Insider Info: Great tips for planning the perfect golf trip to Hilton Head

Palmetto Dunes
Courtesy of Palmetto Dunes
Palmetto Dunes is a worthy alternative to the Sea Pines Resort.

Insider Info
-- Hilton Head has its own small airport (with daily flights to/from Atlanta and Charlotte), but there are more direct flight options into Savannah, Ga., a 45-minute drive southwest of the island. So many golfers and travelers take advantage of that option, and the latter city's airport has been called Savannah/Hilton Head Island International Airport since 2003.

-- The multi-course Heritage Collection (hiltonheadgolf.net, 800-234-6318), which includes Oyster Reef Golf Club, Palmetto Hall Golf Club, Port Royal Golf Club and Shipyard Golf Club, offers discounted rounds via numerous stay and play packages.

-- If you're looking to get from the north end of Hilton Head Island to the south, or vice versa, take the Cross-Island Expressway instead of the William Hilton Parkway (Highway 278 Business). It will easily save you 20 minutes of traffic and stoplight time in peak seasons. Also, if you're staying in any of the resort developments in any island plantation, don't expect to find it easily for the first time at night, even with your GPS. There are few, if any, overhead streetlights in the plantations -- or at most spots on the island -- so do your exploring during the day.

-- Where you stay on Hilton Head depends on what you like and who you're traveling with. For a family golf vacation, or if you're part of a group, you may prefer the comfort, convenience and roominess of a villa. Palmetto Dunes offers superior beach access and great golf, but limited nightlife. At Sea Pines, the golf is also wonderful. Beach access isn't quite as good, but in season, the Harbour Town marina buzzes with activity.

Travelin' Joe Says
"Put Daufuskie Island back on your Hilton Head radar screen. Visitors who warmed to the 35-minute ferry ride to Daufuskie Island Resort and its two courses were greeted with glum news in March of 2009, when the property laid off its remaining employees and shuttered its doors indefinitely.

"I was a huge fan of the closing holes at the Melrose course, which featured unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean. The other 15 holes were a mixed bag of handsome Lowcountry scenery and quirky design, but the day trip was memorable.

"The second course, Bloody Point (bloody-pont.com), a Tom Weiskopf/Jay Morrish product, lacked the drama and ocean vistas that Melrose enjoyed, but was certainly an attractive, quality test.

"The good news is that after more than two years of laying fallow, Bloody Point re-opened in December 2012. New ownership and a restoration/partial re-design from Davis Love III's Love Design Group has yielded a more playable layout, with 30 percent of the fairway and greenside bunkers removed, as well as the installation of Paspalum Platinum grass on the newly re-contoured greens. Give it until at least May to get conditions where they should be, the better to experience holes such as the par-3 17th, which heads straight out to the Mungen River, which itself flows into the Atlantic.

"As for Melrose, work is in progress on revitalizing the club and resort. The golf course is open, admittedly with spartan facilities compared to the old days. Unfortunately, the sea wall that protected the spectacular par-5 18th finally gave way, so they've moved the hole away from the sea -- but only temporarily, while repairs are made. Keep an eye on both courses in the coming months."

From the Expert
"The peak golf months on Hilton Head are April, May and October, but the best value months are March, September and November when the weather is perfect for golf (65 to 80 degrees) and package pricing is reduced for the "shoulder" seasons. The best golf value by far is during the summer months when playing late in the day on a twilight-rate special. Pricing is reduced up to 40 percent off of peak spring and fall rates for golfers who prefer to play late in the day (after 2 p.m.). Golfers should avoid the first halves of June and August due to course aerification, and the very end of October due to overseeding."
-- Chris Beck, Director of Golf Sales, Sea Pines Resort

Top 100 Teacher Tip
"Golf in the Lowcountry has two very unique characteristics around the greens. The dominant Bermuda grass in front of the greens is often very tight. So when you find yourself just off the greens on a tight lie, put the sand wedge away and use a hybrid club to putt/chip. Stand close to the ball, choke down on the club and give the hybrid a putting stroke. Too often when people try to putt from far off the green, they mishit the ball on the putter face. The ball pops off the hybrid, so it's easier to control the distance.

"The second shot is off to the side of the green, where the Bermuda grass is actually thick and wiry. If your ball is sitting down in this area and you have to hit a high, soft shot, don't try to punch this shot because it will never stop soon enough on the green. Instead, hit it like a bunker shot. Open the clubface, keep your hands in the middle of your body and let the club bottom out behind the ball and slide under it. You won't even hear the club hit the ball and it will come out high and soft."
-- Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Krista Dunton is based at Berkeley Hall in Bluffton. She can be reached via email at kdunton@me.com.

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