Why Harbour Town Golf Links is So Popular on Tour & Golf Vacations

At 6,973 yards, it's not very long.

With only four feet of elevation change, it's almost totally flat.

And, aside from the final two holes, it's not particularly scenic.

So, why is Harbour Town Golf Links one of the most popular stops on the PGA Tour, one of the top-rated courses in the United States, and a "must play" on Hilton Head Golf Vacations

In short, they don't build 'em like this anymore.

Harbour Town Golf Links is a true, shotmaker's test that has a way of winning admirers even as it exposes the flaws in your game.

Even PGA Tour players, who really don't enjoy having their game flaws exposed, have been very outspoken about finding a new sponsor for the Heritage Classic, as they love playing here.

Credit goes to Pete Dye, with input from wife, Alice, and Jack Nicklaus, who created the course in 1969. Their subtle masterpiece is a strategic challenge that puts enormous emphasis on ball-striking and precision.

Consider those who  have won the Heritage two or more times: Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin,  Hubert Green, Tom Watson, Fuzzy Zoeller, Payne Stewart, Davis Love III,  Stewart Cink, and Boo Weekley.

In addition to some holes that dogleg sharply, pine trees and specimen oaks draped in Spanish moss hang over fairways and greens, requiring precise placement of drives and approach shots.

And its greens are among the smallest you'll ever see; less than half the square footage of most other courses.

Not surprisingly, the course led the PGA Tour in hole-outs from off the green the last two years. When Boo Weekly won here for the first time in 2007, he chipped in on the 71st and 72nd holes to eke out a one-stroke victory.

If you plan on playing Harbour Town Golf Links on a Hilton Head golf vacation, here are some tips to keep in mind:

First, unless you're a low handicapper, expect Harbour Town to have its way with you.

Even from the 6,603-yard blue tees, Harbour Town Golf Links sports a beefy 73.0 par rating and 141 slope.

And even if you survive most of the front nine, holes 8 and 9 can wreck your scorecard. The 8th is a very long par four with sand and water left of the green (the hardest hole on the course). The 9th is a short par four, but with bunkers guarding the front and back, even the world's best players fear the consequences of trying to drive the V-shaped green. The alternative is an approach shot that must come in high and land soft.

The three best holes on the back nine are the par-five 15th, the par-three 17th, featuring a steeply elevated sliver of a green, and the par-four 18th, Harbour Town's signature test that runs along the Calibogue Sound.

After a drive to the widest fairway on the PGA Tour, you aim at the iconic, candy-striped lighthouse and let it rip. The approach is long en route to a green that sits hard-by the hazard to the left.

Here are a few more practical nuggets to know before you play Harbor Town Golf Links:

Given its prestigious position in the golf world, vacationing golfers tend to savor every shot. So, to ensure that your round moves at a reasonable clip, our best advice is to play early in the day.

Golf carts are available, butt keep in mind that it's cart-path-only at all times. That's one reason we prefer to walk. The other is, given its relative flatness, walking Harbour Town Golf Links is quite easy and enjoyable and Sun Mountain pull carts are included in the 18-hole green fee ($135-$260).

Alternatively, you can enlist a caddie to carry your bag ($65 suggested tip).  All groups are accompanied by at least one forecaddie ($25 suggested tip per player).

By the way, don't give up when it appears there are no spots on the tee sheets at Harbour Town or the other courses at Sea Pines Resort. While nearly half of the tee times are reserved for its 900 members, all the unclaimed spots are released 24 hours in advance.  You may well find multiple options the day before play.

Finally, one of our knocks on Harbour Town Golf Links over the years has been on course conditioning. Management says it rectified the problem a few years ago, and we experienced good conditions on all three courses during our most recent visit. We should note, however, that our visit was just three weeks before the Heritage Classic when one would expect pristine grooming. Best to play it safe and inquire before making your reservations.

If you're going to stay at the Sea Pines Resort, try the Inn at Harbour Town, a boutique 60-room hotel situated adjacent to Harbour Town's first tee.  Families and groups on buddy trips typically stay in one of the resort's more than 6,000 homes (about 400 are in the resort's rental pool).

And speaking of families, Hilton Head Island is first and foremost a magnet for these groups in search of its balmy and reliable weather, beaches, and seemingly endless activities.  Within the Sea Pines Resort, one can ride bikes and horses, sunbathe at the beach club, kayak in the Calibogue Sound, take an eco-tour, or play tennis on Har-Tru courts at one of America's premier tennis centers. Outside the gates are dozens of other family diversions including a wide selection of miniature golf courses and casual restaurants.

When to go? If golf is your priority, the best times to visit are spring and fall. Summer is prime beach (and humidity) season. Hurricanes can threaten from July into October.

How to get there? The vast majority of visitors drive to Hilton Head (the reason traffic can be heavy), but direct, commercial flights serving Hilton Head's airport are available through Charlotte and Atlanta, and the Savannah airport is only 50 miles away.

Have you played Harbour Town Golf Links? Any reaction or tips to share from your experience? Please share your commentns below.

Craig Better is one of the founding editors of Golf Vacation Insider. In addition to traveling to 15 foreign countries, he has twice traveled across America to play golf courses in all 50 United States. Prior to joining Golf Vacation Insider, Craig was a freelance writer who contributed to GOLF Magazine, Travel + Leisure Golf, Maxim Magazine, USAToday.com, and co-authored Zagat Survey’s book, America’s Top Golf Courses.
Commented on

Just played this wonderful golf course 2 days ago it was our Last game on a 6 game golf trip to south carolina and all 12 of us are still salvating about it and talking about returning in the near future to give it a go again.Would recommend to all golfers it's a must play.on our way back home to Scotland with fond memories

Commented on

Nothing new re: Melrose. As far as I know, PF is still maintaining it. Heron Point is the one to play after Harbour Town.

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Commented on

making my 3rd trip down to HH this spring.

any update on Daufuskie Melrose course??

also, what sea pines course is recommended as #2 behind Harbour Town, Heron Point or Ocean Course??

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Like many of the other readers, I have been taking my family to Hilton Head for at least 20 years. It is a magical place and Harbour Town Links has always been one of my all time favorite courses. I am a low handicapper and still find it immensely challenging. The total yardage is very deceiving. The par 3's are relatively short which accounts for some of the decreased yardage. There are some unbelievably difficult and long Par 4's and almost every hole requires accurate driving to a specific side of the fairway to avoid being blocked out by overhanging trees. I think it is Pete Dye's masterpiece, very little is tricked up. I also happen to be partial to small greens so I feel at home there. I happen to be heading there this friday for a week and can't wait to revisit the course. I recommend walking, much more enjoyable. There are also a host of other courses that dot the landscape on HHI which any golfer will find scenic, challenging and fun.

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I have played Harbour Town at 50 times over the past 25 years and it never disappoints me. I have not played it recently but see no reason why things would be any different. My biggest suggestion is, don't look at the yardage on the scorecard when choosing which tee to play. You will be playing in the "low country" where the ball doesn't carry. If you are not a single digit handicap that can carry the ball at least 240 yards, play the white tees and you will have an enjoyable round. The staff is the friendliest in all of Golf.

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I played Harbour Town in July of 2010 and it is probably my favorite course that I have ever played. I have also played Hazeltine, Caledonia, True Blue, Pebble Beach, TPC Sawgrass, and Whistling Straights among others so I do have some other top courses to compare the experience to. Harbour Town absolutely makes you think your shots out and forces you to move the ball around the trees to get to the greens. If you are a golf enthusiast, and if you are on here you are, you must make this a course to play. You will not be disappointed.

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Couldn't agree more on Daufuskie, Jeff. The last I heard, the resort was closed but the pro there, Patrick Ford, took it upon himself to maintain the Melrose Course (sadly, the Bloody Point Course had to be left to Mother Nature). My understanding is, you can still arrange to play by contacting him, and he'll run you over by boat. Keep an eye out for a full tip and more details on this, which I plan to publish soon.

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I've been going to Hilton Head each spring for a week with my family for 20 years - it is a very special place. Beautiful beaches, numerous golf options on and off the island, and a very laid back atmosphere. Harbour Town is a great golf course and fun to play - a little pricey and the rounds can drag on for 5+ hours. I've played it probably 10 times over the years, and the conditioning is much better after the renovations they did a few years ago. Every golfer who visits Hilton Head should experience Harbour Town at least once, but my favorite golf course in the area is on the island right across from Harbour Town, Daufuskie Island, and its magnificent Nicklaus-designed Melrose Course which you can only get to by boat. Daufuskie has had a lot of financial issues the past few years but if the course is open, it's worth the trip as the green fees are about 1/3 of Harbour Town's rate, and its finishing holes are right on the ocean. A 1-2 combo of Melrose and Harbour Town is about as good as it gets for vacation golf!

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We've been vacationing with our family and friends for over 35 years....and while I don't play Harbortown very often....it is one of my top ten favorites in the world. It was the course I first played when I was getting 'okay' as a player...and it made me decide to take golf seriously. Every hole is different, and it's not one of the newer "get up and rip a driver off every tee" golf course... I would highly recommend playing Harbortown...then taking your family over to the big Charter Oak tree and listen to Gregg Russell play....we've been taking our kids there since our 39 year old daughter Heather was in diapers...and it never gets old...
Hope you'll play Harbortown...you won't regret it. There's no more memorable shot in golf (except perhaps staring at 17 at Sawgrass) than standing on the 18th tee and looking down the fairway...with the candy-striped light house in the distance....

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Why Harbour Town Golf Links is So Popular on Tour & Golf Vacations