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Harbour Town Elicits Timeless Golf Chops

by Ron Green Jr. - April 17, 2017

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. | It would be enough at the Harbour Town Golf Links just to wallow in its low-country charm.

On Easter weekend when the air is warm, the breeze is soft and the good times are in full bloom alongside Calibogue Sound, it’s an intoxicating place to be even without the cocktails that are as prevalent as sundresses and sandals.

It’s a golf tournament within a grown-up spring break, where boats bob on the water while yachts are moored in the harbor nearby, the fortunate and their friends idling away the hours from captain’s chairs on deck.

The best part of it all, if you can pull yourself away from the beach or the bar, is the golf course itself. It asks a simple question:

Why aren’t there more like it on the PGA Tour?

“It’s funny, every Tour player I play with says I wish we had more places like it. I don’t know why we don’t,” Kevin Kisner said.

“It seems to be the recurring theme of the week. Every place we go to now seems to be 7,800 yards. It would be nice to see some modern architecture change more to this line.

“It doesn’t matter if you hit it far or short. If you hit it long, you can take advantage. If you don’t, it’s precision golf. That’s what the game is all about.”

Officially, Harbour Town is listed at 7,099 yards but the actual yardage in Sunday’s final round was 6,938 yards, a few yards longer than it played on Saturday. That’s about two long par-4s shorter than Torrey Pines South played in the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year.

Luke Donald, who was runner-up at the RBC Heritage for a fifth time last week, tees off at Harbour Town Golf Links.
Luke Donald, who was runner-up at the RBC Heritage for a fifth time last week, tees off at Harbour Town Golf Links.

Both are special golf courses, framed by salt water on opposite sides of the country, but otherwise they could hardly be more different.

Harbour Town went a long way toward establishing the course-design creds of Pete Dye, who had that Jack Nicklaus guy working alongside him all those years ago. It opened in 1969, before driver heads were the size of Easter hams and 7-irons were the club of choice from 180 yards.

Like The Godfather and good bourbon, it has stood the test of time.

It’s no coincidence that 19 major champions have won at Harbour Town, including nine who have won the Heritage at least twice. Davis Love III and Hale Irwin combined to win eight tartan jackets.

Nick Faldo won his first PGA Tour event at Harbour Town 33 years ago. It it his meticulous approach, which also happened to it at Augusta National, where he won three times, evidence that talent travels.

“It tunes everything up here. Players really enjoy the fact it requires more accuracy, more pure strategy,” Faldo said. “It’s a nice change from standing up there and bombing it. It’s a lovely test, simple as that. It gets their imagination going.”

A glance at the leaderboard through the weekend showed a different collection of names. True, the highest-ranked player in the field was No. 16 Tyrrell Hatton, but Harbour Town has a way of featuring tacticians more than home-run hitters.

Look at where the contenders ranked in driving distance entering the week:

Jason Dufner 130; William McGirt 147; Kisner 154; Webb Simpson 156; Wesley Bryan 167; Poulter 168; and Luke Donald 200. Graham DeLaet was the outlier at 30th.

“I like this type of golf,” Poulter said. “It’s fiddley, you can’t hit driver off every tee. Positional play. And sometimes the fairway is not good enough on some of these holes.”

That’s not to say long hitters can’t succeed navigating between the tree lines, especially now that Hurricane Matthew gave Harbour Town and the rest of this island an impromptu deforestation. Length will always be an advantage in golf but Harbour Town is one of relatively few places on Tour where players can’t blindly grip it and rip it.

Harbour Town had the lowest percentage of greens hit in regulation on the PGA Tour last season.

“Tell (Dustin Johnson) and Rory to leave their woods at home,” Faldo said.

They should play here again.

There are other places on Tour that minimize the value of brute strength. Innisbrook, Colonial Country Club, Sea Island and Pebble Beach come to mind.

“It’s a nice change,” Dufner said. “Oak Hill where I won (the 2013 PGA Championship) wasn’t a bomber’s paradise, so to speak. That’s kind of the way the game is going.

“Seems like guys that are hitting the furthest are contending more and more. Occasionally we get a golf course like this where being in position, being in the fairway, playing a course that’s a little bit shorter, so everybody is kind of hitting the same irons into the holes, I feel like I have a little better chance, maybe.”

There may be no going back to the way the game was played before titanium and Trackman and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Styles come and go but classics like Harbour Town endure.


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