Hilton Head Island’s golf scene is another 27 holes more complete than it was a week ago.
Palmetto Hall’s Robert Cupp layout, closed since Hurricane Matthew’s rampage nearly 2 1/2 months ago, opened last weekend to bring Brown Golf Management’s newest acquisition back to full operation. In addition, Port Royal’s Barony course is back to a full 18 after reopening its front nine Wednesday.
“We’re glad to be back in the golf business,” said John Brown, chief executive of Brown Golf, which closed on its acquisition of the two Palmetto Hall courses just eight days before Matthew struck in October.
The latest reopenings leave just 90 Beaufort County holes typically available to the public still on the mend — the Robber’s Row and Planter’s Row courses at Port Royal, Palmetto Dunes’ George Fazio layout, Bear Creek Golf Club and Ocean Point on Fripp Island.
Robber’s Row could be on the verge of returning as well, waiting for a damaged bridge to be rebuilt.
Though Palmetto Hall reopened its Arthur Hills design Nov. 25, plans to bring back the Cupp course at the same time didn’t materialize as first hoped. An estimated 600 trees were felled on the Cupp layout, Brown said, compared to nearly 400 on the Hills course.
Limb-cutting on the Cupp design continued well into last Friday’s final preparations, Brown noted. As with many courses, debris still needs to be cleared from outside the general playing areas.
“We’re going to be dealing with cleanup in the outer areas for six months, as will everybody here,” he said. “But I’m very pleased that we’re past the part where we’ve got tree companies out there and people hanging from all kinds of different equipment trying to cut down limbs.”
Palmetto Hall joined Brown Golf’s portfolio Oct. 1, expanding the Bluffton firm’s local holdings to three Hilton Head Island layouts and eight in all. One year earlier, Dolphin Head Golf Club had become the company’s first venture onto the island.
The changeover, though, was in effect just six days before the Lowcountry was evacuated ahead of the approaching Matthew. Palmetto Hall and the surrounding Hilton Head Plantation communities suffered some of the worst tree damage from the hurricane.
“Just the sheer volume of what was on the ground ... was massive,” Brown said during the early stages of cleanup. “They were major jobs that take major equipment to deal with.”
Brown was able to quickly get his Bluffton courses up and running — some within just a few days of Matthew’s strike — but the Hilton Head properties required more time and patience.
He pointed to an area near the second hole of the Cupp course, which received a double dose of damage.
“We not only had a lot of storm damage,” he said, “but also tornado damage through there. Trees were snapped off 20 feet in the air, just twisted. That’s a big swatch of land that got devastated.”
Even so, he added, just one hole of 36 was significantly altered by tree loss.
“We lost a lot of trees that were part of the backdrop on many holes,” Brown said. “Where (the framing) looked tighter in the past, it doesn’t look as tight anymore. It’s more open and you can certainly see things through the canopy.”
With the calendar about to turn over, Palmetto Hall members also will make the transition to Brown Golf’s membership offerings, which include free golf instruction and member access to Dolphin Head and the rest of Brown Golf’s 29 holdings nationwide.
“I’m just really looking forward to 2017,” Brown said. “We’re really glad that 2016 is coming to an end.”