Pete Dye’s iconic Harbour Town Golf Links and its famous lighthouse will always be the face of Hilton Head Island golf. But it can be argued that the “Open Doctor”, Rees Jones, who recently spent significant time on the Island reworking one of his masterpieces, should be placed right next to Dye in the Island’s Gallery of Greatness.
Rees, who’s still hard to keep up with at age 77, recently reopened Oyster Reef Golf Club after a summer renovation that restored the greens back to the original size and design he’d created in 1982, when the course was named one of the Top 25 New Courses in America. He also redesigned and rebuilt many of the bunkers to tour-like standards, creating more shot options, especially more ground shots into those restored greens.
He says Oyster Reef is now more ‘classic’ than ‘dramatic’, yet still made the course’s signature hole, the par-3 6th that plays out to Port Royal Sound an even more breathtaking view, by lowering the bunker complex in front of the green, exposing more of the green to the player on the tee.
“I think we’ve created a great course for 21st Century golf,” he told me just after the re-opening of Oyster Reef in September. “And I think it now ranks among the better resort courses in the entire country- playable, but challenging.”
Jones began his Island odyssey helping his father, Robert Trent Jones, create the renowned course that bears dad’s name at Palmetto Dunes. There he met Charles Fraser and the crew that set the bar for Hilton Head’s reputation as the Golf Island.
He designed three of the four terrific layouts in Hilton Head Plantation, beginning with Bear Creek in 1980 (which he did a complete redesign of in 2005), then Oyster Reef in 1982, followed by the Country Club of Hilton Head in 1986. Another of his originals is the private Haig Point Club on Daufuskie Island.
Yet his re-imagining of the works of others got him the nickname “The Open Doctor”. You’ve certainly seen, and maybe played his redesigns of 7 US Open venues, 8 PGA Championship courses, 5 Ryder Cups and 2 Walker Cup sites.
At 77, he’s still jetting around the world working on a number of projects, including a re-do of a major resort course in Japan. Yet he still says, “the best day of my life is today.”
Yours might be too after playing one of his popular Hilton Head Island gems.
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By Bob Stevens
Next to Captain William Hilton himself, Charles Fraser might be the most important name in the history of Hilton Head Island.
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