By Mike Lednovich, Editor & Publisher
The end of a perfect day of golf at Sea Island Golf Club occurs as the setting sun casts a red glow on the rippling surface of the Atlantic Ocean. Sitting on the veranda of Sea Island Lodge, the silhouette of a lone figure appears on the 10th tee of the Plantation Course, and soon the soulful wail of bagpipes fills the chilled evening air.
There’s no place quite like Sea Island, Ga., on the southern tip of St. Simons Island. The approach to the lodge is on a boulevard of moss-draped oaks, and the complex includes three courses that provide glimpses of unspoiled beaches, salt marshes and St. Simons Sound.
“At Sea Island it’s all about the experience,” said director of golf Brannen Veal. “Yes, we have golf, but we’ve also got all the extra touches that go with it.”
Those extras include the Golf Performance Center, where top teaching professionals such as Jack Lumpkin, Mike Shannon, PGA Teacher of the Year Todd Anderson and wedge expert Gale Peterson train the likes of Zack Johnson, Davis Love III, Billy Horschel and weekend warriors. Dr. Morris Pickens is also on staff to help players navigate the mental aspect of their games, and body biomechanics pioneer Randy Myers is onsite for stretching and body motion workouts.
Sea Island oozes Southern hospitality and charm at every turn.
“We engage our guests so they feel this is home for however long they are visiting,” Veal said. “We have an Old South style and tradition in everything we do.”
High rollers will appreciate the Sea Island Lodge or 175-room Cloister during a visit. The lodge is exclusive, with 40 rooms, and also serves as the clubhouse for the golf courses. Sea Island has also thought about the average and more conservative golfers as well with the construction of the nearby Sea Island Inn 12 years ago.
“Sea Island is all inclusive to every golfer and their family,” Veal said. “Building the Inn was the best thing we ever did.”
The Seaside Course, which plays 6,570 yards from the blue tees, is home to the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic. Originally built in 1929, Seaside was updated 70 years later by Tom Fazio and is among Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses to Play in the U.S. The demanding layout features sand dunes, marshes and tidal creeks as it winds through St. Simons Sound. Distinctive Red wicker baskets instead of flags mark the location of holes on the layout.
“The Seaside Course is all about strategy and shot selection. The wind is a dominant factor and, depending how hard it’s blowing, the course can play completely different from day to day,” said assistant professional Jared Walahoski. “If you miss your target, then you’ve got to have a super-sharp recovery game. With these quick greens, the putter has got to be your best friend.”
The most demanding and interesting hole is the 409-yard, par-4, 13th, which is protected by marshes on the left and five bunkers on the right. Five holes later, Seaside’s 18th is a classic links design with an undulating fairway flanked by water and bunkers on the left and a bunker and marshes on the right. The approach shot to the green is tricky as water cuts in from the left and a huge bunker looms in front to the right.
If links style golf isn’t your cup of tea, the Plantation Course will likely suit you better. Winding through rows of live oaks, cedars and pines, the course opened in 1928 and was updated in 1998 by Rees Jones. The layout has breathtaking ocean views as well as several lakes to gobble up wayward shots.
The 10th hole is a great start to the back nine as the fairway skirts the ocean on the right before narrowing near the elevated green guarded by massive oaks on the right and a lake on the left. The par-4 12th hole is a classic dogleg left, requiring an accurate drive through a tree-lined alley, with large bunkers on the left at the turn. A lake awaits by the green, and golfers also must navigate a six-bunker complex on the left and a large oak and bunker on the right.
The Plantation Course also has a familiar-looking – and daunting – hole for fans of the Players Championship and its most famous hole at TPC Sawgrass.
“My favorite on the Plantation Course is the seventh hole,” Veal said. “It’s our version of the island green 17th at the TPC. All of that water between you and the green gets in your head.”
The other layout on property is the Retreat Course, which was redesigned by Love and his brother Mark in 2001. It plays from 5,082 to 7,106 yards and has tree-lined fairways and difficult green complexes that feature plenty of bunkers and undulating surfaces.
Off the course, Sea Island has a bevy of nature and outdoor activities from open sea kayaking, horseback riding and fishing to a world-class shooting school and miles of open beaches.
“We have a wonderful setting for golfers and their families,” Veal said. “There’s plenty to see and a ton of activities at Sea Island.”