Jack Nicklaus's most recent signature layout in the South Carolina Low Country is as low as it gets. The temptation in this flat region is to beef up the terrain with copious mounding, but the Bear stayed down to earth at the just-opened May River Golf Club, rendering a remarkably level playing field that he calls "a thinking man's course."
Backdropped by infinite vistas of sauterne-colored marshes, the 7,171-yard oak-, pine- and palmetto-studded May River track graces the 20,000-acre residential enclave of Palmetto Bluff, five miles west of Hilton Head Island. Nestled onto an isolated water-veined peninsula, it also accompanies the East Coast's first Auberge Resort: the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, whose guests receive access to the otherwise private golf course. And what a course it is: May River's huge landing areas invite full-throttle drives, but inverted-saucer greens—fringed by amoeba-shaped bunkers and often fronted by tidal creeks—demand a combination of restraint and precision. In a rare show of mercy, Nicklaus ringed the subtly contoured Bermuda-grass greens with vast, close-cropped expanses that often allow for creative salvages with the putter.
Its traditional flavor notwithstanding, May River gives in to the occasional latter-day special effect and surprise. A number of strategic bunkers sprout love grass and miniature shrubs. The back side is distinguished by three par threes and three par fives. And the par-five fifteenth is a bit of smoke and mirrors. From the fairway, it appears that the green lies just over a bunkered hump, when in fact it's more than twenty yards beyond. If he's doing his job, your forecaddie will clue you in.
Up to three more golf courses are planned at Palmetto Bluff. Once they are completed, there will barely be time to savor the Inn's other amenities: a 9,500-square-foot spa overlooking a lazy lagoon, a restaurant with a four-thousand-bottle wine cellar and veranda views of the meandering May River, and fifty impeccably appointed guest cottages set amid ancient, gnarled, moss-draped oaks that leave little doubt as to what part of the country you're in.
Greens Fee: $175. Reservations: 866-706-6565. Membership Inquiries: 843-706-6603 or visit palmetto-bluff.com.