Seaside 18 at Sea Island: Great golf with the greats' ghosts
They forgot Sam Snead. Hell, throw in Humphrey Bogart while you're at it, and you may as well mention Calvin Coolidge. And if you want live spirits, let's talk Tony Blair.
This venerable golf resort has been attracting celebrities for generations, with its call of the genteel in a wild setting. Their photos line the walls of the resort properties, along with other, lesser lights: women in old-time bathing suits romping in the surf, wealthy businessmen and dignitaries planting ceremonial trees, others just digging the scene.
Not to demean the worthy Plantation and Retreat layouts, but the Seaside is the class of the joint.
Designed by Harry S. Colt and Charles Alison in 1929, Seaside was given a thorough modernization by Tom Fazio in 1999. Golf Digest named it one of the top 100 U.S. courses and the sixth best in Georgia.
It's a well-earned rep. Seaside is advertised as an ocean-side links course, and certain sections do have a wild, windswept feel to them as the course climbs over grassy dunes. It isn't as wild and foreboding as the Ocean course at Kiawah Island, but Seaside can be a very trying experience, particularly when the Atlantic roars up and makes itself felt.
Seaside is a little more than 7,000 yards from the tips with a hair-raising slope rating of 141, though the blues are a more manageable 6,557. You can see pretty much all of the course from there and live to tell about it.
And there's a lot to see. Seaside is located on the site of the old Retreat Plantation, with tabby ruins and an old slave cemetery clearly visible. The tees are slightly elevated, offering excellent views of the Intracoastal Waterway, St. Simons Sound and, in the distance, the smokestacks of nasty old Brunswick.
And, this being coastal Georgia, nearly everywhere you look there's marsh - your steady date throughout the course, changing colors with the seasons, providing both obstacles and aesthetics.
A number of holes will stay with you long after you leave, including the 358-yard second, a marsh carry off the tee with a sloping fairway, and No. 5, a great risk/reward hole.
And the front nine is just "a warm-up for the back," caddy Jim Watson said. "The greens on the back will remind you of Pinehurst. They slope off on all sides."
Yes, and they have some very tricky reads as well. A general rule is, if you think it will break, it will - and more. That's offset somewhat by the deceptively wide landing areas, many of which look scary-small from the tee.
Seaside is worth the $135-$165 green fees, with the resort offering various stay and play deals. It's a first-class operation, with caddies and unlimited range time.
The setting is about as good as it gets in this part of the world, with no homes to mar the beautiful scene. Seaside perfectly balances wildness, conditioning and immaculate grooming, and it's very walker-friendly course, with shell pathways provided.
Be advised: This is not your typical player-friendly resort course. If you have trouble with long carries you'd be advised to move up to the middle or forward tees. Pick your tees wisely, though, you'll have one of your most memorable rounds here.
Stay and play
Scarlett O'Hara would feel right at home at Sea Island Resort properties, with their chandeliers, dark, wood-paneled rooms and bright atriums. The family-owned (four generations) resort and real-estate company operates the Cloister Hotel, the Lodge, the Lodge at Cabin Bluff and Ocean Forest and Frederica Golf Clubs.
The resort's centerpiece, the recently revitalized Cloister has 30 luxury one-bedroom suites, 70 guest rooms and a ton of awards to its credit. It also has 24-hour butler service, and if you've never been checked in by a butler, you don't know what you're missing - no tedious registration at the desk, for one thing.
Sea Island also rents private homes, known as the Cottages, and the resort includes a spa, the Beach Club, a five-mile stretch of private beach and a shooting school on nearby Rainbow Island. This is southern hospitality and luxury at its finest.
December 20, 2006