is a jewel , great condition , beautiful holes and virtually no homes on course , by far the best course in the low country and in the states

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Harbor Towne is overrated, only because it was in poor condition, every time I've played.

May River is way underrated. One of the two best public plays in Low Country. Atlantic Dunes is the other.

I guess private clubs aren't considered, but Old Tabby, Haig Pointe and LongCove are the three best private clubs I've played.

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Please advise great golf vacations

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are you looking for me to name excellent golf courses at affordable rates / In Ireland
need to know time of year and
how many in Group ? 4 or 8
how many days you play

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Hilton Head was there many times with groups from Ireland never played Harbour Town to expensive then mid 80s green fee was $160 then did include Carts but there was plenty of good courses Indigo Run had just opened green fee $35 approx not much more
here in Ireland Golf has never been been cheaper low cost as we do not have the population at home so Ireland for your Holidays has never been better value on super golf courses we have many hidden gems sure have

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#1 Harbour Town Links
#2 HeronPoint
#3 Palmetto Dunes: RT Jones Course
#4 Palmetto Dunes: Fazio Course

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As a resident of Sun City Hilton Head and having played some of the courses listed I feel our signature course, Hidden Cypress, one of 3 courses on our property is a very good test of golf. Greens fees are reasonable and considering the amount of play our courses get, the condition is very good. We have a Director of Golf, Charlie Kent, PGA pro, who takes his job very seriously. We are a hidden gem in the low country.

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Any advice on what courses are worth playing in the Port Royal Golf Club area? thanks...i'll be there in early October. 4some

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Top 10 courses you can play in and around Hilton Head Island, South Carolina