I know that for most golf fans the week after The Masters can be a sort of “lunchbag letdown”. Especially when you look at this years edition of The Masters and the fact that it will go down in golf history as one of the best ever. This week the PGA Tour leaves behind the majesty of “Magnolia Lane” and heads 2.5 hours southeast towards Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The home of Sea Pines Resort and Harbour Town Golf Links. This weeks stop on the PGA Tour.
For me, it’s one of the tournaments that I look forward to the most every year. This is the one stop each year where I watch the event and I can “relate” to the golf course and the players. Right on the heels of what I describe as “our worst family trip ever” we were traveling home when we saw a sign for Hilton Head, SC. My wife asked me if that was the place where the one tournament is played (she also knew it from Tiger Woods on Playstation) I said yes and we decided to check-in to a hotel on the island. I was curious to see what the green fees and availability was like (July) and much to my surprise they had an opening or two towards the end of the day. So I made the reservation to play golf.
I love this golf course as the co-designers Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus built a golf course that was intended to be “played”. Meaning you simply have to play golf and hit golf shots. Bomb and gouge need not apply when playing Harbour Town. As I sit here writing memories of that round come flooding back to my mind. On this particular day I was informed that because I was the last one to tee-off I would not need a Forecaddie or Caddie. I was going to be playing by myself which was the perfect elixir after a stressful trip.
Upon checking in for my tee time I took in some of the sights around the clubhouse. I took in the champions plaque listing all of the Heritage Classic’s past champions. Names like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Payne Stewart. Names where the word “greatness” quickly comes to mind. After striking range balls on their very spacious driving range I headed over to the first tee to commence my round. While the golf course isn’t beastly from a yardage standpoint the tips (Heritage tee) still offers golfers a golf course that’s 7,099 yards. The Dye tees (Blue) offers a very fair 6,681 yards. Of course, playing the tees that best suits your ability is highly recommended. As I stood on the first tee I actually stood in awe that I was playing a course that was on my “Bucket List”. I sort of shook my head and proceeded to drive my yellow Srixon Z Star down the right side of the fairway into a cluster of trees just off of the fairway. There it sat… nestled in the pine straw. Having only one option I hit a punch shot that escaped the trees and ended up just short of the green. From where my ball lied I had an option on the false front. The first was to take a wedge and chip it close or I could take a putter and play a “Texas Wedge”. I opted for the second option and holed out for birdie.
One thing became apparent as my round continued. Harbour Town is a golf course that allows the player to use his or her imagination and a huge credit goes out to Mr. Dye and Mr. Nicklaus. I loved the green complexes at Harbour Town. On the front nine there is one green complex that sticks out for me. At the end of the short 332 yard Par 4 9th hole awaits a heart-shaped green that’s guarded by a bunker in front and three smaller bunkers in the “crevice” of the heart that await any shots long. I played the hole smart as I selected hybrid off of the tee and a wedge for an easy green in regulation. This hole although not being much of a hole from a length standpoint was one of my favorites at Harbour Town.
Something must be said for the customer service that I received at Harbour Town. As mentioned, it was a day in July. I remember walking out of the hotel earlier that day and the weight on my chest from the heat and humidity at 8 a.m was mind-blowing. I don’t recollect which hole I was on at the time but I do remember the moment when one of their Player Assistants (Ranger) approached me. He asked me if I would like a water and a cold towel which I graciously accepted. As great as the water was it was the cold towel that struck me the most. The feeling of pulling out that ice-cold towel from the cooler full of ice water was magical. That might not seem like much of a big deal to most but for someone like me who had never dealt with that sort of service before on a golf course… It was big! Honestly, it blew me away. To that end, everybody that I had encountered during my time at Harbour Town was enthusiastic, kind and you could tell that they loved their job.
While, I won’t give a shot by shot replay of my round what I will do is give a re-creation of sorts of the last several holes. In front of me was a foursome with a forecaddie and caddies so as a single I really sat back and took my time to absorb the experience. On Hole 13 there is a massive bunker that guards the green. I really screwed up my approach shot and not only left it short and right (in the bunker) but right against the timber that lines the wall of the bunker. There was about 8 inches from my ball to the wall. My friends, it was then that I hit the best bunker shot of my life and as far as I’m concerned it involved no skill but pure luck. I executed the perfect blast and landed my ball inches from the pin. Likely, the best up and down I have made in my life. A caddie for the group in front of me witnessed the shot and he came back to where I was and said “I’ve worked here a long time… that shot you hit there is the best that I have seen from that bunker” . I neglected to tell him that it was luck. The Par 3 14th is by far the prettiest Par 3 that I have played… ever. Water is in abundance here and it is a forced carry over water with a bail-out left. I was enamored with this hole and it is said to be one of the toughest holes year-in and year-out on Tour. I remember teeing off of the 16th hole (a Par 4 dogleg left) and landing my ball in the middle of the dogleg. When I arrived at my ball I had a clear look at the green and beyond that the Par 3 17th and my first look at Calabogie Sound. It was at this moment when I realized that my round was coming to an end. I made my way to the 17th and just stared. The sun setting to the west. As I walked off with par I slowly walked to the cart and drove towards the 18th tee.
I hesitated a long time before I was able to tee off #18. Part of the story that I left out earlier was that it hadn’t been much time since my mother had passed away. This was in 2010 (my father passed away in 2004) and even though my siblings and I knew that our mother wasn’t selfish, we just began to realize how selfless she was after her passing. Ultimately, it was because of her that I had this opportunity to play this round at Harbour Town. As I started thinking about my mom and dad and how atrocious the vacation had been I took it in. Staring at the lighthouse down the fairway there I stood… driver in hand…crying. Thanking my parents. As I did this I saw some Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins frolicking out in the sound. The scene was perfect… setting sun. I remember this massive yacht sitting in the marina. So I hit my drive… tears streaming down my face. My drive went right… real right! Off of a house that lined the fairway. Of course there was somebody there and I drove over to apologize to the woman who sat on her back deck. She merely laughed it off and told me not to worry about it. She then told me that I got a lucky bounce and pointed at my golf. There it sat just off of the fairway. I laughed, hit my approach and landed it perfectly into Calabogie Sound. Yes the tide was in and I took the penalty. I walked off of Harbour Town with a double-bogey to end my round and a total of 77.
If you’re ever in the area of Hilton Head than consider trying to get onto Harbour Town Golf Links. It’s where the PGA Tour plays and you can play there as well. Maybe in a way… you might find it cathartic.
Until The Next Tee!