In the parlance of professional football, if the Masters last week was the Super Bowl, this week’s Heritage Classic on Hilton Head Island (South Carolina) qualifies as the Pro Bowl (eminently watchable though, so completely unlike the NFL’s version). Just a quick jaunt across South Carolina for guys who played last week, the Heritage is one of the most relaxed, family-friendly stops on Tour each year. We’ll get into why in a second.
Hilton Head is the bastion of the Midwestern vacation (why? It’s driveable in a day from Ohio and surrounding parts). Each spring, fathers load up the SUV and pack the top of the minivans for the sacred family beach trip. You can witness this migration on the Interstate–tarp’d over skin boards and corn-hole sets bungeed dangerously high on the roof with the kid’s all glued to the car’s flip down TV screens in the back. You’ll see the veterans at Cracker Barrel, and the rookies, they’ll be camped out in the left lane heading South. (Here’s a quick chronological history of Hilton Head if you’re so inclined).
There are several distinct zones (‘plantations’ as they’re called) of development within Hilton Head, with the oldest and most recognizable being Sea Pines Plantation. Within Sea Pines is Harbour Town, the closest thing to a city center on the whole island. It’s home to the famous red and white-stripped lighthouse (along with a bevy of BALLER-ASS yachts!) which serves as the distinguishing characteristic of both the golf course and this week’s broadcast.
There are two important things to realize about Sea Pines–first, not many people live inside Sea Pines (there are only 39,000 full-time residents on the whole island), and second, both entrances into Sea Pines are gated with security personnel vigilantly checking for proper credentials. Why is this important? Players are able to spend the week not in a cramped hotel setting, but instead living large in one of the myriad of nice to extremely-nice vacation homes within Sea Pines. Perhaps moreover, there just aren’t many people in the area, so guys can enjoy a week of relative anonymity with their friends and/or sidepieces family in pretty plush settings. For these reasons, the Heritage has garnered the reputation as being very laid back as far as Tour stops go–a great place to decompress post-Masters for those fortunate to play–and an ideal place to spend some quality family time before the May ‘busy’ season approaches.
One more thing to mention that’s always bothered me about Harbour Town–why the hell is it spelled the Canadian way? Eh? I have to think this was a major selling point with the Royal Bank of Canada suits.
Harbour Town Golf Links
Known as a shotmaker’s paradise (or one might say, harbor, amirite?), Harbour Town checks in at #2 on the list of best tour courses as surveyed by Golf Digest. The Pete Dye design is an anomaly among tour tracks in that it plays about 7,000 yards and is characterized by its narrow fairways, overhanging trees, and minuscule greens. The average green is approximately 3,700 square feet, compared to the tour average of about 6,600 square feet (per Wikipedia). Seven different kinds of grass can be found throughout the layout, mostly different types of Bermuda.
Placement off the tee is at an absolute premium, and that doesn’t mean just finding fairways. Strategically-positioned, overhanging trees are sprinkled throughout the layout, making it possible to be completely blocked out from certain spots in the fairway – this is possible on ten holes depending upon pin location. As mentioned, the greens are the size of saucer dishes, bringing both iron play and chipping to the forefront. If the wind picks up, as it did last year, the course gets really difficult as it’s both tight and water-laden. All-in-all, a real fun course which demands guys to golf their ball.
The two best holes on the front nine are probably #8 and #9. #8 (pictured above) is consistently the hardest hole on the course, a treacherous, 473-yard par-4 doglegging a bit left with an approach shot that must be fit between trees on either side of the fairway into a narrow green guarded on the left by a thin bunker with water beyond. #9 is a fun, short par-4 of about 330 yards. It’s a narrow fairway framed by trees where guys must account for pin location on the wide, yet thin, heart-shaped green to determine where they want to place their tee ball. If they pull driver and blast away, it’s not a gimmie par, as the tiny green is well guarded by an array of awkward bunkers short and long.
On the back nine, everyone is undoubtedly familiar with the closing holes–#17 is a picturesque par-3 out toward Calibogue Sound, then #18 is a par-4 with Calibogue Sound all down the left side and the aforementioned lighthouse prominently standing in the background. What you may not be aware of, though, is how strong the stretch of #13 to #15 is.
#13 is a short, 373 yard par-4 requiring (what else?) a well-placed first shot. The second is a short iron that must negotiate a large tree on the left (with overhanging branches) into a U-shaped green with deep fore-bunker all around. #14 (pictured above) is a bossy 192 yard par-3 that features the vintage Dye railroad ties supporting the green and separating it from the pond short and right. When the wind is up and the pin is cut on the right, it’s a daunting play into a fantastic sucker pin. Finally, #15 is a gettable 588 yard par-5. Like every other hole, position off the tee is critical to be able to reach in two, there’s water down the left side, and and the green complex is small and well-guarded with water and bunkers. That starting to ring a bell? Welcome to Harbour Town Golf Links!
The Heritage is perfectly suited for post-Masters week with the vibe exceedingly relaxed. Most of the time a ticket isn’t even necessary to get in as there are a multitude of course-access points due to Harbour Town snaking all through Sea Pines (our sincere kudos to the tourney suits for historically not trying to be overzealous in this regard, though rumor has it they’re aiming to beef up ticket checking this year). Anyway, the scene is a spring bisque of familial flavor stewed together with Clemson and South Carolina frat stars (who add that little kick). The area in between #10 fairway and #16 fairway, through #17 and all the way down to #18 tee is where the party’s at. Think a homeless man’s Bird’s Nest, a la Phoenix, but a bit more refined and civil. You’ll see plenty of Sheilas (all ages) roaming the property with “mattresses strapped to their backs.” In other words, there’s something for everyone.
Late posting this, without even the lines seen, so skipping this part this week.
Full transparency, Hilton Head was the first place a younger co-founder of NLU ever got bombed (high school Easter trip, baby)! The potion: Orange Gatorade and Barton’s Vodka. In that spirit, we recommend plastic bottle vodka or rum bought with an Ohio Fake ID (I know all of you still have these old Fake’s, and if you don’t, have your kid or nephew buy it for you). It’s a phenomenal counter weight to the classiness of the tournament! Mix it up at about a 1:1 ratio in a Gatorade bottle and enjoy!
- Not sure which year this was, but I walked into the tournament on hole #6 and literally the first shot I saw was John Daly hitting it into the shitter down the left side. Daly tried to cut the dogleg, missed badly, and the ball went into the bathroom. INTO the bathroom. I was left wondering whether this was the PGA Tour version of “cart golf”, and if JD was having trouble with the chili dog he had for breakfast.
- Spencer Levin is in the field – he’s consistently made the cut here in the past and one would think this course would be a good starting point for him getting some momentum going. Spence established some serious consistency a couple years ago and was poised to break through. Then a freak injury cost him the first part of the 2013 season and he decided to shut it down for the remainder. The biggest question is whether he can keep his cigs lit with the strong breeze expected to be coming off the Calibogue Sound.
- Woody Austin’s one of my favorite guys to follow around Harbour Town. His sterling track record around these parts (seriously, peep his history here) is bested only by his colorful personality and refreshing antics (the French version is soooo good). His victory last year was such an underrated story and it’s fitting to see him choosing to ply his craft on the PGA Tour while eligible for the Champions Tour.
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the third round Ball-Striking Fiesta that Billy Horschel invited Fil and I to attend in 2013 (we actually just showed up uninvited). After two days of mingling with the field, we decided to follow Billy for 18 holes as we’d been intrigued by his performance in Houston a couple weeks prior. He was surgical through 16 holes, not sure he hit a “bad” shot. He lipped a putt on #16 that would’ve taken him to -6 (which is STRONG on this course) but then endured a rough finish for a 68. We were sold on him from that point forward.
- This is a place where wily old vets can rekindle the magic and dial back the clock, as length is far from a prerequisite. People, Faldo’s coming down from the booth this week in honor – that’s Cheeky! Also, looking forward to seeing Tom Watson outpace a lot of the young guns.
- Shout-out to DL3, who established carte blanche over this place, winning the plaid jacket five times! The plaid, the Atlantic setting, the lighthouse in the background – DL3 just oozes low-country vibe. This year English, Kuchar, Harman, Byrd, and Sneds are all in the field, the Sea Island mafia rolling DEEP.
- Mickelson needs to come back and play here again. Feel like this is the kind of course he’ll come back to as he grows older – the shotmaking would keep him engaged.
- We’ll leave you with this bit from former RBC employee Brad Katsuyama (who will be hitting the ceremonial first tee shot this week. OK, not really):