Golf in Sea Island, Georgia

Sea Island Resort is where old world gentility meets new world order. This tranquil outpost halfway between Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida, has played host to everyone from Bobby Jones to 20 world leaders at last year’s G8 Summit (President Bush chose the resort because his parents honeymooned here in 1945).

The $42 million Lodge at Sea Island opened in 2001 to complement the regal Cloister Hotel, which is closed for a major facelift until 2006. PGA Tour star Davis Love III grew up at Sea Island, designed one of its three golf courses, and lives nearby. Who better to provide the inside scoop on how to enjoy the local brand of southern comfort?

The Golf:
Sound Choices

There are three courses at Sea Island Resort, but as many as 10 designers get credit for them–each track having been altered at least once. Tracing the design DNA of each would merit an episode of CSI: Sea Island. Each offers its own challenges. “You have the variety of three courses that play three different ways,” says Love III. “I don’t think any of the courses favor one particular shot, but hopefully you possess a shot you can play in windy conditions!”

The Best:
The Seaside Course
Par 70, 6,945 yards; $240

Seaside has undergone more sea changes than a candidate running for office. The first architects credited with this masterpiece are Harry S. Colt and Charles Alison in 1929; the most recent is Tom Fazio in 1999. What hasn’t changed is the superb setting for one of the finest courses in the southeast.

Davis Love III says
“My favorite hole on Seaside would have to be number thirteen because of the challenges and options it presents. You have to carry a tidal creek and avoid the marsh on the left and bunkers on the right. It can be a different hole every time you play it, depending on the wind.”

Fazio married the original Seaside nine with Joe Lee’s later Marshside holes to create a linksy, lowland treasure that skirts St. Simons Sound. The fairways are hemmed by waste areas and deep, flash-faced bunkers that create an illusion of tightness. In fact, the landing areas are hard to miss. However, the greens are slick and guarded with mounds that repel sloppy approaches. Holes don’t come much more beautiful than the 14th, which curls 407 yards alongside a marsh with views of the sound and the causeway bridge. Bobby Jones practiced on Seaside regularly during his Grand Slam year of 1930.

The Classic:
The Plantation Course
Par 72, 7,058 yards, $190

Though located cheek-by-jowl, the Seaside and Plantation courses occupy different ecosystems. In 1998, Rees Jones completed an extreme makeover on this course, which began as nine holes by Walter Travis in 1927. It is routed through thick forest–and around a few of the island’s multimillion-dollar “cottages”–and is noteworthy for small greens protected by closely mown mounds. The Plantation is rated the toughest of Sea Island’s courses–but only if you compare slope and rating; in reality, Seaside is the hardest–but several of the par 3s are knee-knockers when the wind kicks up off nearby St. Simons Sound. Holes 7, 11 and 15 require a carry over water and are devilishly bunkered to boot.

Bold golfers can make dinner taste better at the 492-yard, par-5 18th, a dogleg-left around a lake that can be carried for a chance at eagle. Make the money putt and the Lodge’s Oak Bar is just yards away.

The Newcomer:
The Retreat Course
Par 72, 7,106 yards; $190

When Davis Love III was asked to explain the logic behind the sixth hole he designed at the Retreat Course, he reportedly replied, “Because people think I have no sense of humor.” Golfers will get the joke when see the green at this 369-yard par 4: It’s as wide as the runway at nearby McKinnon Airport is long.

That’s the only quirk on an otherwise enjoyable course. Love–Sea Island’s touring pro–joined his brother Mark in 2001 to redesign the former St. Simons Island Club, a five-minute shuttle ride from The Lodge. The Retreat is a charitable layout with generous fairways. The biggest threats to a good score are the trees that frame most holes and the greens, many of which are pinched on the approach by bunkers.

Davis Love III says
“My company [Love Golf Design] redesigned the Retreat Course in 2001. With all the changes we made, my favorite hole is probably No. 6. It’s a short par-4 where long hitters can go for the green. But the real challenge is in the approach because the green is 14,000 square feet, with a deep swale through the middle.”

Waltz, Trot, Shoot

Aside from the golf, there are other ways to get fired up at Sea Island.

If you can’t shoot par, hit the Shooting School instead. Classes for beginners and crack shots. Lessons: $75-$100, plus $30 per ammo round. Practice: $35 per round. Clays course: $150.

Giddy up with riding lessons through marshland and on the beach. $20-$75.

Kick up your heels in daily ballroom boogie classes with dance doyenne Audrey Wood. Free.

Tune up your game with GOLF MAGAZINE Top 100 Teachers Jack Lumpkin, Todd Anderson and Gale Peterson at the Golf Learning Center.

Sea Island Resort owns an exclusive hunting preserve, Cabin Bluff, about an hour south on I-95 near the Intracoastal Waterway. It even has a unique, six-hole golf course that Love Golf Design built, with alternating tees and pin positions, so it can play like an 18-holer. You’ll need to bag the golden goose though: The fully-staffed cabin costs $50,000 for a three-night stay.

The Food:
Southern Fare

Davis Love III says
“If I was staying at Sea Island, I probably wouldn’t go anywhere else to eat. But if you’re looking for local flavor, I enjoy Sweet Mama’s in Longview Plaza for a quick and easy breakfast. Tacos del Mar a few doors down serves a great Tex-Mex lunch. And for dinner, you can’t go wrong with the steak and seafood at Bennie’s Red Barn on Frederica Road.”

The Lodge has three restaurants. The Terrace overlooks the finishing hole of the Plantation Course and serves a terrific seafood chowder. The wood-paneled Oak Bar is modeled on the famous watering hole at New York’s Plaza Hotel and has more than 40 whiskey selections. Try the bluepoint oysters topped with a cube of lemon gellee–a great appetizer. The Colt and Alison Steakhouse is semi-formal–bring a jacket, hold the tie–and boasts a 700-bottle wine list. For lunch, try the Davis Love Grill at the Retreat clubhouse, which is decorated with memorabilia from Love III and his father. It also serves Georgia’s best Caesar salad. Take a five-minute drive to St. Simons Island for great crab cakes at Barbara Jean’s, on the corner of Beachview and Mallory streets.

Go-to guys

Forecaddies accompany every twosome, but loopers John Montgomery and Harvey Barber offer advice and entertainment. Ask them about carrying for the King of Bahrain, whose flock of servants never let his feet touch the ground. Caddies are $30.

Summer Special

The Lodge’s golf package (May 30- September 7 [2005]) includes accommodation, one round for two players daily on the Retreat or Plantation courses (Seaside is $50 more), a cart and forecaddie. Cost is $325 (Sunday-Wednesday) and $375 (Thursday-Saturday). 800-732-4752;

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