Port Royal Golf Review (Hilton Head Island, South Carolina)

After year two at the Masters, I decided to make my first jaunt down to Hilton Head Island to spend a few days with some family friends.

My friends live in beautiful Port Royal Plantation, and it just so happens that they are members of the golf club here.

What does this mean?

Three solid days of golf, on each of the three courses that they have to offer: Robbers Row, Barony, and Planters Row.

I was expecting each of the courses to be pretty similar given that they all meander through the same general neighborhoods, however after finishing up my third round today I can definitely say that each course is unique in it’s own way and there is something for everyone here at Port Royal.

This review will cover all three courses and my impressions of each.

The Clubhouse and Facilities

When you pull up to Port Royal Golf Club and drop off your bags it’s impossible not to notice the spectacular club house that all three courses share.

Port Royal is unique in that it’s the only plantation on Hilton Head island to feature nothing but single family homes.  You’re not going to find vacation rentals and condos anywhere (as you would in the rest of the island).  The people that play here are serious about keeping there neighborhood and courses as well kept as possible, and it shows.

Port Royal Plantation Clubhouse in Hilton Head, South Carolina

The Clubhouse at Port Royal

Port Royal Golf Club is classified as semi-private.  At any given time there’s one members only course and two that are open to the public.  This rotates monthly, and during the time I was there the Robbers Row course was the members course – as well as the first one we played.

The practice facilities at the club are absolutely fantastic with a turf driving range, good sized putting green and numerous areas to practice your short game or bunker shots.  I really enjoyed the brief time I spent practicing there, and could easily see myself spending many hours out there were I a member of the club.

Each course while not dramatically different definitely has it’s own personality, which made each day of golf different from the previous and a whole lot of fun.

Robbers Row Golf Course Review

Robbers Row was the first course we played and the second of the three to be built. It was originally designed by George W. Cobb in 1967 and underwent an update in 1994 by renowned architect Pete Dye.

At 6657 yards from the tips, it isn’t exactly a lengthy course – which may be why it’s considered a favorite of most of the retired members of the club.

The entire course is littered with beautiful oak trees which make for quite the hassle if you hit an errant drive.  Luckily, of the three Port Royal courses Robbers Row has the widest fairways and in my opinion, was probably the easiest of the three offerings.

Robbers Row starts out with a short par four with a slight dogleg right around a small lagoon.  Don’t let the distance fool you though, too far left or right and you’re going to have a tough (or non-existent) second shot, as I found out from beneath a canopy of oak trees.

Hole 1 at Robbers Row on Port Royal Golf Club

Looking back at the par 4 1st on Robbers Row

Of my three rounds Robbers was easily the most consistent. Three pars, three doubles and a bunch of bogeys to shoot a solid 90.

The greens weren’t in the best shape as it was still early in the season, but they definitely provided ample challenge as evidenced by my 38 putts on the round.

At 207 yards, #4 was a beautiful par 4 with water all down the left and sand protecting the green.

Robbers Row Golf Course

Par 3 #4 at Robbers Row

One distinguishing feature of all the Port Royal courses is the abundance of water on the course.  While I didn’t lose quite as many balls as I probably should have, if you’re not on your A game, you can expect to lose a sleeve on any of the three (especially Planters Row).

Robbers Row is also a Civil War historical site.  Many of the tee boxes feature plaques to inform and commemorate the events that happened on the grounds over 150 years ago – a nice touch.

Like Barony, Robbers also winds through the neighborhoods of Port Royal, and so most if not all of the holes are lined with houses.  I actually enjoy this, as you can rarely see one hole from another, it makes each shot more memorable. It’s worth noting that because of the original design, Robbers Row does not come back to the clubhouse at 9. In fact the 10th tee is about as far away from the clubhouse as you can get.

Most people play with carts and there are bathrooms along the way, so it’s not a huge deal, but something to keep in mind if you were just hoping to get in a quick 9.

Robbers Row Hole 8

The Par 3 8th on Robbers Row

Robbers Row on Hitlon Head Island

A green on the back 9 at Robbers Row

Of the three, I might tell you I enjoyed my round on Robbers Row the best of the three courses.  This could be due to the lack of people playing (since it was the members course for the month) or the fact that I played so consistently.

Robbers Row Hole 15

15 at Robbers Row

Barony Golf Course Review

Also designed by George W. Cobb, Barony was one of the first courses on Hilton Head Island, and like it’s brothers, isn’t terribly long at 6543 yards.

The front 9 feel very similar to Robbers Row but then by the back it took more of a tropical vibe with an abundance of palm trees and lagoons throughout – making me feel like I was someplace more like Florida than South Carolina.

The round didn’t start off well for me.

It didn’t take long for Barony to prove that it might be a little bit more difficult than our prior day’s round on Robbers.

I hit a solid 3 hybrid to the left of the fairway, leaving me with a water and bunker carry to get to the green. I didn’t quite get all of it leaving me in the drink. My dropped shot subsequently found the beach and I was left walking off the green with a triple to start the round – not exactly what you want to see.

If my round at Robbers was the consistent one, my round at Barony was anything but. I navigated trees and water around every turn on the front 9 shooting a double, then par, then a bogey, then another par, and so on and so forth.

Barony Golf Course at Port Royal Plantation

The par 4 4th hole at Barony

I personally like courses that are spread out, and this was the most spread out of the three. You rarely, if ever, saw any other holes from where you were playing, and despite being in a neighborhood, you really felt like you were on your own out there – you know, until the group of tourists in front of you slows down to the speed of a disable turtle.

The 8th hole was the most memorable of the round. A short par 4 at 324 yards with a strong dogleg left.  My host Don told me, “you can get it over the trees on this one, it will put you in perfect shape for the approach.”

I took his advice thinking the group ahead of us was way out of reach.

Sure enough I rocketed it over the trees and was unclear if I made it.

“You probably didn’t need to cut the corner that much…but I think it’s safe.”

When the guy ran out and started waving his arms at us we were pretty sure it must have been a good shot.

266 yards with a 3 wood that left me with a short chip to the green and an easy par.

Even with that dramatic hole, I finished with an unimpressive 47 before ramping it up on the backside.

The Back at Barony

The back 9 at Barony was my favorite 9 at all of Port Royal.  Like I said, it had more of a Florida vibe to it, that well, I’ve never experienced, but I imagine that’s what it would be like.

The holes were interesting and challenging, as 10 and 11 quickly showed. 10 is a strong dog leg left with a gator filled lagoon to the left and trees to the right.  If you don’t hit your tee shot just right you’ll be starting off the back in a load of trouble.

Barony Golf Course

Looking back at the 10th on Barony from the 11th tee

11 was even more difficult.  It’s an S shaped par 5 that first includes a water carry and then a draw around the left with a small creek you have to clear.  Accuracy is key here, but at 524 yards, it’s also the longest hole on the course.  Careful not to go too far long on the drive though as if you hit it straight out the water is reachable on the left.

Another memorable hole was the par 5 15th. I launched a 275 yard drive straight down the pike, and was left with a long iron to the green.  I knocked it on the green and it rolled just off the fringe where I missed my eagle putt by a foot.  I’ll take tap in birdies any day of the week.

An approach shot on the back 9 at Barony

I finished the back with a 43 to card another 90 for the round – which I was ok with.  My putting had got a little bit better, and I was able to salvage a slow start into a round of bogey golf which I’m usually happy with.

Planters Row Golf Course Review

Our final course we played, Planters Row,  is widely regarded as the most difficult of the three.

It’s also the most uniquely different of the Port Royal courses.  It’s the only one which doesn’t wind through neighborhoods, and was also the one that wasn’t part of the original plans for the plantation. It was built in 1984 and designed by Willard C. Byrd.

Like the rest of the courses on the plantation, it’s not incredibly long, measuring just 6625 from the Gold Tees.  Don’t let it’s short length fool you though, this course has teeth, as I found out during my round here.

We teed off around 11:30 on a misty Monday morning, and I was feeling relaxed and really good about my prospects on the course.  My hosts had been telling their friends that they would be taking me to Planters to “humble me” after they got jealous of a couple 275 yard drives the day before.

The round couldn’t have started off better, but by the end I was saying things like “Man, I need a drink” and “get me off this hole, now.”

You never would have guessed that’s how it would end after the start, however.

Lets’ back up.

I barely missed the green on my approach shot on one after a beautiful 3 wood straight down the narrow fairway.  I then hit the pin on my chip and while it didn’t go in, it stayed close enough to allow me to putt in for par.

Not bad on a course that all the members hated because “it was too difficult.”

Things got even better on the par 4 second after I had a solid drive and then pulled out a short eight iron to land about 6 feet away from the pin.  I drained the putt to go one under in two.

3 and 4 ended in bogeys that should have been pars, but a couple barely missed putts got in the way of that – still feeling good however at 1 over through 4.

That’s when things started to go downhill.

The par 5 5th hole is the #1 handicap hole and while not a particularly long par 5 a water carry and some heavy trees on the right make it a stout challenge – one that to say I succumbed to would be an understatement.

Planters Row Golf Course Hilton Head

The par 3 4th hole at Planters Row

A poor drive left had me punching out of the trees, and what should have been a routine fairway knock out, was anything but when my ball kept rolling across the fairway before dropping into the pond.

My three wood that I used to try and salvage the hole was then mishit, also ending in the water.

“This hole sucks.”

My quadruple bogey was the first I’d had in over a year, and my only saving grace was telling myself that overall I was still playing ok, and I was still sitting at bogey golf.

I maintained with a couple bogeys after punching out of the sand on the par 3 6 before finishing double, par to end the front.

It was one of the most schizophrenic rounds of my life and I was surprised I was still able to hold onto a 45.

Oh, and by the way, any of the Port Royal courses are excellent if you’re looking to see a little wildlife during your rounds.  We saw numerous birds, rabits, and at least a dozen of these guys:

Gator at Planters Row

During our round at Planters Row we saw no less than 8 gators. Pretty cool

The Back at Planters Row

The back 9 was another story however.

The holes were even more narrow, and due to plantation rules about trimming trees many of the oaks towered over the fairway from both sides of the course – this would prove problematic on multiple occasions.

Also working against me was my trusty three wood that had been long and straight for the last couple rounds, but decided to start developing just enough of a slice to get me in trouble.

Planters Row Golf Course

The 11th Green at Planters

Both Robbers and Barony felt more like Resort courses with long transfers between teeboxes and winding fairways through neighborhoods.  Planters on the other hand felt more like a Parkland course and one that was almost added after the fact – oh wait, it was.

There’s much more water than on the other courses and the fairways just kind of lap back in forth – granted it’s still a beautiful course and one I’d happily play again.

The back 9 started off just as well as the front with me going bogey, birdie, bogey to bring my score back to a respectable level. You know, until a disastrous 14th hole which resulted in another quadruple bogey.

Definitely the first time I had two quads and two birdies in the same round.

I think the former were the result of poorly maintained roughs and tight trees.  I couldn’t hit anything out of the “root-y” roughs and this resulted in numerous extra shots and in a couple cases topped balls that went in the water.

I barely missed my birdie putt on the par 3 15 – maybe there’s still some chance to salvage this round.

I had that thought for about 90 seconds before finishing triple, triple, bogey to end the round.

Planters Row Golf Course Hilton Head

The 17th Tee on Planters Row

Bottom line, Planters Row is hard.  It’s narrow, has lots of water, and if you’re not careful or mentally tough enough (like I obviously wasn’t) it can eat you alive.

I shot a 95 that day, which given the amount of triples and quads I had – could have been much worse.

While it’s difficult, it’s still totally possible to score well if you hit smart shots. I got a little frustrated and lost focus – which obviously killed me.  However, judging by the holes I shot well on, there’s plenty of potential to do well.

Final Thoughts – Are the Port Royal Courses Worth Playing?

While I had a specific reason to head to Port Royal and play their courses, the question remains, is it worth playing them in an area known for it’s scores of great golf courses.

The answer? Probably.

It really depends on what you’re looking for in a golf course.  This isn’t Harbour Town, and doesn’t feature the same recognition, waterfront scenery and impeccable maintenance as the home to the RBC Heritage.

What Port Royal does have are three decent golf courses that are perfect for someone who doesn’t necessarily want long, but still likes the potential for a challenge.  Robbers Row is the best for those just starting out, followed by Barony for a little more challenge and Planters Row for those of you who can hit it straight.

I played early in the season so the fairways were still a little brown, I was told they needed another 3 weeks or so to really be getting in optimal condition.  The greens were in good shape however and I’d love to play any of these courses again.

I don’t know that I’d pay full price fees of $100+ to play, but I’d happily go out for 60 bucks or so in the afternoon.

Have you played any of the Port Royal courses? Let us know in the comments!

 




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  1. Jim Fisher

    Fantastic review of the Port Royal Plantation golf courses. Try again after the Masters in 2014 !!! Thanks.

  2. Eric Larson

    I agree great review, I just recently played the planters row course on 16th of May 2015. When we first pulled up i was impressed with the club house as well as the staff that greeted us and pointed to where we had to check in. After checking in and hitting the practice range we were ready for play. The first impression of the first hole was wow its tight but short, we played from the tips an easy 7 iron leaving only 125 out from the pin. Being a long hitter I enjoy courses that line up back and forth of each other due to me having one to two wayward tee shots. This course I enjoyed because it made you think of what to hit off the tee shot. I utilized three wood off several tee shots as well as long irons. Luckily prior to the round i bought the yardage booklet which helped a lot off the tee and figuring out distances to the hole. The greens where in fantastic shape not super fast but perfect. I have played several of Hilton head courses over the years and this is one course I will gladly play again.


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