Admittedly, being the course that follows getting to play Harbour Town as the only golfer on the course is a tall ask and a bit unfair. Nonetheless, I was really looking forward to playing Country Club of Hilton Head (“CCHH”). That was until the weather report came true. It was 41 degrees and raining when The Wife dropped me off, but I had nothing else to do, so I pressed on.
Situated on the northeast corner of the Island, behind the gates of Hilton Head Plantation, CCHH sits adjacent to the beautiful tidal basin of Skull Creek and Port Royal Sound. It was designed and constructed in 1986 by “The U.S. Open Doctor” Rees Jones, and opened for play the following year.
The course was selected as a U.S. Open qualifying site for the 1999 and 2005, and underwent an extensive renovation of its greens in 2006. Though the course shows it’s age with abundant bunkering and mounding that you would expect to find on many courses constructed in the 1980’s, something you realize early in your round is that CCHH is not just another cookie-cutter, prototypical Hilton Head course.
The golf course is fairly spread out, winding and weaving through the neighborhoods and wild areas of the Hilton Head Plantation. While there are plenty of trees adjacent most of the golf holes, rarely did the treeline inhibit a tee shot or scoring opportunity. Only on a few holes did the layout scream “Hilton Head Golf Course” with thick stands of trees framing the fairways and creating dog legs.
In fact I think the front side, being flat and relatively wide open, played much like a Florida golf course. Distance, wind, and the green/bunker/mound complexes were the primary scoring determinants, with generally wide open landing areas and few approaches truly impeded by dog legs.
For example, the par 3 third hole, though innocuous on the scorecard, was a nightmare without a single tree really being in play. With a forced carry into a two-club wind with bunkers and water left, I was ecstatic with my two-putt par.
Whilst making my way around the front nine, I recall thinking that this was a golf course very different from theexperiences I’d had at Palmetto Hall and Golden Bear. At those course, tee shots were determined for the golfer by angles created by thick stands of pines and hardwoods. Much to the contrary, I thought several holes on the front (1,2, 3, 8 and 9), trees played no role, or a minimum role at best, in attacking the green.
I remember thinking, “this would be a really fun golf course under better weather conditions.” It was a challenging layout for different reasons than anywhere else I played all week. Unfortunately, the cold and the rain reached their most intolerable levels of the entire week as I was making the turn.
I hoped to take refuge in the grill room or the pro shop after completing the ninth hole. Maybe I could eat a sandwich at a leisurely pace and give the latest, most intense cloud burst a chance to pass. Unfortunately, there would be no refuge for this non-member,at the Country Club of Hilton Head.
And that, dear Readers, was my big problem with CCHH. With the plethora of “Member Only” signs about the Clubhouse and profusion of disgusted looks down turned up noses at my mere presence, I had never been made to feel so much like one of the Caddies using the Bushwood Pool in my life.
I can understand the patio snack bar being closed on a day of such dreadful weather and only a handful of golfers on the course. But to not offer me so much as permission to enter the lower grill room to grab something to eat was inexcusable. All the pro shop could do, other than act annoyed that I was even there, was offer whatever was in the Pepsi cooler next their desk.
What was worse was that I couldn’t even use the indoor “facilities.” Instead, I had to march around the patio, through the rain, just to use what was essentially the outdoor poolside bathroom. I understand having member only facilities located at a daily fee, because those members pay good money for a little peace and exclusion, but there’s no reason to be mean about it.
Make no mistake, I really enjoyed the layout of the Country Club of Hilton Head golf course. And I don’t begrudge the membership for their exclusiveness or luxuries. But I’ll be damned if those snooty bastards ever see another red cent of my money. Look, if you are going to open your golf course up for limited public play, at least pretend to make the golfers feel welcome. It’s not like I’d jumped the fence at Seminole Golf Club and was trying to pass myself off as some obscure Rothschild heir.
Sufficiently infuriated, I resolved to trudge on to the back nine. The wind was really howling and the rain intensifying now, which only helped throw me further off kilter. I could feel my hands cracking and chapping with each successive shot.
Still somewhat frustrated, I seriously considered walking off the course after the 11th hole. If The Wife had not been in the middle of her one extravagance of the week, a massage, which meant I would have to sit and stew in my own fury for another hour before being picked up, I probably would have quit right then and there. But then, mercifully, I reached the 12th hole.
The 575-yard, par-5 12th hole is the signature hole at Country Club of Hilton Head. A blind, uphill tee shot leads to the fairway landing area on this downhill, dogleg-left, puts you at the highest elevation point of the entire island. The view reveals a collection of bunkers guarding both fairway and green, and a marshy hazard tucked to the left front of the green.
Behind the green await glimpses of Skull Creek, the Intracoastal Waterway, and the Pickney National Wildlife Refuge. The vistas on the 12th hole really are quite stunning, and instantly turned my mood around, along with the hard fought and deserved bogey.
In addition to the memorable 12th hole, I found the 14th hole particularly remarkable. A long par 3 into the wind, with a forced carry over tidal marshes and bunkers protecting the front of the green, was the most intimidating tee shot of the round. Tucked away in a far corner of the golf course, it really gives the golfer a glimpse of that elusive true links style golf feel.
The back side of CCHH has a distinctly different feel from the first nine holes. Perhaps its the layout’s flirtation with the tidal basins and Skull Creek that differentiate it. Trees played an even smaller role on the back nine than on the front, which, when combined with the increased wind, gave that portion of the course a distinctly links-style feel.
On my particularly rainy day, with the wind alternating between biting and howling, the Country Club of Hilton Head was a very difficult golf course that beat me up, mentally and physically. The layout and routing is distinctly un-Hilton Head, which stands out as a positive quality in my mind.
Annoyances with the club members, staff, and policies aside, it is a golf course that I would like to take another crack at under different circumstances, but there would have to be some kind of culture change before I would return. If you are looking for a wonderful round from a purely golf perspective, then it may be worth a shot. Just know that it is decidedly not a resort course, and you should expect to be treated like the interloper that you are.