What do Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Davis Love III, and Stewart Cink all have in common? Not only are these just a few of the biggest, respected names in the history of golf, they’re also past champions of the RBC Heritage, an annual PGA TOUR tournament hosted at The Sea Pines Resort.
The Sea Pines Resort, which sits on 5,000 oceanfront acres and spans the southern third of Hilton Head Island, has been described as a “quiet retreat for more than 50 years.” But, when the PGA TOUR comes to town, according to Rob Bender, the Director of Recreation & Marine Operations, they’ll see tens of thousands of guests attend the tournament, with 135,000 attending in 2019. It’s a who’s who of golfing greats and fans alike.
In its earliest days, the Sea Pines property was used for timber. Beautiful oak, Spanish moss, and its namesake, seapines, commonplace throughout the South, encompass the sparsely populated area. Charles Fraser, a college student studying architecture and land development, had an idea to cultivate the resort and residential community. He convinced his father, an Army general who owned the property, to sell him the southern third of the island.
In 1956, before the project began, Charles and his father persuaded the state to build a two-lane bridge connecting the island to the mainland. As a result, according to an article by the New York Times, “Sea Pines became one of the first projects to combine golf and real estate development in a planned community, one of the first to use covenants and deed restrictions to protect the environment, and one of the first to promote intergenerational recreation in the same enterprise.” By the 60s, the community started to take off, becoming a premier destination for locals, vacationers, beachcombers, golfers, and nature enthusiasts.
Today, Sea Pines Resort is more than just your average Lowcounty retreat with its multimillion-dollar homes, tennis court (headed by Stan Smith, a former winner of Wimbledon and the US Open, and coach of the 2000 US Olympic team), golf courses, beaches and beach club, freshwater lakes, boutique shopping, nature hikes, wildflower meadows, dining experiences, and so much more.
“This whole area is exceptional. The amount of land set aside for outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat is unique, and that goes back to Charles Fraser’s vision to ensure Sea Pines Resort would remain environmentally conscious.”
There’s now a full-service marina on location, the Harbour Town Yacht Basin, which is “widely recognized as one of the top yachting destinations” on the ICW. Here you’ll find 100 slip rentals and sales, marine supplies and apparel, and friendly, experienced staff (all available to book through Dockwa).
“For guests that stay at the Harbour Town Yacht Basin, they’re going to get unbelievable service, facilities, and dockage. Our staff will greet them at their slip, tie them up, and get them checked in dockside with a complimentary bottle of wine. Its service at the highest level,” Rob added. “We’ll assist them throughout their stay at The Sea Pines Resort, whether that’s helping with golf reservations, dining reservations, or recommending other activities around the island. Our Harbourmaster Leslie Whitener has been with the resort and the Yacht Basin for approximately 35 years. I think she knows every boat and every captain on the east coast at this point. You could quiz her on something from 10 to 20 years ago, and she’ll remember it.”
Guests of the marina who want to go beyond the docks and stay on the island can do so by reserving accommodations at its luxurious hotel, The Inn & Club at Harbour Town, or one of their more than 400 condo, villa, or vacation home rentals. Most of the area and resort property is accessible by bike, so The Sea Pines Resort provides bicycle rentals at the marina and lodgings units.
The Quarterdeck, Sea Pines Resort’s signature restaurant, is currently undergoing renovations, with a grand reopening scheduled for early April. The entirely rebuilt Quarterdeck will feature a two-story restaurant with a bar and dining area on the first floor and a rooftop oyster bar where guests can enjoy views of Harbour Town, the 18th hole of the Harbour Town Golf Links, and Calibogue Sound, on the second.
“It’s always been a favorite of boaters and people visiting the area,” Rob said. “It’s going to be a great enhancement to the experience in Harbour Town.”
The three golf courses, each now world-famous, include Heron Point by Pete Dye, their latest, the Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III, and the legendary Harbour Town Golf Links, which hosts the tournament.
Following the Masters Tournament, the RBC Heritage is hosted in April annually on The Sea Pines Resort’s famed Harbour Town Golf Links. It’s South Carolina’s only PGA TOUR event, and this year’s 54th tournament will take place April 11th-17th.
“A lot of the players like to come because of the more laidback feeling,” Rob explained. “The Masters Tournament has a bit more stress and pressure associated with it, so Hilton Head Island and The Sea Pines Resort is a chance to relax. Also, the event is around spring break, so the players will bring their families with them to enjoy the beauty, ambiance, and nature. It’s a great, family-oriented experience.”
Additionally, the event has raised $47.5 million in charitable donations, distributed to organizations in South Carolina and Georgia since 1987. In addition, 2021 saw $1.7 million allocated to philanthropic organizations, the arts, medical institutions, and college scholarships. To top it off, each year, the RBC Heritage pumps more than $102 million into South Carolina’s economy. Of course, the $8-million-dollar purse awarded to the champion doesn’t hurt either.
But the biggest draw might be the golf course itself. You can thank Pete Dye, one of the most awarded golf course architects and player Jack Nicklaus, who consulted on it for its design. Although Harbour Town Golf Links isn’t a particularly long course, you must be a little more creative with your shots. It requires a bit more finesse and imagination rather than sheer strength.
“The fairways tend to be narrower to preserve the trees, and the greens are sometimes referred to as postage stamp size,” Rob explained. “With the greens being smaller, the par threes are unbelievable on this course.”
The 18th hole, which borders the Calibogue Sound and the red-white, candy-striped Harbour Town Lighthouse, is said to be “the most feared in all of golf.”
“The experience they get here combined with the service, clubhouse, and locker room makes it one of the players’ favorite stops on tour.”
We imagine this year will be no different.
Quotes have been edited for clarity. Photo Credits: The Sea Pines Resort / Rob Tipton
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