Arthur Hills is One of History's Best, if Most Underrated, Golf Course Architects
Updated: Jul 8, 2018
Among the pantheon of renowned golf course architects, Arthur Hills may not be as well known as some of his contemporaries — names like Robert Trent Jones, Pete Dye or Tom Fazio — but Hills’ body of work during a career spanning six decades ranks up there with anyone.
His work at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort is a perfect example. Opened in 1986, the Arthur Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes is 6,651 yards of rolling landscape. Taking full advantage of the natural beauty of this South Carolina sea island, his spectacular layout represents a careful blend of beauty and challenge.
True to the resort’s name, palmettos and dunes are scattered throughout the golf course, along with mature, Spanish-moss-covered live oaks. The tree-lined fairways and an ocean breeze add more teeth, while water hazards also come into play on more than half of the 18 spectacular holes.
When they were in college, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson honed their golfing skills on the Arthur Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes. President Bill Clinton, who annually began visiting Palmetto Dunes during the late 1990s, called the Arthur Hills Course his favorite of the resort's three outstanding golf courses. The Hills Course is a mainstay among the South Carolina "Best You Can Play" and was previously named the Palmetto State’s “Course of the Year.”
Hills has designed more than 200 new golf courses around the world and has been called upon to refine or renovate more than 125 others including some of the country’s most renowned clubs such as Congressional, Oakmont, Oakland Hills and Inverness. Twenty-eight Hills-designed courses have been selected as USGA, PGA, LPGA, NCAA and PGA of America tournament venues.
Down-to-earth, personable, friendly and willing to share his wisdom, Hills is a past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. He was voted the “Architect of the Year” in 1991 and 1998, and was Boardroom Magazine’s “Architect of the Year” in 2002. A proficient golfer back in his day, Hills was the captain of his Michigan State golf team and won the 1950 Ann Arbor City Championship. He was voted into the Ohio Golf Hall of Fame in 1993.
"My design philosophy comes from a very traditional or historic approach to the game," Hills said. "I’ve always admired the more traditional courses like Pinehurst No. 2, Shinnecock Hills, Cypress Point, Seminole, Prairie Dunes, Inverness and Merion."
Hills' design objectives include the nature of the land that minimizes earth moving. "We also always keep in mind the strategy of the game and the elements that provide beauty in a golf course — textures and colors, shadowing and framing," he says.
Hills has also written about designing golf holes from the green complex back to the tee, not from tee to green. Shot angles, interesting grasses and plants, gently plateaued greens, waters and views also come into the design work.
"All of these subtleties help us build a fair and balanced course which is both aesthetically pleasing and strategically sound," Hills said.
The next time you play the Arthur Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes, enjoy the knowledge that you are playing a design by one of history’s best — and most underrated — golf course architects.