Why Harbour Town Golf Links is So Popular on Tour & Golf Vacations

At 6,973 yards, it's not very long.

With only four feet of elevation change, it's almost totally flat.

And, aside from the final two holes, it's not particularly scenic.

So, why is Harbour Town Golf Links one of the most popular stops on the PGA Tour, one of the top-rated courses in the United States, and a "must play" on Hilton Head Golf Vacations

In short, they don't build 'em like this anymore.

Harbour Town Golf Links is a true, shotmaker's test that has a way of winning admirers even as it exposes the flaws in your game.

Even PGA Tour players, who really don't enjoy having their game flaws exposed, have been very outspoken about finding a new sponsor for the Heritage Classic, as they love playing here.

Credit goes to Pete Dye, with input from wife, Alice, and Jack Nicklaus, who created the course in 1969. Their subtle masterpiece is a strategic challenge that puts enormous emphasis on ball-striking and precision.

Consider those who  have won the Heritage two or more times: Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin,  Hubert Green, Tom Watson, Fuzzy Zoeller, Payne Stewart, Davis Love III,  Stewart Cink, and Boo Weekley.

In addition to some holes that dogleg sharply, pine trees and specimen oaks draped in Spanish moss hang over fairways and greens, requiring precise placement of drives and approach shots.

And its greens are among the smallest you'll ever see; less than half the square footage of most other courses.

Not surprisingly, the course led the PGA Tour in hole-outs from off the green the last two years. When Boo Weekly won here for the first time in 2007, he chipped in on the 71st and 72nd holes to eke out a one-stroke victory.

If you plan on playing Harbour Town Golf Links on a Hilton Head golf vacation, here are some tips to keep in mind:

First, unless you're a low handicapper, expect Harbour Town to have its way with you.

Even from the 6,603-yard blue tees, Harbour Town Golf Links sports a beefy 73.0 par rating and 141 slope.

And even if you survive most of the front nine, holes 8 and 9 can wreck your scorecard. The 8th is a very long par four with sand and water left of the green (the hardest hole on the course). The 9th is a short par four, but with bunkers guarding the front and back, even the world's best players fear the consequences of trying to drive the V-shaped green. The alternative is an approach shot that must come in high and land soft.

The three best holes on the back nine are the par-five 15th, the par-three 17th, featuring a steeply elevated sliver of a green, and the par-four 18th, Harbour Town's signature test that runs along the Calibogue Sound.

After a drive to the widest fairway on the PGA Tour, you aim at the iconic, candy-striped lighthouse and let it rip. The approach is long en route to a green that sits hard-by the hazard to the left.

Here are a few more practical nuggets to know before you play Harbor Town Golf Links:

Given its prestigious position in the golf world, vacationing golfers tend to savor every shot. So, to ensure that your round moves at a reasonable clip, our best advice is to play early in the day.

Golf carts are available, butt keep in mind that it's cart-path-only at all times. That's one reason we prefer to walk. The other is, given its relative flatness, walking Harbour Town Golf Links is quite easy and enjoyable and Sun Mountain pull carts are included in the 18-hole green fee ($135-$260).

Alternatively, you can enlist a caddie to carry your bag ($65 suggested tip).  All groups are accompanied by at least one forecaddie ($25 suggested tip per player).

By the way, don't give up when it appears there are no spots on the tee sheets at Harbour Town or the other courses at Sea Pines Resort. While nearly half of the tee times are reserved for its 900 members, all the unclaimed spots are released 24 hours in advance.  You may well find multiple options the day before play.

Finally, one of our knocks on Harbour Town Golf Links over the years has been on course conditioning. Management says it rectified the problem a few years ago, and we experienced good conditions on all three courses during our most recent visit. We should note, however, that our visit was just three weeks before the Heritage Classic when one would expect pristine grooming. Best to play it safe and inquire before making your reservations.

If you're going to stay at the Sea Pines Resort, try the Inn at Harbour Town, a boutique 60-room hotel situated adjacent to Harbour Town's first tee.  Families and groups on buddy trips typically stay in one of the resort's more than 6,000 homes (about 400 are in the resort's rental pool).

And speaking of families, Hilton Head Island is first and foremost a magnet for these groups in search of its balmy and reliable weather, beaches, and seemingly endless activities.  Within the Sea Pines Resort, one can ride bikes and horses, sunbathe at the beach club, kayak in the Calibogue Sound, take an eco-tour, or play tennis on Har-Tru courts at one of America's premier tennis centers. Outside the gates are dozens of other family diversions including a wide selection of miniature golf courses and casual restaurants.

When to go? If golf is your priority, the best times to visit are spring and fall. Summer is prime beach (and humidity) season. Hurricanes can threaten from July into October.

How to get there? The vast majority of visitors drive to Hilton Head (the reason traffic can be heavy), but direct, commercial flights serving Hilton Head's airport are available through Charlotte and Atlanta, and the Savannah airport is only 50 miles away.

Have you played Harbour Town Golf Links? Any reaction or tips to share from your experience? Please share your commentns below.

Craig Better is one of the founding editors of Golf Vacation Insider. In addition to traveling to 15 foreign countries, he has twice traveled across America to play golf courses in all 50 United States. Prior to joining Golf Vacation Insider, Craig was a freelance writer who contributed to GOLF Magazine, Travel + Leisure Golf, Maxim Magazine, USAToday.com, and co-authored Zagat Survey’s book, America’s Top Golf Courses.
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