Country Club of Hilton Head

Most of us like to think we age like fine wine, becoming better, classier, more interesting as we mature. And while the wine analogy works in the sense that we’re likely more full-bodied 20 years after our debut as adults, most of us have to admit were a little more frayed around the edges, not quite as enthusiastic, maybe not even as much fun as we were when we were in our youth.

Don’t count the Country Club of Hilton Head in the group of courses losing any of its luster as it reaches its 20th birthday on the 4th of July. Just ask the USGA, who just in the last couple of months re-rated this Rees Jones classic design about a half-stroke tougher in the course rating with a slope rating between 5 and 7 points higher.

Of course, the club’s thriving membership could have told you this course has been underrated long before the USGA did.

Now sporting a challenging 129 slope (70.6 rating) from the 6,162-yard white tees, a stout 135 slope (72.4 rating) from the 6,543-yard blue tees and a daunting 74.0 rating/138 slope from the 6,919-yard tips, your most important selection at the Country Club of Hilton Head might be which tees to play before you take your first club out of the bag. 

The re-rating of the course serves as proof that CCHH isn’t just resting on its laurels, though you wouldn’t blame it coming off a year when it was the only semi-private course in the Lowcountry selected as a local qualifying venue for last year’s U.S.

Open at Pinehurst #2 (a ClubCorp sister course to CCHH tweaked by the “Open Doctor” and Country Club designer Rees Jones, who is also spearheading the restoration of Medinah for the 2006 PGA Championship). The USGA recommended very few changes to CCHH for the Open qualifier and the course more than stood up to the test, allowing only two scores below 70 (a pair of 69’s) to the best amateurs and pros in the area.

The big change for 2006 is the renovated green at the short, sometimes quirky, par-4 17th that may no longer be the easiest hole on the scorecard. A gigantic laurel oak that dwarfed the tiny green had to be removed to improve the opportunities for sunlight around the green complex, allowing Superintendent Dale Terrill to nearly triple the size of the green from a course-smallest 2,300 square feet to 6,300 square feet, now the second largest green on the course. With a green now a full 30-yards deeper, the 17th offers a significantly different approach and is, essentially, a completely different hole, even though the yardage markers won’t change.

New drainage and new sand is being added to bunkers all around the course, and there are a lot of them strategically placed by Jones around every green and at the corners of nearly all the doglegs. As the starter often reminds first-timers, “every hole’s a dogleg and all the greens are elevated” at the Country Club of Hilton Head. And he’s right on target.

CCHH weaves a gorgeous trail through beautiful stands of live oaks and loblolly pines on the north end of Hilton Head Island. A plaque in the middle of the 12th fairway boasts of being the highest point on the Island (28 feet above sea level), but that plaque should also remind golfers that haven’t already figured it out that water comes into play on 15 of the 18 holes, further demanding creativity in mastering the Lowcountry layout. And 32 of the tee boxes have been refurbished for this spring.

All of the par-3s require carries over water. The 14th is particularly challenging with a forced carry, not only over marsh, but two bunkers guarding an elevated green that’s a lot wider than it is deep. The par-5s on the front side are tempting for long-hitters. The dogleg-right sixth is only 491 yards from the tips, but be wary the pond that runs all along the right side of the hole after it makes the turn, with the right half of the fairway sloping ever so slightly toward that lake. The par-5s on the back side can be beasts when they play into the prevailing southwest wind off Skull Creek.

The Country Club’s signature hole, the up-to-575-yard 12th, is a great three-shotter with more than a dozen bunkers bordering the fairway on the second shot (and maybe third and fourth too), water in play on the approach, and a breathtaking view of Skull Creek behind the hole that might, just might, help you forget the frustration of trying to get out with a par. And after the exceedingly narrow par-4 16th and 17th, the par-5 18th (yes, it’s a dogleg too) will feel quite roomy after a well-placed tee shot past the corner bunkers. But it is still a long way to the pin over one last set of bunkers in front of the amphitheater-style green.

Yet with all the challenges of the over-the-water par-3s and daunting par-5s, The Country Club of Hilton Head can rightfully stake its reputation on a marvelous set of par-4s. The #1 handicapped fourth hole, a delicious dogleg left that is over 400 yards from the blue tees and over 430 from the tips, with masterfully-placed bunkers at the 150-yard mark on the right-hand side to catch balls hit through the fairway. But don’t cut the dogleg too sharply.

One of the many old oaks on the course stands guard at the front left of the green to block access to those trying to shorten the hole. The next hole isn’t even 360 yards from the tips, but the smart play might be an iron off the tee to position oneself in front of the pond lurking 80-90 yards in front of the narrow green.

Because they’re sandwiched around the turn, the ninth and tenth don’t get their due as the toughest back-to-back holes on the course (they’re handicapped #3 and #2 respectively). Both are around 425-yards from the tips with bunker complexes in the landing areas, the 10th also throwing in a water hazard along the right side on the approach for good (or bad) measure.

When you finally approach the end of your round, you’ll be ready to be pampered by the laid-back, friendly staff in the stately clubhouse that has undergone its own renovations over the past year, with remodeled, freshened-up formal and informal dining areas. The Irish pub-style grille room has become a popular pre-and post-round gathering place.

2006 will see the opening of a new $2.5-million fitness center and renovated golf locker rooms built around an indoor pool adjacent to the Olympic-sized outdoor pool and six soft-surface tennis courts.

CCHH was already renowned for its excellent teaching and practice facility located between the nines. With the recent renovations and upgrading of the entire facility, the Country Club of Hilton Head has never been a more desirable place for members, or members-for-a-day.

Speaking of memberships, CCHH prides itself in being the premier “family” Club on the Island. Its membership structure (particularly for non-residents) and ClubCorp affiliation encourages residents and visitors to become a part of the larger ClubCorp family that offers its partners extremely affordable playing privileges and membership status at over 230 clubs and resorts in over 35 states and nearly two dozen foreign countries with classic names like Pinehurst and Firestone, Barton Creek and Las Colinas.

And the Country Club of Hilton Head. The USGA even agrees that it’s as challenging, and rewarding, as you always thought it was. For more information on playing the Country Club of Hilton Head soon, or forever, call them at 843-681-2582 or visit their Web site at www.hiltonheadclub.com.

 

 

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