Sea Island Company founder Howard Coffin knew that playing golf would be important for his future guests’ enjoyment. In 1926 he purchased Retreat Plantation, a former Sea Island cotton plantation on St. Simons Island, which had been owned and managed before the Civil War by Anna Matilda Page King. After the war, the land was made available by descendants of the King family.
Golf became an integral part of the Sea Island experience early on, with the first nine-hole course, Plantation, opening in June 1928. Coffin had hired Walter Travis, an eminent course designer and British and U.S. Amateur champion, to create it. For several months after its opening, resort guests were accommodated on a nearby floating hotel, the Amphitrite, because The Cloister would not open until October of that year.
Through the decades, a rich golf history has unfolded at Sea Island, with resort guests and some of the game’s finest golfers coming to play. Numerous tournaments have been held here, most notably the RSM Classic, a PGA TOUR FedEx Cup event hosted by Davis Love III. Today, because of its facilities, exceptional service, and community atmosphere, more than two dozen touring professionals live and/or train at Sea Island. And history continues to be written.
Golf at Sea Island Tees Off
The former Retreat Plantation—a plantation house, extensive gardens, a hospital, and the majestic Avenue of Oaks—is now home to the Sea Island Golf Club. With Walter Travis’s first nine-hole course underway, work begins early the next year on Seaside, the second nine. Travis dies before his plans come together, so Coffin turns to the famous English firm of Harry S. Colt and Charles Alison to complete the design.
From Corn Barn to Clubhouse
By the time Seaside opens in 1929, Coffin has converted one of the plantation’s corn barns, originally built in 1835, into the first clubhouse, adjacent to Plantation #1. The building expands over the years and the role of clubhouse eventually moves to The Lodge at Sea Island when it opens in 2001. The core of the building remains intact as the heart of today’s Corn Barn, home of the Davis Love III Foundation and headquarters for the RSM Classic.
1930 - Golf Legends in the Making
Golf’s growing popularity is spurred by achievements of some of the early greats, including Walter Hagen, Joe Kirkwood, and Bobby Jones, all of whom play at Sea Island. Jones plays Seaside on August 1, 1930, between the third and fourth victories of his Grand Slam, and later sends word to Coffin that the course is “one of the very best nine holes I have ever seen.”
1931–1938 - For the Books
Both Jones and Hagen set course records—Hagen, with a 70 in 1931, and Jones with a 67 in 1938, followed by Sam Snead with a 63 in 1958.
The Yates Family Makes History
A family trilogy makes golf history at Sea Island when three members of the Yates family win the Georgia State Amateur Championship. At just 17 years old, Charlie Yates wins in 1931, followed by his brother, Dan Yates, Jr., in 1939 (shown here), and Dan Yates’s son, Danny, in 1989.
After winning the 1947 U.S. Amateur Championship and the 1949 British Ladies Amateur, Louise Suggs wins the first Sea Island Ladies Open Invitational in 1954. For more than 50 years, her relationship with Sea Island flourishes, with her becoming the club’s first touring professional, in a deal sealed with a handshake with Sea Island president A.W. Jones, Sr.
In addition to being a co-founder and three-time president of the LPGA, Suggs won 11 majors during her career. Nicknamed “Miss Sluggs” by Bob Hope because of the distance she could hit the ball, she was one of the first inductees into the LPGA Hall of Fame (1951), was named to the World Golf Hall of Fame (1979), and received the Bob Jones Award from the USGA (2007), in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. For decades, Suggs taught at what is now the Golf Performance Center.
1960 - Retreat, the Third Nine.
Dick Wilson’s layout for Sea Island’s third nine-hole course, called Retreat, is completed in 1960. Spectators watching the opening round at Retreat follow play from the first golf carts to appear at Sea Island.
1969–1971 - Winning Streak
Sea Island touring professional Tony Jacklin wins the Open Championship and the 1970 U.S. Open Championship. Sea Island member and area native Steve Melnyk wins the 1969 U.S. Amateur Championship and the 1971 British Amateur Championship.
1974 - On Course
Retreat Course is followed in 1974 by Joe Lee’s design for Marshside, giving Sea Island four nine-hole courses. Golfers can choose the combination they prefer—Seaside and Plantation, Retreat and Marshside, etc. Rees Jones later combines Retreat and Plantation (1998) into today’s 18-hole Plantation Course, and in 1999, Tom Fazio combined Seaside and Marshside into today’s 18-hole Seaside Course.
Davis Love III Turns Pro
Born in 1964, Davis learned the game of golf from his father, was a three-time All-American and All-ACC golfer at UNC, and won six titles during his collegiate career. After turning pro and earning his PGA TOUR card in 1985, he wins his first tour event in 1987, the MCI Heritage Classic, which he would win four more times.
With 21 career wins on the PGA TOUR over four decades, Love is the third oldest player to win on tour. In addition to winning the 1997 PGA Championship, he served as Captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team twice, most recently leading the 2016 team to victory. He will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2017.
A U.S. President Returns
While he was in office, President George H.W. Bush and Mrs. Bush follow in the footsteps of other U.S. Presidents who played golf at Sea Island. During their stay, Louise Suggs gives Mrs. Bush a golf lesson and the President plays two rounds. The couple had honeymooned at The Cloister in 1945 and returned several times over the years. Mr. Bush continues the tradition of planting a commemorative live oak on the grounds of The Cloister during his stay in 1991. His son, George W. Bush, would follow the same tradition during the 2004 G8 Summit at Sea Island, with a tree planted just steps from his father’s.
The Golf Learning Center Honored
Davis Love, Jr., father of Sea Island touring pro Davis Love III, moved his family to Sea Island in 1977 to teach golf at Sea Island Golf Club, pioneering the idea of offering golf instruction year round in a permanent location. Over the next decade, Sea Island’s Golf Learning Center grew, as he taught novices and pros alike. When he died in 1988, Jack Lumpkin, Love’s long-time friend and fellow instructor, assumed leadership of the program, overseeing its progress in size and stature.
In 1995, the Center is the first in the country to be recognized by the USGA. Today’s Golf Performance Center is the outgrowth of both men’s vision and talent, with nationally recognized staff, state-of-the-art facilities, and students ranging from beginners to U.S. Open and Masters Champions.
The Lodge at Sea Island
At the end of the Avenue of Oaks, The Lodge overlooks St. Simons Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, not far from ruins of the plantation home of the King family. Reminiscent of an old English country manor, today The Lodge now serves as the clubhouse, with a men’s locker room dubbed the finest in the country, two restaurants, and 40 rooms and suites, complete with private butler service.
The Island Club Course Becomes Retreat
Some years after purchasing the St. Simons Island Club, including its 18-hole course, Sea Island Company asks Davis Love III and his brother Mark to redesign the course. In August, their mother, Penta, joins her sons in cutting the ribbon on the renamed Retreat Course.
A History of Tournaments
When Dru Love (Davis Love IV) wins the 2015 Georgia State Amateur Championship, he becomes the 14th golfer to win an amateur championship at Sea Island Golf Club, which has hosted four Georgia State Amateur Championships, eight USGA championships (Senior Women’s, Senior Amateur, and Mid-Amateur), the Western Junior, the Canon Cup, two UBS Cups, and nine LPGA Ladies Open Invitationals. The Southeastern Conference Championship has been contested 16 times on Seaside.
The RSM Classic
Davis Love III hosts the first annual McGladrey Classic (now The RSM Classic) at Sea Island. Heath Slocum wins the inaugural event, followed by Ben Crane, Tommy Gainey, Chris Kirk, Bert Streb and, in 2016, MacKenzie Hughes, shown here. The most significant tournament to be held at Sea Island, the Classic has impacted the lives of thousands in the local area with charitable contributions through the Davis Love Foundation, created in 2005 by Davis and his wife, Robin.
A History of Winners
2007 Sea Island resident Zach Johnson wins the Masters Championship
2009 Then-resident Lucas Glover wins the U.S. Open
2012 Sea Island resident Matt Kuchar wins The Players Championship
2015 Zach Johnson wins the Open Championship at The Old Course, becoming only the sixth player to win at both Augusta National and The Old Course, along with Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods
2016 Sea Island resident Matt Kuchar wins a Bronze Medal at the Olympics
2016 Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, and Captain Davis Love III capture the Ryder Cup