In this blog post we explore the best public golf courses in Hilton Head.
Arguably the most popular place in South Carolina to play golf, Hilton Head has it all. Miles upon miles of glorious beaches, a climate perfect for golf and a litany of top class golf courses.
A decent number of these golf courses are private. But Hilton Head is blessed with a large number of public golf courses. And this isn’t any old collection of public courses. We’re talking some real outstanding layouts designed by some of the best golf course architects out there.
With no more delay, let’s jump into the best public golf courses in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
The best public golf courses in Hilton Head
|1||Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort|
|2||Atlantic Dunes at Sea Pines Resort|
|3||Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort|
|4||Oyster Reef Golf Club|
|5||Heron Point at Sea Pines Resort|
|6||Shipyard Golf Club (Clipper & Galleon)|
|7||George Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort|
|8||Golden Bear Golf Club|
|9||Bear Creek Golf Club|
|Groups||Golden Bear Golf Course|
|Value for money||Shipyard Golf Club|
|Clubhouse||Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes|
|Views||Harbour Town Golf Links|
1. Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort
We kick off our list of the best public golf courses in Hilton Head with the magnificent Harbour Town Golf Links. One of the most recognised courses on the PGA Tour with its prominent red and white striped lighthouse.
Harbour Town Golf Links has been a mainstay of golf in Hilton Head, ever since it opened for play back in the 1960s.
It was designed by the prolific Pete and Alice Dye and features many of their trademark design quirks.
In fact, compared to most other courses on Hilton Head island, you could reliably say Harbour Town is more traditional. This is a course where you need to patiently plot your way round with strategy sacrosanct. This is no hit and hope.
Despite the fact you watch the best golfers play here when it hosts the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage, it is only when you play it can you begin to appreciate the angles and thought that went into the design.
Yes Harbour Town is open to the public, but be prepared to pay handsomely. It is double the price of playing the other top class Atlantic Dunes or Heron Point, also both onsite.
2. Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III at Sea Pines Resort
From one course at Sea Pines Resort, straight to another. The magnificent Atlantic Dunes designed by David Love III.
Atlantic Dunes, previously called the Ocean Course, was the first golf course to open in Hilton Head going right back to 1960. This original design was done by the legendary George Cobb.
Cobb was an icon in early golf course architecture and despite having designed over a hundred courses worldwide, he’s probably most famous for the par 3 course at Augusta National!
But it was in 2016 that David Love III, under the guise of Love Golf Design, completely renovated the layout. A change of name and a complete change of character. This was going back to square one.
Hundreds of trees were removed, replaced instead by indigenous plants and bushes. A key part of the redesign was to completely restore the majestic sand dunes which now blend seamlessly into the layout.
The conditioning is superb and since the change, the course is a lot more playable and enjoyable.
This masterful renovation has elevated Atlantic Dunes from tired also-ran, to one of the finest public golf courses in Hilton Head.
3. Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort
One of the finest golf resorts on the island of Hilton Head is Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort. This superb resort is constantly littered with praise and has received a number of highly regarded awards over the years.
It also has a serious golf pedigree with three outstanding championship golf courses onsite, of which two are on this list (we cover the George Fazio Course later).
Yet the stand out track has to be the Robert Trent Jones Course, the first to have opened at Palmetto Dunes. In fact this was one of the first courses to really kick off the golf craze in Hilton Head.
The layout is predominantly tree-lined as it weaves its way through the natural wetlands of the island. Plenty of houses overlook the fairways, but few encroach. One of the few occasions where the balance is just right.
There are some impressive holes as well as some really tough ones. Get used to long narrow fairways with selectively placed bunkers. There is also more than one par 3 where there is nothing but water between you and the green.
The signature hole is the glorious 10th, a par 5 which belatedly takes you right down to the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. This is a fine public golf course in Hilton Head.
4. Oyster Reef Golf Club
Rees Jones is another well respected and well recognised name in golf course architecture. So much so, he earned the nickname the ‘Open Doctor’ having renovated so many US Open courses.
Fair to say, Jones has an impressive portfolio of big name golf courses to his name. A few of these can be found on Hilton Head island, foremost amongst them being Oyster Reef Golf Club.
Oyster Reef opened for play in 1982 and has since then, consistently been one of the most popular choices amongst the locals. The welcome and friendly staff is unparalleled and it is really good value.
The course itself has received plenty of accolades. It was ranked one of the Top 25 New Courses in America after opening and is time and time again considered one of the best in the Lowcountry.
The layout is set across 190 acres and from the back tees reach just over 7,000 yards. Routed through lush vegetation and discreet lagoons, by the 6th hole you finally get to the water’s edge. A 192 yard par 3 with a gorgeous backdrop.
5. Heron Point by Pete Dye at Sea Pines Resort
Rounding off the three championship golf courses at Sea Pines Resort, is another stunner from Pete Dye.
Heron Point was originally Sea Marsh Golf Course, and until 2007, was largely different to what we have today.
It swiftly followed the opening of Harbour Town Golf Links, but with the aim of making a more playable course. Fast track to 2007 and Dye returned to completely rehaul Heron Point.
Here again, like Atlantic Dunes, we’re talking a complete transformation. Fairways were reshaped, mounds and hillocks created with green complexes upgraded.
This really is Dye at his genius best and despite trying to make it more playable, it is still one heck of a challenge. Ample water and large waste bunkers lie in wait. Whilst greens are tantalizingly deceptive.
Although it isn’t a PGA Tour layout, it is great value when you consider Harbour Town is twice the price.
6. Shipyard Golf Club (Clipper & Galleon)
Located on the lower half of the island, Shipyard is part of the Heritage Golf Collection, which also manages Oyster Reef Golf Club.
This whole setup is like a private club. From the service, the attention to detail and the course condition, you really can’t go wrong. And best of all, great value. In fact some of the best value golf on the island.
There are three loops of nine at Shipyard; Clipper, Galleon and Brigantine. But the optimal layout is Clipper and Galleon, both of which were first to open, back in 1970.
Designed by the great George Cobb, you have the best strategic combination with these two nines. The Clipper is arguably the most challenging nine and requires a decent long-game. Whilst the Galleon nine is a little more open but necessitates accurate approach play to well defended green complexes.
In the 80s, this course combination was chosen to host the Hilton Head Senior International on the Champions Tour. Another indication of the quality on offer here.
If you can’t get on one of those nines, the Brigantine is still well worth playing. It opened in 1982 and was designed by William C. Byrd. This weaves its way through lagoons with water, an ever-present obstacle. Needless to say, mind the massive alligators too!
7. George Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort
The Fazio name has created some fine golf course architects. Tom Fazio is obviously the most renowned with a litany of America’s best courses on his C.V.
There was Jim Fazio as well as the late Logan Fazio, Tom’s son, who was another distinguished architect in his own right.
And then there is George Fazio, Tom’s uncle. George was a Tour player and upon retiring from playing, he worked to become an architect. Although funnily, he credits the late emergence of Tom in further igniting his career and reputation.
The George Fazio Course at Palmetto Dunes is definitely one of his finest layouts. It is also arguably one of his most challenging. So seem to think many of the people who play here.
It’s only a par 70 and there are only two par 5s. But trust me, this is no ‘walk in the park’. Narrow fairways are tree-lined. And more generous fairways are lined by countless bunkers. Oh, and there is plenty of water.
But where the George Fazio course is penal, it is also fair. Good shots are rewarded.
It regularly receives praise and recognition, most recently voted South Carolina Golf Course of the Year by the SC Golf Course Owners Association.
8. Golden Bear Golf Club
A golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus and named one of the ‘America’s Top 100 Golf Courses Priced under $100’ (by Travel + Leisure magazine)….what are you waiting for?
This standout course is indeed one of the best public golf courses in Hilton Head. For starters the setting is bliss. The natural beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry shines throughout this 18-hole championship layout.
Not only is it a Nicklaus layout, but it was actually the first course designed by Jack and his son Jack Nicklaus II. Fortunately, this is not just a gimmick to attract visiting golfers. The routing and challenge is decent.
Granted this is not a Jack Nicklaus Signature layout, but there is a fine collection of class holes.
As the course weaves through the elegant pine and oak woodlands, there is a constant danger lurking being both multiple water hazards and large sand bunkers. It certainly keeps things interesting.
9. Bear Creek Golf Club
And so last on our list of the best public golf courses in Hilton Head, is Bear Creek Golf Club. This is our man Rees Jones’ first solo design and once again, he’s created an outstanding golf course.
The setting is divine, as the course weaves and doglegs its way through a large pine forest. Any housing that surrounds the course, is set back enough not to be an eye-sore and well hidden by foliage.
The club has been awarded the distinguished ‘Audubon Certificate’. This was primarily due to the effort of preserving the original landscape and indigenous vegetation during the construction. But it also maintains dense areas of undergrowth to encourage the proliferation of wildlife.
The routing matches the setting. Tight tree-lined fairways lead the player up to superbly maintained and undulating greens.
The signature hole is the 18th where a good tee shot will put you in prime position to attack the green over the lurking lagoon.
So highly appreciated is Bear Creek, it has tournament pedigree. The 2014 Hilton Head Amateur as well as the Hilton Head Open were both staged here.
Even as I write this now I think Bear Creek should probably be higher. But there you go, this is all subjective. Regardless of which course you choose, you’ll have a great time.
What is the best public golf course in Hilton Head?
The best public golf course in Hilton Head is the celebrated Harbour Town Golf Links. It was designed by the legendary golf course architect Pete Dye and his wife Alice, opening for play in 1969. The course is one of three onsite at the Sea Pines Resort and is the annual host venue of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.