What caused the Buckeye invasion of Hilton Head? 5 ways we became Hilton Ohio Island

Staff illustration

Unless you’re new around these parts, you know that Hilton Head Island is known as an extension of the Buckeye State.

It’s become an old, running joke — that apparently some don’t enjoy — that Hilton Head Island is technically Hilton Ohio Island.

You can find many Ohio State gathering grounds — Mangiamo’s, Street Meat and Rockfish — known for hosting the best Ohio State football watch parties in the Lowcountry.

The real question, though: Why in the world is Hilton Head Island filled with Buckeyes?

1. We invited them

A huge — almost only — reason for Hilton Head’s history of growth is Sea Pines and its founder, Charles Fraser. The Georgia native saw opportunity on the Island and decided to transform the once sparse place into a world-class resort, making Hilton Head into a luxurious, upscale paradise. Sea Pines’ marketing team came up with a strategy to target landlocked states like Ohio and advertise Hilton Head as “the best family vacation,” said Tom Gardo, former vice president of public relations and advertising.

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“In that time we were interested in building a community,” Gardo said, “The idea was for people to come and see what a beautiful place it was, then once you’d visit, you’d eventually want to stay.”

Sea Pines even went as far as putting full page ads in newspapers like The New York Times to get people to notice Hilton Head, he said.

2. Getting here only takes a hop, skip and a plane ticket

Something else Fraser and his team mapped out — literally — were which states could easily reach Hilton Head’s beach. For Ohioans, a straight 10 to 13-hour drive down I-77 gets you to the beach. However, if you’re someone who hates sitting in a car for hours, flying is just as easy.

Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport connects the rest of the world to Hilton Head with about eight major airlines including: Allegiant, jetBlue, American Airlines and Air Canada. Thanks to these direct flights, visitors don’t have to sit around and twiddle their thumbs waiting to get to paradise.

Sure, there’s a 43-minute drive to the Island, but that definitely beats making a day-long trip to Hilton Head.

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3. We became Ohio’s home away from home

Another great thing about the island is the welcoming, vibrant community you can find here.

The Hilton Head Chamber of Commerce knows of Fraser and Sea Pines’ legacy as well as the Gullah history and Hilton Head’s thriving nature and wildlife. That’s why the Chamber works on projects and initiatives to make sure the Island is protected, said Ariana Pernice, vice president of the visitor and convention bureau.

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Families are known to make return trips, making Hilton Head a multi-generational hub where families can make memories. That’s why it’s important to preserve all nature and wildlife on the Island, Pernice said.

“People see us as an extension of their backyard and they can leave their footprint here,” she said, “We want people to relax, rejuvenate and create their own unique experience when they’re here.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Hilton Head had approximately 2.67 million visitors in 2016 and 2.74 million visitors in 2017, according to an email sent by Pernice.

Each year, the Chamber commissions a Visitor Profile Study (VPS) to keep a current record of visitor statistics and trends. The VPS was completed earlier in the year by Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute at USCB. Of the respondents to the survey and from that those that indicated that they had visited Hilton Head Island within the last 18 months, 13.9% were from the state of Ohio — which was the majority of the respondents, Pernice wrote.

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4. Hilton Head has more Northern roots than you think

When you walk around Hilton Head, you might notice the lack of Southern accents. It turns out when Sea Pines marketed to landlocked states, usually from the North, that wasn’t the first time Northerners took over Hilton Head.

During the Civil War, the Union Army claimed Hilton Head after a successful battle against Beaufort’s Confederate Forts Walker (on Hilton Head) and Beauregard (at Bay Point on St. Phillips Island).

Thanks to the Union Army’s efforts, slaves on the island gained freedom and became known as the free slave community, Sea Island.

5. Plus, Hilton Head is actually the No. 1 Island in America

Travel + Leisure ranked Hilton Head in the top spot in its “Top 10 Islands in the Continental U.S.” The ranking comes as no surprise to us, though, thanks to the Island’s number of activities.

When Gardo first came to Hilton Head, he looked at his hustle and bustle life in New York City compared to Hilton Head’s relaxed atmosphere and knew it was time to move.

“I realized this would be a better place to raise my family,” Gardo said. The daily grind and commute of New York City just didn’t fit Gardo’s lifestyle, he said.

Biking, surfing, paddle boarding, dolphin watching and — of course — golfing are just a few things one can enjoy at Hilton Head. Most importantly, these activities are all something that the entire family can enjoy. And, they let everyone put down their phones for a day.

Then there’s the beloved bars and restaurants that host Ohio State watch parties that super fans and casual residents can enjoy.

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