Private Dolphin Head Golf Club creates close-knit community environment

Dolphin Head Golf ClubIt may not have the bells and whistles of Belfair or Wexford (two more recognizable private facilities in the Hilton Head area) or the history and heritage of Harbour Town Golf Links, but Dolphin Head Golf Club has managed to carve out a unique niche for itself among the crowded Lowcountry golf scene.

The feeling of a close-knit community is apparent as soon as you enter the Dolphin Head clubhouse. The laid back, friendly environment creates a great atmosphere for golf. 

Dolphin Head is a private equity golf club completed in 1974. The Gary Player-designed golf course was open to public play over the initial 10 years of its existence before transitioning from semi-private to completely private in 1983. This year, Dolphin Head celebrated its 25th anniversary as a private club. It was Player's first project in the region. His other design, Hilton Head National, opened its doors in November of 1989.

The club is located within Hilton Head Plantation and boasts neighbors like similarly private Bear Creek Golf Club and public-access Oyster Reef. The course is nestled along the waters of Port Royal Sound, which is visible on the 14th hole, and is known for its remarkable simplicity and undisturbed natural beauty.

The front nine is routed through the trees and marshland while the back nine becomes more open, allowing the player to experience two different styles of course design, a design feature found on most traditional links style courses in Scotland and England.

"It's the fairest course on the island," said course superintendent Larry Howze, who has been responsible for maintaining the course since 1973. "Anyone can have fun on it. It can set up to be difficult or set up for teenagers; handicap doesn't matter. But it (the course) can get you in trouble from anywhere.

"That's the selling point," he continued. "It's a lot of fun to play."Dolphin Head Golf Club

Kristy Kumm, who recently celebrated her second year with Dolphin Head and now serves as club manager, said the club and its members do a great job of selling themselves and word of mouth is the primary method used to market the club.

"Once a perspective member comes here and has a chance to play, that is our best selling point," she said. "Everyone has the one thing in common, and that's the golf. There is just such a sense of family and belonging here."

Dolphin Head is a private, member-owned golf club, offering Equity, Associate and Introductory memberships for residents, non-residents, families and individuals.

A number of social activities are available at Dolphin Head but the club's primary focus is golf.

The par-72, 6,623 yard layout was one of the first courses completed in Hilton Head when it opened for play in 1974; just five years after Harbour Town simultaneously opened and hosted the inaugural Heritage Classic. Dolphin Head was the first course to open for play within Hilton Head Plantation.

Today it remains as traditional and straightforward as ever.

"It's all right in front of you," said assistant professional Jerry Dacus. "If you're playing well, you'll be rewarded."

The course has undergone minimal renovation since Player's initial design was finished. In 1993, Hilton Head-based architect Clyde Johnston directed a rebuilding of the greens. Plans are in the works to replace the current TiffDwarf Bermuda greens with MiniVerde around 2010. Johnston remains as a consultant for Dolphin Head.

Some minimal work has also been done on existing sand traps and a few have been added to fairways in strategic locations. The staff at Dolphin Head is also planning on regressing the course's fairways around 2010.Dolphin Head Golf Club

A pair of par-5s bookend the other 16 holes at Dolphin Head, as both No. 1 and the signature 18th measure in the neighborhood of 500 yards from the tips. The 18th is Dolphin Head's signature hole; a par-5 that can be reached in two shots if your drive is well-placed. But beware, a large lagoon, backed by a rambling sand bunker, await approach shots short of the green.

The most challenging aspect of Dolphin Head may be is collection of lengthy par-3s. At an average of nearly 200 yards, they provide a stern test from the back tees.

If the golf is what binds them, the members themselves give Dolphin Head its spirit and set it apart from the other private facilities in the area. Kumm said there are currently 330 members at Dolphin Head and that figure includes social non-golfing members as well as non-residents in addition to the more traditional members. While some private courses have struggled to make ends meet in recent years, Kumm says Dolphin Head's members are quite enthusiastic about their golfing community.

"Our members are very dedicated to maintaining private status," she said.

"There is a lot of competition in this area," said Howze. "There are more private clubs now and a lot of younger members that work at the newer clubs. They're still working and playing tourist clubs. We offer real affordable rates here. Among the private clubs, we hold our own."

Members can stay extremely busy with the packed social and golf calendar offered by the club. There are year-round member tournaments and activities, a professional staff offering golf lessons, weekly dining events and a number of other lively functions.

For further information about membership at Dolphin Head, please contact Kristy Kumm at 843-681-5550, ext. 222 or e-mail to Dolphin Head is available online at



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