Hilton Head's Palmetto Dunes - Golf & Stunning Atlantic Vistas

By: John Torsiello

It was with great anticipation that my golf buddy, Mark Eucalitto, and I approached the tee box on the signature hole of the Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort in Hilton Head, S.C.

Robert Trent Jones' Oceanfront Hole No. 10

The Jones Course's 10th hole is a masterpiece by one of the most renowned golf architects of his time. It looks like nothing much on the scorecard, a 550-yard straightaway par-5 from the back tees. But that little piece of laminated paper doesn't tell the story of what a wonderful test Jones crafted.

The 10th, which plays directly toward the ocean, is a magnificent three-shotter that passes fairway bunkers and a lagoon on the right before finishing at an elevated green. The Atlantic is only a few yards away, the breakers pounding upon the shoreline, wisps of sea grass bending in the wind as you try and concentrate on holing out. Making par here with three solid shots and a two-putt was one of the most satisfying "fives" I've ever recorded, serenaded by the sea, sea birds circling overhead and the breeze pushing us on to the 11th hole, a real nice par-4 that plays 405 yards downwind with a pond along the right that makes the drive and second shot problematic in tough conditions.

I don't know about you, but parring - or better yet making birdie - on a great hole always etches the memory of the experience more firmly.

Robert Trent Jones Aerial View of Holes 9-11

The 13th, a 398-yard par-4 with water off the tee, is a perfect example of how local knowledge can assist in club selection. Mark hit driver, struck it well and seemed to be in fine shape on the right side. I also hit driver, not that great, but was left with a shot of about 150 yards in. When we arrived at Mark's ball, uh oh, it had run through the fairway on the dogleg-left and found a marsh, a hazard that always seems to be lurking near the fairways or greens on Lowcountry tracks. If given a mulligan, Mark would have taken 3-wood and laid up at the 150-marker instead of getting too frisky off the tee and pushing his driver a tad too far long.

The 18th at the Jones Course is one of the best four-pars I've played in some time. A driver needs to be threaded between fairway bunkers on a tight route to set up a short-iron to a large green.

The cool thing about our visit at Palmetto Dunes was that we got to play the three courses the resort has in its portfolio. There's also Arthur Hills and Georgia Fazio layouts which, while similar to many seaside tracks, offer quite different challenges -and there's always the visually delicious scenery at Palmetto Dunes.

A little about our accommodations. Okay, I may be accused of hyperbole, but our quarters at one of the oceanside hotels the resort owns were, quite simply, the best I've ever stayed. The views of the Atlantic from the fifth-floor suite are stunning, whether from the bedrooms, living room or balcony. Let's put it this way, our wives didn't want to leave the place, that's how sweet the suite was. It was spacious, clean, comfortable and had all the creature comforts of a first-class resort that also offers the beach, tennis, swimming pools, hot tubs, miles of hiking and biking trails and on and on.

Palmetto Dunes - 16th Hole at George Fazio

A few days at the 2,000-acre Palmetto Dunes, which unfortunately is all we had, isn't enough. If you're going, spend at least four or five nights and drink in everything the resort has to offer. There's a little grocery store on the premises with great breakfast sandwiches and Southern-fried chicken (nobody makes chicken like Southerners), barbecue (nobody makes barbecue like Southerners), and cornbread (nobody makes, well, you get the idea) for après golf. Each course also has a dining establishment in its clubhouse.

The next day, a bit rainy and chilly for Hilton Head in December, we headed off to play the George Fazio (the lesser known of the Fazio golf-architect clan, which is headed by Tom Fazio). While George doesn't have as great a reputation in the industry as his nephew Tom, he nonetheless produces solid courses that make wise use of the terrain. His layout at Palmetto Dunes is very good, with the holes setting up nicely in a visual sense off the tees and approaches to the midsized greens. George Fazio layouts are particularly noted for his bunker shapes, in which he weaves clover-leafs and butterflies.

Because rain threatened (and fell at the beginning of the round) we were instructed by the affable staff at the Fazio Course to go off the back side, which has some of the best holes on the course. The 10th is a 513-yard par-4 that doglegs slightly to the left.

Mark and I both really liked the 11th, a 394-yard, par-4 dogleg (many of the holes here do that) to the right that demands a water carry off the tee and a staggering amount of fairway bunkers. The green is surrounded by sand and slightly pushed up.

The 15th hole, a 445-yarder par-4, is an example of how the wind can affect ball flight and carry on Bermudagrass courses. I launched a high tee shot that bounded on the fairway and kept rolling, leaving me with just a wedge in. Remember, it's downwind. The same hole and tee shot played into the wind would likely have had me hitting a 4- or 5-wood on the second. Bermudagrass allows the ball off the driver to kick considerably forward if aided by wind, but will make the ball into a facing breeze stop like a wedge.

I thought the 17th was the best par-3 we played at Palmetto Dunes. It measures 230 yards from the tips and is a full carry across water. Because the wind was hurting, we wimped out and moved up a couple of tee boxes.

Hills has done a lot of solid routings, especially in the South, and his layout at Palmetto Dunes doesn't disappoint. Once again, he skillfully incorporated the ever-present wetlands and waterways into the course and created some fairway mounding to leave you with slightly tilted lies, uncommon in this part of the U.S.

Palmetto Dunes - Arthur Hills No. 16

The second and third at the Hills Course show off the architect's genius at blending water features into golf holes. The second is a short par-4 that demands a drive as close to the water that fronts the green as you dare, followed by a short-iron over the wet stuff to a green that, amazingly enough, is not bunkered. The third is a tasty little par-3 that plays only 146 yards from the tips. But the shot is again over water, with a huge trap guarding the front side of a green that tilts toward the water's edge.

The eighth is another short par-3 over water that demands only a mid-iron. Again, the tee shot is intimidating because of a pond that stretches from the tee box to the green. But at 156 yards don't think of finding water, just grab a mid-iron and make a good swing.

Hills has said of No. 12 that "the fun starts here," and he's right. This 399-yard par-4 begins a series of finishing holes where driving accuracy is paramount because of water that lines at least one side. The wisest choice is, of course, to favor the area away from the water; get it in the fairway and take your chances with a long-iron. Better safe than sorry.

Palmetto Dunes is a great place for couples' or buddies' golf trips. With three courses - all three of which you could easily play twice - as well as superb accommodations and amenities, you can settle in for an extended stay. And, oh yeah, those views of the ocean from the hotel will keep you smiling when you put your feet up after a day on the course.

Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort offers a number of very affordable stay and play packages. Check out http://www.palmettodunes.com.

John Torsiello is an editor/writer living in Connecticut. He has written extensively about all aspects of the golf industry for a number of national and regional publications. He is a regular contributor to "Golf Course Industry," "Lawn and Landscape," "Golfing" and "Fairway Living" magazines as well as various online publications. He has strong, ongoing relationships with industry professionals and has worked closely with course owners, architects, developers, course superintendents and general managers around the country. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including first place from the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association for a piece that appeared in "Golf Course Industry" magazine.