The moment we crossed the causeway, I knew we had arrived in a special place. Perhaps it was the wide sweeping views of the marshlands along the Mackay River, or the quaint two-lane roads that wind their way through the island, but after a 5-hour drive from Charlotte, NC we were greeted by a welcomed feeling of relaxation as we reached our much anticipated destination. For several years, I had listened to a colleague rave about this magical place on the Georgia coast and I was excited to see for myself what Sea Island had to offer.
We quickly learned that Sea Island is part of what is known as The Golden Isles of Georgia, which also includes Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, and Little St. Simons Island. With the exception of Jekyll Island, the other islands are essentially connected and at any given time you may need to ask Siri if you’ve unknowingly crossed from one to another. Although the islands are considered resort islands, you won’t find rows of mid-rise chain hotels lining the beaches here. To our delight, the islands embodied an old, charming southern oasis rather than a new age, overdeveloped resort town.
Where to Stay: The Inn at Sea Island
Amongst the cottages, manors and sprawling estates that line Sea Island Drive, there are a few great hotel options on the islands. We opted for the Inn at Sea Island, a reasonably priced yet wonderfully comfortable hotel in the heart of the island. The Spanish-inspired exterior meshes nicely with a comfortable lobby outfitted with a warming fireplace. The calming blues and grays used in the lobby flow through to the guest rooms, which serve as a perfectly sized space to crash between golf rounds and catch some shut eye after a long day of adventure.
Perks of the Inn include a legit continental breakfast (including scrambled eggs and bacon!), an awesome outdoor lounge and pool area, shuttle service, and entry to the other Sea Island properties (including golf courses and restaurants). For those seeking more luxurious accommodations, The Lodge and The Cloister serve as the award-winning options of choice. While the Inn has a great central location on St. Simons Island, the Lodge is situated conveniently at two of the best golf courses and the Cloister embodies the ideal spot for vacationing beach-goers on Sea Island.
Where to Play: Sea Island Golf Club
Have you ever wondered what it was like to practice and play on the courses that PGA Tour players call home? Well, here’s your chance. It takes little time to understand why the likes of Davis Love III and Brandt Snedeker make Sea Island their primary residence. Along with the benefits of the laid-back island lifestyle, Sea Island Golf Club offers several championship caliber courses and world-class practice facilities. These are all accessible by staying at one of the aforementioned hotels.
After our arrival mid-afternoon Saturday, I took the opportunity to test out the facilities. The pro shop and locker room are actually part of The Lodge, located right at the golf club. A fully stocked pro shop entices the well-outfitted golfer to stock-up on new gear and memorabilia, while the old-world feel of the locker room facilities are perfect for pre and post-round lounging with fellow golfers (picture leather furniture and massive TVs).
The practice facilities include an oversized driving range with numerous target greens and two sets of tees – one for resort guests, the other for learning center students and the touring pros who call this place home. The main facility offers a chipping and pitching area that boasts two bunkers and a perfectly manicured green, as well as two large putting greens. Oh, and did I mention all of this is snuggled nicely against the coast, with beautiful views of the Sea Island Sound?
Following the Saturday afternoon practice session, Sunday and Monday were designated play days on our trip. Because we were in town for a qualifying event for the Jones Cup on Monday, both days were spent playing the Plantation Course. Although the majority of guests appeared to opt for carts, I found that the course is ideal for walking given the flat layout and close proximity of tee boxes to the prior green.
The course begins with a few friendly straightaway par 4s, before offering a challenging par-3 third hole, measuring a stout 218 yards from the Championship tees. This becomes a common theme at the Plantation Course, as course architects seemingly plant difficult holes amidst those providing scoring opportunities.
Some of the more memorable holes are the picturesque 10th, a challenging par-4 that’s nestled nicely between The Lodge and the Sea Island Sound, as well as the 8th and 18th, two risk-reward reachable par-5s where good tee shots tempt the golfer to attack the water and bunker guarded greens in two. The variety of shots required and abundance of water hazards (11 of the 18 holes feature water) result in an entertaining, yet challenging layout.
In addition, guests can also play Sea Island’s Seaside Course and Retreat Course. The Seaside Course stretches along the marshy coast next to the Plantation Course and plays hosts the PGA Tour’s McGladry Classic. On our next visit, we will be sure to add these two courses to the mix.
Where We Ate
Southern Soul Barbecue – If you’re looking for a local gem, this is it. A great selection of pulled pork, bbq ribs, brisket, and all the southern sides you could want. Place your order inside, and head outside to dine under the sun on picnic tables while you watch the masters at work on their two giant smokers.
Halyard Restaurant – A bustling bar accompanies a cozy dining room at this great Sea Island establishment. Halyard’s has a great selection of locally sourced food (most everything is from the home state), and everything is made from scratch. The result is a creative and delicious menu with lots of interesting dishes. We enjoyed the southern-classic shrimp & grits and fresh caught salmon that was cooked to perfection.
The Bottom Line
Sea Island is a wonderful destination that is well worth the trip for golfers and non-golfers alike. Despite its undeveloped and laid-back feel, the island offers a wide variety of activities, accommodations and restaurants. Next time, we’ll book a stay at The Lodge and try our luck on all three courses! Will you be exploring this magical island?