No, this isnít a dream.
That really is a Carolina breeze drifting across your skin, piquing your senses as a picture-perfect sunset begins to slip below the horizon of the Calibogue Sound. The unmistakable golf hole that you stand on and the candy-striped lighthouse in the distance that reflects the final rays of the sunís light can mean only one thingóyouíre at Sea Pines Resort, home of Harbour Town Golf Links.
If God lets me go on vacation when I get to heaven, Iím going to book a flight to Sea Pines. Located on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Sea Pines is the warmest place Iíve ever been to. Sure, the temperature is majestic, but thatís not what I mean. All of the employees at Sea Pines are of the warmest, friendliest nature imaginable. Factor in the finest golf course Iíve had the pleasure of playing and some amazing meals, and Sea Pines is a place that Iíll definitely be visiting again.
Part of what makes the staff so welcoming is its diverse nature. The European charm of the English butler service meshes seamlessly with the Southern hospitality of the resortís native Carolinians to create an exquisite atmosphere of cordiality. Every detail of your trip is smilingly taken care of. I defy any guest to enter the Inn at Harbour Town and make it to their room without being greeted by at least one member of the Sea Pines staff.
Considering the fact that itís on an island that is renowned for being jam-packed with fabulous golf courses, Sea Pines stands out. The crown jewel of the 54-hole resort is most definitely Harbour Town Golf Links, home to the PGA Tourís Verizon Heritage Championship. This beautiful course was built by Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus and was opened for play in 1969. In its first year of existence, Harbour Town saw the great Arnold Palmer win the inaugural Heritage Championship. Since then, the roster of champions has included some of the best players of the past 35 yearsóJack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Payne Stewart, Tom Watson, and five-time champion Davis Love III among them.
The course itself is an experience that is one to savor. Tight fairways flirt with water hazards and expansive bunkers like a lonely sailor with a Southern belle at the Quarterdeck, Sea Pinesí waterfront bar and musical hotspot. Precision shots are a must on this shotmakerís course. Great shots are rewarded with satisfying results, such as on the par-3 14th, which features a knee-knocking water carry into a green that feeds towards the very same body of drinkage that you just flew over.
Harbour Town is as much a bastion of natural beauty as it is a test of golfing ability. Green fairways are trimmed to perfection alongside the reflective surfaces of the many water hazards that dot the course. Tall grasses and flowering trees co-exist with the array of animals that populate the grounds. The great herons that can be found around the course seem to have been trained in the finer points of golf etiquette, waiting until you finish your swing to fly by. Even the alligators are content to silently judge your shot while refraining from lunching on your newly-tanned legs. Who knew that a scaly reptile could be a respectable gallery member?
Your round at Harbour Town concludes with one of the most beautiful holes in golf. The 414-yard 18th runs entirely along the Calibogue (presciently pronounced Cal-i-BOGEY) Sound, eventually culminating in a small diamond-shaped green that is guarded in front and back by a pair of bunkers with your name on them. The final walk up the fairway will be emblazoned in your mind as long as you golf. The lighthouse in the distance, an endless ocean view to your left, and a marina full of boats that each make my house look like a Great Depression-era tenementóthe entirety of the 18th hole is as sublime an image as you will find.
The accommodations at Sea Pines do the difficult job of making you feel right at home without letting you forget that youíre in a beautiful resort. The 60-room Inn at Harbour Town gives guests more privacy than a large hotel can, while managing to maintain a staff that is omnipresent without being intrusive. If you need anything at all, it can be brought to you within minutes. During my stay, I was encouraged to come up with some outlandish requests to test the butler staff, just to see if there was a limit to their powers. Although I resisted the urge to ask for a polka-dotted elephant or a six-foot chocolate replica of the Harbour Town lighthouse, I have no doubt that every effort would have been made to make it happen if I hadnít.
For families or large groups, there really is nothing better than renting a house at Sea Pines. Dozens of houses of varying shapes, sizes, and styles are available. The architecture of these houses is truly unique. I was able to tour a sampling of the homes available for rent, and each one was like nothing I had seen before. One had a view of the Harbour Town lighthouse from its living room and featured nautical-themed wallpaper and decor. Another was located closer to the golf course and featured a wide-open living room/dining room/kitchen area, along with a side of the house that was almost entirely made up of windows, giving guests a powerful lakeside view. While the houses have prices that range from the affordable to the expensive, their sheer size makes them a bargain for large groups that can split the cost. A beautiful four-bedroom home can be had for a couple hundred dollars a person for a weekís stay.
Golf fanatics will be pleased to know that there is more than just the spectacular Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines. Both the Ocean Course and Sea Marsh Course offer challenging rounds and beautiful views of their own. Some of the homes that surround the golf course are positively palatial, such as the one owned by Atlanta Falcons owner and Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank that borders the signature par-3 15th hole of the Ocean Course. Both the Ocean Course and the Sea Marsh Course are Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary courses, and each requires many difficult water carries and approach shots. Despite some intimidating shots, the multiple tees make the courses perfectly suited for juniors and beginners while still allowing the big hitters to tackle the tougher shots.
I donít know about you, but if the food at a resort is nothing special, it will certainly ruin my trip. Take heart, then, in the fact that Sea Pines has a selection of restaurants and dishes that are awesome in the true meaning of the word. Chef Michael Rameyís visionary approach to dining has resulted in an innovative menu that is sure to contain a few things youíve never even heard of before. Donít be afraid to try something new, because each creation is delicious and beautifully presented. One dinner consisted of a five-course meal with a different wine pairing for each course. The selections were impeccable, and the fantastic dinner set the tone for a wonderful night. For more casual fare, guests can stop by The Salty Dog or Surfside Grill for a meal overlooking the water. The Old Fort Pub, with daring entree selections like lamb and goat cheese ravioli, is the perfect place to enjoy the setting South Carolina sun with good friends and a good bottle of wine.
There is so much more to experience at Sea Pines than can be adequately expressed in a magazine article. Live music, clay tennis courts, and an award-winning golf academy are just a small piece of the Sea Pines experience. Swim with dolphins, bike or hike through the miles of trails within Sea Pines, or even get caught up in an impromptu karaoke session during dinner. If it brings a smile to your face, Sea Pines will make it happen.