DAUFUSKIE ISLAND, S.C. -- If you look to the west of the 18th hole at Harbor Town Golf Links, where the PGA Tour's RBC Heritage is played, you can see an island on the other side of the Calibogue Sound. If you're like most folks, you've probably wondered what was over there. You might be surprised to know that among other things, on Daufuskie Island, less than five miles long and three miles wide, there's a golf course -- the Rees Jones Signature Course at Haig Point Club -- that holds its own with most anything on Hilton Head Island; some of the quirkiest and tastiest dive bar restaurants you'll find anywhere in South Carolina; and a society that lives by a slightly different set of rules than most folks.
For one, on the Haig Point part of the island, residents aren't allowed to drive anything bigger or noisier than an electric golf cart. It's an island with an eclectic mix of society — from retired CEOs and celebrities to the salt of the earth. And it's a place where the deer and other creatures of nature certainly run free.
There's no bridge — you have to take a ferry to get out there — and there are few regular services, including grocery stores or pharmacies (that requires delivery or a trip to Hilton Head Island). At night, there are few lights, except for the stars in the sky. And best of all, aside from a band or two that might play a gig at one of the local establishments, there's mostly silence.
Relax at Haig Point, Daufuskie Island
My journey to Daufuskie Island would take me by ferry to Haig Point (about a half hour from the debarkation point on Hilton Head Island), a private community with 29 holes of golf to go with terrific dining, tennis, equestrian and nature trails. While there are some cars on the island, there are no private gas-powered vehicles by the residents. Instead, electric carts are driven from point A to point B. And though this is private, Haig Point does offer discovery visits that one can take to check out what life would be on this little piece of paradise, particularly the golf, which was designed by Rees Jones.
For a perspective, there is life both outside and inside the gates of Haig Point, an 1,100-acre community with stately homes located on the northeast side of the island. The ferry arrives at the Strachan Mansion, built in 1910 on St. Simons Island and brought by barge to Daufuskie Island in 1985. It serves as the centerpiece of Haig Point as both a gathering point for residents (it houses mailboxes and a general store) as well as guest quarters for visitors. There's also the historic 1873 Lighthouse, which also has accommodations and, of course, is said to be haunted. I stayed at the former, thank goodness, and enjoyed three quiet, uneventful nights as I explored the island and played a little golf and tennis.
The golf at Haig Point
As it stands, there are only two golf courses on Daufuskie Island and they are both at Haig Point and both are designed by Rees Jones. Recently, the island lost its Bloody Point Golf Course, which closed down in December due to lack of play and resources. A fourth golf course, the Jack Nicklaus-designed course (with two holes on the Atlantic Ocean) at the once opulent Melrose Resort, remains closed following bankruptcies and ownership changes over the last few years.
The Rees Signature Course, once ranked among the top 100 in the country by both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine after it was built in 1986 (Jones renovated it in 2007), is the crown jewel. It's actually two golf courses in one and offers not 18 holes, but 20 holes, in what is one of the most unique design concepts in the world.
Jones designed two extra holes, both par 3s, to challenge the better player and offer holes that are closer to the sound. The eighth and the 17 "Calibogue" holes are alternatives to the regular "Haig" eighth and 17th. Both are slightly longer, perhaps a little more picturesque and feature longer forced carries than their Haig counterpoints. The practical beauty of these holes is that if a tropical storm every destroys the Calibogue holes and Haig Point isn't able to rebuild them, the course is still left with 18 holes. Fortunately, the course has survived such hurricanes, including Matthew in 2016 and still has its unique design intact.
An extension of the Haig-Calibogue concept can also be found on about half the course's tees, which can be quite different from hole to hole. Essentially golfers can play two different courses – the Calibogue, a par-72 that tips out at 7,380 yards, and the Haig Course, which plays at 6,735 yards at its longest.
Overall, it's best to view this as one golf course with many options. And as such, it's a beauty, with ocean views from a half dozen holes, elegant corridors lined with Spanish moss-draped live oak trees and hole designs that are both unique and challenging. The highlights, besides the eighth and 17th, are many, including the par-5 17th, which ends with a small green surrounded by marshlands and the sound in the background. Even a wedge approach to this small target is dicey, but it's a great hole nonetheless.
The clubhouse at Haig Point
The bonus golf at Haig Point isn't too shabby either. The extra nine holes, known as the Osprey Course, doesn't come with ocean views, but it has plenty of wildlife, scenic ponds and perhaps wider fairways than its big brother. And while it's more forgiving, it's no pushover. At 3,580 yards from the back tees, it's more than enough test for the low handicap player.
Haig Point Club also has excellent practice facilities and a magnificent clubhouse, complete with a well-stocked golf shop, dining room and locker-room facilities. Membership opportunities are currently available for those wishing to build on the island or non-residents. Those interested in a national membership can join for $5,000 plus annual dues of $5,000, which includes golf, tennis, club food and beverage, ferry service, special lodging rates and Embarkation Center Parking for 30 days.
Low Country delights
One of the most unique and attractive aspects about visiting Daufuskie Island is the local cuisine, both at Haig Point and the rest of the island, especially if you love the low-country flavor.
The signature dish on the island is the fresh deviled crab, and each eatery seems to have their own special take on it. I first experienced this at Marshside's Mamas, a legendary hangout at the opposite side of the island, known for its local characters as well as its generous portions of southern recipes. Besides deviled crab, I treated myself to the pork chops, which came with southern grits, collard greens, red beans and one of the largest and sweetest hunks of cornbread in South Carolina. The meal also came with a super casual atmosphere enjoyed by locals inside and outside the gates of Haig Point.
You never know who you're going to see at Marshside Mama's.
Marshside's is so typical of life outside of Haig Point. It's a meeting point for the wealthy and more common folks, and here the lines seem pretty blurred. Many of Haig Point's members love to go to places like Mashside's or places like Lucy Bell's, where you can dine outdoors on fresh local seafood, regional desserts and, of course, deviled crab. You might even see the likes of former NHL great Mark Messier, sculpture Chase Allen or singer/songwriter John Mellencamp there. All have homes on the island, while Allen is world-renown for his Iron Fish Gallery on the Island, where he makes and has sold more than a million dollars worth of artwork.
Another great island haunt is the Old Daufuskie Crab Company, located on the opposite side of the island from Marshside Mama's. Located at the Daufuskie Freeport Marina, it's both a popular restaurant and watering hole, known for not only its delightful seafood platter, but its signature drink, the Scrap Iron, a concoction of grain alcohol and sweet (among other ingredients) that's quite tasty and quite lethal.
And finally, for a more formal experience, Haig Point members and guests can enjoy the Calibogue Club, which not only offers great views of Calibogue Sound, but gourmet dining that includes the best steaks, seafood, desserts and cocktails, located right above to the beach club on the Calibogue Sound.
Haig Point experience availability
So here's the best part: While Haig Point is exclusive and private, you can experience it. First off, Daufuskie Island, aside from Haig Point, is open to the public. So you can take one of the public ferries from Hilton Head and experience it that way. By all means, play Blood Point, if you get the chance. Originally designed by Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf, it's a great layout, even it's not anywhere near the condition of Haig Point.
But you can experience Haig Point as well by booking a "Discovery Experience". There are packages that include ferry fare, accommodations at the Strachan Mansion or 1873 Lighthouse, golf and other activities. Or you can do a half-day or full-day trip experience that range from $200 to $325 depending on the time of year. The full-day experiences include golf, lunch at the clubhouse and one of another experience on the island such as horseback riding, historical or eco tours, kayaking or my personal favorite, a tour of the Daufuskie Island Rum Company. The tour includes a tasting, which usually seals the deal. Personally, I couldn't leave without a bottle of the company's new Kona Edition, a coffee-flavored rum that's become a best seller.