But Seaside is just one of three outstanding Sea Island GC courses available for resort play, with two other excellent courses on St. Simons Island offering visitors diverse, scenic options that make the island one of the most popular golf destinations in the Southeast.
Sea Island Golf Club is the primary attraction for golfers headed to the Georgia coast, but both the King & Prince Resort and Sea Palms provide quality and scenic coastal golf experiences, with Sea Palms a local favorite, as well as an affordable option for visitors who take price into account when booking tee times.
Sea Palms is currently undergoing some renovations after the acquisition of the resort one year ago by an Atlanta-based company. Rick Irwin, the head professional at Sea Palms, says the first round of improvements to the course involve “complete bunker renovation,” with work on the front nine already completed and the back nine almost done.
The bunkers have been re-shaped and the sand in them has been replaced, with new drainage improving long-term maintenance. Irwin says some of the distinctive varieties of trees lining the fairways are being trimmed, but “not much removal.” Marsh grass is being planted in spots to raise the aesthetic appeal of the course, including “some areas where it comes into play.”
The cart paths are also being repaired, part of an overall improvement to the entire resort.
Sea Palms is a 27-hole facility, with the newer West nine a short, regulation layout that plays to a par of 34 (four par 3s) and is located across the road from the original 18, a first rate traditional coastal design by George Cobb that is approaching its 50th birthday.
With the ninth hole converted from a par 4 to par 3 several years ago, Sea Palms plays to a par of 71. At just under 6,500 yards from the tips, Sea Palms is neither long nor overly demanding, but the pines, palms and palmetto trees that line the fairways along with some overhanging moss place a premium driving accuracy.
Several holes also include hazards along the fairways, but they are avoidable of you hit it reasonably straight. The putting surfaces are on the gentle side, and will yield some opportunities to hole or a putt or two for those comfortable with Bermuda surfaces.
There is a considerable contrast in length between the two nines, with the longer back including a pair of fairly hefty par 5s, the second of which is part of a stout trio of finishing holes that includes the longest par 5, par 3 and par 4 on the course, with the water-lined 18th a terrific finishing hole.
The King & Prince Resort’s Hampton Club falls somewhere in between Sea Palms and Sea Island GC on the cost index, with its superb Joe Lee design offering a modest challenge with some wonderful views, especially on the marsh stretch of holes connected to the main part of the course by an elevated bridge.
A par 72 that measures under 6,500 yards from the back tees, the King & Prince course has only one par 4 longer than 400 yards, with just one of the par 5s much over 500. As you would expect from a coastal layout, the fairways are lined by trees that can make things difficult to those who spray it off the tee, but there are ample amounts of fairway on a majority of the holes, with a relative minimum of serious hazards for an island course.
Among the primary challenges are Lee’s well-protected greens complexes, with plenty of sand surrounding the Mini-Verde greens that were installed in 2009 as part of a restoration of the course that has greatly enhanced its appeal.
The marsh stretch of holes begins with a short, scenic par 3 and is highlighted by the 14th, a short but perilous par 5 that starts with a testy tee shot over the marsh, followed by a risk/reward second to a green bordered by a pond.
The front nine is not without its memorable holes, among them the sweeping dogleg left fourth, a fairly lengthy par 5 that runs along the marsh, and the par-4 ninth, with water in play on both the tee shot and approach, along with a sizeable fairway tree that can impact an already intimidating second shot.
Two of Sea Island Golf Club’s three courses are adjacent to each other, with both Seaside and Plantation featuring holes that play along marshland as well as the southeast Georgia coastline.
The original 18 holes are split among two courses, with the Rees Jones-renovated Plantation consisting of the first nine holes built on the property in the late 1920s, plus Dick Wilson’s Retreat nine from 1960. The Seaside nine was built shortly after the original Plantation nine, and combines with Joe Lee’s Marsh nine from 1973 to form the course Tom Fazio renovated in the late 1990s.
Seaside is the host course for the McGladrey Classic, and is the primary venue for major tournaments played at Sea Island GC. The par-70 layout (only two par 5s) is not especially long for a PGA Tour course and features ample amounts of width, but Fazio’s greens complexes help compensate, challenging even the game’s best players with deep greenside bunkers and run-offs around the edges of some speedy, undulating greens.
The natural elements (marsh, dunes, ocean breezes) are a factor throughout the course, which is set up to produce a variety of different shots no matter what direction the wind is blowing. Few courses anywhere can match Seaside’s natural beauty, but Seaside represents a serious challenge for the club’s members and resort guests, not nearly as much for the tour players who will break par on the immaculately-conditioned layout more often that not.
Plantation is a par 72, and also features holes along the coast and bordering marshes. Water is more prominently in play on Plantation than on Seaside, most notably on three gorgeous par 3s, one of which is part of a splendid quartet of finishing holes that include a short but potentially hazardous par 4 and a wonderful risk/reward par-5 18th.
The 18th is one of a number of holes where the greens are perched perilously close to water, but Plantation is less intimidating visually than Seaside, where the dunes and marshes are a greater factor. The fairways are typically on the generous side, with the putting surfaces not quite as demanding as those on Plantation’s sister course.
With most of the trouble reserved for the par 3s and par 5s, the par 4s as a group are on the forgiving side without a great deal length, but there are a few definite exceptions, especially on the incoming nine.
Retreat, once known as the Island Club, was extensively renovated in 2001 by St. Simons resident Davis Love’s design group, which incrased length and width to the once narrow layout, and made extensive changes to the greens complexes, adding significant undulation to the putting surfaces.
Retreat retains Lee’s routing but is a different course, although it is still a tree-lined layout, unlike Seaside and Plantation. Like Plantation, most of the hazards are found on the par 3s and par 5s, but the two par 4ss with water in play are among the most interesting – and treacherous – holes on the course.
The course is located just across the street from Seaside and Plantation, with Retreat providing an enjoyable, reasonably demanding complement to its older siblings with their slightly more dramatic settings.
Sea Island GC is a decidedly upscale facility, but the overall quality of courses and the club are commensurate with the costs.