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Adventure Island: Sea Island Is The Escape We All Need Now

Michael McCarthy | November 7, 2020 |

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Sea Island has some of the finest golf courses in North America, but one of the best-kept secrets in the South also thrills with adventure and pampering.

Seaside Tee Box at Sea Island

The tee at the resort’s Seaside course

Gale Peterson is the most patient woman in North America. She’s a legendary top 100 Golf magazine teacher who has discussed the game with leaders of the free world (George H.W. Bush, for one) and countless PGA luminaries, and yet she finds herself on a bright morning readjusting my grip, leveling my shoulders and talking philosophically about a sport that can bedevil the mind for hours, even days, after playing.

We’re at the Philip Anschutz-owned Sea Island, located in southeastern Georgia, inside the resort’s new 17,000-square-foot Golf Performance Center, a Valhalla for anyone who’s ever picked up a club—from weekend duffers to PGA players—to work on their games via skill-improvement simulators that track every nuance of a swing.

Peterson, who’s been on the Sea Island golf staff for 37 years, sets me up on the Swing Catalyst, which checks out my feet and toe-to-heel pressure, among countless other foundational measurements. Above all, the machine—especially its video component—helps me develop the right balance. The affable Peterson tells me something I’ll never forget about sports where a ball is struck: “When you get into a motion, you want the ball to get in the way of the motion.” In other words, it’s all about muscle memory and smoothing out the fundamentals. She’s a miracle worker: My chipping goes from a disaster to functional within 10 minutes. Before Peterson and I leave to work on my short game on a back green, we visit the building’s private fitness center, where I spot tour player Michael Thompson working out with a trainer—yes, the same Michael Thompson who won the 3M Open in July (with a 4-under-par 67, bagging nearly $1.2 million).

Sweeping views at Sea Island

Water views are everywhere on the courses at Sea Island

For golf guests, three courses—Seaside, Retreat and Plantation—await. The latter was recently redesigned by Davis and Mark Love and won the prestigious renovation of the year award from Golf Inc. Among many enhancements, the greens were lowered, and golfers can now take in views of the St. Simons Sound and see the entire back nine. It’s a knockout.

If golf is your getaway goal, bring friends or family and reserve the waterfront King Cottage on the Plantation course. It’s located at the 43-room Lodge, which has recently undergone $30 million in improvements. King Cottage, opened a little more than a year ago, is 4,200 square feet and features four bedrooms and 4 1⁄2 baths. (There are five additional two-bedroom, two-bath cottages at the Lodge.) King’s common area is lined with wide-plank hardwood floors and soft leather furniture, and the four bedrooms feel like private suites at a boutique hotel. The cottage also has an indoor hitting bay decked out with a leather couch (for spectators with cocktails in hand, of course), baskets of golf balls and clubs. One of my travel companions is up before dawn each morning; he hits balls—beautiful strikes, sounding like a tuning fork in a headwind—into the twilight. I haven’t seen a happier human this year.

King Cottage at Sea Island

The great room atthe 4,200-square-foot King Cottage

Happiness also reigns among other diversions here, which explains why the resort has earned four Forbes five-star ratings for 12 years running. Start with the spa, the design of which is an homage to the Georgia coastline with a pre- or post-treatment stone atrium. It feels like a luxe grotto, as water streams and pools through its stunning expanse. Treatments here include massages, facials (including bioenergy lifts and HydraFacials) and cryotherapy. The fitness center, adjacent to the spa, features personal trainers and classes in yoga, Pilates, Zumba and even family-fit workouts.

The Lodge Entrance at Sea Island

Entrance to The Lodge at Sea Island

Sea Island also has won praise for its outdoor diversions beyond golf, and for good reason: The staff can customize any experience, including a sunset kayaking paddle to a beach where a Lowcountry seafood feast—prepared by the culinary team—awaits, or a private fishing expedition in the shallow saltwater marshes in a quest to land speckled trout, flounder or even tarpon during their migration. The resort also recently worked with a designer to build a 71-foot yacht; the vessel’s two levels host sunset cruises for guests and private parties.

The author with Mikey hawk

The author gets acquainted with Mikey, a Harris’s hawk, part of the falconry program at the resort.

During my last morning at Sea Island, I hitch a ride on a golf cart to the property’s Rainbow Island and meet with Paige Hansen, a self-described “bird nerd,” who’s a trained falconer. She educates our small group about birds of prey and the ancient sport of hunting with these incredible creatures. We meet Mikey, a Harris’s hawk. Hansen asks if anyone wants to wear a thick glove for the enormous bird to swoop upon. I’m game. She tucks a little hawk food (don’t ask) between two fingers of the glove, and Mikey, who is perched on a tree branch 30 feet away, sails in to land on my hand, quickly dispatching with the food in seconds. One of my travel companions uses his phone to film the flight in slow motion. Watching it later, it’s mesmerizing and beyond beautiful. It reminds me of writer Jodi Picoult’s notion that life is not a plot; it’s in the details. And that’s a theme on this island: When we slow down the pace of our lives, especially now, we often usher in life’s finer points. And, at least around here, these unexpected, natural marvels have the capacity to forever change our world. King Cottage from $3,349 per night, two-bedroom cottages from $1,749 per night, The Lodge rooms from $549 per night, The Cloister Garden rooms from $499 per night.

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Courtesy of Sea Island, by Frank Ishman