When Sea Pines exec Cary Corbitt got his first look at Harbour Town Golf Links' iconic 18th hole, lighthouse and marina after Hurricane Matthew struck on Oct. 9, his first thought was: This is going to take months to repair and reopen.
Turns out Corbitt, Sea Pines Resort's vice president for sports and operations on Hilton Head Island, overestimated the hurricane's impact - and underestimated Hilton Head's ability to take a hit, and then make things right again, quickly.
On Nov. 9, a month to the day after Matthew crashed into the resort along Calibogue Sound, Harbour Town - one of South Carolina's highest rated golf courses and site of the PGA Tour's annual RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing - welcomed fall vacationers back to tee off.
In doing so, the resort and its workers had outperformed their own estimates and proved just how wrong some social media sites had been in assessing the damage.
"There were lots of pictures out there showing Harbour Town devastated - but that was very much superficial (damage)," Corbitt says. "The marina, the harbor wall for the pier, those were damaged, and there was lots of debris, pieces of Styrofoam, on No. 18 fairway. Fortunately, we had the resources of Davey Tree, a national company, which mobilized crews from five states and had things cleaned up in three weeks, to the point where you'd be hard-pressed to tell we had any damage."
Harbour Town lost 278 trees, far fewer than the 1,000 Corbitt had guessed. Sea Pines' other two golf courses, Heron Point by Pete Dye and Atlantic Dunes, a Davis Love III redesign scheduled to open the weekend of the hurricane, suffered less tree loss (78 and 68 respectively, "none of them critical," Corbitt says). Both were back in operation quickly.
Harbour Town's crews removed fallen trees, some of which (at holes No. 2, 3, 10 and 16) had strategic value for golfers. Those are in the process of being replaced and are expected to be in place by April for the RBC Heritage.
Sea Pines wasn't the only golf resort on the island to sustain damage, but "the majority are open now," says Charlie Clark, spokesperson for the Hilton Head Island Visitors & Convention Bureau. "In Bluffton (just off-island), not as many courses were impacted," and most are open for play.
On Hilton Head, courses back in business include Oyster Reef, Shipyard Plantation (27 holes), Port Royal (54 holes), Dolphin Head and the Country Club of Hilton Head. Palmetto Dunes' Robert Trent Jones and Arthur Hills courses are scheduled to open Dec. 1.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Hilton Head/Bluffton's "demise" are proving to be exaggerated. Hotels that host golfers reopened for business the week after the hurricane, as did the island's many and varied restaurants. Top that off with wonderful weather - almost no rain since Matthew - and the island is in full fall-vacation form.
That was demonstrated Nov. 4-6, when the Concours d'Elegance, one of a series of exhibitions of classic automobiles and new auto products, was held at Port Royal Plantation's golf course. Representatives of BMW and Porsche were on hand, as was a $1 million, 1930s-vintage Packard. Hilton Head's event ranks second only to the Concours d'Elegance held at Pebble Beach, Calif., Clark says.
With such events on schedule and golf courses up and running, Hilton Head is once again a seaside wonderland. Matthew did its worst; now the island is showing off its best.