The Sea Pines Resort
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
By Roger Cox, Editor
Even a superficial accounting of its tennis credentials shows why the Sea Pines Resort traditionally ranks among the finest tennis destinations in the nation. This 4,500-acre resort/residential development on South Carolina's Hilton Head Island embraces a wealth of recreation, not the least of it the highly regarded Sea Pines Racquet Club near the landmark lighthouse at Harbour Town.
Sea Pines Resort occupies the entire southern tip of Hilton Head Island, from the Atlantic westward to Calibogue Sound on the Intracoastal Waterway. Contained within is not only the racquet club but also a marina village, 54 holes of golf, an equestrian center, a fitness center, 15 miles of biking and jogging trails, a forest preserve, restaurants, shops, a luxury inn, and thousands of rental and residential properties, ranging from simple one-bedroom condominiums to luxurious beachfront homes. Remarkably, however, much of the natural landscape of pines, giant moss-draped live oaks, palmettos, and tupelo swamps remains intact.
I first visited Hilton Head Island and Sea Pines in the early 1980s. Over the years I've witnessed the coming of malls, an aggravating increase in the traffic along Highway 278, which cuts through the center of the island, and more recently a second cross-island toll road constructed to relieve some of that congestion. Yet Sea Pines is now, as it was then, a tranquil haven from the chaos that reigns outside. The simple act of driving through the entrance gate is like leaving a crowded street for a quiet courtyard.
Beyond that gate a two-lane road winds past a forest preserve, the pine-post fences of Lawton Stables, and the individual vegetable gardens at Heritage Farms. Barely visible villas and houses peer out from behind giant moss-bearded trees and native shrubbery. Stop signs are green; so are fire hydrants. Even now, more than four decades after Sea Pines opened, I'm still amazed at the vision behind it, especially when I reach the beach. There a boulevard of hard-packed sand extends for five miles, with little more than a boardwalk over its dunes to suggest the development within.
Pro Shop: 843-363-4495
Sea Pines as a whole has a long history of enthusiasm for tennis and a rich panoply of tennis programs. Its Sea Pines Racquet Club has a long-standing relationship with former world No. 1 Stan Smith, who serves as its touring pro and advisor and personally conducts a clinic over Thanksgiving each year. Physically, the club changed dramatically several years ago when they bulldozed the old clapboard clubhouse to make way for the 60-room luxury Inn at Harbour Town. They replaced the clubhouse with a triple-wide trailer, though that temporary measure is still in place. Beyond it lies what is virtually a brand-new complex of 23 clay courts. In reconfiguring the layout, the racquet club spread everything out, sacrificing some loblolly pines in order to increase each court's footprint. Eighteen of the courts were totally rebuilt and now sport new fencing and California (that is, angled) corners. The whole complex is sunnier and more open.
Those courts still bear the names of past winners of the Family Circle Cup—among them Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Evonne Goolagong, Gabriela Sabatini, Stefani Graf, and Martina Hingis. That tournament's 25-year run here ended in 2001 when the event moved to Daniel Island in Charleston. But the stadium court remains and is available to anyone who wants to play where those former champions scored victories.
Though inelegant that trailer is in fact functional, and the new inn has introduced a level of service and comfort heretofore missing at Sea Pines. And none of these changes has altered the fact that the Sea Pines Racquet Club is one of the best and most active facilities on the island. Game matching is a priority, and its varied weekly program of events, clinics, and round robins provides something for every level of player. A good time to come by is Monday evening, when the pros give an exhibition, complete with free beverages and prizes.
Tennis Staff. Although Stan Smith is the club's touring pro, it is director of tennis Job de Boer who handles the day-to-day operations. Born in Holland, where he studied aeronautical engineering, the 6'5" de Boer is a gifted instructor and entertainer, whose lessons often attract spectators. He began his teaching career at the Van der Meer Tennis Center, spending eight years there before moving to Sea Pines in 1991. He personally runs the Stan Smith Tennis Academy—Sea Pines' most popular tennis program—and the Grand Slam training sessions. All of the staff, from those who work in the shop to the teaching professionals, are first rate, friendly, and eager to be of help.
Tennis Programs. The Sea Pines Racquet Club has long had a reputation for diverse, well thought out tennis programming, for both adults and juniors alike. From Monday through Friday, the daily calendar includes Stroke of the Day sessions and drill clinics for beginners and intermediates, Grand Slam drills for stronger players (4.0 and above) looking for a workout, and a similar series for juniors ages 9-14, including those of tournament caliber. Younger kids, meanwhile, can enroll in the daily Tiny Tots, for ages 4-6, and Big Shots, for ages 7-8, programs. Sea Pines also runs a superb 3-hour-a-day tennis camp, which focuses on strokes, strategy, match play and drills during the week (it runs Tuesday-Friday) and on doubles on the weekends. During the busy March-to-October season, all of this activity begins, in a sense, with the Monday night exhibition, which often attracts more than 100 spectators, and continues on Tuesdays with a demo day. And Sea Pines is now also the home to the Smith-Stearns Tennis Academy, a training facility for serious juniors and young professionals.
Courts & Fees. Court fees: Guests who book rooms directly through Sea Pines Resort receive two complimentary hours of tennis daily. Additional hours are free for walk-ons or can be reserved at $16/hour.
Beach. Beach lines virtually the entire 12-mile-long Atlantic Coast of Hilton Head Island. Sea Pines itself borders the southernmost 5 miles of that ribbon, a broad section lined with low dunes and the sentinel pines that inspired the resort's name and packed hard enough to ride a bike on. All of the development—a collection of houses, villas, and four-to-five-story condominiums—rises behind the dune line and thus barely intrudes on the consciousness of anyone walking along the sand. The principal access occurs at the beach club, which has a little cafe and bar and boardwalks across the dunes to the beach beyond. At the tip of the island, the beach narrows as it curls around the end to South Beach—the only place on the island where you can sit on the beach and watch the sun set. The largest crowds congregate near the beach club in summer, but you only have to walk north or south to escape.
Golf Courses. Tee times for any of the following courses can be reserved by calling (843) 842-8484 or (800) 955-8337.
Harbour Town Golf Links: Pete Dye designed this legendary course—Golf Digest ranks it No. 9 among America's resort courses—to slice though forests of magnolias, live oaks, and pines before finishing in dramatic fashion along Calibogue Sound. Par: 70. Length: 5,019-6,916 yards. Every spring it hosts the RBC Heritage golf tournament.
Ocean Course: Rebuilt in 1995 by Mark McCumber. Par: 72. Length: 5,325-6,906 yards.
Heron Point by Pete Dye: Par 72. Length: 5,261-7,103 yards.
Biking & Jogging Trails. Sea Pines has some 15 miles of bike trails, which makes getting around on two wheels a popular mode of transportation within the resort. Joggers often use the same paths, or head for the earthen tracks through the 605-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Bike rentals are available at both racquet clubs.
Fitness Center. Sea Pines has a tiny workout room with a few windows looking out at the driving range from its location in the Plantation Center. It contains some cardiovascular equipment, a Paramount exercise station and a selection of dumbbells, and its staff offers personal training and runs classes.
Horseback Riding. The resort has a full-service equestrian in Lawton Stables, which also offers trail rides through Sea Pines Forest Preserve.
And ... There are two marinas, one at Harbour Town, the other at South Beach, which offer sailing and fishing charters, sightseeing cruises, parasailing, jetskis, and powerboat rentals.
During the summer, Sea Pines runs half-day and full-day children's programs for kids ages 4-12 under the direction of troubadour Gregg Russell, who also performs under the oak tree at Harbour Town Marina.
In the fall of 2000 Sea Pines opened a long-awaited luxury 60-suite Inn at Harbour Town adjacent to the courts at the Sea Pines Racquet Club. That adds a full-service hotel to the lodging options, which otherwise range from one-bedroom condos through six-bedroom beachfront houses.
There are more than 10 restaurants within Sea Pines.
If you like the sound of Sea Pines, you may also want to consider any of the following multidimensional resorts, which also happen to be located along this stretch of the Atlantic Coast:
- Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort/Cliff Drysdale Tennis, Florida
- Kiawah Island Golf Resort, South Carolina
- Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, South Carolina
- Shipyard Plantation, South Carolina
For something in the mountains, look at:
Seasons. Year-round though busiest during the outdoor season from June into September.
Rates and Reservations
Sea Pines has the 60-room European-style Inn at Harbour Town immediately adjacent to the tennis court along with its 1-to-4-bedroom villas and 3-to-7-bedroom homes. Villa and home prices vary according to season, size, location, and view. All are privately owned. By renting through Sea Pines Resort you get 2 hours of complimentary tennis per day. Villas require minimum stays of at least 3 nights (sometimes a full week in summer); homes rent only weekly.
Visit the website for current rates
32 Greenwood Dr.
Hilton Head Island, SC 29928
Seasons. Year-round though busiest during the outdoor season from June into September.
Travel Instructions. By Air: Sea Pines is 45 miles from Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) in Georgia and 95 miles from Charleston International Airport (CHS). Major airlines serve both of those gateways. It is also possible to fly directly to Hilton Head Island Airport (HHH), on commuter service from US Airways Express, via Charlotte, NC. Rental cars and shuttles are available at all three airports.
General Tourist Information. Visit the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau website or contact them at 1 Chamber Dr., P.O. Box 5647, Hilton Head Island, SC 29938; 843-785-3673 or toll-free 800-523-3373.