An Interview with Rees Jones
What was the charge in building this golf course?
“The charge was to build a world class golf course. We had a world class site from the start and they (developer was International Paper) wanted to gain a national and international reputation for Haig Point. After we finished the work, the golf course opened (1986), it was ranked No. 28 in the nation by Golf Digest and No. 68 in the world by Golf Magazine. It was an immediate success.”
What needed to be redone when you came back in 2007?
“The greens needed to be brought back to their original shape and contouring. We also updated the drainage and took out some trees. The greens had shrunk over time and we had lost some of the championship hole locations. We wanted to get back in the top 100 rankings and get back into the national scene. I think we were able to do that.”
What is your personal view and assessment of the golf course?
“The golf course is special and we knew we would have a championship and a top 100 golf course right from the start. The routing is very unique in that we built a second golf course within the championship golf course. We really have 22 holes within an 18-hole layout. It is one of the most flexible golf courses in the world.
“Every one of the par 3s is on the Calibogue Sound. So scenically, you can’t match our par 3s anywhere. It’s incredible, really. The vegetation and sandy soil gave us the great features that make it much like the Old Course in St. Andrews across the ocean. Then you have the tall trees here that are spectacular. The land and the landscape gave us every element to create an environment to make people want to play this golf course time and time again.
“We worked with the setting. We didn’t impose a design, but we worked with the land. We let the land dictate what we did. Hole No. 3 is a good example. We moved the layout of that hole six or seven times to get it just right.
“The golf course came first. And the developers let the golf course dictate where the houses went. I laid out the holes to create a great golf course and they found a way to put in the houses around the golf course.”
What design features stand out for you here?
“We went perpendicular to the Calibogue Sound in order to maximize the number of holes in which golfers can enjoy the breathtaking views of the water. For example, No. 14 is just a great hole and it’s one of my all-time favorites. You start in the woods and all of a sudden you are out on the water and marshland, shooting to a peninsula green that is only 87 feet wide.
“I kiddingly say the only time that third shot is an easy shot is the first time you play it, because you really don’t know that there are wetlands on both sides.
“We found green sites on 8, 17 and 14 that were just natural green sites surrounded by the wetlands. We found a spectacular green site for the 14th hole; it was naturally set on high land with the marsh on both sides. When Golf Digest did its 99 best holes in the world, they included the 14th at Haig Point. And they selected 33 par 3s, 33 par 4s and 33 par 5s.
“We really used what Mother Nature gave us. That is highly unusual in the post-WW2 era where architects seem to move tons of dirt and didn’t actually use the site to give you the holes like we did here.
“We balanced everything for this project – both the golf and the real estate. We were trying to take advantage of the site and preserve what was here and we wanted to take advantage of that Sound as much as possible.
“We went perpendicular to the Sound so that a golfer could enjoy the view more often. We have an island looking at an island. It’s unlike any other backdrop in coastal Carolinas golf.”
How about rating some of the holes?
“The front nine is probably a little easier. No. 2 is just a beautiful hole. And No. 3 would be a signature hole if we were on an inland golf course. It’s that good.
“Hole 4 is a beautiful par 5 and hole 6 is more wide open than we originally planned because we had a tornado go through right there when we were building the course. Nine is a go-for-it par 5 for the good player if you can draw it around the bend.
“From holes 10-13, you have to earn your stripes. And 14 could be my favorite. Sixteen and 18 are birdieable holes. In fact, 18 is probably the easiest hole on the back nine.
“What I really like is that you can hardly see the houses on the golf course, but the owners can enjoy having the golf course views and the views to the Sound.”
Talk about what damage the tornado caused?
“We were out here marking the trees and all of a sudden the tornado hits and we had to adapt. We had to rethink holes 5 and 6 completely, and even had to make adjustments on hole 1 a little bit.
“We weren’t out there on the land at the time the tornado hit. But I’m sure the poor guy living in the lighthouse at the time will never forget that day!”
Was Haig Point a significant design project in your career?
“Yes it was. The golf course gained immediate notoriety, so I was fortunate to get a lot more work based on the positive reputation of Haig Point. Being right across the Sound from Harbour Town was another advantage. Harbour Town already had notoriety, and so when Haig Point was compared favorably with Harbour Town, people want to come to Haig Point and play the course. Everyone who has played the course just loves it.
“People wanted to hire us based upon what we did here. Ocean Forest (Sea Island, Ga.) and Briar’s Creek (Charleston, S.C.) came after this — both coastal golf courses in this neck of the woods. Other coastal golf course came after this too. It really helped us establish our reputation in the coast Carolinas and Georgia.
“I think in today’s world with the environment being so important, this was one of the first really sustainable golf courses where we worked in harmony with the terrain and the wetlands and we enhanced the wildlife. This course really became a signature piece for forward-thinking golf courses. It was way ahead of the curve. It was one of the first that really was able to showcase that golf courses could enhance the natural environment and wildlife habitats.”
How would you and others evaluate the golf course over time?
“A golf course evolves over time. Initially, the course gave Haig Point a reputation so it could sell real estate and have people curious about what was here. We strived to have a great reputation for this golf course and we realized it.
“The real measure of success, however, is whether the members are happy to see you when you come back. And I hear the members saying they love the golf course. You never tire of playing this golf course.
“I have played it about 50 times, and I would say the same. It’s wonderful. It only gets harder because you get older every day. With the proper tees, you can enjoy playing it for years and years.
“The collegiate players get a real test from the back tees as well. But, it’s a fair test. If you do what is required, you’ll be rewarded.
“Everyone who plays it wants to play it again. That’s a real credit to how it is run, maintained and how it was designed. It is a genuine and spectacular Lowcountry golf course.”
Would you talk about the experience this golf course offers?
“The golf course has a terrific ebb and flow to it. You come in and out of the Sound. You don’t experience the Sound once and it’s all over. You get to experience it and then come back. It’s one of those great golf courses where the land meets the sea, but here you get this experience over and over again.
“It has a good blend of holes. For example, you have some birdieable par 5s and some strong par 4s like holes 10 and 13.
“There is no signature hole here. But, if this were another golf course, there would be a lot of them. If we were on an inland golf course, No. 3 would be your signature hole. But because we have all these Calibogue Sound holes, everyone picks a different hole; like the 8th or the 17th.
“When we looked at the land out there, we knew automatically that those holes would be spectacular par 3s. Seventeen plays more straight forward, but 8 gets harder and harder as you move back and left to the longer tees because of the angle of that green. It’s a very demanding shot from way back there.
“You have to favor the left side. You can’t let the ball drift or it’s going to come up short and go in the Sound. The hole can play differently every day and every season. It is one of the most spectacular par 3s you’ll see anywhere.”