HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC - Sea Pines Resort is no longer just another pretty face.
That’s not to criticize the previous version of the resort, located on South Carolina’s upscale Hilton Head Island. In fact, I thought it was fabulous during a brief 2010 visit. However, my latest (2015) visit to Hilton Head’s premier destination revealed a major transformation from a top-notch vacation playground to a bona fide five-star destination.
What our golf group discovered was a remarkable stem-to-stern renovation, courtesy of $80 million (U.S.) in resort improvements over the past three years, providing a fresh smile for this coastal resort, courtesy of Sea Pines owner William Goodwin, who doesn’t hesitate to spend money to update and improve all aspects of the property.
That includes the golf courses, which were seemingly the only areas of the resort that hadn’t been extensively renovated during my half-decade absence, although architect Pete Dye made several subtle, player-friendly tweaks in 2014 to his Heron Point by Pete Dye design. He softened green surrounds and contours, and enlarged several putting surfaces while also transitioning all the greens to Tifeagle Ultra Dwarf Bermuda, the same turf strand on his famed Harbour Town Golf Links, the resort’s flagship course. Ornamental landscaping was also added throughout Heron Point.
Left: The landmark lighthouse lets you know you Right: Sea Pines Resort has never looked better thanks to a total facelift.
Harbour Town — host of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage each April — and the resort’s Ocean Course both underwent extensive renovations in 2015. Harbour Town was closed last summer, three days after our group’s visit and two weeks following the PGA Tour event. It reopened in September after its tee boxes, fairways and rough were replaced with warmth-friendly Celebration Bermuda grass, and its greens were re-grassed with Tifeagle Ultra Dwarf Bermuda. A new state-of-the-art irrigation system was also installed, featuring the newest water-management and control technology.
The Ocean Course remained open during Harbour Town’s renovation, then closed in October upon Harbour Town’s reopening, giving the resort two open courses from May through early October. The Ocean Course is being completely renovated by PGA Tour star/course architect Davis Love III and his brother Mark, whose goal is to provide a fair layout for players of all handicaps, along with more of a seaside ambience. All the holes are being completely rebuilt and resurfaced with cutting-edge grasses to match the superior strains at Harbour Town and Heron Point.
Course improvements aren’t the only major upgrades on the Sea Pines Resort golf front.
For instance, a brand-new, 44,000-square-foot, multi-use Harbour Town Clubhouse opened just prior to our stay and the 2015 RBC Heritage. Construction began right after 2014’s tournament concluded — the first time that has ever happened on the PGA Tour.
The new edifice’s features include Links, an American grill featuring indoor/outdoor seating overlooking Harbour Town Golf Links; a Hall of Champions showcasing Harbour Town and the RBC Heritage’s history, including oil paintings of past champions, and Dye’s original course architectural renderings; a state-of-the-art 4,000-square-foot, second-storey locker room for RBC Heritage entries and resort golfers; an 1,800-square-foot golf shop/retail area; and event space and a private dining room, where our group dined one night with Sea Pines Racquet Club director and International Tennis Hall of Famer Stan Smith and his wife, Marjory, along with French golfer Jean Van De Velde, who was visiting the resort. The Smiths and Van De Velde couldn’t have been more pleasant in what was a fantastic night for us.
The dated clubhouse serving Heron Point and the Ocean Course was also levelled, replaced by the new 23,000-square-foot Plantation Golf Club and Golf Learning Center, which opened in March 2015. The clubhouse features a large golf shop, the “Live Oak” bar and grill serving South Carolina Lowcountry-inspired cuisine, 2,000 square feet of event space, and spacious men’s and women’s locker rooms.
Left: Harbour Town Golf Links is a little bit of heaven on earth. Right: Sea Pines Beach Club is an ideal place to relax at the end of an eventful resort day.
Harbour Town, incidentally, is one of Dye’s earliest designs - 1969. He teamed with Jack Nicklaus, who had just decided to enter the course architecture field, to create a Top-100 mainstay despite being short (7,101 yards) by today’s standards from the back tees with a par of 71. The lack of length is offset by tiny greens and narrow fairways lined by palmetto palms, mature magnolias and Spanish moss-draped oaks, necessitating accuracy on every shot. Take it from me, hitting two greens in regulation ain’t gonna get it done.
We stayed in the luxurious Inn at Harbour Town, a Forbes magazine Four Star, AAA Four Diamond hotel offering butler service. The lavishly appointed guest rooms had just been enhanced prior to our stay, the Inn’s interior had been given a new coastal colour palette and a new boutique pool overlooking Harbour Town’s first tee had just opened. Other accommodation alternatives include private villas and vacation homes, great for larger groups.
The cuisine, and dining options, offered at The Sea Pines Resort are also world class. The two-storey, 25,000-square-foot Sea Pines Beach Club, which opened in September, 2014, offers spectacular vistas of the Atlantic Ocean, distant Tybee Island and, on clear nights, the lights of Savannah, GA. We enjoyed a few adult refreshments at the second-floor, open-air Ocean Lounge, followed by a superb dinner downstairs in Coast, a casual beachside restaurant and wrap-around oceanfront beach bar. I heartily recommend a cup of spicy Crab Stew to start, followed by the Crab Cakes with mango salsa main course. The Beach Club also features the Atlantic Room, a special-event venue with an outdoor, covered deck; Surfside Market, selling freshly made salads, sandwiches and snacks; and the Surf Shop, which sells beach supplies.
I’m already looking forward to my next trip to The Sea Pines Resort. Other than the newly turfed, newly irrigated Harbour Town and a totally new Ocean Course, I have no idea what other renovations I’ll discover. But that’s fine. I love surprises.
For information, go to www.seapines.com'>www.seapines.com / We’d highly recommend you play Harbour Town Golf Links, Heron Point by Pete Dye and the Ocean Course. Go to www.seapines.com'>www.seapines.com for more info on the courses or call 1-800-732-7463 to make a tee time. / Best place to stay: Inn at Harbour Town - call 1-866-561-8802 to make a reservation. / Most major Canadian airports offer flights to the many major U.S. connecting cities with non-stop flights to and from either Hilton Head Island Airport (HHH) or Savannah (GA) International Airport (SAV), the two closest airports to Hilton Head Island. Hilton Head Island Airport is a 30 minute drive from the The Sea Pines Resort. It offers four daily American Eagle non-stop flights servicing Charlotte, North Carolina (CLT). Savannah International Airport, a one-hour drive, offers daily non-stops on American Airlines (servicing DFW, CLT, DCA and PHL; Delta (ATL, LGA, JFK, DTW); JetBlue (BOS and JFK) and United (ORD, IAH, EWR and IAD).