This week, golfers on the PGA Tour are competing in the RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club, one of North America’s best public golf courses and part of an iconic vacation destination on the Georgia coast. Sea Island is a long narrow barrier island with around 600 private homes and a large resort. Local tourism dates to 1928, when a wealthy entrepreneur, who had made his money in the automobile business, purchased a large swathe of Georgia coastline and built a hotel on what was originally called Long Island. Over time, Sea Island evolved into an exclusive enclave that today is regularly listed as one of the most expensive places to live in the United States, has one of the world’s best golf courses, and is also home to The Cloister, which Conde Nast Traveler lists as “one of the world’s best places to stay.” Through lows (bankruptcy) and highs (hosting the 2004 G8 summit) in the first decade of this century, the original hotel was replaced by a magnificent Mediterranean-style resort complex, complete with 175 guest rooms in two main lodge buildings, award-winning restaurants, and a sprawling pool complex. But jump on a bike and ride along the oak tree-lined streets or wander along the five-mile-long unspoiled beach and you’ll quickly understand why the island’s natural beauty continues to attract the wealthy and elite.
After everything I’d read about the island and its history, it was somewhat of a surprise to discover genuine Southern hospitality and family-friendly facilities on a recent vacation to The Cloister at Sea Island. Sure, it took a couple of days to become comfortable in surroundings and a demographic we are not familiar with living in Canada, but when we did the vacation really began, with most days spent around the pool and down on the beach and ending with evening walks or bike rides.
Golf is a major attraction, although somewhat confusingly, the 54-hole Sea Island Golf Club is on nearby Saint Simon Island. Designed in 1929 by the legendary duo of Harry S. Colt and Charles Alison, the club’s signature Seaside Course lived up to all expectations from impeccable service (think freshly squeezed lemonade delivered to your stall on the driving range) to challenging holes winding through dunes and salt marshes. I had the morning’s first tee time – just myself, an aspiring local pro (the club boasts at least 10 current PGA Tour players as members), and a forecaddie. With mist rising off Saint Simon Sound as a backdrop and the challenging course in absolutely perfect condition, it was a round to remember.
Standard rooms in the Cloister at Sea Island start at US$250 in the off-season, rising to US$700 in summer, which includes access to the Beach Club. We stayed in a townhome (from US$600/night) located within walking distance of the Beach Club, or there is the option to rent an island home (from $8000 to $30000/week) through the resort website (www.seaisland.com). Greens fees range from $125 on the Retreat Course to $295 on the Seaside Course. Many visitors and island residents use the private airport on Saint Simons Island for access, with the closest commercial flights landing at Tallahassee, 40 minute’s drive south.