REVIEW: Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes
The chicken or the egg debate is very much alive at Palmetto Dunes.
Was Arthur Hills, the famed course architect, so entrenched in his M.O. of designing ultra-playable tracks, the reason for his namesake design’s popularity at Palmetto Dunes? Or was he brought in to bring about everything this property has to offer?
“I believe that is an absolutely perfect statement,” said Samm Wolfe, the course’s general manager and head golf professional. “When this golf course opened, it was very, very popular. It was 10-minute tee times, and we had standing room only to get on this golf course. It was $147 to play this course and it was cart path only.”
“[Hills built] a golf course that suits a lot of players,” Wolfe said. “You can go out and have fun. You don’t need to hit it a long way. You always remember something about the golf course — whether it's an alligator or the lagoon.”
Hills, who died in May 2021, is survived by a legacy of playability. Golfers travel the globe to see how he envisioned the land he was given, how he could make it work.
Certainly, the Arthur Hills course at Palmetto Dunes is among the shining stars of the 350 or so courses he laid out or renovated. Since 1986, players have flocked to it, disregarding bad weather and aeration schedules alike.
It’s of little consequence for them as they attempt to tackle what is also one of his more target-rich venues.
AROUND THE COURSE
Wolfe joined the staff at Palmetto Dunes just after the course’s debut. He remembers those players standing around the clubhouse, hoping for a cancellation.
Through the years, he was also a part of was making the Hills course even more dedicated to what its designer envisioned — a resort-style track that ultimately found its sweet spot.
The original design included a lack of true roughs; those were eventually added in to promote a better pace of play. Several pot bunkers that changed the dynamic of a few holes were filled in and grassed over. More defined lines were drawn between some holes to put a premium back on accuracy off the tee. Several trees were removed, both intentionally and then thanks to Mother Nature when Hurricane Matthew came through in 2016.
All together, it equaled a friendlier design that Hills and his design partners signed off on during return visits.
“When you play the course now, you’re looking at the 150 markers. If you can hit the 150 markers, you’re going to have a really good time out there,” Wolfe said. “We don’t have a lot of room to make the golf course longer. We don’t have that. We have to [rely on] shot making.”
The divide between the front and back nines is another distinct feature of Palmetto Dunes' Hills track. As Wolfe put it, the first 11 holes “lull players” into a false sense of confidence before the it all comes rushing at you in the final seven.
The 377-yard par 4 No. 12 finishes with a slender green. It’s chased by the long Par 5 at No. 13, where scoring opportunities aren’t there for everyone.
Not long after that, the dogleg left Par 4 on No. 17 is unforgettable. Anyone who finds the wide landing area off the tee is openly invited to go after the green in two — flying the lagoon right onto the putting surface.
The entire hole appears much more difficult than it really is. In reality, those who think it through and take a moment to process it find a higher level of enjoyment.
Just like Hills intended.
AT A GLANCE
Course: Palmetto Dunes Arthur Hills Course
Location: Hilton Head Island
Designer: Arthur Hills
Year Opened: 1986
Head Golf Professional: Samm Wolfe
Notable: The 142-yard Par 3 on No. 15 is graced by the now-inactive Hilton Head Rear Range Lighthouse. A perfect setting for a group picture, the 92-foot-tall structure was completed in 1880 and used for some 50 years as a navigation point for ships in Port Royal Sound. It is certified on the National Register of Historic Places and is recognized as the lone historic lighthouse on Hilton Head Island. On the Web: https://www.palmettodunes.com/golf/arthur-hills-course