PALMETTO HALL PLANTATION, ARTHUR HILLS COURSE
108 Fort Howell Drive, Hilton Head Island; 800-827-3006. Yardage: 6,918. Par: 72. Slope: 136. Architect: Arthur Hills, 1991. Greens Fees: $85-$140. T+L GOLF Rating: ***1/2
To start, the finish: Our foursome of single-digit handicappers hit eight straight shots into the alligator holding pen that escorts the entire left side of the fairway to the green on this brutal 434-yard dogleg-left closer. The trees right and out-of-bounds beyond appeared to be the other option, although in fact there was a narrow landing strip canted toward the water, too. Love it or hate it, it's a dramatic, tournament-quality eighteenth. Absent the strong but repetitive stretch from fourteen to sixteen, this is a varied, probing layout. It isn't the prettiest course around, but it's pretty darn enjoyable—if you can find the eighteenth fairway with your tee shot (and if you do, let us know).
DAUFUSKIE ISLAND RESORT & SPA, BLOODY POINT
Avenue of the Oaks, Daufuskie Island; 888-909-4653, daufuskieresort.com. Yardage: 6,900. Par: 72. Slope: 135. Architects: Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, 1991. Greens Fees: $68-$115 (nonresort); $68-$105 (resort). T+L GOLF Rating: ***
The friendlier of Daufuskie's pair (ignore the intimidating name, which references an Anglo-Indian skirmish here) and designed for walking (there are no cart paths), Bloody Point has water in play on fourteen holes, though it is relevant only a third of the time. It's a pleasant, rolling and unfairly overlooked course that doesn't demand the grinding of Melrose. Fun flourishes include a shared green and a bunker in the middle of the eighteenth green, À la Riviera's sixth.
COUNTRY CLUB OF HILTON HEAD
70 Skull Creek Drive, Hilton Head Island; 843-681-4653, hiltonheadclub.com. Yardage: 6,919. Par: 72. Slope: 132. Architect: Rees Jones, 1987. Greens Fees: $49-$105. T+L GOLF Rating: ***
This unusual course appears to have been dropped here from the Northeast; still, Rees Jones did some nice work given an uninspiring piece of land. It's perhaps the least Low Country of our sampling but compensates with some strong par fours. Despite a few quibbles—a lack of variety in the par threes, some fairway bunkering a touch too severe in spots—it's a good, testing loop at the right price.
PALMETTO HALL PLANTATION, ROBERT CUPP COURSE
108 Fort Howell Drive, Hilton Head Island; 800-827-3006. Yardage: 7,079. Par: 72. Slope: 149. Architect: Robert Cupp, 1993. Greens Fees: $85-$140. T+L GOLF Rating: ***
Had the Klingons conquered Earth and gone into course design, they would have built layouts like this. Notorious for its computer-designed, geometrically shaped mounds and bunkering that are best appreciated via helicopter, this is still one to play if only for bragging rights. Granted, there are a few awkward holes (like a semiblind layup drive on the par-five second), and many of the straight edges have been allowed to get ragged over the last decade, perhaps as an act of art criticism. But there are some excellent holes, too, especially the stretch from twelve to fourteen, which begins with a 231-yard par three as long, simple and flowing as a wedding dress.
BEST OF THE REST
Palmetto Dunes, George Fazio course ($85-$140; 800-827-3006) has a testing back nine and mean fairway bunkers; its sister course, Arthur Hills ($85-$140; 800-827-3006), is fun in spots, dopey in others, but mostly just adequate. Old Carolina ($65-$85; 888-785-7274) has a few ungainly forced carries but is considered a tougher (if not as pretty) test than its sister course, Old South. Oyster Reef ($72-$120; 800-234-6318) is a solid early Rees Jones design. Civil War remains are featured at Robber's Row, one of three layouts at Port Royal ($63-$99; 800-234-6318). The Ocean course at Sea Pines Resort ($66-$115; 800-955-8337) is a nice warm-up to nearby Harbour Town.
Belfair Golf Club, Bluffton. Gorgeous, bold, dramatic: Yes, these are two Tom Fazio courses. The East (1998) is tougher around the greens, with closely mowed rollaway areas, but the West (1995) gets the nod among the local cognoscenti as the better overall test.
Berkeley Hall, Bluffton. Its new parkland South (2002) nicely complements the earlier Fazio layout, the sterner, coastal North (2001); but perhaps the biggest star here is the world-class learning center.
Chechessee Creek Club, Okatie (2000). Our golf course in heaven is designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, and it's not unlike this one. Generous fairways lead to truly complex green complexes, and a quartet of wonderful short par fours proves that length isn't everything. Like a great middle-distance runner, these guys make their task look so easy you wonder why everyone can't do likewise.
Colleton River Plantation, Bluffton. By general consensus the area's strongest one-two punch, courtesy of Jack Nicklaus (1992) and Pete Dye (1998). The former is more of a parkland layout, while the latter is links-like; both are lovely and fun but tough as all get-out.
Haig Point Club, Daufuskie Island (1986). One of Rees Jones's first high-profile solo designs, its signature course is a superb test of driving, demanding long, straight tee shots to reach doglegs or to have any chance to hold the often elevated, unreceptive greens. There are twenty-nine holes in total, including an easier nine and two alternate holes meant to assuage the big eighteen's often-harsh demands.
Long Cove Club, Hilton Head Island (1981). This splendid Pete Dye design is generally thought of by better players to be the strongest and fairest test around and demanding of all aspects of the game—to our mind, it has a touch more variety than Harbour Town, with which it shares the need to thoughtfully position your ball.
Old Tabby Links at Spring Island, Okatie (1992). One of Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay's finest, least-forced layouts, this great everyday course is easily walked and makes wonderful use of the native trees. It features an all-world, all-carry par three, the 205-yard seventeenth, but mostly consists of one engaging hole after another.
Secession Golf Club, Beaufort (1992). This old-school, walking-only club begins with one of the scariest opening shots in golf—a two-hundred-yard carry over marsh to what appears to be a sliver of fairway set perpendicular to the tee; from this point on, the Bruce Devlin design turns into a prototypical Low Country delight.