Behind the Gates
Author: Frank Dunne, Jr.
Do you want to be in the middle of everything? Then have a look at Palmetto Dunes, three interconnected communities engulfing 2,000 acres at the center of Hilton Head Island: The Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, Shelter Cove and Leamington, a combination that gives you the most comprehensive collection of resort and residential features that you’ll find on the island. “It’s got everything that people come to Hilton Head Island for all rolled into one,” said Phil Schembra of the Schembra Real Estate Group: “shopping, dining, resort and private residential all in one self-contained area.”
The Palmetto Dunes trio can provide such a vast array of convenient amenities because it is partly a destination resort; but according to Schembra, it is a misconception to think that there are only second homes and short-term rentals within its boundaries. Palmetto Dunes contains two private gated neighborhoods, Mariners and Leamington. Mariners is located within the Oceanfront Resort, but is amply secluded from the hustle and bustle of tourist activity to create a private residential environment. “There are a lot more residents in Palmetto Dunes than people realize. Way more,” Schembra said. “There used to be more second homes than residents in the first three to five rows. But now there are a lot more people buying in those rows to live here year-round—especially at today’s prices.”
It is the abundance of resort amenities that makes Palmetto Dunes a great choice over other plantations as a place to call home, especially the water. You have three miles of some of the island’s nicest beachfront on the Palmetto Dunes, Leamington side, a deep-water marina on Broad Creek on the Shelter Cove side, then there’s the world famous 11-mile manmade lagoon that winds its way through Palmetto Dunes. “If somebody wants to have an electric boat, pedal boat, or canoe, they put it in there,” Schembra said.
Leamington, also offers the seclusion and privacy of its own gate while being within easy access to all of the Palmetto Dunes resort amenities. No short-term rentals are permitted in Leamington, though, so it is completely private. Like Mariners, it is situated on the oceanfront. It contains approximately 360 homes and home sites and 500 villas and townhomes. It is also home to the challenging Arthur Hills Golf Course. Leamington is a golf cart community where owners can zip over to the private beach club pavilion for picnics and dining or a dip in the pool. Many homes in Leamington and Mariners as well, have private docks for enjoyment of the lagoon system.
There are two additional golf courses in Palmetto Dunes. The Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course features one of only two oceanfront holes on the entire island, and the George Fazio Course is ranked among the nation’s top 100 courses. All three courses offer more water views from the fairways, thanks to the lagoon system.
If tennis is your game, the Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center is one of the best in the area, or anywhere else. Tennis Magazine ranks it among the 50 best tennis resorts in the United States. The center sports 25 courts, six of which are lighted for night play.
Shelter Cove is the more commercially oriented section of Palmetto Dunes, but it is separated from the Oceanfront Resort, Mariners, and Leamington by William Hilton Parkway. Shelter Cove is a Mediterranean-style marina community anchored by a 15-acre harbor, Hilton Head Island’s deepest marina, with direct access to the Intracoastal Waterway via Broad Creek. The marina has a 170-slip yacht basin and is surrounded by a collection of shops, restaurants, and water sports outfitters, offering fishing and sailing charters, kayaking and paddle boarding, power boating, and dinner cruises.
There are several villa communities throughout the Shelter Cove area as well. These are primarily investment properties due to the heavy concentration of resort trade activities, but everything in Shelter Cove is easily accessible to residents of the other Palmetto Dunes communities via a pathway that runs underneath a highway overpass.
Schembra notes that while a lot of the other Hilton Head resort communities do have the beaches, golf, tennis and other amenities, Palmetto Dunes is unique in that, as the youngest of the original resorts, it had the benefit of learning lessons from the others about what worked and what didn’t, e.g. privacy. Mariners and Leamington are separated by their gates from the greater resort. “You don’t pay $5 to go into Mariners and drive around,” he said. “Other than a small volume of condominium complexes, that’s all residential. On the other end you have Leamington, which is the island’s newest ocean-side private community. It’s a golf cart community and no short-term rentals are allowed.”
Lea Allen of Alliance Group Realty lived in the Mariners section for many years and said that it felt every bit like a residential community. “I raised my children there, and we have very fond memories,” she said. “We had plenty of neighbors and the kids had friends nearby. It’s a wonderful playground for kids growing up.”
Another advantage is that lots are bigger than other oceanfront resort communities for single-family homes and home sites, and the villas and condominiums are some of the newest on the island. “If you want to buy an oceanfront condominium and you want to be in a private community, Palmetto Dunes wins by default,” Schembra said. And it’s all centralized in Leamington, Palmetto Dunes, and Shelter Cove. You’ve got the beaches, the marina, you’ve got the shopping, you’ve got the lagoons…everything. Do you want 100 percent privacy? You can do that here in Mariners and Leamington. Do you want a highly energized resort? It’s all right there.”
You should be aware, though, that if you decide to make Palmetto Dunes your permanent home, you can expect a lot of visits from friends and family. Maybe that level of activity isn’t for everyone, but if it is, “Palmetto Dunes has an energy level that our residents really enjoy,” Schembra said.
Where it all began. Covering over 5,000 acres on the island’s southwestern tip, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the East and Calibogue Sound on the West, Sea Pines Plantation put Hilton Head on the map over 50 years ago and set the standard for most of the development that has occurred since. Sea Pines is home to five miles of Atlantic Ocean beach, a 600-acre forest preserve, four golf courses, a multitude of tennis courts, 15 miles of leisure trails, an equestrian center…we could go on, but you get the picture. The enduring image of the Harbour Town Lighthouse and the national exposure afforded by the RBC Heritage golf tournament (not to mention a pretty effective marketing plan) elevated Sea Pines (and eventually all of Hilton Head) to world-class destination resort status. It remains that today, but it’s also a great place to call home. “There are a lot of people who live there, and the reason they live there is because of the access to all of those resort amenities,” said Patty Crews of Charter One Real Estate, a former resident of Harbour Town.
“It has extremely affordable POA fees by comparison,” added Rich Neste of Foundation Realty. “When you consider the amenities that you have access to, you’re really getting the best bang for your buck.”
Entering Sea Pines at the Greenwood gate, a quick right turn brings you to the Club Course community. Club Course is a good spot if you want to be in Sea Pines while having some seclusion from the resort hustle and bustle. Most Club Course residents are full-time, so it has a neighborhood character. Quiet streets and primarily single-family homes and some patio homes with marsh, fairway, or wooded views add to that neighborly character.
Club Course derives its name from the Sea Pines Country Club, which is located within the community. It is a private, member-owned, full-service country club and home to the Arnold Palmer/Frank Duane designed Country Club Course, recently renovated by Clyde Johnston. Members enjoy all of the social amenities of a country club, tennis, a fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools, as well as golf privileges on the Club Course and all three other courses in Sea Pines: Heron Point, Ocean Course, and Harbour Town Golf Links.
Calibogue Cay is another Sea Pines neighborhood that affords intimacy and seclusion from the resort busyness without being too far away from it all. Like a private little island, Calibogue Cay sits on a point surrounded by beautiful marshes on one side and Broad Creek on the other. Both present magnificent views, and many of the homes have private docks. Thanks to the deep-water access on Broad Creek, some Calibogue Cay residents are able to keep boats right on their property. While its mostly full-time residents appreciate Calibogue Cay’s privacy and seclusion, they also enjoy proximity to the shops, dining and recreational opportunities of Harbour Town and South Beach. “It’s a choice for the higher-end buyer,” Neste said. “Calibogue Cay is widely considered one of the nicer streets in the entire area.”
Central Plantation is the largest residential area in Sea Pines Plantation and effectively forms the development’s “spine.” It’s a bit busier than Club Course or Calibogue Cay, because Sea Pines Plantation’s main artery, Greenwood Drive, runs right through it. On the other hand, you’ll find the broadest variety of homes, villas and lots in Central Plantation neighborhoods to suit the needs of wide range of homebuyers.
Central Plantation is home to two of the four Sea Pines golf courses. The Ocean Course is the first track ever built on Hilton Head Island, and its 15th hole is one of only two oceanfront holes on the entire island. Pete Dye designed Heron Point, formerly known as the Sea Marsh Course. It was completely reconstructed in 2007 and is one of Golf Digest’s “Best Places to Play.” Many Central Plantation homes enjoy fairway views of these two courses.
Other sights and amenities located in Central Plantation are the Baynard Ruins historic site and the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Also, the horses and pastures at Lawton Stables, plus a field of residents’ vegetable and flower garden plots give one a sense of being “out in the country” right in the middle of the resort.
It is largely because of these amenities, and its proximity to Harbour Town, The Shoppes of Sea Pines Center, and the Sea Pines Beach Club that so many full-time Sea Pines residents choose to buy in Central Plantation.
As the name implies, Oceanside is the area of Sea Pines that borders the Atlantic Ocean and is the site of most of the Plantation’s beachfront property. It is one of the most desirable locations on Hilton Head Island for oceanfront and ocean-oriented homes. Most Oceanside homes are single-family with pools and access to the beach. Obviously, these are very popular as second homes and investment properties, so you’re going to see a lot more tourist activity than in Calibogue Cay or Club Course, for example. But if you’re in that market, these homes are among the most prime in the land.
South Beach encompasses the southern tip of Hilton Head Island and features a combination of beachfront and ocean-oriented homes as well as a collection of villa communities that make excellent second home and investment properties. South Beach is a popular destination because of the marina village that is modeled to resemble an old New England fishing village. There you’ll find a variety of shops, restaurants, a racquet club and access to water sports such as kayaking. The beaches front both the Atlantic Ocean and Calibogue Sound, making it one of the best spots on Hilton Head for viewing sunsets.
Of course, you can’t talk about Sea Pines without talking about Harbour Town. The iconic images of its marina village, the Harbour Town Lighthouse, and the prestige of Harbour Town Golf Links, home of the RBC Heritage, make Harbour Town real estate some of the island’s most sought after. Most notable are the villas and townhomes surrounding the marina and overlooking holes 16, 17, and especially 18 on the Golf Links, but there are also plenty of villas and single-family homes in communities surrounding those areas, some with spectacular views of marshes and those glorious Calibogue Sound sunsets.
With its unique shops and restaurants, the Lighthouse, the Liberty Oak and other attractions in the marina village, plus The Inn at Harbour Town and the Sea Pines Racquet Club, Harbour Town is definitely oriented toward tourism, but you might be surprised that it is, in fact, fairly popular as a permanent address. “People who live in Harbour Town love it,” Crews said. “It’s like having a beautiful resort all your own.”
Shipyard Plantation covers approximately 800 acres on Hilton Head Island’s south end, and a majority of that is resort oriented, so most of the properties are second-home or investment villas. Amenities include three nine-hole golf courses—the Clipper, the Galleon, and the Brigantine—a 24-court racquet club and the Shipyard Beach Club on the Plantation’s private stretch of Atlantic Ocean Beach near the Crown Plaza Hotel. The community is dotted with fishing ponds, and leisure trails meander throughout.
Within Shipyard, though, there is a private community of mostly single-family homes that residents seem to think is one of Hilton Head’s best-kept secrets. One of the attributes that they really appreciate is that most of the lots are three quarters of an acre or more—a rarity in the island’s gated communities. “We have a great community of residents,” said Karl Sneed, a Realtor with Charter 1 Realty and a Shipyard resident for over 10 years. “I’d say that at least 90 percent of the people who live around me are permanent residents, and we’ve got great men’s and women’s clubs that meet at the Beach Club.” Shipyard is also home to the world-renowned health resort, Hilton Head Health, at which residents are welcome to join in its numerous health and fitness programs, including the new Culinary Arts Center.
An extremely popular feature with residents is Shipyard’s two entrances, one on Pope Avenue and one on William Hilton Parkway. This allows equally easy access to the beaches and activities at Coligny and North and South Forest Beach Roads from the Pope Avenue gate and to mid-island and the north end from the William Hilton Parkway gate.
Sneed noted that although Shipyard is primarily geared toward the vacation trade, there is enough privacy for residents that you don’t feel overwhelmed. “It’s mostly concentrated in the villa communities near the Crown Plaza,” he said. “And in reality, it’s no different than most of the island. It’s really a great community, and I think we have some of the lowest POA dues for a gated community.”