The Two Faces of Arthur Hills

The Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes Ask Arthur Hills about the two Hilton Head Island courses that bare his name, and watch as a wry smile comes across his face and his eyeslight up.

Not only because they are among two of the finest public courses found in one  of the fine t golf destinations in the world, but because of their importance to a distinguished golf architectural career that started more than 30 years ago with an ad in the Yellow Pages in Toledo, Ohio.

His first course on Hilton Head – Arthur Hills at Palmetto Dunes – put Hills on the national scene in the mid-1980s. Several years later, his second effort – The Hills Course at Palmetto Hall– cemented his reputation as one of the world’s finest and most innovative golf course architects. In essence, with a pair of courses located not more than five miles apart, Hills hit a career slam dunk that even nearly two decades later he revels in. 

And to play the two layouts, both owned and operated by Greenwood Development, is to revel in the work  of the man who elevated from a landscape design architect to master golf course designer. Though  similarities exist between the two, each boast their own significant characteristics and outstanding design  techniques. They are, to be sure, among the most challenging courses on Hilton Head Island, but also two  of the most picturesque and rewarding layouts.

With rough and fairway bunkers noticeably absent, the Hills course at Palmetto Dunes is characterized by its unique seaside character. Often  with a distinct ocean breeze in tow, the course flows through beautiful palmettos and pines, and offers rolling fairways with significant elevation  changes unusual to Hilton Head.

As he has done countless times during his career, Hills took full advantage of a beautiful landscape when he created the Arthur Hills at Palmetto Hall. The course rolls along natural curves and flows through thickets of moss-draped oaks and towering pines with several sparkling lakes also coming in play. Like many of his efforts, including the Palmetto Dunes course, the Palmetto Hall layout offers Hills’ trademark rolling fairways and well-protected, yet accessible greens.

While both courses rank among the finest public or resort courses on Hilton Head, it was Hills’ work on the  Dunes project that even allowed for the Palmetto Hall design to come to fruition. “That was a really big  deal for us,” Hills said of the Palmetto Dunes project. “Of all the courses we’ve done, people all over the  world seem to talk about the Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes.”

And with good reason. With a wide array of par-4s, an exciting collection of risk/reward par-5s and a solid  quartet of par-3s, Hills provides ample challenges for players of any level. The course, noted for its historic lighthouse that sits behind both the fourth and 15th greens, builds nicely upon itself. Hills expertly mixes in short par-4s, such as the exciting 365-yard 16th, which features both a drive and approach shot over marsh, and long, but generous par-4s, such as the 434-yard seventh hole, the toughest on the course.

The front nine closes with perhaps the layout’s finest par-5. A long hole, the ninth features a dramatically rolling fairway and a green guarded by water in the front and very little room left and behind. A third shot wedge into this undulating green is ideal.

At Palmetto Hall, Hills demonstrates his ability to flow a course through breathtaking natural vegetation and hazards without changing the environment at all.

“I think it really is among the best courses in the area,” Hills said. “It really is one of the finest courses we’ve ever created.” 

Those familiar with Hills’ work would agree. The designer often refers to his work as a symphony, ranging from highs and lows until the perfect  flow is created. “The whole challenge is to make the routing work within the existing terrain,” Hills said. “You have to be creative and make the best possible golf course you can with a particular piece of land.” Unlike his Palmetto Dunes creation, Hills challenges players directly off the first tee at Palmetto Hall. At 438 yards, the par-4 first hole plays the toughest on the course. The front nine also features one of the finest par-5s on the island in the 490-yard fifth hole.

Another risk/reward hole, players must choose how much of a water hazard they wish to challenge to allow for a shot at reaching a waterguarded green on their second shot. The wise play is to lay up for a short third to a small green, but Hills has become a master at tempting players to take risks they often might not try.

As much as Hills left bunkers off his Palmetto Dunes course, they are great weapons of defense at Palmetto Hall. Take the 10th hole, which features six bunkers, including a pair of large traps in the middle of the fairway. If your drive finds sand, forget about reaching the green in regulation.

On his par-3s, Hills opted for length rather than hazards as the challenge. Not one of the four holes features a single forced carry, and as a  result, the four par-3s rank as the four easiest holes on the course. They are, however, a true test of accuracy and power in iron play. To be sure, the two courses that have done as much to make Hills reputation as a world-class designer continue to enhance it today. They provide a glimpse into the designer’s talents and the perfect challenge for any golfer looking to experience true Hilton Head Island tests of golf.


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