Located on the sleepy island of Hilton Head, Harbour Town Golf Links is one of the great Pete Dye designs that meanders its way through the tall pines and ends on a stunning peninsula overlooking the Calibogue Sound. Designed in 1967, Harbour Town quickly became a well known course in the world of golf and remains a top design to this day.
The design is not overly long. From the tips, it plays right around 7,000 yards. The course plays to a par 71 and emphasizes precision and strategy more than length. The greens are small well protected targets that are often protected by tall pines or strategically placed bunkers. Players will often find that hitting the fairway is often not enough, they will need to be located on the proper side of the fairway to have angles to the greens. This forces players to plan their approach shots all the way back on the tee, often leading to clubs other than irons being used for position. When the PGA Tour makes its annual stop at Harbour Town, the leaderboard is often filled with a mix of both short and long hitters, signaling the fact that strategy is just as important as length.
Harbour Town has one of the best collection of par 3s to be found. All of them require precision and challenge to those looking to be aggressive, but they also offer safety for those looking to steer clear. Hero shots exist, and can be taken advantage of, but they are not necessary. The setting for each par three is unique and spectacular.
The par fives are also well thought out and diverse. The second hole at 500 yards seems reachable, but players will find out that only a drive that hugs the left side of the fairway will allow for an open approach. A bunker guards the left side of the fairway and almost certainly requires a lay up should you find that area off the tee. The green and fairway are protected by towering pines that will require players to work the ball around them or find angles for their third shot. A Pete Dye classic that will reward aggressive play, but also punish those who cannot pull off the shots necessary.
The fifteenth hole is a classic three shot hole that requires precision on the lay up. The second shot is played to the corner of the fairway approximately 100 yards from the green. Any lay up shot that hugs the left side of the fairway will have to deal with a couple of towering pines on their approach. Only the longest hitters who can loft a long iron or fairway wood over these pines will consider going for the green in two. It rarely happens.
The course works with the land it was given. For the most part, it feels very natural, but there are a couple of tell tale signs that Pete Dye was the architect. The thirteenth is a fun par four that has a horseshoe bunker that wraps it way around the front of the green. Instead of a grass face, this bunker has railroad ties. It creates a unique look from the fairway and an almost impossible shot should players land close enough to be affected. The railroad ties are also prominently featured on three of the four par threes.
The iconic eighteenth hole is an enjoyable way to finish the round. The fairway is large, in fact it is one of the largest on tour. Most players will have the ability to aim at the lighthouse and let it rip. It is appropriate that Dye gives players one more chance to be aggressive. The green is a small target guarded by the marsh both short and left. For the bold, any shot that lands on the green will be rewarded with a makeable birdie putt, for those looking to play it safe, there is plenty of room to bail out right. It is an appropriate and scenic end to one of Pete Dye’s most famous and legendary course designs.
Pete Dye’s influence has been felt throughout the game and it is really interesting to see the impact Harbour Town has had on golf course architecture. The course was designed with the assistance of Jack Nicklaus. Obviously, having Nicklaus on the team gave the course a little more notoriety, but Jack has been quick to point out that he learned a lot from Pete on the Harbour Town design. More recently, Tom Doak has mentioned how he learned a lot from seeing Pete work on the Harbour Town property. This is a design that has influenced generations of designers and it is neat to see how this course has had such an influence on the golf design world.