HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- At the brand new Sea Pines Resort Golf Academy, Director of Golf Instruction Tim Cooke advises students of the perfect launch angle for a 30-60 yard wedge shot as evidenced by Trackman data: Exactly 30 degrees, as it provides the most optimum ball spin upon landing.
"And when you play Harbor Town," Cooke said, "you're going to need it."
You'll have to forgive Cooke and his team for their specific requisites. Harbour Town Golf Links and nearby Heron Point (both Pete Dye designs) are the kind of golf courses that requires steely nerve and a precise wedge.
Harbour Town -- with its candy striped-lighthouse and shadowy, dog-legging fairways -- has been a staple of the PGA Tour schedule for 40-plus years (Arnold Palmer won the first event in 1969).
Once an innovative modern design by a relative newcomer in Pete Dye, today it holds a unique place on the PGA Tour schedule as a rare course clinging to yester-year yardage, requiring placement over brawn.
For the rest of us, a round here comes with both humbling and heroic moments: wayward drives that soar deep into the shadowy depths of pine forests, followed by miraculous punch-outs from pine straw. Approach shots find deep sand traps only to, hopefully at least once, be followed by sinking a long putt for par.
One can lose their confidence entirely somewhere mid-round, as I did, and be wandering in the woods for a few holes, before finding that one swing where a miraculous shot is played, and suddenly the wheels are back on the wagon.
Every shot here is an event unto itself, and the crescendo that begins on the back nine that weaves out to the Calibogue Sound on the 17th and 18th holes is a fitting culmination.
What's new and what's coming at Sea Pines Resort
The Sea Pines development, founded in the late 1960s by Charles Fraser, built Hilton Head's first course, the Ocean Course, in 1962.
The development covers more than 5,000 acres of prime, shady Hilton Head Island property, including five miles of shoreline, is in the midst of a rebirth. Fraser envisioned a lifestyle of endless activity and leisure -- a place to not just golf but to ride bikes. And the gently curved, shaded roads and bike paths are prime for it. Tennis, equestrian, boating or simple beach-going is all here and easily accessible to residents and vacation goers.
One such person enthralled with the lifestyle was William Goodwin, who had a home here for many years. After originally trying to purchase the resort in the 1980s, he succeeded finally in acquiring it all in 2005. (The Goodwins also own nearby Kiawah Island as well as Virginia's Keswick Hall, home to a new Pete Dye course, Full Cry.)
During the purchase process of Sea Pines, the Goodwins promised great investment into it. It would be impossible to dispute they've lived up to their word and then some when you see the two brand new golf clubhouses and beach clubs, and that's before even talking about the courses themselves.
Harbour Town unveiled a 55,000-square-foot facility at this year's RBC Heritage, complete with a 4,000-square-foot locker room big enough to host a tour field (and quite roomy and well appointed before or after your own round). Down the road, the clubhouse that is home to Heron Point and the Ocean Course was razed from a small, one-story structure into a veritable palace -- the Plantation Golf Club, spanning 23,000 square feet with indoor and outdoor dining. The driving range here is bigger than Harbour Town's, home to the new golf school and plenty of space to work on all the shots.
Now the focus is on two golf courses themselves. Harbour Town is closed all summer for a total regressing, installing Tifeagle Ultra Dwarf Bermuda greens and Celebration Bermuda everywhere else, as well as a new irrigation system.
When Harbour Town reopens, the Ocean Course, last updated in 1995, will close for a significant redesign and renovation by Davis Love III (a five-time winner of the Heritage event) and his brother Mark. Every hole will be rebuilt from the bottom up, using the same turf as the other courses, and the aim is for a more seaside ambiance and a pleasant experience for all handicaps.
Meanwhile Heron Point will be the course in 2015 that goes uninterrupted, as its facelift days are behind it. It was the first course redone during the Goodwin era. Dye was brought into re-do Heron Point (originally named Sea Marsh at the time) in 2007. Though deemed a little too tough for the resorting crowd, the design was modified last year as green complexes were enlarged, and some surrounds and contours were softened. The greens were also regressed with the same turf that will be on Harbour Town and Ocean Course's greens.
Video: Ginella on the beginnings of Harbour Town
Off the course: Upgrades to the beach club and Inn at Sea Pines
With just 60 spacious rooms with splendid views of the first tee of Harbour Town, the Inn at Sea Pines would seem entirely too small to accommodate 54 holes of golf plus a smattering of other activities to do on Hilton Head. While villa and apartment vacation rentals make up the lions share of beds here, the Inn does have plans to upsize to another 40 rooms.
Additionally, a new spa and pool complex are planned. Stan Smith, former major champion tennis player, leads the tennis program (and has been affiliated with Sea Pines since 1971), and it's his tennis facility that is in line to receive a refresh as well.
But for now, all eyes will be on the golf product, and when the Ocean Course reopens, Sea Pines should solidified Hilton Head's prime golf getaway.
Just be sure to hone in that wedge play before you arrive.