Choice may be your greatest enemy on Hilton Head Island. This golfer's mecca boasts seventeen courses on the island and many more nearby. But we're going to make it easy with a short seminar on the best this semitropical isle has to offer. All you need to do is get your PalmPilot and schedule it in. One caveat, however: All this great golf is not a well-kept secret, so be sure to reserve tee times and book accommodations well in advance.
By Car: Hilton Head Island is most easily reached via I-95. Take the exit for U.S. Route 278 and it's a straight, four-lane, 30- to 45-minute shot in.
By Air: If you don't mind a little (usually, but not always) higher ticket price, fly directly to the island (HXD) from Charlotte on US Airways. There are plenty of rental car companies—you'll probably want a car. The airport is located mid-island and convenient to wherever you're staying. Savannah International Airport (SAV) has more flights, but it's an hour away by airport shuttle ($49 round-trip, Low Country Adventures, 800-845-5582).
Using a five-star system, virtually every island course, and most of the ones off the island, weigh in with at least four stars. (Note: The island's most famous course—and its only public five-star layout—Harbour Town Golf Links, home of the PGA's MCI Classic, would have made this list, but it's closed for renovation until January 2001.) We've picked three "can't-go-wrong," eminently playable courses, each with its own personality. And note that most courses have seasonal rates, as well as morning and afternoon rates.)
Course: The Ocean Course, 843-842-8484
Location: Sea Pines Resort, south end
Length: 6,493 yards from the blue tees
Cost: $100 for cart and green fees in season (Sea Pines guests pay $87)
Characteristics: Mark McCumber did a sensational redesign in 1995. If water is a problem, play from the white tees.
Pros: Every hole is fair.
Cons: None, unless you forget your five dollar reimbursement on the way out.
T&L GOLF RATING: ****
Course: Arthur Hills at Palmetto Hall, 843-689-4100
Location: Palmetto Hall Plantation, mid-island
Length: 6,592 yards from the blues
Cost: $95, but plenty of packages available
Characteristics: Gentle contouring, plenty of trees and water. The finishing hole (yes, that's the green across the lake) is one of the island's most memorable.
Pros: It's challenging yet playable, and you can walk it
Cons: Just be sure to ask for directions.
T&L GOLF RATING: ****
Course: Golden Bear Golf Club, 843-689-2200
Location: Indigo Run Plantation, north end
Length: 6,643 yards from the blues
Cost: $95, but included in many golf packages
Characteristics: All that water and those bunkers and trees require more thought than muscle—a local fave.
Pros: The course has a cumulative effect, like a story—a rare find anywhere.
T&L GOLF RATING: ****1/2