Monday, April 22, 2019

Harbour Town Requiem for another year

50th Anniversary playing thus the 51st. So we get the plaid wrap for two years running, yeah, math is what you want it to be, a theme these days

Harbour Town has been a revelation and an historic course since being built. The entire Hilton Head idea seemed folly at the time. (There is an appropriately named Folly Field Beach on HHI ...) HHI was audacious with its courses carved out of low country swamps and has evolved into a very much favorite location to live and vacation year-round. The Harbour Town Golf Links as they are absurdly named is a world-famous golf course built by Jack Nicklaus and Pete/Alice Dye. It was one of two early designs Mr. Nicklaus did with the Dyes to start his design career (Can you name the other?) It debuted in Golf Digest's Top Ten when it opened. It has continued to hold a top spot in the lists of State's Best via the Anna Nicole Smith Factor - famous for being famous. Interesting because for years, Long Cove was the #1 course in the state of South Carolina  (And it is a better design than Harbour Town) until the more famouser Ocean Course at Kiawah came upon the scene. At this point in time it can be argued that Harbour Town is no better than the 4th or fifth best Dye within 100 miles, but that's not why I'm writing today. Rankings that are most important are "Which constitute your favorite?"

Iconography pays a big part in the memorability of Harbour Town and its longtime television presence, notwithstanding its coveted position as Masters wind-down. The (cardboard it seems) Lighthouse is quite iconic, the cluster of shops at its base is utterly forgettable.  The view up the 18th from the tee for the Tournament is now mostly blocked by built structures for the event. Seventeen was graciously opened up by Hurricane Matthew a few years ago and the view coming to the green on sixteen is now stunning. The winds this past weekend were astonishing with the tee moved nearly to the front of the front on 17. This is just beautiful, there is no denying that, it truly climaxes the course.

The course:

Routed through low country dwellings all homogenized to shades of tan and Live Oak mixed forests teeming with alligators remains very pleasant to this day. Every green leads to the next tee, even the walk from 9 to snack shop to ten is short. Eighteen back to the clubhouse through condotown is the only glitch, but you're done already and on a cart, probably. It's good, very good.

Par 3's are outstanding.  Four is a wonder where they hide that extra ten yards that gobbles up balls by the box, even the pros hit it in water here. The secretly elevated green adds to this. Similar deception is noted on 14, seven also plays longer than the card (same direction as four, basically) and 17 is one of the icons.  A joy to pay these holes, a challenge to finish all four with the same ball even if you stuff it in your pocket between them.  A Bravo! set.

Par 4's are less so. A great putting surface makes 3 and 6. Eight is tough as nails and with a very small "Green-light Go" area on the fairway. Thirteen is another icon with Alice's use of waterboarding, I mean sleeper boarding of the front of the green. A tree in the fairway and another small go area push the limits of credibility) but that's OK, trees grow.  We all know 18 immediately.  There is some filler, some holes that could be replaced by holes at nearby Heron Point (Go. Play!) with a net gain.

Par 5's are getting short nowadays, but are strategic marvels as are most Dye fives, even without trees. Fifteen is way opened up from its origins. Two plays as a button-hook or Shepherd's Crook due to a Live Oak, it's probably my favored hole of the three.

Cohesion is extremely good, you feel very connected to the low country and the complete change of pace for the final two is a bonus.

I am a huge fan of Dye Bunkering, both greenside and the use of waste and fairway bunkers. It ranges from meh on the opener,as opposed to the great bunkering on the first at nearby Long Cove called by Tom Doak the best "First Hole in America". I won't recount his argument here, it made perfect sense even if I think there are others that are better, he and I agree with the slightly gentle opener theory. Greenside bunkering is at its best on the par 5's, the smallish greens negate their need on most other holes, just getting the angle is enough.

Conditioning has improved such that off-season is not the embarrassment it once was in the distant past.  It is good all year. The use of local flora and Fauna and avoidance of ornamental plantings are a winner, Vegetation-wise. Live Oaks are a wonder of the low country as are the accompanying Fox Squirrels.

All the talk of how narrow Harbour Town has been muted over the years in reality even though the talk continues. Thus it is playable in a near Ideality if A) It isn't too windy and B) You play your appropriate tees.  Some of the pro's tees (Witness #3) are little Orphans you should avoid unless a 300 yard carry is a part of your game. Harbour Town is NOT as narrow as they tell you it is.

So, what's the point?

This course is manageable by most, a bucket list course for many and very fun to play. Play it. Enjoy it. It is great to see on TV, play and make memories.

Plus, I love the Low Country, I'm glad Pan won.

Maybe I can find some photos to add, but you all know what it looks like ....

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