BLUFFTON, S.C. -- Golfers can avoid the hassles of Hilton Head Island -- the fare over the bridge, the traffic congestion on confusing island roads, the more expensive green fees -- by staying on the mainland.
Bluffton, a growing retirement community, is home to more than a dozen golf courses stacked up one after another along Fording Island Road (also known as Highway 278), the gateway to Hilton Head.
Many of them are private clubs -- Berkley Hall, Colleton River Club and Belfair Plantation -- but there are enough public-access courses to keep snowbirds, retirees and vacationers busy for a week or more.
Stephen Neville, the head professional at Crescent Pointe Golf Club, said when he invites family and friends to visit he recommends they stay in Bluffton.
"You can spend a whole week [here] and not even go on the Island," he said. "There are a lot of local restaurants people don't even know about. It's still growing.
"I like that we are halfway between the [Hilton Head] Island and Savannah [Georgia]. You can go in either direction [for a day trip]."
Here are five of the best golf courses in Bluffton:
May River Golf Club
May River Golf Club's setting off the main roadway sets it apart from the local competition. In 2004, Jack Nicklaus completed a visually stunning 7,171-yard course that weaves through coastal wetlands and along the banks of the May River. Caddies are required, and walking is encouraged to fully appreciate the relaxed atmosphere. The back nine features the unique combination of three par 3s, three par 4s and three par 5s. The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, an Auberge Resort, serves up premier Southern hospitality.
Old South Golf Links
The 6,772-yard Old South Golf Links, built in 1991 by Clyde Johnston, climaxes for a stretch of holes on the front nine (nos. 6-9) and the back nine (nos. 16-17) that skirt the Intracoastal marshes of McKay's Creek with the Calibogue Sound on the horizon. "Golfers get mesmerized [by the setting]," said Jim Uremovich, the head professional at Old South. "They get lost out there. Regardless if they are playing bad, they enjoy it."
Hilton Head National
Gary Player's fine design, located just one mile from the bridge to the island, essentially put Bluffton golf on the map in 1989. Unfortunately, overwhelming growth within the region ultimately cost the club some of its best holes. Eminent domain for construction of the new Bluffton Parkway forced Hilton Head National to shrink from 27 holes to a 6,730-yard, 18-hole routing in 2009. The front nine by Bobby Weed plays much different than the back nine by Gary Player. Combined, they still deliver the natural setting without real estate that attracted players in the first place. "Our biggest sellers are if you don't want 'condo golf' and slow five-hour rounds, your best option is out here in Bluffton," said Sterlyn Mitchell, the head golf professional at Hilton Head National.
Crescent Pointe Golf Club
Arnold Palmer's contribution to Bluffton is a good one that finishes along the banks of the Colleton River. The 6,773-yard Crescent Pointe Golf Club opened in 2000. Roughly 16 holes require a forced carry of some kind, so choose tees wisely. The epic ninth green rises from the marsh as an island par 3, playing 219 yards from the tips. The dramatic three-hole finish flows parallel to the riverbank. "It's one of the courses down here you don't get bored of playing," Neville said. "It's rough. Every tee shot, approach, there's a challenge. It's got great views. It is not a plain golf course. Each hole has something different to look at."
Eagle's Pointe Golf Club
Eagle's Pointe Golf Club, one of Davis Love III's first designs, came on board in 1998. At 6,780 yards, it is much more playable than sister course Crescent Pointe. Golfers won't lose as many balls. Its wide fairways are as rare in the Lowcountry as snow. A strong collection of par 3s varies in yardage and looks. The sixth hole might be short at 329 yards, although it's the best par 4 strategically. A grove of trees and a pond sit along the right side, pinching the fairway.