Restored and refreshed: Palmer approves renovation of Old Tabby Links

By Lance Hanlin

Arnold Palmer walked off the 18th green at Old Tabby Links and put both thumbs in the air, signaling his approval.

“The Tabby Links live on, and it will live on for a long time,” Palmer proclaimed.

The Arnold Palmer Design Company first opened the private, marsh-framed layout on Spring Island to much acclaim in 1992. The goal of this most recent renovation was to refresh the original design and restore its natural character, which had faded over the past two decades.

The King felt his team, led by senior architect Brandon Johnson, accomplished that goal.

“I think it’s a fantastic job,” Palmer said. “I know how hard (Johnson) worked because every time I called him, he was here. I think everyone should be extremely proud. It has always been great but it’s even greater now.”

The seven-month, $4.5 million makeover began March 12. More than $2 million was spent on a new state-of-the-art irrigation system featuring high-density polyethylene pipe and 1,719 more sprinkler heads.

“Before, we could probably water everything in about eight to 10 hours,” course superintendent Jay Gratton said. “Now, we’re looking at three to four hours. We’re putting water where we want to put the water. … It saves a lot more water and saves a lot more electricity.”

The new system is expected to last 20 to 30 years. Will Palmer return for the next restoration?

“I’m thinking about it,” he laughed. “Actually, I would love to be anywhere in 20 years.”

The restoration plan also included upgrades to greens, areas around the greens, bunkers, fairways and roughs.
All 18 greens were re-grassed with a new strain of Bermuda, eliminating the need for annual over-seeding. The MiniVerde also decreases the impact of the course on the surrounding ecosystem and adds to the lifespan of the greens. Some greens were repositioned to full sun areas, escaping the shade of growing trees.

“For 20 years, we’ve looked at this golf course as a finished product,” Palmer said. “We had an opportunity to look at things to enhance the golf course – make it a little better. That’s what Brandon has done. The few things that weren’t perfect, he’s made perfect.”

From a playability perspective, the course has renewed strategic value. Width off the tee now incorporates alternative angles of attack as a way to navigate towards the variety of new pin locations. As a result, the trees that surround the course may come into play if you find yourself on the wrong side of the fairway.

Classic risk-reward decisions will also be encountered. Heroic shots will entice the player and a myriad of recovery options around the greens will challenge one’s decision making.

“Our intent is that all of this adds up to a fun and interesting golf course full of variety and shot options that will present new challenges and rewards in every round,” Johnson said.

The course is part of a 3,000-acre nature preserve and residential community located midway between Hilton Head Island and Beaufort. Only 400 families live on the island, which also features a 30-acre equestrian facility with 35 miles of riding trails, tennis and fitness facilities, community boat docks and 33 fresh and saltwater lakes.

“I think one of the big things that separates us in essence is a call to nature,” head golf professional Nathan Broyles said. “It’s a very warm membership and they love being outside. One of the things I noticed about this club in particular, if you see someone, they’re going to introduce themselves to you and say hello. There are no egos here.”


When Arnold Palmer wants to order the half-tea, half-lemonade beverage named in his honor, does he ask for a me?

Turns out, that’s exactly what he does.

The 83-year-old golf icon was asked that and several other questions recently after giving final approval to his design company’s restoration of Old Tabby Links on Spring Island.

On the future of belly putters on the PGA Tour:
Palmer: My feeling and my opinion right now is that the anchored putter to the body will go. I can’t tell you that positively. I can tell you that I’ve talked to a lot of people in golf associations around the world and they are indicating the rules committee will come back and say you are not able to anchor your putter on the body. When will that come? Probably around the first of the year.

Is he against the anchored putter?
Palmer: I am. Having said that, if I putted better with an anchored putter when I was playing the tour, I would have used one. As long as it’s within the rules. I’m giving you my opinion on that, and in my opinion, there is not a place in golf for anchored putters.

Has he tried using one?
Palmer: Do you know how old I am? I’ve tried everything there is to try. I don’t feel an anchored putter is the way the game should be played. If you remember, Sam Sneed putted between his legs. They voted that out and he stopped doing it. It didn’t ruin his life and it didn’t stop his good golf. I feel the same about golfers that use an anchored putter.

On the future of golf course architecture:
Palmer: I think we’ll see shorter golf courses. An emphasis has been put on length because of the people hitting the ball so far. I think we’ll see shorter holes with more challenges. There for a while it got to four, six, eight sand traps on every hole. I think we’re going to see that diminish in coordination with more runoffs, similar to what (senior architect Brandon Johnson) has done here. I think that’s going to be the trend.

On slowing the ball down for professionals:
Palmer: We have got to slow the golf ball down. Other than maybe a few manufacturers, there aren’t many people that do not agree we need to slow it down. I would look for some news from the United States Golf Association, the PGA Tour and the PGA about that in the next few years. I think it’s inevitable.

Should there be different rules for professionals and amateurs?
Palmer: There has been talk about that. I don’t think it’s out of the question. My personal feeling is it’s something we shouldn’t do. The game is complicated enough right now with the rules as they are. Everything goes a lot better and smoother when there is one set of rules that everybody plays by.

How is his golf game?
Palmer: (Looks to his right and left) Who are you talking to? I’m warming up (laughs). Actually, other than what you see on television with the occasional charity event or something like that, I really haven’t played any this year. I am going to play in the father/son in Orlando in December with my second grandson, who hits it 10 miles. It’s unbelievable how far he hits it. After he hits that long drive, he puts his driver down, picks me up and carries me (laughs).  



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