1967 design by Pete and Alice Dye rates among top resort courses in U.S. and has hosted PGA Tour annually since 1969
Since 1969, the RBC Heritage has been hosted at Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort. It is undisputedly the crown jewel of golf courses on Hilton Head Island, S.C., having been designed by Pete and Alice Dye in 1967 with consultation from Jack Nicklaus during his playing prime. Now a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, the course is consistently ranked among the best resort courses in the U.S. and known worldwide.
The course is a par 71 and is listed at 7,099 yards for this week’s tournament. It plays to a 75.6 rating and 148 slope. What the course lacks in distance and varied terrain for a PGA Tour-caliber player, it makes up for in small, sloping greens that require precise iron play to access hole locations and score well. Troy Merritt holds the course record with a 61 shot in the second round of the 2015 RBC Heritage en route to a third-place finish.
It could be argued that Harbour Town helped launch the career of the late Pete Dye, who died Jan. 20, less than a year after his business partner/wife died, into being one of golf’s most sought-after architects of the late 20th century.
The most iconic hole is the long par 4 18th that plays along the Calibogue Sound. Most of the holes wind through flat marshland dotted with oaks and pines draped in Spanish moss.
Notably for 2020, the course recently underwent a series of renovations by Scot Sherman, the lead architect for Love Golf Design. Because of reduced demand during the pandemic shutdown, Sea Pines Resort closed the course for some work that normally would not have been done in-season. The main areas of concern were tree/limb growth, shifting and re-establishing fairway lines, bunker maintenance, fairway cutting at some greens and repairing cart paths.
Holes to watch this week:
No. 4, par 3, 200 yards: Though not the longest par 3 on the course, it often plays the hardest, with a tournament scoring average of 3.170 in 2019. The hole features an oblong lagoon that runs from the tee box along the left side of the hole to the green. In typical Pete Dye fashion, there’s ample bailout room to the right, but the pros typically will face tougher hole locations that require flirting with the water to get short birdie looks. If a player happens to go long, two hidden bunkers behind the green will save a penalty drop.
No. 8, par 4, 473 yards: As players settle into their rounds, they will meet the toughest hole on the course as the near the turn. This long dogleg left par 4 requires a precise drive to the middle-right portion of the fairway. And while most players probably would like to hit driver, the fairway starts pinching beyond 300 yards. However, if a player can fly it over the corner of the dogleg he will avoid the tree trouble awaiting any shot off the fairway, leaving an easier approach into a green guarded on the left by a long, narrow bunker and another pond.
No. 9, par 4, 332 yards: Following a long par 4 is this devilishly short par 4. With no fairway opening at the front of this heart-shaped green, a drive onto the putting surface is highly unlikely though within range for the longest hitters. Instead, players typically choose to lay up between the towering pines to a comfortable distance and position to green-light a wedge. With two smart, solid shots, it’s a potential birdie hole.
No. 18, par 4, 472 yards: The iconic closing hole wasn’t made solely for spectacular TV shots, though it fills that role nicely. It’s a brute of a finisher playing directly at the famous red-and-white-striped lighthouse in the distance. The drive requires carrying the marsh onto a wide landing area that juts into Calibogue Sound. Depending on the prevailing wind, players typically will have a mid-iron in their hands. Again, there’s plenty of bailout room to the right of the green, but the sneaky mounding leaves many awkward lies and difficult up-and-downs.
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