By Brad King
One of America’s groundbreaking resort destinations from the second half of the 20th century until today, Hilton Head Island is centrally located 40 miles north of Savannah, Ga., and 90 miles south of Charleston, S.C.
Despite a recent hit from Hurricane Matthew, Hilton Head, S.C., remains nobly standing as the largest barrier island off the Atlantic coast between Long Island and the Bahamas.
Rich in history, Hilton Head rests luxuriously along the Intracoastal Waterway and encompasses 42 square miles of semi-tropical, Lowcountry geography warmed by the Gulf Stream and framed by palm trees, live oaks and rolling dunes.
Springtime blooms early and falls late in Hilton Head’s perennial climate. There are days in the middle of December that edge up to low 70s and high 80s. Making this enchanting haven all the more appealing are unspoiled sea marshes, creeks and lagoons, and 12 miles of broad Atlantic beach.
The country’s first eco-planned vacation destination, Hilton Head emanates an open, spacious feel thanks to judicious land planning that started back in the early 1950s.
Half a century ago, the island had 300 residents, mostly native Gullahs, who lived off the land and speak an English-based, African-influenced Creole. Today, Hilton Head has nearly 40,000 year-round residents, while another 2.5 million guests visiting the island annually.
Earlier this year, readers of Travel + Leisure magazine named Hilton Head as the “No. 1 Island in the U.S.” in the magazine’s annual “World’s Best” survey.
Of course, Hilton Head may be best known for its world-class golf played 12 months a year. Indeed, nearly every renowned golf course architect of this generation has representative work along the island, where there are more than a million rounds of golf played every year.
While some of Hilton Head’s top courses by the world’s best architects are private, the island rightfully earns its reputation as a golf destination.
Along with Harbour Town, there are plenty of great public and resort courses to satisfy the palate of even the most selective golfer. For that reason, the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO) named Hilton Head the 2016 North American “Golf Destination of the Year.”
While Harbour Town gets most of the ink, the most recent exciting news around Sea Pines is the remodeling of the resort’s historic Ocean Course — now called Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III.
“The new Atlantic Dunes is very different than the Ocean Course we started with,” said Love III. “The new course has the same routing, but it’s more friendly off the tee, with fewer forced carries and a more coastal look. The goal was to give Sea Pines a different style layout than the others on property and be as strong a course as Harbour Town. We think members and guests will be amazed at the difference.”
Mid-island, for more than a half-century Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort has represented the best Hilton Head has to offer. Generations of families from across the globe have enjoyed Palmetto Dunes’ seemingly infinite bounty of outdoor activities with a family focus: Outstanding golf and award-winning tennis, fishing, kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding on an 11-mile lagoon system, bicycling, dining and shopping, all of it along a three-mile stretch of pristine Atlantic Ocean beachfront.
In October, Conde Nast Traveler named Palmetto Dunes a “Top 20 Best Resort in the South.”
Palmetto Dunes features a trio of golf courses designed by three of the game’s most unique architects — Robert Trent Jones Sr., George Fazio and Arthur Hills — all three of which have been awarded the Palmetto State’s “Golf Course of the Year” by the South Carolina Board of Directors of the National Golf Course Owners Association. The Jones Course was ranked No. 9 in Golfweek magazine’s 2016 rankings of the “Best Courses You Can Play in South Carolina.”
Meanwhile, the Heritage Golf Collection on Hilton Head Island features 99 holes of championship golf at three prestigious clubs — Port Royal, Oyster Reef and Shipyard Golf Clubs. The three 18s at Port Royal were designed by Pete Dye, George Cobb and Willard Byrd. Oyster Reef is a Rees Jones design that has earned the Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association “Club of the Year” award. Meanwhile at Shipyard, a longtime staple on the island’s south end, Cobb designed two of the Plantation’s nine-hole layouts, while Byrd designed the third.
This is just a sampling of all Hilton Head has to offer. In addition to Sea Pines, Palmetto Dunes and the Heritage Golf Collection, there are more than 20 additional courses dotting the Lowcountry landscape, making the area a popular destination for buddy golf trips and more. The island offers an extremely useful golf trip planning resource, HiltonHeadGolfIsland.com, featuring courses to play, accommodations, activities, etc. — so golfers can start building their Spring 2017 golf trip now.
Boasting not only outstanding golf courses, but also limitless other outdoor activities, pleasant weather, exceptional value and direct flights from major cities, little wonder Hilton Head has become one of the world’s premier destinations for all ages and interests.