When it comes to a great golfing getaway, Sea Island offers a wealth of amenities for groups of friends both on and off the course.
By Dale Leatherman
When it’s time for a break from the everyday routine of job responsibilities and other obligations, nothing is more satisfying than a few days with old friends in a carefree environment with all the creature comforts and, of course, great golf.
“Golf buddy trips are an opportunity to reconnect with lifelong friends—to get away and enjoy what you’re doing, but also enjoy the people you’re with,” says Sea Island’s Director of Golf Brannen Veal. “On a daily basis, work and family responsibilities keep you from spending much quality time with other folks, so it’s great to take a … trip with buddies you may not have seen in a year. You pick up right where you left off. For buddy trips, Sea Island has great golf, but also many other activities and amenities that will satisfy everyone.”
Golf Groups on the Rise
“With a robust stock market, strong U.S. dollar and aging, affluent golfers, buddy trips are in high demand,” says Gordon Dalgleish, co-founder and president of PerryGolf, one of the leading international providers of golf tours and cruises.
One person who has noticed an increase in golf buddy outings is Sea Island Golf Sales Manager Ben Rhodes. “We have a lot of return visits, as well as a number of new groups and groups on a three-year rotation that go to other places and then back to Sea Island,” Rhodes explains.
It’s not just men who are taking advantage of these Sea Island getaways. “The interest in women’s groups is growing, too,” Rhodes says. “… A lot of women’s groups come to us from country clubs, where one of the pros organizes trips to Sea Island. … Women are more likely than men to organize an outing around a clinic, which is a growing trend here.”
Rhodes also cites couples’ groups, such as the Happy Hackers from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, which consists of 32 people who get together for a Sea Island vacation every year.
“We also have repeat corporate outings,” Rhodes says. “… In addition to the golf and other activities, there are multiple options for meeting space and receptions. Also, our wine cellars have proven to be very popular for private dinners.”
Five Years and Counting
In ranking Sea Island among the country’s top destinations for golf buddy trips, Matt Ginella of the Golf Channel called the resort “the gold standard in Southern hospitality” with a “dream team” of golf instructors. Judging by the number of PGA TOUR pros who live on the Island and avail themselves of the resort’s Golf Performance Center, not to mention the three championship golf courses at Sea Island, there are some seriously good golf vibes here.
PGA golf professional Scott Wickham, director of instruction at a private golf club in Tampa, Florida, has been bringing golfers to Sea Island’s Golf Performance Center for training, fitness coaching and club fittings since 2003. Five years ago, he organized his first golf buddy outing to Sea Island for his dad, two friends and himself.
“That was the start,” Wickham says. “Via word of mouth, it has grown into a much bigger guys’ trip because it’s such a fun time.” The trip he’s planning for this year will bring 28 men together in November, just before the resort plays host to the PGA TOUR RSM Classic. They will stay at The Lodge, where they’re able to enjoy meals in both the Men’s Locker Room and Oak Room and, of course, play plenty of golf. “We play a Ryder Cup-style event on the Seaside, Plantation and Retreat courses—and have an absolute blast,” Wickham explains. “… In the past we’ve spent time at the shooting [school] and fishing, in addition to golf.”
“I feel Sea Island is the best place in the country for club fitting, and feedback on fitness from [Director of Golf Fitness] Randy Myers. It’s also the best place in the country, in my opinion, for a guys’ golf trip.” – Scott Wickham
Most evenings during these trips, the men make their own dinner plans, which could be anything from going the bar at the Oak Room, ordering in or going out to nearby restaurants like Southern Soul Barbeque. “Last year, for the first time, we had a group dinner in a private room just off the Oak Room—a table for 32,” Wickham adds. “The guys told me that was one of their favorite parts of the trip, so we’re doing it again this year.”
As the golf group has grown, so has the number of participants who have sought out a club fitting with Craig Allen, manager at the Golf Performance Center. “I book about 15 to 16 hours of club fittings during our stay,” Wickham says. “Many of the guys who keep coming back are planning to get new drivers this year, but are waiting until the trip to work with Craig. I feel Sea Island is the best place in the country for club fitting, and feedback on fitness from [Director of Golf Fitness] Randy Myers. It’s also the best place in the country, in my opinion, for a guys’ golf trip.”
In the current group of 28, at least 22 have been to Sea Island before, so they are familiar to the staff, according to Wickham. “The people in the [Men’s] Locker Room remember us, some of us by name,” he says. “From the time we walk into The Lodge the resort staff is great—nongolf employees as well as the golf guys. They all make us feel really welcome and do everything to make sure we have a good time.”
Wickham says the group is looking forward to the new cottages, putting and chipping greens, pool and pool house, as well as the new 18-hole putting course, Driftwood. “I plan to book one or two cottages every year and have the rest of the guys in The Lodge,” Wickham says. “The putting course is going to be great for groups like ours.”
Headed for the Island
“No matter what you plan, someone is going to want to do something else,” Veal says. “That’s where Sea Island checks the box for almost anything. … There’s something for everyone here. You do a lot of things as a group but you will also do things individually.” Some such activities may include going to the beach, taking a private golf lesson, horseback riding or kayaking. Veal also mentions opportunities for special events, such as dinner in the Men’s Locker Room. “The resort is a cool place with great golf, plus so many other activities and amenities that will satisfy everyone,” he says.
Throughout its 90-year history, Sea Island has stayed attuned to the evolving preferences of its guests and members and strived to meet every need. The wide range of activities available on-site are the result of that: from water sports, rivers and ocean to the Sea Island Shooting School, tennis courts and miles of nature trails to explore on horseback, bike or foot. There are also more than a dozen dining options overseen by an impressive culinary team.
“Sea Island attracts groups because it is a special place with a wonderful atmosphere, lodging, food and activities,” Rhodes says. “Golfers like the fact that we have three courses, so there’s variety. Service is great throughout the resort, because we want to ensure that everyone has a memorable experience. We take the time to get to know our guests and accommodate them. The personal touch is important. So is food, and we have outstanding restaurants and private spaces for dining.”
For Veal, he believes it is the Sea Island employees who bring guests back year after year. “When you hear repeat guests talk, it’s always about the staff who make them feel more like members of a club than resort guests,” he explains. “They feel an attachment when they return. Our employees have a long history with the resort, so there are always familiar faces. Just last year, we recognized one of our starters and a locker room attendant who, together, have been a part of Sea Island for over 120 years. Sea Island is a great place to work and fantastic company to be a part of, so there is always going to be a core of people who have been here a long time.
Whether it’s the welcoming atmosphere, championship golf experience or the diverse range of activities available off the courses, a golfing getaway to Sea Island is sure to be a memorable experience for every member of the group.
New for Golf Groups
“Enhancements are underway at The Lodge that are great for golf groups,” says resort Golf Sales Manager Ben Rhodes. By the time the RSM Classic comes around in November, Rhodes says there will be six new cottages, including five two-bedrooms and one four-bedroom accommodation. “For small groups staying in the cottages, it becomes like a little village, with the putting and chipping green right outside the door, along with the new pool and pool house and the new 18-hole putting course, the Driftwood Course. The cottages have one of the best ocean views on the property.”
The Golf Performance Center is also being expanded to a new 17,000-square-foot space scheduled to open in early 2019, which Rhodes says will be great for golf groups, as well. “Sometimes … groups want to touch up their skills before going out on the course,” he says. “There is meeting and event space in the center, as well, and it enjoys a beautiful setting on St. Simons Sound.”