Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront

In need of a renovation to ensure its future, the legendary Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Golf Course returned to its past, and the results have proven you can, indeed, improve upon perfection.

As one of the first golf courses built on Hilton Had Island more than three decades ago, Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront has been one of the most revered and sought-after of the Lowcountry’s public layouts. Named after the leading architect who dreamed and designed the Palmetto Dunes Resort layout, the course has long been one of Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s. most acclaimed courses.

When owner/operator Greenwood Development Corporation decided to renovate the course last year, they looked to a golf course designer with first-hand knowledge both of the course and its famed architect. Roger Rulewich, who spent nearly 35 years working with Robert Trent Jones Sr. and had a small hand in the construction of the original Robert Trent Jones course, arrived on Hilton Head late last year to both return his mentor’s course to its past glory, and to add some new and exciting wrinkles to the layout.

The results of the six-month, $3 million project has been nothing short of spectacular. Working at a fever pitch, Rulewich and his design team renovated the course from the ground up. The entire course was reshaped and replanted, and huge amounts of land were moved to improve the course’s drainage and visual appeal. Rulewich, however, was careful to never stray far from Robert Trent Jones’ original design.

“We’re really fond of the original design and only wanted to improve upon it,” Rulewich said. “But in many ways, save for clearing out the trees, it was really like building a new golf course.”

From cart paths, to greens, to tee boxes and fairways, everything was torn up, reshaped and resurfaced. Each of the 18 green complexes was enlarged and planted with Champion, a new Bermuda strain, and the fairways were all resurfaced with 419 Bermuda. Cart paths were widened, bunkers were reshaped, lagoons were widened and a lake was added. The course was stretched by 200 yards, but Rulewich said most of that yardage would be felt only by more advanced players.

The renovation’s main emphasis was to improve the drainage of the relatively flat Lowcountry course – a task that required moving tons of dirt and raising a number of fairways and greens.

“The course was pretty flat and didn’t drain well,” Rulewich said. “We had to get some holes up in the air so the course would have some flow to it.”

The effort to improve drainage has actually heightened the visual appeal of the new 7,005-yard golf course. A beautiful lake added to the par-4 seventh now makes it one of the most breathtaking on the course. The raising of fairways on the ninth, 10th and 11th has improved the look of those holes from the tee. The green on the famed 10th hole was also raised, adding to the mesmerizing view of the Atlantic Ocean only steps away. One doesn’t have to wait until the 10th, however, to become entranced by this Lowcountry classic.

The course, which is one of three located in the Palmetto Dunes Resort, opens with a trio of challenging par-4s that run through beautiful stands of thick oaks. Accuracy, more than length, is the premium of these opening holes.

Starting with the 582-yard par-5 fourth – the longest hole on Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront– the course begins to escape from the oaks into a more open and challenging layout. This true three-shot par-5 still requires accuracy both off the tee to avoid fairway bunkers and on the approach to a green that runs sharply from back to front.

Following the 204-yard par-3 fifth, the course really begins to show its teeth with a pair of par-4s that rank among the three hardest holes at Robert Trent Jones. The tee shot on the 422-yard sixth is the key to survival here. The drive–and it’s got to be a driver–must find the left side of the fairway to avoid a large oak that looms on the right. A long approach shot remains to a green that is elevated and well-guarded left and right by bunkers.

Those who played Robert Trent Jones before the renovation will immediately notice a new lake that sits to the right of the seventh fairway, which must be crossed only from the two back tees. Left isn’t a good option on this hole either, with a pair of fairway bunkers looming to swallow wayward shots.

From the back tees, the 227-yard par-3 eighth is a test for even the best golfers. A lagoon fronting the green has been expanded, and bunkers front, back and left and a slippery slope right leave little bailout area for players from any tee. This par-3 compares with any you’ll find in the Lowcountry.

Survive six, seven and eight, and golfers are rewarded with chances to score on the pair of par-5s that follow. At only 522 yards from the back, the ninth hole is reachable in two if the fairway is found off the tee. Water that runs the length of the hole on the right is in play on both shots, however.

The 550-yard 10th, which begins the layout’s turn into an open, lagoon-littered stretch of holes that will stimulate the senses and challenge the nerves, is the second most photographed hole on Hilton Head, and one of the most talked about in the Southeast. Elevation added to the green complex affords golfers breathtaking looks at the Atlantic surf pounding against the shore. Framed by beautiful bunkers and Carolina palmettos, this is one hole that shouldn’t be missed when visiting Hilton Head.

With few trees to protect from the ocean winds, the stretch from the 10th to the 15th can be the most challenging at Robert Trent Jones. With a perfect mixture of short-to medium-length par-4s, an average-length par-5 and a daunting par-3, this stretch will put a premium both on accuracy and touch.

The 398-yard par-4 13th is perhaps the most memorable of the stretch, offering a drive that features one of the few forced carries on the course. From the middle or forward tees, golfers can look to make an aggressive play over bunkers guarding the left of the fairway, which could allow them to drive the green.

Starting with the short, but tight par-4 16th, the course returns to the oak-lined fairways that were left behind after the third. Accuracy again becomes the key on this stretch, especially on the difficult 407-yard par-4 finishing hole.

Placement on this sharp dogleg-left hole will dictate whether you have a medium or long iron into this elevated, well-guarded green. It’s a perfect finish for a course that provides golfers with several different experiences all wrapped in one unforgettable round.

“This course starts out among oaks and tree-lined fairways and then moves out into the open,” Rulewich said. “It then moves to the lagoons on the back nine and then you finish back where you started. Very few courses offer that sort of diversity.”

As memorable as the course is, new head pro Bobby Downs promises his staff’s commitment to customer service will be a highlight of a visit to the Robert Trent Jones course.

Among the changes implemented with the course’s reopening are curbside bag service, complimentary range balls and extended hours of operation in both the pro shop and clubhouse grill.

“I like to say the golf is free here,” Downs said. “It’s the service we’re going to provide that costs the dollar amount.”

No matter that cost, the “new look” Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Golf Course provides an experience that simply can’t be missed when visiting Hilton Head Island.

For more information on the renovated Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course, visit www.palmettodunes.com; for tee times, please call 843 785-1136.

 

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