Though more than 60 golf courses now exist within an hour’s drive of Hilton Head Island, the sport was a relative newcomer when pioneering developer Charles Fraser saw the potential a PGA Tour event could bring to South Carolina’s southern tip. He dreamed big, too.
Hearing that Jack Nicklaus was dabbling in course design, Fraser made contact with the game’s pre-eminent player to gauge his interest in building a tour venue. Nicklaus was intrigued, but wanted to bring in a partner to keep the project on task.
Enter Pete Dye. Though the onetime insurance salesman had built a few courses in his native Indiana, he was a relative unknown in the industry. Though it was early in both men’s design careers, Harbour Town Golf Links has been lauded as one of the seminal designs of the modern era.
“Harbour Town made my career,” said Dye in a promotional video for Sea Pines Resort. “It was unbelievable the change… because all of a sudden it was where the PGA Tour played.
“And out of nothing, here comes all this notoriety from Sea Pines and from Harbour Town golf course, so that changed my whole way of life.”
Working with limited space, Nicklaus and Dye built a course predicated on strategy and placement, with tall pines and oaks waiting to deflect errant shots. Greens were small and undulating.
The first Heritage Classic got off to something of a comical start, with Dye still spreading pine straw before the opening round and Fraser pulling up stakes without realizing they were marking hazard lines. Arnold Palmer wound up winning, ending a 14-month drought as Hilton Head Island basked in his victory.
Did You Know: The 13th hole at Harbour Town was built by Dye’s wife, Alice, who opted not to use her husband’s signature railroad ties.
“Alice was a little hesitant of the railroad ties, so she put cypress boards around the edges of that hole,” said Dye.