Sea Pines the Next 50 Years

Sea PinesWhile it is hard to imagine that 2006 marks 50 years since visionary developer Charles Fraser and his brother Joe began creating America’s first eco-planned community stressing preservation of natural beauty–and golf, over high-rises and neon lights.

Then again, it is just as impossible to imagine Hilton Head’s claim as “The Golf Island” without the 5,200-acre resort/residential/golf community that started it all.

Yet the foresight that has driven Sea Pines from the very beginning allowed for only a moment’s pause to reflect on the past, culminating with a Labor Day weekend reunion and park dedication, before the award-winning resort went back to work to ensure that the next 50 years enhance its reputation of one of the world’s top golf destinations.

The golfing centerpiece of The Sea Pines Resort continues to be the Harbour Town Golf Links. Host for more than 35 years to the Verizon Heritage, the annual post-Masters PGA TOUR event not only showcases the area’s spectacular natural beauty, but the laid-back Lowcountry hospitality that has made this stop one of the most player, and fan-friendly on Tour. Each year after the pressures of Augusta, TOUR players and their families usually can’t wait to get to the same relaxed shores that draw millions of visitors to Hilton Head each year.

Another of the reasons to try this Pete Dye classic is that you can! The other 51 weeks of the year it is open for public play, one of the few venues on the TOUR we can all play beginning the day after the tournament until the next year’s event.

And while Harbour Town Golf Links is the most well-known of The Sea Pines Resort’s trio of public-access courses, it isn’t the only great golf to be played within the plantation. The aptly-named Ocean Course even has something Harbour Town doesn’t, a sweeping view of the Atlantic from the signature par-3 15th green. Re-designed a decade ago by Mark McCumber, the bunkers and lagoons intertwined into the layout are a thrilling complement to Harbour Town, and the resort’s third golf jewel, the Sea Marsh Course. Pete Dye has come back to Sea Pines to oversee a multi-million dollar renovation of the George Cobb original, and promises to make Sea Marsh every bit as challenging, but with different shot values, than the Ocean Course and Harbour Town. When Sea Marsh reopens in the fall of 2007, many visiting golfers won’t need to venture outside Sea Pines to find a fabulous variety of Hilton Head golf. Until then, The Sea Pines Resort offers great golf packages combining the Ocean Course, Harbour Town and any number of other great Hilton Head layouts, at prices that make that Harbour Town round an even greater value.

Not only can you play Harbour Town, you can truly “play” it, successfully. The same characteristics that make the course tough on the pros, its lack of length, tightness of its fairways and small greens, can work to the advantage of us regular folk. Measuring just over 6,000 yards from the White tees with only one par-5 over 500 yards, Harbour Town Golf Links can be a very enjoyable playing experience, if you follow the mantra of Head Professional John Farrell, patience, patience, patience.

Farrell says you don’t have to overpower Harbour Town to score well, but you do need to plan each hole backwards. If the pin is in an accessible position, you can go for it if you’re on the proper side of the fairway. To get you off on the right track, Farrell recommends you hit one more club into the first green because the green slopes dramatically from front to back. He loves Harbour Town’s par-3s, which will likely send you to your bag for four different clubs off their tees. The par-3 fourth hole epitomizes the playability of the course for all generations.

Farrell can play up and over the water hazard from 187 to 200 yards from the back two tees while his teenage son can play around the water from 165 yards and his father can make a full swing and reach the green from 140 yards. Just don’t go attacking a pin placed near the ball-swallowing pond at #4, or at #14. From the #1 handicapped eighth hole through the 13th are six consecutive holes that share only one trait, they’re all par-4s. One gentle and one sharp dogleg left are mixed with a dogleg right and one fairly straight hole protected by trees at the green. The diabolically short ninth and the treacherous 13th, with its large bulkheaded bunker protecting a horizontally-narrow green offer as many shot options as there are shots to be made.

Survive the middle holes and you turn for home and a classic conclusion. The 15th might look reachable in the yardage book, but Farrell says to not even think about it because of the encroaching combination of trees and water and sand in the last 150 yards. He also advises that it’s better to be near the target tree in the 16th fairway that’s 140-150 yards from the pin than to try to cut the corner and end up in the bunker that’s far more penal than the former crushed-shell waste area. At the par-3 17th, you might not feel a breeze at the tee, but check the flag sticking out into Calibogue Sound. Short and right is still the best miss here. Then at the magnificent 18th, Farrell advises you to aim just left of the famed candy-striped lighthouse off the tee, but don’t be greedy-left with your second. There’s plenty of room to the right side for a chip-and-putt par, or even birdie, as Davis Love III found out en route to his fifth Heritage tartan jacket.

The Ocean and Sea Marsh Courses play out of the same award-winning pro shop just a short distance from Harbour Town. The driving range is actually larger than any on the island, in part to accommodate the popular Sea Pines Golf Academy that offers a wide variety of instructional programs under the direction of long-time Top 100 teacher Rick Barry.

The Sea Pines Ocean Course was the first one built on the island with play on nine holes as far back as 1959. You can witness the Fraser’s commitment to nature all along this layout as the set-back homes are nearly invisible as you look down the fairways. The Audubon Signature Sanctuary course incorporates more challenge than ever before as McCumber wraps many of his tees around sand and water (ponds and marshes are in play on at least 13 holes), with more forced carries the farther back you play. A fabulous walk (or ride on the GPS-equipped carts) through the spectacular 200-year-old moss-draped oaks and pines, the Ocean Course is a stern 73.4 rating/142 slope from its 6906-yard tips, but a very playable 70.4/123 from its 6172-yard white tees. You’ll also play this course better the more familiar you become with it and learn some of McCumber’s added attractions, like his mounding between greenside bunkers and the greens themselves, the better to hide the pins! While the afore-mentioned oceanside par-3 15th is the signature hole, the preceding 14th has its own history. A plaque at the tee honors John Callaway Cook, Jr. (now there’s a golf name!) for his TWO double-eagles at the 475-yard par-5 on the same July day in 1990.

Plans for Dye’s Sea Marsh renovation include more tees and bunkers to the original design to create a wider variety of shot options. The greens will be enlarged and Head Professional John Richardson expects the first three holes to be significantly strengthened and the re-designed ninth and 18th holes to offer brand new challenges and spectacular views. There will also be new tee boxes built for the Mini-Marsh course, a delightfully popular set of tees on the same Sea Marsh layout that the whole family can enjoy.

Golf may be what draws you to The Sea Pines Resort, but once you’re there, the list of amenities is as long as the list of awards received by the resort. With accommodations ranging from oceanside villa retreats to the AAA Four-Diamond Inn at Harbour Town, a member of the 2005 Conde Nast Traveler Gold List featuring personal butler service, complimentary valley service, a lobby lounge, 24-hour room service and even a library. The Inn is just a pleasant stroll from the fashionable cafes, galleries and shops that wrap around the unbelievably gorgeous Harbour Town Yacht Basin and 6,500-square-foot Conference Center, where million-dollar pleasure craft sail just a few steps away from fine boutiques and exceptional restaurants and bistros.

Everything from horseback riding to fresh and saltwater fishing, two public-access swimming pools, 15 miles of bike trails through the plantation’s nature preserves, award-winning programs for pre-teens, and a world-class tennis facility featuring 23 clay courts overseen by former Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion Stan Smith is available at The Sea Pines Resort.

So whether it’s a competitively-priced vacation getaway package or full-time home ownership, the Sea Pines Resort has a Lowcountry lifestyle choice that will put you in the company of those PGA TOUR pros and their families who make the choice to return here every spring.

For more information, tee times, or reservations at The Sea Pines Resort, visit online at www.seapines.com or call toll free 1-800-SEAPINES.

 

 

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