South Carolina: An Easy Life at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort



“It takes several days for visitors to decompress here,” said Gregg Harper, director of lodging, at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort located in the middle of Hilton Head Island, SC. As he spoke, chirping birds were perched overhead while distant waves broke along the resort’s three-mile Atlantic beachfront. Nearby was a shop with 3,000 bicycles for hire. Add in salt-water lagoons; three championship golf courses and top-notch tennis courts and it’s no wonder this stunning 2,000-acre, lush-green property boasts more award-winning amenities than any resort in the Southeast.

The decompression theme continues here with height restrictions on signs, no overhead wires, low lighting and no neon. From May through October, lights facing the beach are turned off at 10 p.m. because hatching loggerhead sea turtles need to dash toward the sea and not be disoriented. Even alligators are protected on the island but their presence doesn’t restrict guests’ activities.

For tennis players, there are 25 courts (23 clay and two Nova Probounce) of which eight are lighted for night play. Expert instructors offer programs for every age group and skill level. Tuesday is demonstration day for trying out the latest in racquet technology. The center hosts seven tournaments from February through November and was recently ranked fifth in the world by Tennis Resorts Online. Palmetto Dunes guests receive two free hours of tennis time daily, in addition to a 10% discount in the tennis pro shop. Customized Stay and Play Packages are available.

For the golfer, Palmetto Dunes is akin to nirvana. The resort produces the most rounds of island golf and is unique to offer the all-terrain Segway X2 Personal Golf Transporter and air-conditioned golf carts. There are three renowned courses, all soft-spike facilities, with an 11-mile lagoon system weaving through and around the links. The Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course has a dramatic par-five 10th that offers sweeping views of the Atlantic and its own driving range. The course plays 6,122 yards from the middle white tees and has a rating of 69.1. The George Fazio Course is the island’s only par-70 and is a series of long par 4s guarded by bunkers and water hazards. Its layout demands a combination of long play and precise golf shots. The Arthur Hills Course was built on a series of rolling dunes. It plays 6,122 yards from the middle white tees and has a rating of 70.6. It, too, has its own driving range. The Palmetto Dunes Golf Academy provides quality programs for golfers ages 12 to adult; some for women only and with a 4:1 student-teacher ratio. Many instructors are former PGA tour professionals. All three courses are open to the public. Palmetto Resort guests receive 20% off tee times and food. Group discounts are available.

As for water sports, the onsite Palmetto Dunes Outfitters shop rents beach equipment and surf or skim boards. Single and double kayaks or electric boats are needed to explore the 11-mile saltwater lagoon system, home to large redfish, trout, black drum and other species, which are caught and released with a fly rod or light tackle. Experienced naturalists lead lagoon nature tours along the Lowcountry’s salt marshes. Palmetto Dunes guests receive 20% off bike, kayak and canoe rentals.

Outfitters can deliver bikes to a rental unit and pick them up on departure day. Sizes range from small children’s to adult, three-wheelers and tandem. Plus, beach bicycles are available with extra-wide wheels. The network of bike trails at Palmetto Dunes connects with nearly 50 miles of public pathways and nature trails.

Access to Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort is directly off U.S. Hwy. 278, which is the main thoroughfare dissecting the island. The resort is one of many gated island “plantations” that accommodate the 2.5 million yearly island visitors. Many enjoy the lifestyle so much they purchase property for full-time or rental use. Generally, the resort attracts professionals and their families, former CEOs and transplants from the Northeast, Midwest and Canada. Security is tight with 24-hour manned booths checking IDs at individual complex entrances.

“If guests want a homey place that’s perfect for multi-family vacations, this is the place,” said Director of Marketing, Karen Kozemchak. “And we’re only 45 minutes from Civil War memorials.” Savannah is about an hour away; Charleston about two.

The accommodations range from one-bedroom villas to six-bedroom oceanfront homes throughout the 1,200 rental properties. Prices vary seasonally with an approximate range of $1,000 to $16,000 a week. Villas have a three-day minimum; homes a four-day outside the summer season. Packages combining activities with lodging are better deals than booking separately. Several restaurants are inside the complex and guests receive 10% off food and non-alcoholic beverages. The Honeymooner’s Escape and Romantic Retreat packages include a $100 certificate for dinner. The resort’s knowledgeable Vacation Planners can provide island-wide services.

Two hotels are on the property. The Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort opened recently with 323 guest rooms including 28 suites and a private beach. The Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa is one of the largest Hilton Head golf resorts with 513 luxurious guest rooms, all with private balconies. Directly across Hwy. 278 is Shelter Cove Harbour, which is loaded with waterfront shopping, boat rentals, dining and entertainment. Services abound here. Email a grocery list to The Hopper Shopper (www.hoppershopper.com) and its contents are waiting at the accommodation when guests arrive. The Palmetto Dunes Buggy is free transportation between the Dunes, Leamington and Shelter Cove Harbour. Daily maid service is optional. Concierge service is open year-round. Agent commission is 10%.

Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, 866-380-1778, www.palmettodunes.com