History of Sea Island
The welcoming legacy of our “friendly little hotel”
The world has changed a lot since Bill Jones and automobile magnate Howard Coffin opened The Cloister in 1928 on a foundation of genuine warmth and hospitality. But in creating “a friendly little hotel” on the southern coast of Georgia, much has remained timeless for more than 90 years. The values of treasuring family, friends, and nature. And the simple traditions that define us. The same children who once played on our shore years ago now bring their children and grandchildren to play on the same beach. Couples celebrate their golden anniversaries where they once honeymooned. Guests and visitors return year after year, generation after generation. Because between the marshland and the sea there is a private island where the world seems almost perfect.
That place is Sea Island.
1873 – Howard Coffin
The Legacy Begins.
Howard Coffin, the visionary founder of Sea Island Company, is born to a Quaker family on an Ohio farm.
1908 – Howard Coffin Founds Hudson Motor Company
Howard Coffin pioneers an automobile design that can be mass produced and sold for less than $1,000. At the age of 35, he established the Hudson Motor Company.
1911 – Howard Coffin and His Wife Matilda Tour Sapelo, an Island South of Savannah
They are captivated by what Coffin describes as “the gloom of the live oaks, beautiful, braided and woven,” setting in motion an affinity for this magical landscape. They buy most of the island in 1912 and build a substantial home there, where they host many dignitaries over the years.
1924 – The Causeway from Brunswick Opens
The causeway between St. Simons Island and the Georgia mainland opens, making Howard Coffin’s dream of creating a seaside nirvana economically viable.
1926 – Howard Coffin and A.W. Jones, Sr. Found Sea Island Investments
Howard Coffin’s passion for Sapelo and the Georgia coast grows. Over time, he purchases tracts on St. Simons Island, one of which becomes the Sea Island Golf Club, and a secluded sliver of land—the jewel now known as Sea Island. Coffin asks his young cousin, A. W. Jones, to help oversee Sapelo, which Jones had initially visited to recover from a bout of tuberculosis. As Coffin’s idea begins to unfold, Jones becomes Coffin’s right hand, and the two men look to the future together.
The “Friendly Little Hotel,” The Cloister, Begins to Take Shape
Designed by noted architect Addison Mizner, The Cloister opens in October with a flurry of dignitaries in attendance. President Calvin Coolidge visits for the holidays, posing for photos as he plants a sapling—the first of many oaks planted by presidents, royalty, and other luminaries. Lots on Sea Island begin selling and a cottage colony starts to thrive.
Publicity gives The Cloister more bookings than it can handle. And delighted guests promise to return the following year, beginning a tradition that continues today.
See which U.S. Presidents and other world leaders have planted oaks.
Planting of the Oaks
1933 – The Local Community Bands Together
The resort survives the depression years through A.W. Jones’s creative thinking and the support of the local community. The Sea Island Company issues its own scrip to employees, and every grocery store, drug store, gas station, and business in the county honors it. The strategy also enables the hotel to provide cash funds for guests who cannot access their accounts after President Roosevelt shuts down the banks.
1937 – The Legend Grows
The Cloister’s reputation as a sophisticated international resort continues to grow. Howard Coffin doesn’t live to see his beloved Sea Island come to its fullest glory. He dies in 1937, leaving A.W. Jones, Sr. to continue his legacy.
1946 – The Eisenhowers
Under the Jones family leadership, Sea Island receives worldwide acclaim. The legendary hotel guest list now boasts heads of state, royalty, dignitaries, and celebrities from all over the world. Among them are General and Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower who visited in the year following the end of World War II.
1947 – Epworth-By-The-Sea
Bill Jones begins the company’s long-standing tradition of donating land on nearby St. Simons Island for community schools, parks, and churches. Epworth-by-the-Sea Methodist Conference Center proves to be a buffer, sheltering Sea Island’s natural beauty from the commercialization that would ultimately overrun other resort islands in the region.
Kit Jones Welcomes the World
Bill’s wife Kit Jones is a warm and welcoming hostess at the wedding of Sarah Churchill, held in the Jones’s home on Sea Island. Her gracious hospitality helps create a strong sense of community throughout Sea Island and beyond. Many guests are inspired to become regular visitors and even permanent residents. The fledgling community grows.
Bill Jones Continues the Legacy
Bill and Kit Jones continue their deep commitment to maintaining Sea Island as a premier destination for generation after generation of families. After a stint in the Navy, Bill Jones, Jr. joins the Sea Island Company—not in management, but in the kitchen and dining room as a trainee at the age of 26.
The Main Dining Room, part of the original “friendly little inn,” continues to serve guests three meals a day, often with sumptuous buffets.
The Continuing Rise of Sea Island Company
From those modest beginnings, Bill Jones, Jr. rises to management. In 1966 he takes the helm as president of Sea Island Company.
Expansion includes the addition of conference facilities, new guest houses, and additional accommodations. Bill Jones, Jr. also creates The Cloister’s Junior Staff Program to offer activities for youngsters so their parents can enjoy the resort’s many diversions while their children learn about Sea Island’s natural environment and make new friends.
1992 – The Next Generation
Bill Jones III becomes president of the Sea Island Company. Much like his grandfather, Bill exhibits leadership and vision that belie his years. And much like his father, Jones is the quintessential gentleman of the sporting life. His passion for the great outdoors drives a fierce commitment to low-density growth that respects Sea Island’s delicate environment.
1998–1999 – The Plantation and Seaside Golf Courses
Jones tasks two of the world’s greatest golf course architects, Rees Jones and Tom Fazio, to reinvent Sea Island golf. They masterfully transform four beloved 9-hole courses into two new 18-hole courses—the classic Plantation and the brilliant Seaside.
2001 – Opening of The Lodge at Sea Island and Redesign of the Retreat Course
Bill Jones introduces The Lodge at Sea Island, embodying the ultimate clubhouse experience in a setting of old-world luxury and unparalleled service.
Completing a 54-hole tour de force, Sea Island Touring Professional Davis Love III and his brother Mark create the Retreat Course, transforming the former St. Simons Island Club course into a challenging 7,000+ yard beauty.
2002–2003 – The Award-Winning Lodge at Sea Island
The Lodge at Sea Island is honored with the AAA Five Diamond Award and as a Mobil (now Forbes) Five-Star designation. These honors have been retained consecutively each year through the present.
Sea Island Hosts G8 Summit
Because of the resort’s impeccable service and experience providing privacy, security, and discretion, President George W. Bush chooses Sea Island as the site of the 2004 G8 Summit of world leaders including The Honorable Bertie Ahern, T.D., Prime Minister of Ireland and President of the Council of European Union; His Excellency Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission; The Right Honorable Tony Blair, MP, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; The Right Honorable Paul Martin, Prime Minister of Canada; His Excellency Jacques Chirac, President of the French Republic; His Excellency Gerhard Schroeder, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany; His Excellency Junichiro Koizumi, Prime Minister of Japan; His Excellency Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation; The Honorable George W. Bush, President of the United States; The Honorable Silvio Berlusconi, President of the Council of the Ministers of the Italian Republic.
2006 – The New Cloister Main Building and Wings
The Cloister is reborn, designed in the Addison Mizner style of 1928, and with all of the original grandeur intact. The hotel’s exceptional accommodations and top-tier dining help ensure The Cloister’s rightful place as the quintessential destination for generations to come. In the fall of 2006, a first-class 65,000-square-foot spa opens, followed in 2007 with the new Sea Island Beach Club.
2010 – A Change In Ownership
Sea Island Acquisition purchases the Sea Island Company.
2010 – The RSM Classic
The first McGladrey Classic, renamed the RSM Classic in 2015, was played on Seaside. The PGA TOUR FedEx Cup event is hosted by Davis Love III.
New Honors and Recognition
The Cloister, The Lodge, the Georgian Room at The Cloister, and The Spa at Sea Island again receive Forbes Five-Star Awards. The Lodge and The Cloister are named the #1 and #2 Resorts and the Spa at Sea Island is named the #4 Hotel Spa in the Continental U.S. in Travel + Leisure Magazine’s 2013 World’s Best Awards. Marking its 85th anniversary, Sea Island flourishes, building on decades of tradition and history with renewed vigor, new experiences, and new amenities for guests and members.
2015 – The Cloister Expands
A new, adults-only pool overlooking the Black Banks River debuts over the Easter weekend of 2015, followed by the introduction of the new Mizner Ballroom in the fall. Named for the hotel’s original architect, Addison Mizner, the ballroom features 5,000 square feet of space for conferences and special events.
2016 – The Expansion Continues
Guests arriving in April have the option of checking in to one of 63 rooms in the new Garden Wing.
2016 – Sea Island Returns to Family Ownership
Sea Island is purchased by the Anschutz family which also owns The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This purchase brings together two iconic resorts which collectively have a 186-year tradition of service excellence and marks the return of this historic property to long-term family stewardship and commitment.
Sea Island Celebrates 90 Years
On October 12, 1928, Sea Island first opened its doors with a knock at the door. Ninety years later, a celebration is held that begins in the same fashion. Throughout the year, guests are invited to share their favorite Sea Island memories to a contest. Hundreds of entries are received, then narrowed down, and voted on until a final winner is selected. See each of the memories by clicking the button below.
The Lodge Enhancements Debut
Overlooking the ocean at The Lodge, an 18-hole putting course designed by Davis and Mark Love of Love Golf Designs opens in July and November brings the debut of six new cottages with a total of 14 new sleeping rooms, an oceanfront pool, and pool house.
Our Oldest Course Becomes the Newest
Davis and Mark Love grew up playing the Plantation Course with their father, over the years imagining how they would redesign the course, given the chance. Following the 2018 RSM Classic, Plantation Course closes for them to write its newest chapter, a reimagining through Love Golf Design. Being on site as residents allows them to let their ideas evolve while they are in the field. Drawing on some of Walter Travis’s 1928 traditional profile, they reintroduce some of its historical elements and take the course back to its historical roots by lowering the elevation throughout, with less bunkering and by using some of Walter Travis’s signature “chocolate drops.” The result is a course that plays fun and fair for all levels of golfers.
Sea Island Living Magazine
We love stories. We love to tell them, we love to share them. But most importantly, we love to create them. This is life at Sea Island.
Looking to experience the spirit of the American west? The Broadmoor, our sister property, has an adventure waiting for you.