Lowcountry golf is going to get another shot-in-the-arm of publicity with the upcoming PGA Championship at Kiawah Island south of Charleston in mid-August, though that publicity might be a double-edged sword. The pictures will be a terrific reminder of how gorgeous the views are and how spectacular our golf can be in the late summer or early autumn in these parts (though the already legendary difficulty of Pete Dye’s layout, and the potential for blustery winds off the ocean may make the PGA play more like the British Open than Royal Lytham recently played).
The week will be a celebration of Pete Dye golf, with all of its quirks and quandaries, design features Dye began using in his terrific layouts on Hilton Head Island years ago. Golf Digest architectural editor Ron Whitten ranks the Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island’s Sea Pines Plantation and the Long Cove Club among his “Dozen Best” Pete Dye designs, surrounded by the well-known Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and past PGA Championship courses Whistling Straits in Wisconsin and Crooked Stick in his native Indiana. Not yet in that “Dozen Best”, but headed toward that distinction is his incredible re-design of Heron Point by Pete Dye, a sister to Harbour Town in Sea Pines. Dye’s designs are so unique that the PGA has already even changed one of its rules for this year’s PGA, deeming that all of the sandy areas that frame his holes at the Ocean Course at Kiawah will be played not as bunkers, but as natural areas where players can ground their clubs (remember the Dustin Johnson issues at Whistling Straits a couple of years ago?)
If the PGA Championship inspires you, channel your next golf expedition just a bit further south of Kiawah to the place where Dye really began creating his legend. As for logistics, you might be surprised that Hilton Head Island is actually closer to the I-95 corridor (though seemingly a continent away stress-wise) than either Myrtle Beach or Kiawah. If you’re on I-95 headed south, it’s only an hour farther than Myrtle Beach and about the same distance as Kiawah. And while M-Beach might be a little more convenient to fly into schedule-wise, you CAN fly onto Hilton Head Island directly multiple times a day and be on a course as quickly as you can change shoes, or the short drive from Savannah’s airport can have you on the first tee here within an hour or so.
And once those leaves start to fall where you are? Remember that Hilton Head Island is 5-10 degrees warmer than Myrtle Beach in the fall and winter. So enjoy watching the PGA Championship at Kiawah, but then realize that you can get Pete’s best work, combined with terrific restaurants and accommodations here on the Golf Island, a destination that’s closer than you think.