On my several jaunts to Hilton Head Island (“HHI”), the fairly steep discounts offered by the off-island, Bluffton area golf courses are always intriguing. On the course websites and on GolfNow, 18 holes with a cart seems to go for half, or even less, of what the HHI-proper courses charged for greens and carts fees.
Is there really a seismic difference in the quality of the course layouts and golf experiences between the “average” Island and Bluffton courses? There are only three daily fee courses on Hilton Head that offer views of the water anyway, so how different could the inland mainland courses be?
This spring, I set out to find out for myself.
Just across the bridge from Hilton Head in Bluffton, SC, is Old South Golf Links, which according to Google Maps, appeared to contain at least a few holes that had a view of the Intracoastal Harbor River and the “backside” of Hilton Head Island.
After exchanging pleasantries with the pro shop staff and knocking off a couple week’s rust on the range, I headed to the 10th tee.
This was a gracious concession from the staff, as the front was pretty crowded with the remnants of a league event, and frankly goes a long way toward building good feelings about a round.
Designed by noted coastal lowland’s architect Clyde Johnston (also the designer of Cherry Blossom) Old South was built in 1991 on the sort of flat, wooded thicket that one expects to find in coastal South Carolina.
At almost 6,800 yards from the back tees, Old South could pose a formidable challenge. However, from the Blue Tees at 6,358 yards, the distance is manageable and rarely the primary defender of par.
The topography is just what you would find on the island courses, very flat. Also, hemmed in by stands of Low Country trees, Old South is a fairly tight driving course. Where there isn’t a vertical wooden barrier usually lies a significant pond and a smattering of bunkers.
The first four or five holes on each side have a distinctly Low Country feel to them. The aforementioned water or bunkers guarding the fairways, with slightly elevated and slightly undulating greens at the end of those fairways.
These are nothing really remarkable by Harbour Town standards, but they are mostly solid golf holes. A few of the greens were already beaten up by the hot, humid spring weather, but otherwise the conditioning exceeded the cost of my afternoon round expectations.
A few of the holes have tight, forced doglegs that take driver out of one’s hands on the tee and prevent the course from being overpowered by the long hitter and make club selection on the tee a real quandary.
Otherwise, the layout and style of these crescendo holes are pretty standard for the Hilton Head area.
However, the subtle body blows that each nine holes begins with gives way to a left-hook and a violent uppercut as each nine heads back to the clubhouse.
After being lulled into relative comfort with the routing for five or six holes, the course turns towards the Intracoastal Waterway and the holes get almost surreal.
I think “target golf” has its place. Not every hole needs to be an examination of one’s nerve and gambling spirit. Sometimes, holes that invite you to simply “Hit it Here!” or warn you “Don’t hit it over here,” are just fine and a welcomed chance to relax.
However, my overwhelming memory of the course is that Old South takes target golf and gimmickry to the extreme. While it’s not a golf experience I would enjoy everyday, the routing and shots demanded to score well do make the course unique.
In a region where some would decry the lack of stylistic diversity, Johnson’s hyper-inflated sense of flare may be a welcomed alternative.
There are two mirrored holes that are two of the most extreme target golf holes I’ve ever played on the same course. The 7th and 16th holes at Old South are basically the same hole repeated in opposite directions.
The 353-yard 7th hole requires a forced carry to an “island” fairway followed by a forced carry to an elevated green, creating a moderately severe dogleg right.
The 383-yard 16th requires a formidable forced carry just to reach the small, oblong fairway, which one can easily run a drive through, before turning 90-degree left turn to an elevated green requiring another forced carry.
The saving grace of both of these wacky holes is that on each hole, once you finally reach the green, you have a spectacular, wind-swept view of the Sound and of the inland side of Hilton Head Island in the distance.
Both views are rewards unto themselves and linchpins upon which the layout relies. They really are the apex to which each side of the course builds, and the they do not disappoint.
Fortunately, the era of good feelings lasts for two holes on each side, as both the 7th and 16th holes are followed by beautiful, straightforward, windswept par 3 holes (the 8th and 17th, obviously) that extend the amazing views of the water and the islands.
Other than the blind landing areas, collection ponds, and opaque corners, the course is defended by the constant coastal breezes that whips through the its corridors, making judging aiming points all the more difficult.
Old South is not the best layout around Hilton Head Island, but it is a memorable golf course. It isn’t the most or least expensive course in the area, but I think it is well positioned in the sweet spot between HHI and some of the lesser off-island course’s pricing.
The views of the sound are tremendous and perhaps unique to the daily-fee mainland courses in Bluffton, and for that reason alone, I would put it near the top of the list to play in the area with Oyster Reef once the bucket-list courses at Palmetto Dunes and Sea Pines Plantations are checked off.
As mentioned above, Old South isn’t a course I think I’d enjoy playing everyday. However, it is definitely a course that I would play more than once, and one I’d expect to play significantly better the second time around.
It’s convenient to get to from the Island Parkway and I can understand why the locals like it. There are only a few houses and signs of human disturbance in the background of the golf course, so it really is a fairly relaxing golf course.
If you can take advantage of the off-season or afternoon rates, then I would certainly recommend Old South to anyone wanting something more than standard Hilton Head Island golf.