Golf development at Sea Island has a long history, it began in 1926 when Howard Coffin bought Sea Island and the Kings Retreat Plantation with the thought of creating a vacation retreat for the wealthy. The sight of one of the regular tour stops in the wraparound season, pros with strong resumes like Zach Johnson, DL III, and Kooch have taken up residence at Sea Island because of the idyllic setting and the family friendly atmosphere.
The original Seaside Course was the combined work of the front nine by Walter Travis, a reputed champion of the day, and back nine by Harry Colt and Charles Alison one of the most accomplished designing duos of the Golden Age. Colt and Alison collaborative work included contributions at Pine Valley, Sunningdale, Muirfield, and Royal Portrush among others. The back nine they created still stands as the centerpiece of the Sea Island Golf Club. In 1999 Tom Fazio was brought in to update the course and he combined the Colt/Alison nine with holes from the Marshside course created by Joe Lee in 1973 to assemble the Seaside Course we play today.
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Despite it’s name the sea does not really come into play but the course does present a unique test of trajectory control and shot shape. Though not playing through tree lined corridors the challenge is similar to what you get at the Harbour Town Links in Hilton Head, influenced by the marshy surrounds and the ever present wind. The outward nine stretches out in a counterclockwise direction around the marsh and the inward nine takes the opposite path around marsh and sandy scrub. The holes cover all four directions on the compass so you are going to negotiate the wind in every conceivable direction through the day. The low hilly terrain combined with sweeping bunkers and sprawling tightly mowed green surrounds gives you a sense that successful play is often negotiated close to the ground.
The front nine starts simply enough with plenty of elbow room but step on to the tee at the second and the scale of the day’s challenge becomes readily apparent. Marsh grass left and water up the right all the way make drive position tactical to try to challenge a tricky cape style green complex set the water to the right. What follows is the first of the four stunning three pars you will encounter through the day. Pay close attention to the pin of the day relative to the lone bunker in front-it is important to be below the hole on your second shot on all the par threes.
The dogleg left par four fourth is a look you will see repeated all day-tight fairway and approach areas flanked by the marsh and sand with an endless horizon beyond the green-it can be very intimidating to your scorecard if you do not stay focused on the preferred lines of play. With the reverse setup on the equally technical fifth it is apparent that moving the ball both ways is a requirement if you are to position yourself favorably off the tees and into these challenging green complexes. Maybe the best scoring opportunity of the round is from five through nine but that does not mean these holes are easy-danger lurks wherever you see marsh grass or the glint of water.
After a banana and a power drink at the halfway house the true challenge begins on the inward half. The tenth appears simple enough to the eye but there is no room for wayward dispersion in either direction off the tee. The green is stepped and possibly obscured from your approach line so make sure you have enough club in hand to get to the correct tier. After a difficult par four in the same direction a long par three turns back 180 degrees playing into a undulating putting surface with little frame of reference. Beware of the false front left and it’s proximity to the marsh-a timid approach with too much draw can get sucked back into the hazard.
From here to the house the course presents one unique challenge after the other. The thirteenth is the #2 handicap hole with marsh left, sand right and another endless look to a green set against the horizon. My favorite hole of the day is next as you stand on the tee trying to discern a fairway landing area hovering against the horizon. You have to hang something no longer than 250 yards between the aiming post and the right corner of the fairway and trust it will feed forward to the left end of the fairway inside of 150 yards. The shot into the green sitting perched up on the hill surrounded by marsh left and behind and terrarium on the right is the Harbour Town challenge without the tall trees.
Two good scoring opportunities on the hopscotch technical holes at fifteen and sixteen where you either stay within the chalked boxes or you get to start over with two shots rung on the register. This brings you to a very underrated and difficult finish. The par three seventeenth can be as short as 150 yards but the diagonal set of this very long and shallow green behind two gaping bunkers makes it likely that you will be pitching back toward the hole trying to save your par.
The finishing hole is an intimidating sight requiring a long and straight tee shot into a narrowing landing area between bunkers to set up a long approach into a very tight green complex. If you are out of position off this tee a lay up to 85 yards right of the hazard is the intelligent option. Even with a short club in your hand from there getting it below the hole on the steeply ramped pinched putting surface is a major challenge. A couple of dropped shots on these last two is more the norm than the exception.
There is something classic about the way you have to work yourself around this course as well as the entire presentation of the facility. From the eclectic décor of the Lodge Hotel that houses the golf shop and the fine eating facilities right down to the signature wicker basket flag sticks that just seem right bobbing in the sea breezes, take the time to soak in the full golf experience when you are here. Sea Island is a first class golf resort with a first class track in the Seaside Course.
St. Simons Island, Georgia
Designer: Harry Colt/Charles Alison (1928), Joe Lee (1973), Tom Fazio (1999)
Tees Par Yardage Rating Slope
Blue 70 6657 72.6 139
Green 70 6323 71.1 135
White 70 5980 69.4 132
Gold 70 4978 69.1 123