They're baack: Every year, you can count on Ohio golfers heading to Hilton Head in droves

By Jason Stahl, Contributor

BAY VILLAGE, Ohio -- Natives of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, can spot them from a mile away. Their complexions are pasty white from many sunless months, and their knuckles are scabbed over from a winter spent scraping ice off their cars. In addition, they may be wearing an ensemble of scarlet and gray, or orange and brown.

"They" are Ohioans, and every year they flock to the tennis shoe-shaped island for the same reasons millions of other tourists do. They frolick on crystalline beaches, gorge on fresh seafood, and, oh yeah, play golf on some of the finest courses in the United States.

According to a Hilton Head Chamber of Commerce visitor profile study, Cleveland represents the sixth highest visitor origin market behind New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville, and Atlanta.

"In summer, that's all you see are Ohio plates," says Sam Hersh, president of Business Travel Group of Mayfield Heights, Ohio. "And in winter, the only reason you won't see the same number of them is that the second homers have South Carolina plates."

The same study showed that golf was the top motivating factor among all visitors who inquire about vacationing in Hilton Head. In addition, one or more people in nearly 50 percent of all travel parties play golf on their visits. So it's just as easy to spot an Ohioan on one of the island's 22 golf courses as it is to see them shark fishing or driving around town in search of the homes of known island celebrities such as Michael Jordan, Patricia Cornwell, and John Mellencamp.

"Hilton Head golf vacations are among the top five bookings I make," says Bonnie Leitch, president/owner of Fairview Travel Center in Fairview Park, Ohio. "The golf is top-notch, plus the accommodations are wonderful and the lifestyle is upscale and nice."

Hersh of Business Travel Group also ranks Hilton Head as one of the top destinations his golf clients ask about. "The Hilton Head golf bookings have been very steady over the years. They're very popular."

Both Leitch and Hersh admitted that Myrtle Beach, South Carolina offers Hilton Head stiff competition in the battle for Ohio golfers. The general assumption is that Myrtle Beach golf vacations are more economical than ones offered by Hilton Head, and while this might be true, it turns out that most times you get what you pay for.

"I find that most of my clients, families and couples, prefer Hilton Head because it's more sophisticated, laid back and quieter," Hersh says. "In Myrtle, you'll have a nice hotel right next to a trailer park, so there's a different level of comfort there."

You know Hilton Head golf has got to be great simply because of most Ohioans' choice of travel to the island is driving. They are willing to drive up to 13 hours to stand on a fairway and taste the Atlantic in the air and maybe see a majestic heron. It's known as one of the fastest 13-hour drives around, if you can survive the "death march" known as I-71 through the dull flatlands of Ohio to end up feasting on the beauty of the West Virginia mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina. When you're up that high, just hold your breath and don't think "Deliverance."

"Driving has always been the deal," says Jeannette Yanuzzi, manager of Bay Travel in Bay Village, Ohio. "You can fly to Hilton Head via U.S. Airways through Charlotte, but the connections in Charlotte are usually limited, and you're looking at a two- to three-hour layover."

Mike Dominek of Strongsville, Ohio has been traveling to Hilton Head annually to play golf and relax with his family for the past 26 years. He knows exactly why so many Ohioans choose the island as their golf vacation place.

"Golf there has grown so big and so great that you can find any type of course you want," Dominek says. "I go in the summer, and you find the courses are very family friendly. In most cases, kids can play for free when accompanied by adults. So you don't have to spend an arm and a leg, and it allows for a great bonding experience."

Over the 26 years he has traveled there, Dominek has seen Hilton Head develop steadily, and he says this development has only increased the value and variety of golf.

"They've built so many golf courses now across the bridge to the island that they've had to keep greens fees inexpensive to get people to play golf off the island. You can get everything from the country-club experience to the average public course experience, but the public courses there are so much better."

"I never get bored with the golf at Hilton Head," Dominek says. "I never thought I'd end up going to the same place for vacation every year, but I have."

Like every year, Dominek will be leading a congo line of Ohio golfers down to Hilton Head Island next summer. Rumor has it they will be sporting signs that say, "Yes, I'm from Ohio too!"

Here is a a list with Hilton Head Island Golf Courses

Jason StahlJason Stahl, Contributor

Jason Stahl currently works for Medquest Communications in Cleveland, Ohio, as Editorial Manager. Prior to joining Medquest, he spent five years with Advanstar Communications as Managing Editor of Landscape Management, a trade magazine covering the professional landscaping business. He graduated from St. Ignatius High School in 1989 and John Carroll University in 1993.

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