HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. - Golfers here love to talk about Tiger Woods' infamous mishap on the Arthur Hills course at Palmetto Dunes, one of three layouts at the resort that Woods played at a collegiate tournament during his days at Stanford.
Woods scored a quadruple bogey eight on the diabolical par-4 17th hole - one of the toughest golf holes on Hilton Head Island - in one of the few lowlights in his illustrious two-year college career. It's an anecdote members and staff love to boast about and visitors love to hear on the driving range and in the clubhouse; it likely helps to soften their own misfortunes.
Before teeing off on the course, you might wonder what the big deal is. It's under 6,700 yards from the championship tees, and the 17th is only 380 yards from the back tees. But after a tame opening hole, the formidable-yet-short second hole reveals the course's character. It is just 376 yards but is the number one handicap hole, thanks to an approach shot that must carry a pond to a slanted green with trouble all around.
"It's a real strategy course," said Justin Ellis, visiting Hilton Head from Tennessee. "Its design really makes you think - and you need to keep a positive attitude [down the stretch], because it's very challenging."
Though Tiger has probably long forgotten his mishap on the 17th, visitors here can surely appreciate the pain he likely felt. From the tee, you must carry a hazard that winds down the left-hand side before crossing in front of the green. Heavy bush spans the right hand side. But the fairway is no safe haven. It's heavily contoured, surrendering few flat lies, making the approach shot from about 120-180 yards to a shallow, sloped green all the more difficult.
"One of the toughest holes in America," shrugged member Frank Duffy, who deposited three balls into the water there but nevertheless has nice things to say about the Hills' course.
Water isn't the only enemy here. Trees are bound to muck up your round at certain points. Probably the most notable trait about lowcountry Hills designs is the successful implementation of trees, not only framing holes on the perimeter but within the hole itself.
This is why the 17th isn't even the hardest handicapped hole on the backside. That belongs to an equally tricky 12th, which wraps around water to the right. Tall pines lurk in front of the green on the left side, so, depending on your tee shot, you have to carry water - or navigate around timber.
Arthur Hills course at Palmetto Dunes: The Verdict
Ask Hilton Head golfers for their favorite course on the island, and Arthur Hills' Palmetto Dunes is a common answer. It's not an easy course despite shorter yardage, featuring many tight driving holes and forced carries on approach shots.
It isn't the length that is challenging here. Only one par 4 from the white tees is longer than 400 yards, and from the championship tees, no par 5 plays longer than 518 yards, making each reachable in two for longer hitters. Hills' ingenuity substitutes brawn for strategically-placed trees and penal water hazards not for the squeamish.
It's also a course that's easy to walk despite playing through a residential development, though be cautious of alligators.