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Tranquil Living and Glorious Golf on Daufuskie Island
We’re big fans of Discovery Packages—the stay and play packages that serve as a prime marketing tool of residential communities anchored by golf courses. These packages typically provide overnight accommodations and access to the golf course with the requirement that participants take a property tour. They present opportunities to get a real feel for private clubs and communities, interact with members, and play some outstanding and sometimes very exclusive courses. Most often the packages are for three days/two nights and are usually very attractively priced. Over the years we’ve spotlighted Colleton River, Berkeley Hall, Belfair, and The Ford Plantation in the “Discovery Package Capital of the Country” between Bluffton, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. This month we return to the area to profile Haig Point on Daufuskie Island. Haig Point, which boasts 29 holes of Rees Jones golf, is as tranquil a place as you could ever imagine.
Daufuskie Island (population: 650), the southernmost inhabited sea island in South Carolina, is accessible only by boat. Anyone familiar with The Water Is Wide, Pat Conroy’s memoir of his time on the five-mile long by three-mile wide island, likely knows that the island wasn’t on the electrical grid until the 1950s and lacked phone service until the 1970s. While much of Daufuskie still seems like it is in a time warp, the northern tip of the island, only one nautical mile across Calibogue Sound from Harbour Town, is home to a serene, high-end development that has all the creature comforts one desires. The real estate arm of International Paper developed Haig Point in the mid-1980s for the company’s executives, but since 2001 it has been owned and operated by Haig Point Club members.
We’ve eyed Haig Point ever since its Rees Jones-designed course debuted in 1987 and began appearing on top-100 course lists. Over the last eighteen months, we noticed that Haig Point popped up frequently in mass-market golf magazines and on the Internet. Ads featuring the community touted the “sea island life” and detailed an enticing Discovery Experience that included accommodations for two nights, a round of golf, breakfast, lunch and dinner for one of the days, and transportation to and from the island community. Our curiosity finally got the better of us and we decided to check it out.
To set up our visit, we exchanged a few emails and calls with Haig Point’s Sales Manager and one of its real estate representatives. The low-key conversations explained some of the logistics: a club member would join us for golf and the realtor would give us a tour of the community and show us a few houses. There was no overt attempt to sell us on the development. As the realtor said, a place like Haig Point isn’t for everybody. If it is for you, you’ll usually know it before you leave the island.
We arrived at the Haig Point Welcome & Embarkation Center on Hilton Head Island an hour before our scheduled ferry. Since golf carts are the approved mode of transportation within Haig Point, this is where the enclave’s residents keep their automobiles. We turned our luggage and clubs over to the attendants and headed inside to fill out paperwork and get a quick introduction to the development.
Haig Point’s private ferry boats make the round trip from the Embarkation Center to the Haig Point ferry landing virtually every hour between 6:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. It takes about 25 minutes from dock to dock in each direction. From the Embarkation Station, the boat travels slowly through a no-wake channel for half of the ride before venturing into the less sheltered waters of Calibogue Sound for the remainder of the journey. Even though a torrential thundershower hit just as we left the dock, our fellow passengers on the boat seemed unfazed. We were assured such conditions have no effect on the boat, although when it started rocking precipitously from side to side a Haig Point member told us it was the wildest ride he’d had on the ferry in eight years.
Guests coming for the Discovery Experience stay in either the restored 1873 Lighthouse or the historic Strachan Mansion. Both are decorated in Southern country house style. The Lighthouse, which has a lovely verandah, features a living room, dining room and kitchen downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. We stayed in Strachan Mansion. The circa-1910 mansion, which houses four suites, the community’s small General Store, and the Guest Reception desk, was transported intact on two barges from St. Simons Island in 1986. Mongins, a second-floor corner room decorated with antique furnishings, offers a sitting area, television with DirecTV channel offerings, and views of Calibogue Sound. Upon entering the room, we noticed a welcome package with Harry & David snacks and a tote bag filled with information about the community. The ground floor features a bar, billiards rooms, and lobby where complimentary coffee, pastries, muffins, and newspapers are available each morning.
When we arrived we received the keys to our assigned golf cart. Over the years we’ve been to many communities where golf carts share the road with cars and service vehicles and it’s not always a comfortable situation. At car-free Haig Point, there’s no such concern. Zipping around the community under the tree canopy is delightful. Just be prepared to wave to every passerby.
It takes about seven minutes to get from Strachan Mansion to the golf course. Our clubs were set up on another golf cart, but the member we were scheduled to play golf with bowed out, so we were paired up instead with the club’s young new assistant pro. After a few swings on the driving range, we headed to the first tee for a thoroughly enjoyable round. You can usually play at your own pace here. Haig Point averages about 40 rounds a day.
International Paper commissioned Rees Jones to design a world-class layout at Haig Point (Rating: A-). He accomplished that by taking the routing to Calibogue Sound and carving inland holes in secluded, heavily wooded corridors. Jones built a 20-hole layout that includes an extra par three on each nine. Both the 8th and 17th holes feature two entirely distinct “C” and“H” holes—one right in the tidal marshland, the other facing inland. The extra holes provide insurance in case storm surges consume or damage the greens set by the sea. Thanks to the alternative holes, members should always be able to play a full eighteen.
Haig Point features five sets of tee boxes from two distinct configurations—“Calibogue” and “Haig”—which get almost equal play from the membership. While they share most of the course in common, each uses separate 8th and 17th holes as well as different teeing areas on four other holes. The longer and more difficult Calibogue Course extends back amidst the trees, presenting difficult angles, added risk/reward strategy, and much more formidable forced carries. The Haig Course tops out at 6,735 yards, some 650 yards shorter than the “Jones” tees on the Calibogue. The Haig Course eliminates most of the carries and provides more player-friendly lines. No matter which setup you select, Haig Point is not one of Rees Jones’ most user-friendly layouts. Narrow playing corridors present plenty of intimidation. We took minimal solace from the fact that the presence of so many trees makes the fairways seem tighter than they really are.
Haig Point breaks from the gate in the trees. The 3rd, the strongest of the inland holes, is completely devoid of bunkers. The first peek of Calibogue Sound comes on the par-three 5th. We loved the flow of the round, as the routing weaves in and out of the trees and approaches the Sound on a few occasions. By routing holes perpendicular to the water, Jones was able to take advantage of natural green sites and give players more sea-view holes. Nine holes head toward or come up to the Sound.
The par threes are the strength of the course. All are on or in view of Calibogue Sound, so you must cope with the elements. The glorious 8th of the Calibogue Course plays straight out to the water. Beware of the knockdown effects of the wind and the heavy sea air.
On the back nine, the par-five 14th is one of Rees Jones’ all-time favorite holes. After starting in the trees, it leads players to the vast tidal marsh and the Sound. The narrow peninsula green presents a small target with water and marshland all around. The final par three, 17, also heads straight to the water with an all-carry tee shot over marsh. If the wind is whipping—four club winds are not uncommon—good luck making the carry.
In 2007 the club brought Jones back to refresh the course and recapture its majesty. He restored the original shape and contours of the greens, updated the drainage system, and culled trees and vegetation to open up better views and give the greens a little more air. During the renovation, Jones removed and softened some of his trademark mounding and redid the bunkers with more flash facing. He also added 200 yards to the routing. For the ultimate test, the Calibogue tips stretch all the way to 7,380 yards with a 143 slope rating.
Haig Point also has a full-length nine-hole layout. The Osprey Course, which rambles inland, receives much less play than the Signature Course. The challenging par-36 layout maxes out at 3,575 yards. Forced carries figure less prominently, but you will find plenty of water hazards, thick vegetation, and stands of trees beyond the fairways.
We had breakfast and lunch in the golf clubhouse and dinner at the Calibogue Club, located at the Beach Club. The Calibogue Club is Haig Point’s casual, showplace evening dining room. Residents and members gather at these venues enthusiastically, in no small part because the food is good. We had excellent seafood. The chef often features special themed dinners thatmay highlight prime rib or crab legs, with a variety of buffet-style accompaniments.
Throughout our visit, we mingled and dined with residents and golf club members. Everyone knows each other in this close-knit community that divides almost equally between full- and part-time residents. The community spirit and camaraderie is palpable. We were struck by the passion of Haig Point members for their golf course and how fortunate they feel to be living at Haig Point. Many seldom leave the island. They think Hilton Head is far too populated and congested and love that Daufuskie is free of stores, cars, clutter, and lights. One resident told us that if there were a bridge to Hilton Head they’d have it removed. We met an elderly couple who had just sold their five residences around the world to settle year-round at Haig Point. When we asked what was so special about Haig Point, the most common answer was that the island was tranquil and safe and offered an idyllic lifestyle in beautiful surroundings.
As for the rest of our Discovery Experience, our community and property tours were much shorter than we expected. The realtor let us experience the island on our own terms. Haig Point has an impressive equestrian center and an active tennis club with Har-Tru courts. The tennis pro’s office is in a clubhouse where you will find Haig Point’s rather modest fitness and exercise rooms. A nice outdoor pool is also located here. There’s another pool at the Beach Club. Discovery Experience guests enjoy access to these facilities.
We also exited Haig Point and sped through parts of the rest of the island, passing by the failed or struggling Bloody Melrose developments, each of which had a shuttered golf course. Beyond Haig Point, there’s not much more to do on Daufuskie Island.
Our Discovery Experience at Haig Point was a blast and the golf course is one of our favorites from Rees Jones. Haig Point is perfectly happy with a small membership, though they wish it would grow a little. It’s a special place that offers an escape from the world beyond. And very good golf, too.
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