Day two of this year’s Hilton Head experience was vastly different from Day One, as the temperature plummeted overnight, producing a high temperature Tuesday only in the low 40’s. The polar vortex had picked up our scent as we’d fled Kentucky, and followed us to the Lowcountry.
Undeterred by the elements, The Wife dropped me off at the Golden Bear Golf Club at Indigo Run about an hour before my 10:48 tee time. Golden Bear Golf Club was, as far as I can remember, my first Jack Nicklaus designed golf course.
Golden Bear, which was designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened for play in 1993, offers five tees from which to play for varying skill levels. I played the blue tees, which measured 6,643 yards. That was plenty on such a cold, damp morning, and played to a slope and course rating of 72.6/136.
One of the reasons I chose to play Golden Bear is that the Head Golf Professional, Jeremy Steiner, had been kind enough to correspond with me via email several times as I inquired about potential deals and packages prior to arrival.
Call me sentimental, or a sucker if you like, but Jeremy taking the time to contact me made a difference when the time came to decide where to play. I felt like that kind of attention deserved a little reward in the form of loyalty.
The other reason I chose Golden Bear is that the course was offering a double play special in combination with Country Club of Hilton Head (CCHH). For one reduced price, patrons receive greens fees, cart fees, range balls, a discount on merchandise in the pro shop, and all the free, hot coffee I could drink. I knew I wanted to play CCHH anyway, so I was happy to take advantage of the deal.
As a single, I was supposed to be paired with a group of three other golfers. It was 38 degrees and overcast as my tee time approached, and my would-be group was nowhere to be found. The course wasn’t empty, but it truly was a few brave and hearty souls that got their golfing Jones that morning.
After getting loose on the plush practice range, the starter gave me a choice, which I certainly appreciated. Since I would be going out alone, I could follow the handful of foursomes going off number one or head off the back alone with only one twosome a few holes in front of me. So, with yardage book in hand, having learned the lesson from of the previous day, I jumped at the chance to play another sub-three hour round and promptly made my way to the number 10 tee box.
From the beginning I noticed that Golden Bear was very green, from an apparently very heavy over-seeding of rye grass in the fall. I also noticed a lot more birds and woodland critters abound in and around the trees, ponds, and pine straw beds. There were also fewer and smaller mounds framing the fairways, approaches, and green complexes. Visually, it was a warm and inviting golf course.
One of the most striking features of the course was how incredibly firm the greens were compared to the rest of the golf course. Granted, it was frigidly cold by Hilton Head standards and the greens were largely elevated above the surrounding mounds and bunker complexes. But I could physically feel a significant difference as I stepped from the collar onto my first green of the day.
I would only produce ball marks on one or two greens all day, and those were shallow marks that resisted repair and manipulation. Getting the ball to check up on the putting surface was a lost cause. However, once I accepted that any shot into the green was going to release twenty feet or more, shot making became predictable, and therefore, playable.
As I made my way around the course, I was delighted to find Golden Bear’s layout contained a nice mix of holes requiring both fades and draws off the tee. I was able to build on the little bit of momentum and confidence I’d gleaned from the day before, and felt more in control of my driver and 3-wood off the tee box.
While possessing the quintessentially Hilton Head Island tree-lined fairways, Golden Bear generally offered generous landing areas if you were able to place your tee shot towards the preferred location as the hole was designed.
I found the golf course penalized poorly struck or misdirected shots, but rarely, if ever, was a bad shot truly in “jail” so as to require a punch out sideways back to the fairway. Almost all of my misses on the day could at least be advanced towards the green.
I managed to par both Par 5 holes on my front side (Nos. 15 and 18) by getting on the green in regulation and not completely making a hash of the two-putt opportunities. Making the turn at 41 only bolstered my confidence in my new work-in-progress swing and helped me forget that the temperature continued to hover around 40 degrees.
What further lifted my spirit was that the twosome in front of me for the final three or four holes called it quits at the turn, and I now had an unobstructed path through the remainder of the golf course. I truly was all by myself for 8 of the next 9 golf holes, which if I have a choice, is the preferred way to play.
The front nine of Golden Bear likewise contained a great collection of holes that required a mix of shot shaping and shot making capabilities. The preferred tee shots alternated between draws, fades, and straight forward drives, which helped keep the mind alert with each successive challenge.
While number 18 was a tremendous, signature would-be closing hole, the collection of holes numbers six through nine were the premiere stretch of holes in my mind. If the 18th hole wasn’t so pretty, I would advocate reversing the nines to enhance the golfer’s end to the round.
Number 6 handicaps as the hardest hole on the course. It’s a long Par 4 with a diabolically narrow fairway guarded by out-of-bounds left and a bunker and lake hugging the length of the fairway on the right. Despite cranking out my longest, straightest drive of the day, the best I could manage was a two putt bogey.
The ninth hole was a strong, signature finishing hole, since my round began on the back nine. The long par 5 ninth was guarded by bunkers and a large lake on the left, with several large pine and mossy oak trees hugging tight to the fairway on the right. Despite solid contact that produced a low, penetrating ball flight, my drive started and finished too far right, clanging off one of those majestic pines, leaving a second shot from deep in the pine straw.
Two low punch shots later, I was still roughly 100 yards from the green in the middle of the fairway. I desperately wanted to get up and down from this ideal wedge distance, but the multi-moguled green proved less than receptive to my low launched, high spin approach shot. I didn’t make a putt of any significant length during my second nine holes, and this final hole was no different.
Despite limping across the finish line with four consecutive bogeys, I didn’t leave the course feeling defeated. I felt like Golden Bear had presented a thorough, fair, and fun test of golf. I truly enjoyed the course’s routing and layout, as well as the abundance of early season green grass.
Posting an 85 for my second round of the year exceeded all my expectations, and gave me a small sense of quiet confidence heading into my round at Harbour Town the following day. Being able to get around all 18 holes in under three hours on what was a virtually deserted golf course certainly justified braving the elements and makes me wonder if I shouldn’t try to schedule all future golf trips during the non-peak shoulder seasons.
When an area has such an iconic golf course as Harbour Town nearby, I’m hesitant to label other nearby courses as “must play” tracts. However, the quality of golf, amenities, attention, and service I experienced at Golden Bear Golf Club definitely makes it the best value for the money on Hilton Head Island, and I won’t hesitate to schedule another outing there the next time around.