Playing golf on Saturday is a hard enough sell to the wife, let alone getting away for a long weekend golf trip. Luckily, my wife is pretty cool and I probably get more rounds in per year than most guys. Still, some of my favorite rounds come each year when I take 15 other guys to Pinehurst for our annual Ryder Cup trip. The fact is, golf trips are AWESOME!
The only problem is that I only have one annual golf trip that I can count on taking. Seriously, a guy needs more than just one golf trip a year, right? My strategy for sneaking in more golf trips has hence been focused around selecting a location that my wife would like to go to as well.
Having recently returned from Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, I can now report that this posh southern island has everything required for a golf getaway / couples vacation. In my case, I went with my wife and another couple such that I would have a partner for the links and my wife would have a friend in shopping crime.
Where to Stay in Hilton Head
Obviously, there are tons of lodging options in Hilton Head but one of the largest developments is called Palmetto Dunes. Centrally located, Palmetto Dunes offers a number of choices for singles, couples and families. In our case we stayed in a two bedroom condo. While the condo was nothing fancy, it fit the bill as we had no expectations of spending very much time inside.
Palmetto Dunes is an enormous development that includes 3 golf courses by 3 different designers – Arthur Hills, Robert Trent Jones, and George Fazio. Additionally, there are restaurants, bike trails, tennis courts and kayaks for the lagoon. Basically, enough stuff to keep you busy all day long. Oh, and there is the beach too. Along with being an apparel snob, I am a bit of a beach snob too (maybe I am just a snob). In my defense, the beaches in N. Carolina are some of the best in the country with the Outer Banks providing incredible landscape. With that said, I was very impressed with the Hilton Head beaches. The sand is perfect, the water is calm, and there is plenty of space to camp out and spend the day. Of note is that there really aren’t any waves so it is a swimmers/floaters paradise.
Unfortunately, our time was limited so really all we got to do other than golf was ride bikes and take an afternoon trip to Harbor Town, where we caught a nice drink in the clubhouse while the ladies did some shopping. Okay, that’s a lie, the ladies were the ones who scoped out the bar (but they still managed to find a way to pick up a few “essential items”).
Hey, let’s get back to golf which was the main reason we drove 5 1/2 hours for the long weekend. Sunny skies, no cares and birdies was the plan and we got two of those for sure.
Golf in Palmetto Dunes
As I mentioned there are 3 golf courses inside of the resort with many condos having views of the course. We were fortunate to play two of these early in the morning when the weather was still cool and the pace was quick. The obvious advantage to playing and staying in Palmetto Dunes is that you are never more than about 5 minutes from the course. In terms of which one is the best, it is really hard to say, but I can tell you that both Arthur Hills and Robert Trent Jones are fantastic tracks.
Arthur Hills Golf Course Review
We were lucky enough to have the 1st tee time at 7:45 am so pace of play was definitely not an issue. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great memory for specific holes, but I do remember the 1st. With just a touch of fog on the ground, the course opens up with rolling hills across the fairway. On either side, large trees covered in Spanish Moss frame this and most holes. If you are from anywhere north of Myrtle Beach, the scenery is really fantastic as you just don’t see anything like it. Even as a North Carolina resident, I felt like I was in a different world.
As one would expect, the fairways, tee boxes and greens are in excellent shape. The greens were quick but not lightning fast. For me, I think it makes the course challenging but fair. Get the ball on a good line and it will hold it but without having to stress about the ball not coming to rest more than a few feet beyond the hole.
While there are houses lining the course, they are set back far enough from the trees that they really don’t come into play or into view. For me, my favorite courses are those in which you feel like you are isolated from the world, giving you 4 hours to enjoy the company of friends without any distractions. Even though Arthur Hills is not 100% isolated, it really does feel tucked away.
My partner in crime
For example, this little par 3 is framed really nicely with an elevated tee box that looks down to a bunkered green while palm trees and other S. Carolina foliage encapsulates you. Pretty sure Rod took this hole from me, but that’s okay, I won the overall that day.
Despite being a challenging course with lots of water, Arthur Hills is very playable. Like most courses, one will benefit from multiple rounds as some holes have better ways to play them than you might guess standing on the tee box. Still, you will never feel like you have been fooled or that the course has been tricked up.
Bottom line, we both really enjoyed this course. Fairways with undulations are not very common so that was probably the most distinctive feature I remember. That and being absolutely destroyed my mosquitoes when my ball landed in the woods. Apparently, they had just gotten a lot of rain and the mosquitos were on the loose. My advice, bring insect repellent just in case.
Robert Trent Jones
Having looked at pictures of the Robert Trent Jones course I had expected it would be my favorite Hilton Head golf course review. The signature hole on this course is number 9 where the green is next to the water (although the view is somewhat limited). Now that I have gotten ahead of myself, let’s step back to the clubhouse where the round began.
The Ocean Hole: Robert Trent Jones Hilton Head
The Robert Trent Jones course is really 3 different courses in a links style layout. First, you have the first 4 or so holes taking you away from the clubhouse in which the holes are lined with the forementioned Spanish Moss draped trees. Next you are taken out of the trees toward the water before you finally return through the trees for the final 3 holes.
Having played Arthur Hills the day before, I was ready to head out of the trees and towards the water. As I expected, upon getting through the first 4 or so holes, you are taken to a completely different looking landscape. There are about 6 holes that circle a large body of water that take you to the cusp of the ocean. Playing these lead out holes is really cool as you anticipate reaching the ocean hole. Then, looking back from that ocean hole you can see about 7 holes that circle the lake giving you an awesome view of grasses, bunkers, mounds and other features that really stunning.
The day we played did not have much wind, but I could imagine these holes being extremely difficult with a steady wind with not much to block the ocean breeze. This day we played the white tees, which offered plenty of challenge, but if you want to step back to the blues you can look forward to tee shots that have long carries and approaches to guarded greens. If it helps, I can tell you that neither Rod nor I carded any record score so I feel comfortable stating the whites are plenty of challenge.
Where to Eat in Hilton Head
Normally I don’t do a food review, but we ended up eating at three fantastic restaurants so I think they bear mentioning. With that said, my guests are big time food connoisseurs so for this section I absolutely got their input.
Palmetto Bay Sunrise Cafe
We stopped here for brunch on Saturday after our round at Arthur Hills. Recommend by a friend, Sunrise Cafe has a great patio area to enjoy your food. Being a Saturday morning, we of course first took advantage of the temporary bar set outside which was serving various versions of Mimosas, our favorite being the Morning Glory which was made with pineapple-infused vodka and Champaign.
Seriously, is there anything better than getting a drink BEFORE you get seated for 11:30am brunch? Setups like this are such a great reminder that you are definitely on vacation. This does not mean Sunrise Cafe is just a tourist stop though. Our friends who lived on Hilton Head for 20 years gave us the tip that locals love Sunrise Cafe too.
As for the food, the Eggs Benedict with spinach and shrimp was the favorite of the table, although the Cream Cheese Filled French Toast with blueberries was also a hit. Suffice it to say, the ladies definitely were impressed. Bottom line, Sunrise Cafe should be on your list of places to eat brunch.
If you are looking for 5 star dining, this in NOT your place. However, if you want some of the best local seafood in a casual environment, then you must check out the Sea Shack. Clearly, this place is no longer a secret as there is typically a fairly large line to get into the small restaurant where you order at the counter and sit in a small dining room.
Shack Attack – This is what you need to order if you have any doubts. This delicious basket includes fried shrimp, oysters, fish and scallops. For those of you who prefer non-fried food, the peel and eat shrimp was insanely good. Unfortunately we were too hungry (and perhaps overserved) to take any pictures, but again, this is a a huge local favorite seafood joint that is not to be missed.
Kenny B’s French Quarter Cafe
We ducked into this cool little spot just before we headed out of town. Unfortunately, we were a little too early for lunch but that did not stop us from helping ourselves to the brunch buffet. Besides the made-to-order omelettes, Kenny B’s has a long list of authentic New Orleans dishes. In fact, just look at the menu behind me and you will realize why I look so confused.
As I mentioned, we were too early for lunch so we did not get to sample the whole menu, but judging from the buffet which included classics like Shrimp and Grits and Voodoo Chicken, I am pretty sure everything is awesome.
If you have not surmised yet, I loved Hilton Head. Everything from the golf, food, entertainment and vibe. In terms of when to go, we went in mid-September which seemed perfect as it was still warm without being oppressively hot. Plus, it is a little bit out of season so it was not super crowded. Bottom line, if you are looking for a great place for golf that also has other non-golf activities, check out Palmetto Dunes in Hilton Head