Hampton Club on St. Simons Island: Prettiest marsh golf on the East Coast?

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Of all the marsh golf courses I've played, from Florida north through Myrtle Beach and the Carolinas, the Hampton Club may be the best, in terms of the views.

The Hampton Club - Bridges
The Hampton Club has four holes in the marsh, connected by bridges.
The Hampton Club - BridgesThe Hampton Club The Hampton Club - Built on Cotton Plantation
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King & Prince Golf Course

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The King & Prince Golf Course winds through the mature forests and vast salt marshes that are located along the northern coast of St. Simon's Island. The beautifully preserved surroundings offer a glimpse of the native wildlife, which includes ospreys, woodpeckers, and bald eagles.

18 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 6462 yards | Book online | ... details »

That's because, at the Hampton Club, the views are from the marsh. Yes, you are literally in the marsh surrounding St. Simons Island, out there with the ospreys, bald eagles, woodpeckers and other marsh critters.

How did they do that? Well, they carved four holes on the islands off the mainland. You get to them via a series of elevated bridges. You are the marsh and the marsh is you.

How did they do that? Well, the course was built before all those pesky environmentalists started making waves about such things. It's a unique experience and one that will probably stay that way.

"I'm pretty sure they wouldn't allow a development like this now," Brunswick resident Bud St. Pierre said. "Back then, they'd let it go."

Situated on the relatively isolated northern-most reaches of the barrier island, the Hampton Club pulses with the kind of raw beauty usually found on these islands of the southeastern coast, with ancient oaks framing the fairways. It's simply one terrific, camera-ready view after another.

"The first seven or eight years, it was really something," General Manager Rick Mattox said. "The development started back in the '90s. Now, it's like we're part of the island."

The star of the course, built on the site of an 18th century cotton plantation, is definitely the back nine, where the four island holes are. You'll be dealing with either the marsh or Butler Lake on seven of the holes, including some water carries off the tee, like on Nos. 10, 13 and 14, before the course turns back inland at No. 16.

No. 14 is an excellent risk-reward experience. It's a short par 5 that can be easily birded if you cut off enough of the dogleg around the marsh, to the left. Your approach shot will be over water if you're trying to reach in two.

The front nine has its charms as well. It has more sand - No. 5 has nine bunkers, for example - and you'll have to carry Butler Lake twice on No. 9.

"He really did a nice job of incorporating the lake," St. Pierre said of architect Joe Lee.

Hampton Club: The verdict

The Hampton Club is a must-play if you're in the area. It's a challenging course elevated by its natural beauty.

Plans call for a re-modeling, but that will mostly involve new grasses. There's nothing about the actual layout will change.

"We're going to do exactly what Joe Lee did in 1989," Mattox said. "It's such a unique place and obviously they provide us the money, which is nice."

The course has an antiquated irrigation system, which will be replaced.

St. Simons hotels

If you happen to get a ground-floor room at the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort on St. Simons, bring your surfboard; you may think the waves will come crashing into your room. The ocean is that close.

It may look like a new, oceanfront property, but the King and Prince actually has a long history. It was built in 1935 as a private club. They had big band orchestras and ballroom dancing.

The hotel was destroyed by a fire in 1935 and re-built in an astonishing 60 days, only to be damaged by yet another fire in the late 1930s. It was opened to the public in 1941 and the Navy used it as a training facility.

Since then, the hotel has been through other changes, like several renovations and the addition of cabanas. There are now portraits of King George and Prince Charles Edward Stewart, as well as stained glass windows.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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