REVIEW: Hilton Head National
The RV park within view of the clubhouse desk is a constant reminder of the strange trip for Hilton Head National Golf Club.
And, yet, it’s done nothing to deter players from packing this expertly placed and monikered course. Day after day, the demand continues to outweigh the supply.
How National went from an ultra-popular 27-hole facility to the brink of closing up shop to bringing the heat as an 18-hole course is a great backstory.
“There’s a lot to tell,” Head Golf Professional Sterlyn Mitchell said. “Back in the day when we had 27 holes, it was nothing to have a couple hundred golfers every day. It wasn’t very popular when we lost the nine holes, but the reality is you just have to suck it up. Then, there was a period in the 2010s when we fell into a recession. It took us years to come back.
“But Covid drew more people to the golf course. Tee sheets are full. Our rates are pretty high, especially for Bluffton, but you get what you pay for.”
National originally opened in 1990, then added nine more holes five years after that. Then, an eminent domain issue with Bluffton Parkway forced three holes to be paved over, guaranteeing a would-be scale back.
The Scratch Golf ownership group eventually elected to use the land from the remaining six unusable holes to open a high-end RV park — one slated to open in the fall of 2021.
The backstory, though, doesn’t tell the one that includes an average of 170-plus golfers getting on and off the course every day for 10 months of the year and leaving happy. Simply, Hilton Head National checks box after box.
AROUND THE COURSE
Ryan Hampton’s first impression of Hilton Head National was framed in a way that echoed Mitchell’s comments.
Hampton, a Charlotte native in town on vacation who played the course for the first time in May, had no issue dropping three figures on his round.
“Most of the courses we play in Charlotte are in the $75 range, so this I think was a really good value for what we got [compared to] what we normally pay,” Mitchell said. “I felt like the greens were really good. If I’m paying $100-plus, I’d expect them to be in great shape.”
Indeed, you get what you pay for.
And at National, that means clean site lines, highly manicured surfaces and no trouble spots. The Par-71 Gary Player/Bobby Weed design includes everything from gently undulating greens and fairway-hugging bunkers to mounded terrain and massive waste areas leading into the putting surfaces.
Nothing was off limits during the re-routing process after the closure, and aside from three longer cart rides between six of the holes, it was all pulled off seamlessly. That’s because there is so much to love.
Atop that list is National’s signature hole, the 273-yard Par 4 No. 6. If it wasn’t for the horizontal bunker mere yards from the green or the pond lining the entire right side of the fairway, everyone would be muscling up to reach in one.
Instead, most have to lay up to stay dry or avoid other problems.
“It’s a risk-reward — the water and the bulkhead and the bunkering,” Mitchell said. “It’s a take-away that makes our course memorable. Granted, a lot of people remember it for the wrong reasons.”
It’s a fun hole that does its job, even as out-of-place as it is compared to the other 17 holes. The rest of the way, players can certainly get into a rhythm on the Par 4s and even the three Par 5s. It doesn’t hurt that marshals are stationed periodically to keep everyone moving along (a morning round on a maxed-out tee sheet day is still frequently targeted at 4 hours).
“I haven’t played another course beside my old club back home when I go to visit my parents,” Mitchell said. “Of my last 100 rounds, 96 are at my place. There’s no reason to go anywhere else.”
AT A GLANCE
Course: Hilton Head National Golf Club
Designers: Gary Player, Bobby Weed
Year Opened: 1989
Head Golf Professional: Sterlyn Mitchell
Notable: The course closed down nine of its 27 holes in 2009. The remaining 18 were a combination of holes from Players’ original 1989 layout and Weed’s 1995 additions. They were fashioned into a Par-71 layout (36 front, 35 back) that features three Par 5s.
On the Web: hiltonheadnational.com