Focus on Pure Golf Makes Hilton Head National a Local Favorite

By Lance Hanlin,

With 58 courses, Hilton Head Island and the surrounding area is considered one of the top golfing destinations in the United States.

Many local courses are nationally recognized. One is globally recognized.

Some are overrated, some are underrated. Some are for low handicappers, others are for high handicappers. Some are overpriced, others may be underpriced based on quality.

For local golfers, one is just right.

Many claim to be the locals’ favorite but only Hilton Head National Golf Club can back up that claim.
The three most popular media outlets in Beaufort County – the Island Packet newspaper, Hilton Head Monthly magazine and the Bluffton Today newspaper – all gave “Best Golf Course” honors to Hilton Head National in their most recent readers’ choice awards.

How did a course, located in Bluffton, about a mile from the bridge to Hilton Head Island, become such a hit with the locals?

Pure golf.

“There are no homes, condos, villas or anything around it,” said John Ferrebee, general manager and director of golf at Hilton Head National. “We’re a golf course. We sell golf. We don’t sell anything else. People come to play here, not for any other reason.”

No out-of-bounds, no memberships, no maintenance workers, no bicycle bells, no exhaust pipes. Just golf.

“The common noise of Hilton Head, you don’t have out here,” said Bill Palmer, president of Scratch Golf Company. “It’s just golf and the noise of nature. This is the first golf course we built as a company and we took great pride in building it. We also take great pride in the condition we keep it in all the time. Certainly, we’re very proud of it.”

The property’s future was in question two years ago when the eastward expansion of Bluffton Parkway plowed through, using eminent domain to seize the sixth and seventh holes of the Player Nine. The club was forced to downsize from 27 holes to 18.

Nine holes may have been closed but they have not been abandoned. The No. 9 hole and the first fairway of the No. 1 hole from the old Player Nine are still being maintained. The old No. 8 hole sits proudly along U.S. 278 in immaculate condition.

“That will still be a landmark hole even though it can’t be played,” Ferrebee said. “It represents Hilton Head National and lets people know that even though we lost nine holes, our mission statement hasn’t changed.”

In hindsight, downsizing to 18 holes in this troubled economic time may have been a good thing. Golf rounds have dropped remarkably nationwide and Hilton Head National, even though still seeing steady play, hasn’t been immune.
 “It may have been a blessing in disguise,” Ferrebee said. “Continuing to maintain 27 holes probably would have put a real stress on our bottom line.”

Today’s course features nine holes designed by hall of famer Gary Player and nine holes constructed by acclaimed architect Bobby Weed.

The current Player Nine was designed to give golfers an opportunity to have a good time. There is not a lot of trouble in front of the greens. While there are bunker complexes in strategic locations, in most cases, you can run the ball onto the green. There are many rolling fairways but they are somewhat generous.

“It’s not going to put a lot of stress on the mid- to high-handicapper,” Ferrebee said. “It isn’t as taxing as some of these golf courses that were built in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when golf designers were trying to put together these monsters that had all the bells and whistles, water and God only knows what.”

The Weed Nine is a little different. The bunker complexes are more severe and the greens have more undulation than the rolling Player greens. The fairways also have more elevation changes but are still amply generous as far as driving the ball is concerned.

“It’s always nice working for a client that has not only high expectations but they deliver a good, consistent product,” Weed said. “We’ve developed a very good working relationship with (Scratch Golf) over the years.”

While it is a player friendly course, Hilton Head National can also test low-handicappers. The course recently hosted a Hilton Head Island Junior Golf Association event and the winning score was 1 over par.

The outstanding condition of the course can be credited to superintendent Blake Carlisle, known as a guru of agronomics in local circles. Other key staff members are head professional Sterling Mitchell and director of sales Thomas Schultz.

“I think our hospitality and service is beyond reproach,” Ferrebee said. “Even though we are strictly a private, public-access golf course, we want our guests to feel they are a member for the day. That’s sort of our philosophy. Great golf, great conditions with a bit of southern hospitality.”

It’s also a great value. Instead of paying $140 per round in season at a Hilton Head Island course, you can drive 10 to 15 minutes to Hilton Head National, pay $30 or $40 less and get a course in as good or better condition. Residents of Beaufort, Jasper, Chatham and Effingham counties receive a steep discount on already competitive greens fees by showing proper identification.

“I think our pricing is very reasonable for the product we put out,” Ferrebee said. “I think that is one of the reasons people continue to come back over and over again.”

Course: Hilton Head National Golf Club
Location: 60 Hilton Head National Drive, Bluffton
Architects: Gary Player, Bobby Weed
Year built: 1989
Rating/slope (White): 67.3/118
Yardage (White): 5,628
Local Rate: $40-$60
Amenities: Full-service golf shop, driving range, instruction, Players Pub serves lunch daily
Contact: Call 843-842-5900 or go online to


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