Dulac on Golf: Fine design distinguishes S.C. resort

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Clark Sinclair has worked on Hilton Head Island for 30 years, so he has watched first-hand the evolution of golf as courses have sprouted on the island in southern South Carolina.

The most noted course on the island is Harbour Town because it plays host to the PGA Tour's Heritage Classic. The red-and-white lighthouse that serves as backdrop to the 18th hole remains one of the most recognizable landmarks in golf.

Sinclair, though, is director of golf at Palmetto Dunes Resort, just north of Harbour Town, a destination that has become at least as popular because it features three designer courses with three very distinctive looks.

It has become a haven for many players and vacationers from Western Pennsylvania, even in the summer.

"There are so many good courses on Hilton Head," Sinclair said. "And, generally, the courses around the island are always in good condition. The Palmetto courses have just been outstanding."

The courses vary with each of the three designers -- Robert Trent Jones, Arthur Hills and George Fazio.

The Jones course is a links-style layout with two holes abutting the beach along the Atlantic Ocean (Nos. 10 and 11) and several others directly affected by the ocean breezes. It has wide fairways, lots of sand and large greens. The property is so expansive that the 10th green, which sits spectacularly along the ocean, is 2 1/2 miles from the clubhouse. From the back tees, it stretches to 7,005 yards -- a distance made even longer because the ball does not fly as far at sea level. Even the blue tees, at 6,570 yards, are plenty long.

The Hills course is an entirely different look. At 6,651 yards from the back tees (6,122 from the white markers), it is not dauntingly long. But it was built on a series of rolling dunes, features 10 holes with water and has enough angles and doglegs to make a player hit nearly every club in his bag.

Precision and knowledge is a prerequisite at the Hills course, especially at the 380-yard 17th -- a 90-degree dogleg in which the hole twice crosses the lagoon system that runs through the entire property.

"If you can get the ball to the 150 markers and just get an approach shot, it makes for a really fun round," Sinclair said. "The greens are not large, so you don't have lot of three-putts."

The Fazio course is probably more user friendly because there are a number of parallel holes, allowing sprayed tee shots to at least find another fairway. Several years ago, the greens were redone with diamond zoysiagrass, which is more tolerant to heat, low light and traffic and doesn't need to be over-seeded in the fall or spring. The result is some of the best putting surfaces on the island.

One other added bonus at the Palmetto Dunes resort: Each golf cart is equipped with a cool-air system that is mounted on the back of the cart and blows cool air on the driver and passenger. So if the ocean breezes aren't enough, the "air-conditioned" carts provide nice respite during the South Carolina summer.

"I've been here 30 years and you always think about leaving," Sinclair said. "But, during the course of time, it's like being on vacation all year."

Trivia

Phil Mickelson's victory at the British Open gives him three of golf's four major titles. Only five players have won all four. Name them? Answer at end.

Still looking for No. 2

For a player who owns the 72-hole scoring record on the Web.com Tour, Steve Wheatcroft came close to quitting professional golf earlier in his career.

Wheatcroft, a Trinity High School graduate who is back home competing in the Mylan Classic at Southpointe, won the Melwood Prince George's County Open in June 2011, when he shot 29-under 255 to win the tournament by a record 12 shots.

The winning score bested by three shots the previous 72-hole scoring record on the Web.com Tour. It remains Wheatcroft's only victory on tour.

"I'd love to find another one of those weeks," Wheatcroft said last week. "That was an easy and fun week. Everything clicked. No matter what you did it ends right-side up."

The stunning manner of the victory was a surprise to everyone, including Wheatcroft, who had to walk-on to the team at Indiana University and never won a collegiate tournament.

In fact, when he graduated college, Wheatcroft came close to not even pursuing a career playing professional golf. He considered accepting a job as the golf coach at Washington & Jefferson University.

"I got close to quitting," Wheatcroft said. "I never thought in a million I'd played professional golf for my career. I never thought I was good enough. I tried some mini-tour events and I didn't play well and I said, 'Maybe this isn't for me.' I was this close to taking a job coaching the golf team at W&J.

"But then I said, 'You know what, I need to give it one more year.' I played better, I started to make some money and it started to snowball. I got comfortable, I started winning mini-tour events, and I became one of the better mini-tour players in the country. I was ready for the next level."

Wheatcroft went to qualifying school that year, gained status on the Web.com tour and spent the next couple years alternating between that circuit and the PGA Tour. His best finish on the PGA Tour was a tie for third at the 2010 Puerto Rico Open.

That ascent led to Wheatcroft's record-setting victory two years ago, but he has struggled to get back to the winner's circle since. He needs a couple good finishes to climb into the top 25 on the money list and secure his PGA Tour card for 2014. If he doesn't -- he is 44th heading into today's final round at Southpointe -- he will be part of the three-tournament qualifying series, along with players who are No. 126 through No. 200 on the PGA Tour money list, that debuts in September.

If only he could have another week like he did in Maryland two years ago.

"I always thought of myself as more of a U.S. Open kind of player," said Wheatcroft, a Washington, Pa., native who lives in Jacksonville, Fla. "I love when 6 under or even 2 under wins the golf tournament. I love playing good, hard golf tournaments. But just knowing I could shoot 29 under for 72 holes opened my eyes a bit, that, OK, maybe I don't have to be one type of player."

Dissa and data

Clearview Federal Credit Union Charity outing is Aug. 24, at Beaver Valley Golf Club. Registration is $75 and includes steak dinner and prizes. Proceeds benefit Variety the Children's Charity. Call 1-800-926-0003, ext. 5036.

Trivia answer

The only players to win the Grand Slam are Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.

mobilehome - golf

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com; twitter: @gerrydulac. Listen to "The Golf Show with Gerry Dulac" every Thursday, 7-8:30 p.m., on 970 ESPN.


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