Bob Gillespie



The Bluffton Corridor: Get off-island during RBC Heritage Week

Posted 4/11/2012 6:04:00 PM

For many golf visitors to the RBC Heritage – South Carolina’s lone annual PGA Tour event, staged the second full week of April each year – the roughly 30-minute drive from Interstate 95 to the bridge onto Hilton Head Island might seem little more than a gauntlet to be run, in order to reach their destination.

In truth, that stretch of U.S. 278 – known as the Bluffton Corridor – is an underappreciated and sometimes undiscovered golfing gold mine.

Everyone knows about Harbour Town Golf Links, home to the RBC Heritage and recognized as one of the world’s great courses. For those coming to play as much as watch the PGA Tour professionals play, there are 13 other layouts for those morning outings before taking in the sights and sounds along Calibogue Sound.

But that’s not all when it comes to area golf. You’ll pass 10 courses – by some of the world’s top-name architects – en route to the island. And if you don’t mind a little drive from your beachfront room, you’ll find some great play and values – often, without the crowds.

“The week of (the Heritage) is one of our slower weeks of the season,” says Steve Neville, head professional of Arnold Palmer-designed Crescent Pointe, about a 15-minute drive from the bridge. “That’s mainly because all the action is on the island. If you want to go to Harbour Town for half a day, and play the other half, most folks think it’s a lot easier on-island than driving the 6-7 miles to get to us.”

But is it? And if you enjoy the work of Palmer, Davis Love III, Fuzzy Zoeller, Greg Norman – all past winners of the Heritage, by the way – as well as Pete Dye, architect of Harbour Town, you’ll find a course (or courses) to suit your taste and your game.

Take Crescent Pointe, for example. It’s the only Arnold Palmer Signature course in the Hilton Head-Bluffton area, and was the region’s Golf Course of the Year in 2010 and second in South Carolina. “A lot of nice scenic views with the Colleton River in the background,” Neville says. “We’ve got water on 16 of 18 holes. It’s a challenging golf course, but fair.”

Crescent Pointe sits almost in the middle of the Bluffton Corridor. Once you exit Interstate 95 at Exit 8, you’ll first see Island West, designed by two-time Heritage champion Fuzzy Zoeller; not far away off Backwater Drive is Hampton Hall, which bills itself as “a kinder, gentler side” of Dye’s handiwork. Also nearby is Pinecrest, a residential course owned by the same Brown Golf group as Island Green.

Oldfield, a private club designed by Greg Norman (1988 Heritage winner), sits on the Okatie River and offers tee times as far as four days in advance, with reduced rates after noon. Not far away heading toward Hilton Head is Eagle’s Pointe, designed by five-time Heritage winner (and U.S. Ryder Cup captain) Davis Love III. Just before that is Rose Hill, a user-friendly design visible from U.S. 278; the course closed down for a while but was reopened in recent years and stresses value and service.

As the shopping centers begin to appear along U.S. 278 and the bridge nears, you come to a trio of courses: Hilton Head National, designed by hall of famer Gary Player and “Golf Course of the Year” in 2008 by the Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association; and two courses by local product Clyde Johnston, Old South Golf Links, named one of 1992’s Top Ten New Public Courses by Golf Digest, and Old Carolina, a nine-hole executive course.

If you stopped to play them all, you’d never get to Hilton Head to watch the Heritage. But nothing says you can’t take a day or more, drive back west on U.S. 278, and sample several during tournament week.

“The challenge is getting folks off the island,” Crescent Pointe’s Neville says. Here’s a tip: Accept that challenge.