It seems only fitting that Zoeller built a golf course on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, especially one that reflects his pursuit of fun while still offering a challenge. That’s what Island West in Bluffton, SC is all about.
The 1990 design by Zoeller — as “design consultant” in partnership with Hilton Head-based architect Clyde Johnston — is one of the first courses that visitors encounter when coming to the Bluffton-Hilton Head area and one of the last they see when leaving. The green at the par-3 second hole is easily seen from the highway, this 6,800-yard, par-72 layout is a bit “below the radar” for tourists, overshadowed by the Davis Love III-designed Eagle’s Pointe and Crescent Pointe, an Arnold Palmer Signature course.
Head professional David Crosby, who grew up around Hilton Head, says Island West can stack up with those and other renowned golf courses in South Carolina.. “From a player’s standpoint, it’s more challenging than most would think,” he says. “We probably get half the traffic of Eagle’s Pointe and Crescent Pointe, but we’re about half the price of some courses in Hilton Head..”
With fairways winding through old-growth forests and plenty of sand, water and marsh, Island West is fairly difficult. “You’ve got to drive it well on the front nine, but then it opens up more on the back nine,” Crosby says. “The greens are well-protected, and it has a balanced mixture of holes, so it doesn’t favor a fade or a draw. You have to play both.”
One notable stretch, Crosby says, is the 400-yard, par-4 13th hole and the 527-yard, par-5 14th. The first, a dogleg-left, has water guarding the inside of the dogleg and the elevated, well-bunkered green, while dogleg-right No. 14 features fairway bunkers along the left side and a green tucked into a marshy alcove.
While Zoeller never ranked with PGA TOUR stars and architects Palmer and Nicklaus, he was a “people’s champion.” Crosby discovered that during one of Zoeller’s visits to Island West. “He’s a great guy and a fair amount of tourists and players take notice that his name is on our course,” the pro says.
Those who come get a track that’s enjoyable, but with enough difficulty that “it can eat your lunch,” Crosby says. “You’ve got to drive it well and you can’t just roll it onto the greens; you need a good short game and you’ve got to hit golf shots.”