Away Game: Hilton Head

Zen And Coastal Carolina

November 2011

The morning I'm to fly to Hilton Head Island, I open a box of books, telling myself I'll bring whatever's on top. I split the packing tape (I'm in the process of moving) and lying face up is A Western Approach to Zen by Christmas Humphreys, a British barrister who founded the London Buddhist Society in 1924. Bought for a college class, it'd been clunky and thick, and I'd never really read it. Surely this isn't the book to take on a trip to golf-saturated Hilton Head. But there's no turning back. I've pulled fate's headcover, and I'm sticking with it.

Hilton Head is 45 minutes from the Savannah, Ga., airport and a perfect day's drive in a minivan from Ohio, which is why the place can sometimes feel like Buckeye Country on family vacation. If you're in search of inner peace, embrace this energy: Traffic will get backed up at one of the island's signature roundabouts, so remember, impatience achieves nothing.

The must-play of the area's 26 courses is Harbour Town Golf Links, especially if you know the course from watching the Heritage Classic on TV two weeks after the Masters. The Pete Dye layout has one of the shortest yardages (6,973 yards) and some of the smallest greens of any regular PGA Tour stop. With lots of rescue shots off manicured pine straw and loblolly pines leaning like beanstalks along the holes -- except the finishing three on the water -- it's like a flat, narrow Augusta National with condos. From the tips I shot 74, and admittedly I tend to like places better when I score well, which isn't very Buddha-natured.

away game

Kagan McLeod & Jonathon Rivait

When you pony up the cash for Harbour Town (anywhere from $210 to $260 for morning tee times depending on the season), you get a break on an afternoon round at the other two Sea Pines Resort courses, Heron Point or Ocean. Packages go from $285 to $350. I picked Heron Point, which for me proved a minefield of modern, punch-to-the-groin bunkers and mounds. I joined a single playing the 6,168-yard tees and made too many Xs to even suggest a score. With lots of angular doglegs, it's one of those courses where you're better off choosing longer tees if you're not smart enough to not hit driver. But to channel the teachings of my airplane read, I tried not to let my poor play, or anything at all, upset me. Filling my lungs with salty air, I took in the exotic lowcountry vegetation of palmettos, marsh grasses and oaks dripping with Spanish moss. The concept of wabi-sabi says that all is transient and imperfect, and so it's important to enjoy beauty in the brief moments it exists -- even Pete Dye's fairway bunkers.

Anyone with basic knowledge of Zen is familiar with the term "nirvana," the state of wanting nothing when the body is released from the chains of desires. But the path to spiritual enlightenment is long and with many steps. So after playing 36, I forgive myself for heading off resort property and into town in search of fine food and drink.

Just when you thought a post-round beer couldn't taste better, the owners of Bomboras Grille make you think again. To preserve the aromas and heads of their many craft beers, your pint glass is filled from the bottom then sealed with a magnetic disc. Don't toy with the magnet, or you'll drench your lap.

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