HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Most everyone knows that Hilton Head Island is a great golf destination, but what do they know beyond that, especially if they've never been there before?
For example: What's the best way to get there, what's the weather like and how diverse is the golf? If you've wondered about such things, you're probably not alone. What follows are some guidelines to planning a golf trip to the Hilton Head area.
Golf and activities beyond the Heritage
Most folks, especially golfers and golf fans, know about the Heritage Classic on the PGA Tour and the famous lighthouse in the background of the 18th green of Harbour Town Golf Links , but that's just the beginning.
There's so much golf and so much to do. For example, there's the annual Hilton Head Island Celebrity Golf Tournament, conducted on three different golf courses in September; the Hilton Head Oyster Festival in November; Winter Wonder Festival in December; the Wine and Food Festival and Wingfest in March; and the Hilton Head Seafood Festival in April, just to name a few.
Wonderful weather on Hilton Head Island
Probably the best time weather-wise to visit Hilton Head Island is the fall; more specifically, late September through early October, when high temperatures top out between the mid 70s and low 80s.
But, really, Hilton Head is year-round golf. Ocean breezes keep it from getting too hot in the summer, and spring is just about as good as fall. Winter players might encounter some cold days here and there, but there are plenty of good weather days in January and February, too.
When you're not playing golf
Although you can enjoy great golf at one of Hilton Head Island's two dozen courses, visitors should reserve a day or two for the other wonderful activities.
Spending a morning or afternoon on Hilton Head's top-10 family beaches would be a good start, but you can go kayaking, take a boat tour, go sailing, enjoy world-class tennis facilities, see bottle-nosed dolphins play, ride horses through the woodlands, hike through a nature preserve or bicycle all over the island.
The Hilton Head art scene
While most people know Hilton Head Island for its golf, tennis and water sports, it's also a pretty good cultural destination. Named one of "The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America," Hilton Head has scores of museums, galleries and theaters.
For example, there's the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina -- a performing arts center that produces five Broadway-caliber shows a year -- the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, two local art leagues with more than 200 members, the Hilton Head Dance Theater and plenty of Lowcountry traditions such as basket weaving, music and the annual Native Island Gullah Celebration, which is held in February.
Great golf schools
Not only is Hilton Head Island a great golf destination, but it's a great place to improve your golf game, too. Starting with Golf Academy at Sea Pines Resort (home of Harbour Town Golf Links), golfers will find golf schools and lesson opportunities around every corner from some of the best teachers in the country.
Other noteworthy golf schools and instructional programs include the Hank Haney Junior Golf Academy, the golf school at Old South Golf Links and the Palmetto Dunes Golf Academy at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort.
Player-friendly courses, too
For the average golfer, PGA Tour venues such as Harbour Town Golf Links can be very difficult, no matter what tees you play. But the good news is that Hilton Head has plenty of golf courses where you don't have to possess Dustin Johnson's skills to have fun and succeed.
For example, the links-style Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort is pretty wide open and has plenty of different sets of tees to fit any skill level.
Shipyard Golf Club has 27 holes and three different combinations to suit different types of players. Sister-course Port Royal Golf Club has the Barony Course -- which is particularly forgiving -- and 27 holes, total.
Don't forget about Bluffton
Good golf and entertainment isn't limited to Hilton Head Island. Nearby Bluffton has plenty to offer as well. For example, that's where you'll find Old South Golf Links, the Clyde Johnston-designed marshland layout that indeed screams "old South."
You'll also enjoy the Bobby Weed/Gary Player-designed Hilton Head National Golf Club or try Island West Golf Club, which is located on U.S. Highway 278 on the way onto Hilton Head Island.
Let's play two (rounds, that is)
One of the great aspects of Hilton Head Island-area golf is that so many facilities and resorts have more than one course. That means it's easy to play 36 in a day, maybe more, depending on the time of year.
For example, Sea Pines Resort, besides Harbour Town, also offers the terrific Heron Point by Pete Dye and the recently renovated Ocean Course.
Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort has three championship courses as well -- the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course, Arthur Hills Course and George Fazio Course. And then there's the Heritage Collection, which features seven courses in all, including Palmetto Hall Plantation Club, Oyster Reef Golf Course, and the aforementioned Port Royal and Shipyard.
Getting to Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island is located on the southernmost tip of South Carolina. It's about a 20-minute drive from Exit 8 on Interstate 95.
The main airport, Savannah Hilton Head International, is actually located in Georgia, about 45 minutes south. If you're driving, take I-95 to Exit 8, which is eight miles from the Georgia border. Travel 18 miles on Highway 278 to the Cross Island Expressway until you run onto Hilton Head Island.
After you cross the bridge onto the island, look for the Welcome Center and Coastal Discovery Museum on the right.