April 2008

Silver Greens: Dolphin Head Celebrates 25 Big Ones

Author: Paul deVere

When you have members describe the golf course superintendent who was there when they turned tomato fields into fairways (1974), as “absolutely awesome,” you have to take notice. “Supers” are not usually praised. Rather, they are usually blamed for every (“the greens are too fast,” “the greens are too slow”) missed putt and high scores (“the rough was out of control”). Yet superintendent, Larry Howze, who has had the top job since 1983, is called “awesome.”

Then there is head professional, Burrell Williams, who came to the club in 1986. Leading the golf program at a private club for 22 years is a difficult task. Another member described the gentlemanly Burrell as the “perfect pro” for the club.

Yet another member described the club’s chef, Mark Fortin, as “a treasure.”

For those crusty golfers in the crowd, no, this is not some golf fantasy land. It’s just the way thing are—and have been for 25 years—at Dolphin Head Golf Club in Hilton Head Plantation.

Designed by Gary Player, in association with noted architect Ron Kirby, Dolphin Head is a private, equity golf club, member-owned and managed since 1983. “Dolphin Head was very fortunate in that we had members who were able to operate (the club) effectively,” Williams said. “Everything is governed by the board and everything is committee- driven,” explained club manager, Kristy Kumm. As any private club member knows, that kind of management requires a high level of dedication and wisdom.

As for the course itself, Connie Hooper, a member since 1983, said, “Dolphin Head can look rather benign when you first start playing it, but it does reach up and grab you.”

To celebrate its silver anniversary, the club is waiving its initiation fee and offering 25 non-equity memberships to individuals, families, residents and nonresident for $25, according to Kumm. “It’s a full membership,” she said, “unlimited greens fees, cart fees and use of practice facilities. They’ll be subject to approval by the board but will only have to pay monthly dues.”

While the course, the head professional, the superintendent and the chef are admired by the members, according to Kumm, what makes Dolphin Head stand out are the members. “It’s the sense of family the members have here—the camaraderie,” she said. “Dolphin Head is a very social club. We have members who live all over the island and Bluffton. And we have nonresident members from Canada, the UK and Germany. It’s a pretty diverse membership.”

A one time Minnesotan and now resident of Indigo Run, Jeanette Steelman summed up her feeling toward membership: “It’s a wonderful bunch of people and the golf course is a great track. I never tire of it.” Fellow member Hooper added, “The best feature? Immediately, the people come to mind.”

The social side of the club includes both casual and formal dining at a clubhouse, dinner dances and holiday celebrations. Chef Fortin’s menus are as varied as any fine restaurant and include entrées from pan seared Mahi Mahi to the popular prime rib dinner.

The golf schedule of events is just as varied and quite balanced between the gentlemen and lady golfers, with a full load of scrambles, interclub play and, of course, the club championship. Game improvement is also part of the program. From fall through spring, LPGA teaching professional, Rita Slavetskas, is part of the golf staff. Jerry Dacus, a Class A PGA Professional, has been the assistant pro at Dolphin Head for more than 19 years.

While number 18 is considered Dolphin Head’s signature hole, when the course originally went in, there was a temptation to make number 14, on Port Royal Sound, the “wow” hole. If that had been the case, Dolphin Head Point, now a favorite recreation area for the entire Hilton Head Plantation community would have been lost. Williams related the story. “They were going to put number 14 green right up on the water, on that big high bluff, where all the big oaks are. At some point, wiser heads prevailed and they left all those oak trees and shortened the hole,” he said.

Even back in 1974, when it came to preserving a quality of life versus spectacular views, “wiser heads prevailed.” Sounds just like the board—and members—of Dolphin Head.

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