One great blue heron ‒ regal, silent, still, fixed in hunting mode; one elegant great egret ‒ stately, equally still; one wing-splayed cormorant – drying; two long, rubbery, black alligators ‒ comatose in the water; three white-plumaged ibises ‒ with carrot-like beaks; six sun-basking turtles ‒ heads protruding to suck up the heat. Not bad for my daily walk inside Shipyard Plantation.

Add joggers and bike riders ‒ mainly seniors traversing the asphalt trails that wind delicately beside well-groomed fairways, the adjacent golf course studded with palmetto trees and hardy live oaks wearing billowing whitish Spanish moss garlands ‒ and you get a better picture.

At the Black Marlin Bayside Grill at Palmetto Bay Marina, known for its large selection of fresh-caught fish, seafood and delicious hand-cut steaks in a relaxing Key West atmosphere, a duffer relates a story that went viral.

A golfer is on a green when suddenly an agile alligator lunges from the nearby pond, snags a leg in its jaws and drags its victim waist deep into the water. Shocked at first, the man repeatedly hits the animal with his putter – all to no avail until he pounds its eyes and he’s grudgingly released. There’s a golf course he’ll never forget.

Hilton Head

Photo by James Ting

“Gators usually leave you alone,” says my bar friend, “but don’t go into the brush to find a wayward drive. There’s poisonous snakes in there.”

My wife and I have rented a well-stocked and quite comfortable condo in Tennis Master, an area in Shipyard Plantation where the worst thing that can happen is to get hit by an errant ball.

Hilton Head is as a barrier island, second in size only to Manhattan. To the north sits the enchanting Beaufort on Port Royal Island. Not so enchanting at the southern tip is Parris Island, where they train U.S. Marines. To the east is Bluffton, a quick day-trip. And south are Daufuskie Island, Tybee Island and finally Savannah, the latter a wonderful day-trip.

Hilton Head is known for its green and pristine landscape, an oasis for golfers and tennis players alike. The well-planned neighbourhood developments or plantations provide residents and snowbird renters like us with well-maintained and often gated communities, each designed with southern charm. An automobile gate pass costs $6.

Indigo Run, the youngest and final private residential golf community, boasts 1,712 acres at the island’s north end. It offers two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses ‒ the Golden Bear and the Golf Club.

Pelican flying

Pelican flying. Photo by Matt Briney

Palmetto Dunes, mid-island on 1,800 well-preserved acres, contains 1,012 homes and 1,470 villas, and five km of Atlantic Ocean beaches, 18 km of winding lagoons, and one of the largest tennis centres on the island with 25 courts. Its three public, 28-hole golf courses were designed by PGA favourites George Fazio, Robert Trent Jones and Arthur Hills.

In 1956, Charles Fraser developed Sea Pines into the first private plantation community on the island. One of the largest residential and resort plantations, it spans 5,200 acres with 3,839 homes and 2,042 villas. Four championship golf courses include the Harbour Town Golf Links, home of the PGA Tour’s annual RBC Heritage tournament.

Here also is the famous Harbour Town Yacht Basin and its landmark red-and-white-striped lighthouse built in 1969 to aid boats travelling on the Calibogue Sound. The marina hosts awe-inspiring yachts but was closed on this visit due to damage from a recent hurricane. The racing yacht Stars and Stripes is normally docked here. A few years back, I enjoyed a tourist ride on Dennis Conner’s entry in the famed America’s Cup race for nautical millionaires.

Sea Pines maintains a lush, 605-acre forest preserve, access to eight km of Atlantic Ocean beaches, more than 100 tennis courts, two security gates and numerous swimming pools. It’s also the location of the South Beach Racquet Club, Sea Pines Racquet Club, Lawton Stables equestrian centre, and restaurants and outdoor activities held at South Beach Marina Village.

Wexford Plantation, a superb residential community of 450 homes, features immaculately-manicured landscaping, a championship golf course, a $5.2-million clubhouse and a harbour with one of only four lock systems on the east coast. The lock system, controlled by a 24-hour, on-duty harbourmaster, opens to Broad Creek, providing access to the Intracoastal Waterway and Atlantic Ocean.

Four full-time golf professionals are on hand at the plantation’s world-famous golf course, designed by architect Willard Byrd. Two full-time tennis professionals teach on the plantation’s six courts, four of which are lighted. The most distinguishing characteristic about Wexford Plantation is its luxurious homes, many with deepwater boat docks.

Hilton Harbour golf links

Hilton Harbour golf links. Photo by Shep McAllister

Long Cove Club plantation is situated between Yacht Cove and Wexford Plantation toward the island’s south end. Within Long Cove are 569 homes. Golf Digest magazine rated Long Cove Club’s private golf course, designed by Pete Dye, the No. 1 course in South Carolina for 10 consecutive years. A membership is included with ownership here. In the 1980s, the plantation’s developers chose to carefully preserve the area’s live oaks, magnolia and palmetto palm trees, which create a serene, wooded environment in which its signature golf course is nestled. A tennis centre was opened in 2002. Residents enjoy deepwater access to Broad Creek from the community’s boat docks.

One of Hilton Head’s largest and most age-diverse residential neighbourhoods is Hilton Head Plantation. Spread over 4,000 acres between the Intracoastal Waterway and Port Royal Sound, the Plantation holds 4,000 homes and 500 villas. It’s home to the Country Club of Hilton Head’s semi-private 18-hole golf course designed by Rees Jones. Jones also designed the plantation’s award-winning Oyster Reef Golf Course and Bear Creek Golf Course. The plantation has a fourth, private course created by Gary Player and Ron Kirby called Dolphin Head.

Within the plantation, there’s access to more than three km of beach, a community recreation centre, a shared gardening area, numerous community swimming pools and tennis courts, Skull Creek marina, and the Old Fort Pub restaurant. Two nature conservancies possess beautiful, lengthy nature trails and boardwalks through woods and marsh. An extensive leisure path system for walking, jogging or biking winds through this beautiful community.

The Black Marlin Bayside Grill and other popular restaurants offer happy hours and early-bird dinners, frequented by seniors who live or rent here. Renters stay one to three months, a few longer. We occupy a condo owned by a colonel and a major in the U.S. army. We have befriended couples from Niagara on the Lake, St. Catharines, Ottawa, Toronto and Windsor. Canadians love it here, but the number who visit has dropped because of our declining loony. We have a deck and screened-in lanai, multiple TVs, the Internet and a complete set of kitchen utensils, just like home. Garbage is collected at your door. Workers daily blow away any debris from the trees that litters your deck. One can get used to this life.

The beaches are the main attraction for us. There’s public access at three areas. Coligny is our favourite with washrooms and change areas. At low tide, the beaches are immense and make for easy walking, bicycling or jogging. We watch pelicans, dolphins and ships heading south to Savannah. People love to walk their dogs here.

We vacation here often, this time for three blissful weeks. And on my daily walks, I agree fully with Al Jolson’s memorable musical sentiments: “Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning.”


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