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The best public golf courses in Hilton Head Island

April 16, 2024

Despite being one of the smaller states in the country, South Carolina has plenty of distinct golf destinations: Myrtle Beach, Kiawah Island and Charleston are all worth their own trips. And then there’s Hilton Head Island, which in many ways is a fusion of all the other Palmetto State golf destinations.

The island is best known for the historic Sea Pines Resort, with its three top courses including Harbour Town, host of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage. You can also find courses with decent value on the island and just off, in the neighboring town of Bluffton. Combine the solid golf with the island’s relaxing vibe, great seafood and miles of beaches, and it's one of the best destinations for a golf trip.

This guide to the best public golf courses in Hilton Head Island has something for every itinerary, from 100 Greatest Public courses, to stay-and-play resorts, to affordable off-island tracks.

Scroll on for the complete list of the best public golf courses in Hilton Head, and be sure to click through to each individual course page for bonus photography and reviews from our course panelists. We also encourage you to leave your own ratings on the courses you’ve played … so you can make your case for why a course should be higher or lower on our rankings.

The best public golf courses in Hilton Head Island

Harbour Town Golf Links
Courtesy of Rob Tipton
Public
Harbour Town Golf Links
Hilton Head Island, SC, United States
In the late 1960s, Jack Nicklaus landed the design contract for Harbour Town, then turned it over to his new partner, Pete Dye, who was determined to distinguish his work from that of rival Robert Trent Jones. Soon after Harbour Town opened in late November 1969 (with a victory by Arnold Palmer in the Heritage Classic), the course debuted on America’s 100 Greatest as one of the Top 10. It was a total departure for golf at the time. No mounds, no elevated tees, no elevated greens—just low-profile and abrupt change. Tiny greens hung atop railroad ties directly over water hazards. Trees blocked direct shots. Harbour Town gave Pete Dye national attention and put Jack Nicklaus, who made more than 100 inspection trips in collaborating with Dye, in the design business. Pete’s wife, Alice, also contributed, instructing workers on the size and shape of the unique 13th green, a sinister one edged by cypress planks.
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May River Golf Club At Palmetto Bluff
Courtesy of the club
May River Golf Club At Palmetto Bluff
Bluffton, SC, United States

Built some 35 years after nearby Harbour Town Golf Links, May River is an interesting contrast in Jack Nicklaus' portfolio. It's an equally low-profile layout with a number of bump-and-run approach shots but with several Pine Valley-like waste areas and with larger, bolder greens. The classic routing has the front nine turning clockwise through forest while the back nine circles counter-clockwise. Both touch repeatedly on the wetlands of namesake May River.

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The Sea Pines Resort: Atlantic Dunes
Public
The Sea Pines Resort: Atlantic Dunes
Hilton Head Island, SC
4
96 Panelists
Overhauled by David Love III, Atlantic Dunes is the reconstruction of The Sea Pines Resort’s Ocean Course, Hilton Head’s first golf course. This lowcountry track features water on almost every hole, beautiful Spanish moss-draped oaks, and lurking gators, if you look close enough. The seaside feel of the course is accentuated by the native grasses and coquina shells scattered throughout.
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The Sea Pines Resort: Heron Point
Public
The Sea Pines Resort: Heron Point
Hilton Head Island, SC, United States
3.7
79 Panelists
With the goal of making the course more playable for an average golfer, Pete Dye modified this Hilton Head course by adding several tee boxes and enlarging a handful of the greens. However, Heron Point still maintains a tough test with its risk-reward holes, Dye-signature mounding and water-guarded greens. Additionally, the Sea Pines resort course conserves and protects its natural landscape, which led to its certification as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
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Palmetto Dunes Resort: Arthur Hills
Public
Palmetto Dunes Resort: Arthur Hills
Hilton Head Island, SC
3.5
68 Panelists
When the Arthur Hills course at Palmetto Dunes Resort opened in the mid-1980s, there was no rough. Instead, the holes were protected by the natural mounding and contouring of the landing areas. They have since added rough, but with less than 20 bunkers in play on the entire course, the prominent mounding remains the distinctive feature. Live oaks frame many of the landing areas, which are occasionally quite narrow and semi-blind from the tees. The course is one of three layouts at this Hilton Head Island resort.
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Palmetto Dunes Resort: Robert Trent Jones Course
Edward C. Robison III
Public
Palmetto Dunes Resort: Robert Trent Jones Course
Hilton Head Island, SC
Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in the 1960s, the Jones course was the first of the three to open at Palmetto Dunes Resort. The original layout is also the most forgiving of the three from tee to green, with wide fairways and large greens that have gentle slopes. Though most holes play inland, winding through lagoons and palmetto trees, the par-5 10th plays directly toward the Atlantic Ocean, with the green set against the beach. Before your round, make sure to check out the Toptracer driving range, which tracks your ball flight and gives you some key metrics.
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Palmetto Dunes Resort: George Fazio Course
Public
Palmetto Dunes Resort: George Fazio Course
Hilton Head Island, SC
A par-70 layout with a slope and rating of 74/145 from the back tees, the George Fazio course at Palmetto Dunes Resort is a tough test. That said, it is a slicer-friendly track, with much of the out-of-bounds and serious trouble off the tee coming on the left side, away from a typical slicer’s miss. Unlike the sibling Arthur Hills layout at the Hilton Head Island resort, which has very few fairway bunkers, there are many large bunkers in play off the tee on the Fazio, though with shallow lips, they aren’t too penal. Still, encroaching trees, angled water hazards and a variety of tricky green shapes make the Fazio arguably the most challenging of the three courses at Palmetto Dunes Resort.
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Oyster Reef Golf Club
Holger M. Obenaus
Public
Oyster Reef Golf Club
Hilton Head Island, SC
Situated on the north end of Hilton Head Island, Oyster Reef is a Rees Jones design that plays on 190 acres of South Carolina lowcountry, weaving through lagoons, live oaks and pines. With plenty of doglegs through tree-lined corridors, the course demands accuracy off the tee to set up clear approach shots to the greens. There are some sprawling bunkers with jagged tongues that enhance the aesthetics and strategic value of the course. The par-3 sixth is the standout hole at Oyster Reef, as it plays to a green set against the Port Royal Sound, offering a serene ocean view.
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Hilton Head National Golf Club
Public
Hilton Head National Golf Club
Bluffton, SC
Hilton Head National is a Gary Player and Bobby Weed design located in Bluffton, a few miles from the bridge to Hilton Head Island. Unlike some nearby courses situated in residential areas, Hilton Head National has no houses on the course, giving it a secluded feel. The fairways are generally forgiving, though there are some tighter tee shots on the back nine. The sixth is a strong drivable par 4 for longer hitters, with a lagoon guarding the entire right side and bunkers on the left for those who bail out.
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Old South Golf Links
Holger M. Obenaus
Public
Old South Golf Links
Bluffton, SC
Located just down the road from Hilton Head National in Bluffton, Old South has few homes on the course (much like its neighbor), which helps immerse golfers in the lowcountry setting. Though the course is not overly challenging, water or marshes come into play on nearly every hole, often set well back from the line of play. There is a nice mix of holes—some play inland with trees lining the fairways, while there are stretches that run along a large marshland area. There are some forced carries over water, notably at the seventh and 16th, where the tees, fairways and greens are all separated by marshlands. With rates routinely under $100, Old South provides nice value in a region of generally pricey green fees.
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Golden Bear Golf Club At Indigo Run
Public
Golden Bear Golf Club At Indigo Run
Hilton Head Island, SC
Golden Bear Golf Club was designed by Jack Nicklaus’ design firm and is located in the heart of Hilton Head Island. Trees closely line many fairways with overhanging limbs cutting off certain lines, requiring players to set up proper angles to have clear shots into the greens. The course is part of the Indigo Run community, but given the holes are lined with dense stands of oaks, pines and cypress trees, many of the homes are set well back from the fairways. You can find solid value at Golden Bear later in the afternoon, when rates often dip under $70.
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