HARBOUR TOWN GOLF LINKS
Course Architect: Pete Dye (1969), Jack Nicklaus (Design Consultant),
Pete Dye (Renovation, 2011).
Year Opened: 1969
Location: Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Slope: 147. Rating: 75.6
Hole-by-Hole: 1 - Par 4 410 Yds 10 - Par 4 451 Yds
2 - Par 5 502 Yds 11 - Par 4 436 Yds
3 - Par 4 469 Yds 12 - Par 4 430 Yds
4 - Par 3 200 Yds 13 - Par 4 373 Yds
5 - Par 5 540 Yds 14 - Par 3 192 Yds
6 - Par 4 419 Yds 15 - Par 5 588 Yds
7 - Par 3 195 Yds 16 - Par 4 434 Yds
8 - Par 4 473 Yds 17 - Par 3 185 Yds
9 - Par 4 332 Yds 18 - Par 4 472 Yds
Par 36 3,540 Yds Par 35 3,561 Yds
Key Events Held: Heritage Classic (1969-70),
Sea Pines Heritage Classic (1971-86),
MCI Heritage Classic (1987-95),
Nabisco Tour Championship (1989),
MCI Classic (1996-2000),
Worldcom Classic - The Heritage of Golf (2001-02),
MCI Heritage (2003-05),
GCSAA National Championship & Golf Classic (2003),
Verizon Heritage (2006-10),
The Heritage (2011),
RBC Heritage (2012-present).
Course Record: 61 (David Frost, 1994)
Awards Won: Ranked #1 "Best You Can Play" Public Access Courses in SC (2013),
Ranked #12 by Golfweek - Best Resort Courses (2013),
Rated #18 - Golf Digest - America's 100 Greatest Public (2013-14),
Ranked #96 by Golf Digest - America's Great Courses (2013-14),
Rated #6 by Golf Magazine - Best Seaside Courses in U.S.,
No 9 on PGATour.com's list of Toughest Courses on PGA Tour (2013),
18th Hole ranked as one of Golf Magazine's Best 18 Holes,
Rated #2 by Golf Magazine - Best Public Courses in SC (2012),
Rated #2 by Golfweek - Best Courses in South Carolina (2012),
Gold Medal winner - Golf Magazine (2012-13),
Achieved designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary,
Consistently ranked among top courses by Golf Digest, Golfweek,
and Travel & Leisure.
HISTORY: Harbour Town Golf Links was the brainchild and vision of Sea Pines
founder Charles E. Fraser, a Georgia native, who at a very young age,
convinced the powers that be in the South Carolina legislature to build a
bridge to connect the mainland to Hilton Head Island. Fraser intended to build
and develop the region for human enjoyment, without disturbing its beauty and
environment. He most certainly did when he founded the Sea Pines Company in
Knowing that golf was first introduced at the South Carolina Golf Club in 1786
in Charleston, Fraser had aspirations of bringing golf to Hilton Head Island.
Just five years later in 1962, the first course on the island was built, the
Ocean Course, which was followed two years later by the Sea Marsh layout (now
called Heron Point).
Hilton Head's first sporting event featured Jack Nicklaus playing against
Bruce Devlin in an exhibition match in 1966, when Devlin was the touring
professional for the resort and the island.
Fraser, who has been called the inventor of the American modern resort, along
with his brother Joe, felt they needed a hook to put Harbour Town and the
5,000-acre Sea Pines Resort on the map, and a golf tournament was the answer.
The Heritage Classic, as it was first known, was to be played on a course
designed by Pete Dye and Nicklaus, called Harbour Town Golf Links. However,
layout was still a work in progress. By Thanksgiving of 1969, however, the
course was ready for play and the king Arnold Palmer led wire-to-wire to end
an almost 15-month drought in the inaugural event.
"No one told me until July that there was a tournament," Dye said. "Joe Dey,
then commissioner of the PGA Tour, thought it was done. He called me all the
time and I said it was, but we didn't really finish some things until the week
of the tournament."
With Palmer winning and breaking his dry spell, the press anointed Harbour
Town, not to mention Dye's design, as the place to be. The exposure was
paramount, and Harbour Town and Hilton Head Island began to explode.
Dye, along with his wife Alice, began designing courses in the early 1960s,
it was his work at Harbour Town that put this relatively unknown on
the map. Although he had crafted some stellar courses at Crooked Stick and The
Golf Club, the work made him, along with Nicklaus, the most sought-after golf
course architect in the world.
For Nicklaus, it marked his first golf course design work, which has propelled
him to craft almost 300 layouts around the world.
Dye and Nicklaus had known each other for years because both lived in Ohio and
Nicklaus had mentioned to Dye that Fraser wanted to build a course in Hilton
Head. "Then I moved to Delray, Florida," Dye said, "and Jack was there and he
had a private plane so I started riding with him to Savannah. I talked to
Charles to see if Jack could come in and help. Jack would fly and drop me off
until Charles hired him, I don't know if Charles ever paid him."
Nicklaus' input was quite vital to the project, especially on the final par-5
on the course. "The 15th hole was a par-5, and Jack could carry it and get on
the hole in two," Dye said. "Jack said, 'Make the green small, I can get
there.'" Now stretching almost 600 yards, and the putting surface tucked to
the left around trees and a pond, this hole is rarely reached in two.
Dye faced several environmental challenges, none more evident than the closing
two holes. "Robert Trent Jones was building another course," Dye said, "and he
built his up in the air, so I did the opposite. I worked out a drainage system
and I never raised the greens, so that's why it looks the way it does. I
probably got more notoriety than from anything else on that.
"The swamp, of course, was the biggest challenge," Dye continued. "I started
building Hilton Head and Ron Sullivan was with me and we changed the 17th and
18th holes from a swamp. In fact, we had to go talk to the governor to fill
"During the actual tournament," Dye added, "I took some trees down on 13 and
changed the dogleg while the tournament was going on and made the bunker
playable which was controversial but successful."
After 46 years of championship golf at Harbour Town Golf Links, the winners of
The Heritage read like a who's who of golf, with such stalwarts and major
champion winners as Palmer, Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo,
Davis Love III, Greg Norman, Payne Stewart, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price and
Jim Furyk all claiming the Tartan jacket.
Love has captured the tournament a record five times, including in back-to-
back seasons in 1991 and '92. "It's a great golf course, classic, you know,
original Pete Dye, and fun to play," Love said. "One, it's a great golf
course. Not a whole lot of tournaments have had their whole history on one
golf course, a great golf course like this. And this is one when people say
what are your favorite courses on the PGA Tour, they always list Pebble Beach
and they list Harbour Town and they list Colonial, they list classic golf
Watson, the two-time Ryder Cup captain and World Golf Hall of Fame member,
captured the tournament twice and is quite an admirer of the layout. "I loved
the golf course right from the beginning," he said. "I still love it. I put it
in my top-five golf courses. And I consider this golf course, that it requires
you to hit the ball the way you're supposed to hit the ball. You have to move
the ball left to right, right to left. You have to work the ball into the
greens, around some of the trees, over the trees. It has a tremendous amount
of character to it. And I have always loved playing here."
Although never a winner at The Heritage, Luke Donald, a three-time runner-up
at this event, has enjoyed his time at Harbour Town. "I think it has a great
feel. It's an event where a lot of the players love to bring their family.
It's one of the best courses we play on tour. I think modern architects can
take a look at this place and realize that you don't need to make long, hard
golf courses to make them tough. This one is just one of the gems that we play
The man behind the vision that is Harbour Town, Charles Elbert Fraser, died
suddenly in the winter of 2002 due to a boat explosion off the Islands of
Turks and Caicos. At the age of 73, Fraser was consulting on another project,
similar to the ones he brought to life, such as Harbour Town, Kiawah Island
and Amelia Island. The Cross Island Parkway bridge, which links the north side
of Hilton Head Island to the south side, was dedicated in his honor prior to
his death in 1999 and rightfully so, as he initially proposed the idea back in
Over the years, Harbour Town Golf Links has had renovation work, not to
mention lengthening done to the course, as the layout has grown over 300 yards
since its inception yardage of 6,793.
In 2011-12, new tees and bunkers were added to the course, such as the 16th
hole, which was increased from 395 to 434 yards. In addition, the second hole
had its green surroundings modified and the waste bunker down the fairway
changed to a sand bunker.
One of the most photographed holes in golf, the 18th at Harbour Town Golf
Links features a stunning lighthouse behind the green. The lighthouse, which
was designed by Sasaki, Dawson, DeMay Association Inc., was still being
constructed during the first Heritage. Hideo Sasaki is credited with creating
the master plan for Sea Pines. Standing 93 feet tall, the lighthouse was the
only one built on the Atlantic coast in over 150 years. Although built as a
navigational tool, it stands as a symbol to Harbour Town thanks to the
persistence of Fraser.
The Heritage has produced some exciting finishes at Harbour Town the past five
years, with three winners coming by way of playoffs and the 2014 event was
championed when Matt Kuchar holed out from the greenside bunker for birdie to
clip Luke Donald by one stroke. Kuchar, who started the round four shots
behind, rallied with a final-round 64 for his seventh career PGA Tour title.
David Frost, a three-time runner-up at this event, owns the course record of
61, set back in 1994 and a mark that might never be broken. Since 2002, only
two players have carded better than 63, and that occurred in 2002 by Davis
Love III and when 2005 winner Peter Lonard opened with a 62.
How difficult is Harbour Town Golf Links? Only twice in the past 30 years of
this event has the overall scoring average been under par.
HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW: Although it's been lengthened over the years to just over
410 yards, the opening hole at Harbour Town is a simple, straightaway par-4.
The key, as you will find with most holes at this special layout, is that
you'll need to keep your ball between the trees, a chute of only 20 yards, in
order to score well. At its widest, the fairway is just 30 paces and the right
side of the landing area will make for the best approach. The putting surfaces
at Harbour Town are quite small and No. 1 is no exception at just 24 steps in
depth. If you hope to have a chance at posting a good score, the early holes
at Harbour Town is your best chance. Just ask 2014 RBS Heritage winner Matt
Kuchar, who began his final round with back-to-back birdies on the first and
second holes en route to a 64.
At 502 yards from the Heritage Tees, the second is a birdie or better waiting
to happen, especially with a front pin. The fairway is as narrow as it gets,
while the second shot must thread through the encroaching trees on either side
of the fairway. A left side angle is the best to attack this green. Although
quite long, its depth is minuscule with a bunker fronting and one in the rear.
During the 2014 RBC Heritage, this hole played the easiest for the week, with
10 eagles and 204 birdies.
Number 3 bends slightly to the left and has been stretched almost 70 yards
since its inception. A sandy waste area down the right side, 100 yards in
length, will deter the player from favoring this area, but this will provide
the best approach to another tiny green. Sand right and short left provide
plenty of protection for this putting surface, which plays from back to front
and left to right. What was once a sure birdie chance is now a beast of a
If there is a criticism of Harbour Town, it would be the par-3s. Not because
they are easy or bland, hardly, it would be because they are all roughly the
same yardage, running from 185 to 200 yards. Having said that, the fourth is a
beauty with the signature Pete Dye railroad tie bulkhead. Water guards three
sides of this 200-yard hole, while sand stands in the rear. Bail out right if
you must, otherwise this is a double-bogey waiting to happen.
The fifth is another realistic chance at birdie because it's only 540 yards in
length from the back markers. The key is the tee shot, which must move from
right to left, as the hole doglegs in that direction. The fairway is rather
friendly, but two bunkers pinch the landing area. The decision to go for the
green is now first and foremost, as out-of-bounds is down the right and a 130-
yard waste area bunker and water are down the left. The kidney-shaped green is
flanked left by sand and the surface runs left to right. Par is not a bad
score, but during the 2014 PGA Tour stop, Jason Kokrak made birdie all four
days and tied for 12th.
One of the nine par-4s over 400 yards in length, the sixth is a dogleg right
that features one of the longest greens on the course at 31 paces. The landing
area is generous, but sports a waste area bunker down the left and a long
fairway bunker on the right. The tee shot must favor the left for your best
angle of attack. The putting surface runs from back to front and toward the
right, so below the hole is best. Any errant approach will find the three
The course continues to heat up with a sensational par-3 of 195 yards, the
seventh. Almost an island green, but surrounded by sand, this one-shotter
pinpoint accuracy, as the putting surface is quite long, yet narrow, with tall
oaks right and left protecting the entrance. The water that fronts the tee box
and runs left of the hole is more for aesthetics, as it's the sand, trees and
green depth that will get you.
Number 8 is rated as the most-difficult hole on the course ... and
rightfully so. At 473 yards and doglegging sharply to the left, this behemoth
recorded only six birdies out of 78 players during the final round in 2014.
Tree lined on both sides, your tee shot needs to split the fairway to have
the best look at the green. Now the difficulty really starts, as the putting
surface, which runs from front to back, is quite narrow with water and sand
protecting the entire left side. A back-left pin must be avoided, so play out
toward the right and even if you miss the green, you'll have a reasonable
chance at saving par. I wish I had, instead of going for glory and making
If you thought tthe closing hole at Harbour Town was a pushover at 332 yards,
you'd be sorely mistaken. Yes, the hole is quite short and requires just a
iron or fairway metal off the tee, but you'd better be accurate because trees
guard both sides of the fairway. Even with a shot in the short grass, you
might be blocked by one of the tall oaks that tightens the landing area. Now
it's time to approach the green and depending where the pin is, it might be
difficult to attack, as the heart-shaped putting surface is as small as it
gets. A massive traps guards the entire front, while three pot bunkers at the
top of the green are a heart attack waiting to happen, no pun intended.
Starting on the sixth hole, Kuchar made five consecutive 3s during the final
round in 2014, including a birdie here to help secure his victory.
The back nine starts hard and fast with three straight par-4s over 430 yards
in length. Number 10 is a difficult driving hole that bends around a lake to
the left. Although trees won't hinder your tee shot, they certainly come into
play with your approach, as both sides are pinched tightly by oaks. The
putting surface is fairly long and narrow with sand on the right and a
chipping area to the left. Running from back to front, stay below the hole for
your best chance at saving par.
Number 11 is one of the more difficult holes at Harbour Town, as it ranks
sixth on the scorecard. As with most holes here, the key is the tee shot
because it must split the tight, tree-lined fairway. Left-center will leave
the best approach to this green which is blanketed by sand on both sides and
has a tall oak tree on the right. There's also another long and narrow green
which slants from back to front.
Another difficult par-4, the 12th is a sharp dogleg to the right of 430 yards.
The key is to place your tee ball past the corner of the dogleg, otherwise
your approach will be blocked by trees. At 41 paces, the green is the longest
and the trickiest on the course, as it wraps around a devilish bunker on the
left. Double-check your GPS for correct yardage, especially when the pin is
placed in the back-left quadrant of the putting surface.
Signature holes are bandied about on all courses, but the 13th at Harbour Town
is certainly a Pete/Alice Dye signature hole. A reasonably short par-4 of
just 373 yards, the 13th requires just a long iron or fairway metal off the
tee that should favor the right side, as sand and trees protect the left. What
sets this hole apart is the green complex which is fronted by a bulk-headed
sand bunker, sitting well above the fairway. The putting surface, although
small, has plenty of movement and any shot long will end up in a swale that
falls away from the green. Alice Dye, Pete's wife of 60-plus years, is
credited for building this hole. "In July of 1969, Charlie Price, a golf
writer, came out and said they are going to have a tournament in November,"
Dye said. "I thought surely they were talking about the old course and found
out it was the new one. So I sent Alice out with T.P. (Dye's bulldozer
operator) to build the 13th to help me out. She put boards there, but that's
the only time she used boards. I finally got the course done right before the
tournament golfers showed up."
The 14th is no slouch, either, with its bulk-head fronted green. This time,
instead of sand, it's water that protects this medium-length par-3 of 192
yards. Although it's rated the easiest on the course, you'll need to be spot-
on with your yardage and accuracy. Your only bailout will be left of the
green, but sand and a difficult chipping area await. The putting surface is
reasonable in length and slopes from back to front and left. This is not the
time to go flag hunting. During the final round of the 2013 RBC Heritage, the
14th was the most difficult hole, as it yielded just seven birdies and had a
stroke average of 3.514.
The final par-5 on the course, the 15th is also the longest at Harbour Town,
reaching 588 yards in length. There is no question this is a three-shot hole,
as the fairway is quite tight and the final 100 yards swing hard to the left,
making it almost impossible to get home in two. Sand flanks both sides of
the landing area off the tee, so not only do trees come into play, but so does
the beach. Your layup needs to favor the right side of the fairway to set up
the best angle of approach. Not only that, the putting surface is just 26
paces and slopes hard from right to left. Be careful, as the green is slightly
elevated and this must be taken into account, otherwise you'll end up a
At one time, the 16th hole was just a 373-yard par-4 and pretty simple with
plenty of birdies chances. Sixty-one yards later, this hole is no longer the
pushover it was. Case in point: During the 2014 PGA Tour stop, only five
birdies were made during the final round out of 78 players, the second-lowest
total of any hole at the tournament. Although the 16th features the widest
fairway on the course, a tall pine sits prominently at the 300-yard mark, so
most players will go with 3-metal off the tee. A large bunker runs down the
entire left side of the fairway and plays as a hazard, not a waste area in
previous years. The green is as small as any at Harbour Town at just 26 paces
in depth with a trio of traps on the right and a chipping region left and
The penultimate hole is a beautiful par-3 that plays toward Calibogue Sound
and is quite exposed to the elements. Listed at 185 yards, the 17th can be
stretched to over 200, making club selection near impossible. Sand and, of
course, marsh guard the entire left side of this 35-yard-long putting surface,
which features plenty of movement. The front portion moves toward the front of
the green, while the back section runs from left to right. It's quite a
difficult hole when the tournament or a $5 Nassau is on the line.
One of the most photographed holes in golf, the 18th at Harbour Town is a
magnificent par-4 of 472 yards. Not only is it a beautiful closing hole,
but it is quite difficult, as it yielded only five and four birdies,
respectively, in the 2013 and 2014 final rounds of the RBC Heritage. The
fairway is almost impossible to miss, as it stands some 80 yards in width.
However, with the wind playing havoc, you'll need to carry 230 yards from the
back markers to reach the landing area. With fairway metal or long iron in
your hands, you're now faced with the famed Harbour Town lighthouse in your
sights and a minuscule green to approach. Just 25 paces in length, the green
is fronted by sand and, of course, the tidal marsh of Calibogue Sound to the
left. It comes to reason that the bailout right and the bunker see plenty of
action. After a three-putt bogey on 17, Kuchar holed out from the bunker, 56
feet away, to win the 2014 RBC Heritage. Now that's drama!
FINAL WORD: Harbour Town Golf Links is in a class by itself. Prior to Kiawah
Island's Ocean Course being built by, you guessed it, Pete Dye, Harbour Town
was rated the top layout in South Carolina. Many still believe that it's No. 1
in the Crescent State, but either one or two, it's still one heck of a track.
The only course in the state to host a regular stop on the PGA Tour, Harbour
Town has it all. The conditions of the course are outstanding from tee to
green. Overseeded with Paragon ryegrass, the Bermuda grass tees and fairways
are as smooth as silk, but it's the TifEagle greens that are as good as it
Generally the smallest greens year after year on the PGA Tour, the putting
surfaces are just on average 3,700 square feet, compared to the Phoenix stop,
where the greens are roughly 6,350 square feet.
"It's a golf course where you have to really position the ball," said two-time
Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal. "You have to really hit it straight off
the tee, have to be very sharp with your irons into the greens because the
greens are really tiny and small. The par 3s are soft. Three of them have
that comes into play. It's a great golf course, a great track."
You've heard it many times while watching the golf telecasts: "You really have
to golf your ball." No question, that is the biggest understatement at Harbour
Town. The corridors down each hole are so tight due to the trees lining each
fairway and the smallest of putting surfaces make this a true test for even
the best of players in the game.
"This is a fantastic golf course; you have to be a shot maker off the tee,"
said PGA Tour player Jordan Spieth. "You have to be able to hit straight balls
into the greens. They're just so small, it's amazing."
Three-time Heritage runner-up Luke Donald championed those thoughts: "It's all
about position, small undulating greens make it very difficult. The players
really appreciate that traditional feel."
Traditionally, a links course is built alongside a major body of water, with
very few trees, a sandy soil, plenty of undulations in the fairways and
greens, a natural open layout susceptible to the weather and few, if any
internal water features.
Does Harbour Town Golf Links fit all of the criteria? Well, not really. But,
so what. What's in a name?
There's something to be said about playing a course that the professionals tee
it up on, and here's your chance. Harbour Town is a resort course, so even if
you're not staying at Sea Pines, you can still garner a starting time. Yes, it
might be a bit pricey, but from November through March you can play for as low
as $163. That's pretty good considering some of the other top-ranked public
venues reach closer to $400-500 a round.
The key here would be to get a golf package, so you can experience this
outstanding golf course more than once because, trust me, you will make plenty
of bogeys and doubles along the way. This is one special course.
"Harbour Town made my career," Dye said. "It changed my whole way of life."
How does Harbour Town stack up in his eyes? "I'll say No. 1," Dye said.