Harbour Town Stars at RBC Heritage

By: David Wood

Harbour Town Golf Links at The Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island is the real star of the PGA Tour's RBC Heritage this week.

Aerial View of Harbour Town Golf Links

For decades, the highest of praise for Pete Dye seminal design has been the rule and not the exception. "It's one of the most innovative and revolutionary designs in the history of golf architecture," claims Golfweek's Bradley Klein.

Hall of Fame golf writer Dan Jenkins calls the course "nothing short of a work of art."

It also doesn't take much prodding for Tour players to gush about this fine example of strategic design that still seems as fresh as a daisy even though it's approaching middle age at 45 years old.

In his pre-tournament press conference, Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, who played Harbour Town for the first time in 1971, said, "I loved the golf course right from the beginning. I still love it and put it in my top-five golf courses."

After opening with a 5-under 66 for a share of the first-round lead Thursday, amiable Matt Kuchar said, "It's always been one of my favorites. When I look at golf course architecture and design this one stands out as being a really fantastic layout and fun to play."

18th Green at Sea Pines

With stately oaks and magnolias draped in Spanish moss framing the fairways and greens, there's a hushed atmosphere to the layout. Even with s multitude of spectators it can be as peaceful and quiet as a museum gallery packed with Rembrandts, rather than the having the audible buzz of a big-time golf tournament.

A concise game plan is paramount for players. Harbour Town is one of the few courses where a long, straight drive smack-dab in the middle of the fairway doesn't necessarily merit a clear shot at the pin. Correct sides of fairways must be hit as many holes dogleg, and encroaching tree limbs can block an otherwise direct aerial path - even from the short grass. Dye's sharp-edged bunkers, sneaky water hazards, and unforgiving slopes and mounds provide the rest of the peril.

Probably the ultimate sin on approach shots is to short-side oneself as Harbour Town's "dance floors" are among the smallest on the PGA Tour. Even for the best in the game, getting up and down for par is no picnic. It's more like chip it up and hope it stays on the green as flat landing areas are as rare as an albatross on a scorecard.

After starting with a 2-under 69, Rory Sabbatini said, "On this golf course, you definitely have to come with your short game in order."

While not overly long by today's standards, it's about as stern a test as a 7,100-yard course can be. The players cherish the challenge. Five-time RBC Heritage winner David Love III said of Harbour Town: "It's a great classic course and fun to play."

Rising star Jordan Spieth added, "This is a fantastic golf course. You have to be a shot-maker off the tee."

"Modern architects should take a long look at Harbour Town and realize they don't need to build long, hard courses to make them tough," noted Luke Donald.

The pros love it and, perhaps best of for us mortals who want to walk in the footsteps of RBC Heritage winners like Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller, Watson and Nick Faldo, Harbour Town is open for public play.

The Sea Pines Resort offers a bevy of golf packages that include not only Harbour Town, but its other Pete Dye gem - Heron Point - and the fun-to-play Ocean course.

For more information, visit www.seapines.com.

In addition to writing on golf and travel, author and noted speaker David Wood has made several appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman" as well as dozens of other television shows. His book - "Around the World in 80 Rounds" - can be found at www.Amazon.com. Currently he works in public relations with Buffalo Communications in Vienna, Va. His website www.authordavidwood.com.