Port Royal / Shipyard / Oyster Reef

Port Royal GolfRaising the bar. It has been Heritage Golf Group’s unstated mantra for all of the courses it has acquired since the group formed in 1999. In just a few short months, Heritage Golf has already put its stamp of excellence on Hilton Head’s Port Royal Golf Club, Shipyard Golf Club and Oyster Reef Golf Club.

By following the theme of the Bachman Turner Overdrive hit back in the ’70’s, “Takin’ Care of Business”, members and frequent visitors to the 99 holes now run by Heritage say the overall experience at Port Royal, Oyster Reef and Shipyard is better than ever.

Moving from a group that owns 170 other courses to one that owns only 20 (Heritage) is one reason, but not THE explanation for the increased care being put into the trio of Hilton Head Island classics. Heritage’s short history indicates there’s much more in store down the cart path. President and CEO Bob Husband wants his brand to become the “Mercedes” or “Four Seasons” of the golf industry. “The courses we bought in one of the most recognized golf destinations in the world already enjoy a strong golf reputation as challenging, rewarding and spectacular layouts,” he says. “However, we believe our “Standards and Traditions” will elevate the service and overall experience, as it has in all of our other facilities.”

It’s hard to put your finger on one big thing that defines the difference in the “Heritage” experience, but easy to list the dozens of “little” things they hope turn first-time customers into lifelong friends.

Arriving at any of the three clubhouses (which you can do now at Port Royal by courtesy shuttle from the Westin resort and at Shipyard from the Crowne Plaza), you’ll be welcomed by what Heritage calls its “Bobby Jones”. The greeter, dressed in traditional plus-fours, does more than just get your bags on the right cart. He acts as a concierge for your day, setting a relaxed mood while directing you to the next step. Checking in is much easier than before thanks to a centralized, off-site, tee time reservation system that frees the pro shop staff to give you more personalized service. And that staff might be the most knowledgeable about its apparel and equipment you’ll find anywhere, an emphasis in the Heritage training program.

Port Royal Golf ClubAll of the courses have new electric carts, and when those carts take you to the practice range, you’ll likely take advantage of another small touch you might not even recognize. When possible, Heritage works its practice tees from front to back so you’ll spend less time walking over already-chewed-up turf.

At the first tee, you’ll not only get the parameters of play from the starter, but another of the “added” touches, a water cooler dispensing lemonade. While you’re on the course, a visit from the ranger should actually be welcomed. Besides keeping up the pace-of-play, the ranger will have icy-wet towels in his cooler, an extremely welcome amenity on warm Lowcountry days. Careful not to “brain-freeze” before your next shot!

The 99 holes themselves are the same, except for the additional TLC lavished on the courses by the dedicated maintenance staff. Heritage Golf has spent over $200,000 on tree trimming, removal and planting in the first six months. Again, something the casual observer might not notice, but should add to the overall “experience”.

Port Royal Golf and Racquet Club offers three 18-hole layouts that are surprisingly quite different from each other. The first, the 1963 George Cobb-designed Barony, is also the most player-friendly of the trio, offering generous fairway landing areas off the tee and large greens, but plenty of risk-reward scenarios in between. Director of Golf Brian Bartolec thinks Barony’s the most “fun” of the three, despite the presence of water on 14 of the 18 holes. He particularly loves the variety of Barony’s own “Amen Corner”. The long, dogleg right, par-4 12th forces you to thread your approach shot between water left and right of the green. The shorter par-4 13th doglegs left with water on both sides of the fairway, tempting players to try to drive the well-bunkered green from the front tees (Bartolec’s advice, don’t try it). Then, just before the reachable par-5 15th, the par-3 14th requires a 130-150 yard carry over the watery home of an attendant alligator.

Cobb’s Robbers Row design, updated by Pete Dye in 1994, might be the most scenic course of the Port Royal threesome, leading you on a journey through majestic stands of magnolias and live oaks draped with Spanish moss, and a history lesson over the grounds of Fort Walker, a Union outpost during the Civil War (or War of Northern Aggression as long-time residents like to refer to it). The short, but sharp dogleg left, 300-yard par-4 16th begins a stout finish to Robber’s Row, followed by two sharp doglegs to the right, the 425-yard par-4 17th that’s the #2 handicapped hole, and the 513-yard finishing par-5 with water and sand guarding the entrance to the green.

Planter’s Row designThe newest, and probably toughest of Port Royal’s trio, the Planter’s Row design of Willard Byrd, played host to the Champions Tour’s Hilton Head Seniors Invitational back in the mid-80’s. It’s narrower, with smaller, more undulating greens than the other two (and that’s saying something). Director of Golf Bartolec loves a short, but treacherous stretch of the front nine, the 164-yard, carry-over-water, par-3 fourth, the less-than-500-yard but with two forced-carries par-5 fifth, and another 160-yard better-get-it-there par-3, the sixth. Go 3-5-3 through that stretch and you’re off to a round to remember.

If your playing partners suggest you take up croquet, Port Royal’s got a thriving facility for that and its tennis center has been nationally recognized. The marvelous southern-styled clubhouse that also plays host to a murder mystery dinner offerings, is undergoing significant cosmetic changes, as is the locker room and pro shop, but not at the expense of your experience.

The best “pure golf” experience in the Heritage collection might be the semi-private Oyster Reef Golf Club in Hilton Head Plantation. Director of Golf Eddie Carpenter says the 1982 Rees Jones design is “fun” for a majority of golfers from the 6,100-yard white tees, but can be a beast from the blue (6,440) and gold (7,005) tees that force tee shots through narrow chutes of tall Carolina pines with no parallel fairways to catch your errant shots. For challenging “playability”, Carpenter likes the home stretch, the narrow, dogleg par-5 15th (the #1 handicapped hole), the 145-209-yard over-water-carry par-3 16th, the 400-plus-yard dogleg right par-4 17th and even longer par-4 dogleg left finishing hole. But for memorability, many players talk up the signature 160-192-yard par-3 sixth that goes out to Port Royal Sound and the sharp dogleg right par-4 seventh that plays uphill, away from the sound. Hitting the elevated fairways and greens is the challenge that’ll make or break your scorecard.

If there’s a golfer that can appreciate the changes Heritage Golf has brought about, it’s Shipyard’s Director of Golf, Dan Moscar. He started his career with the previous owners at Shipyard, later worked at Port Royal and is now back at the south-island classic with Heritage Golf. With water on at least one side of 25 of the 27 holes (and often out-of-bounds on the other side), pace of play has always been an issue, but Moscar says long rounds are almost completely a thing of the past. Improved course markings and cold-towel-wielding-course ambassadors aren’t shy about offering you tips to help you negotiate the tight three-nine layout. The Clipper and Galleon nines designed by George Cobb meander through large oaks and tall pines to well-bunkered greens that are now all Champion Bermuda. The Brigantine nine, a Willard Byrd design opened in 1982, a dozen years after the first 18, is a scenic, yet hazard-filled layout that will bring out the best, or worst, in your short game. And the warning not to feed or provoke the alligators that’s printed on the guest parking pass isn’t just for show. Shipyard played host to the Hilton Head Senior International in 1984, won by golf legend Lee Elder. Pro shop renovations are coming in 2006, as is a new strategically-located halfway house.

The great variety in the Heritage Golf Group’s courses makes their multi-day, multi-course packages particularly enticing. They’re spending money ($3-million on improvements in the first six months), but more importantly, are pledging extraordinary effort on a combination of unrivaled golf and uncompromising service. And in the words of another BTO hit tune of the ’70, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”. For tee times and further information, call 843-689-GOLF or logon to www.hiltonheadgolf.net.

 

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