My last round at Harbour Town was over five years ago, and if you would like to read that in-depth review, it can be found here. This review will focus on the 2015 course renovations (below) and the experience of playing the course with hickory golf clubs.
The round at Harbour Town was my second time playing hickory golf clubs, and it was my first experience in the US. My initial thought when friend Tim Alpaugh sent the invite was, “Playing hickories on the tiny Musselburgh Old Links was fun, but will it be a good time on a PGA Tour track?” I can safely say that yes, it was a blast!
Playing hickories is a very rewarding experience. In addition to gaining massive respect for the forefathers of golf, you find yourself cherishing every solidly struck shot. Pars feel like great achievements and you finish a round without any concern for your score (in my case). If playing with hickories is something you’ve never experienced, I highly suggest it. If possible, also play on a course that is firm and fast. As Tim said, “The hickory game begins when the ball touches the ground. The modern game ends when the ball touches the ground.”
We played clubs that Tim had restored himself, with a handful of reproduction clubs thrown in to fill any gaps in my bag. The advice on hickory play rings true – swing at about 80%, and try not to take huge divots. We teed off on the first hole and began to make our way around the newly renovated golf course!
2015 Harbour Town Renovations
The most obvious renovation took place in the clubhouse. While the bones may be similar, the new grand clubhouse is almost unrecognizable from its predecessor. Bill Goodwin is the new Sea Pines owner who has invested around $25 million in the clubhouse and course (in addition to much more at other Sea Pines properties). He is the same guy who owns the Sanctuary Hotel on Kiawah Island. The new clubhouse is improved in every way, including a locker room fit for the PGA Tour players who play in the Heritage Golf Tournament every year. In fact, the whole place feels like it revolves around the Heritage. The players have their names on every locker (members share lockers with the players) and Heritage merchandise is for sale in the pro shop, months away from the event.
The design changes on the course were minimal, with the largest project being a complete re-grassing of the course. TifEagle Bermuda grass was used on the greens while a Celebration Bermuda was used on the fairways and rough. A third Bermuda strain was added on the green collars to prevent cross contamination. Within a year the course is looking incredible… New drainage has the fairways and greens firm and fast, even at the time of writing (November, 2015). A completely new irrigation system also allows the team to put water only where and when it is needed with the convenience of their smartphones.
Hole #2 – The second hole saw changes around the green, with a high front greenside bunker lip being softened for a more natural look. An area left of the green was also re-shaped with trees added for a more natural look on the tree-lined course.
Hole #5 – The largest architectural change on the course took place at the 5th hole, with the green being moved significantly further left. In an area where courses and lengthened and continually made harder (particularly PGA Tour tracks) it was nice to see an effort to make a hole easier. The green was moved left away from trees, O.B., shade, and an invading root system. The result is a less treacherous approach shot and healthier turf on the green.
Hole #16 – Church pew bunkers were added to the left waste area on the 16th hole. The pews are nice visually, but also penalize those dumb enough to not use the massive fairway right of the waste area. As the Harbour Town pro in my group said, there really is no reason to hug the left side of this hole at all.
The final two holes at Harbour Town are as beautiful as ever. A row of trees in the distance off the 17th tee have been thinned to open up the view of the water. The two photos below are a before (top photo from 2012) and an after (bottom photo from November, 2015) comparison and look for the row of palm trees short of the water in the distance.
As with any round at Harbour Town, we had a blast. The course was in excellent condition, particularly after having just undergone a serious renovation project less than a year before. Playing the course with hickory clubs made me see the place in a new light. It forces creativity and an appreciation that simply isn’t present with modern golf. I’m not sure how often I will play hickories, but I certainly won’t be passing up any opportunities in the future!
It was indeed a pleasure to step back in time and honor those who played hickories as “modern clubs”. Shot values are enhanced and strategy is brought back to the game. Well played. I look forward to checking off a number of “southern treasures” with you and the old sticks.
Sounds like a fun way to experience a course in a ‘new’ way.