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The cutest golf hole in the Carolinas

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – It’s not the longest hole in the Carolinas. Not even close. Not the toughest, either. Not the most picturesque. It’s pretty but in a Miss Congeniality way. Not the most famous. Not theokay, okay, so what is it, this ninth hole at Harbour Town Golf Links?

You could say it’s the cutest golf hole in the Carolinas. People might look at you funny but you could.

Those PGA Tour players who have run afoul of the ninth in The Heritage over the years would no doubt dispute that. When you triple bogey the shortest par four on the course, as Sean O’Hair did Friday, the word cute probably doesn’t come to mind.

In a time when 300-yard drives no longer awe us, in a time when it’s not unusual for a Tour player to hit a wedge 150 yards, in a time of 7,500-yard courses, one thing remains unchanged: short par 4 holes are the game’s most enjoyable to play and watch the pros play.

The ninth at Harbour Town is especially enjoyable to play because of its design, unless you have a tendency to hit it sideways and unless you need dynamite to get out of a bunker. It’s enjoyable to watch because it serves up a bunch of birdies and throws in enough trouble to keep it edgy.

Wandering along to watch some of the action in The Heritage, I stopped by and asked the man who measures shots for a media service called Shot Link on the ninth hole what he had seen so far. One guy drove into the front bunker, he said. One (O’Hair) hit out of bounds, into the practice range. Another was almost out of bounds. One hit some trees on the left and bounced all the way across the fairway. Get the drift? Most, he said, were laying up off the tee to leave themselves a short iron into the green.

The ninth plays about 330 yards, straightaway, narrow as a foot path, tree-lined all the way with out of bounds close enough to set off an attack of claustrophobia. There are several players out there who could smash one that far but most of them don’t try. Most hit less club and try to place their tee shots where they don’t have to play over, under or around huge pines hovering in close.

The green is what makes this hole one you’re going to talk about back home. It’s nuts, in a nice sort of way. It’s shaped like a horseshoe, with the open end behind the green. A big bunker guards the front and three bunkers leer at you from inside the horseshoe to the rear of the green, two of them not much bigger than your bathtub. Hit your approach onto the wrong leg of the horseshoe and you can either nip it off the green with a wedge over a bunker to the other side (piece of cake, right?) or putt back toward the front of the green, turn the corner and putt back up the other leg.

In other words, you don’t want to do that.

If you see a guy with a driver in his hands on that tee, chances are he’s got nothing much to lose. That was Rickie Fowler Friday. After starting on the back nine, he came to the ninth five over par for the tournament and on the way out of town. Wearing white slacks, bright yellow shirt, blue hat and blue shoes, the kid sensation with the Hollywood looks pulled out the driver and pounded it into the front bunker. The guys in his gallery smiled in appreciation of his what the heck go for it play. The girls in his gallery didn’t seem to care.