Golf Digest once billed Sea Island as the No.1 Golf Resort in North America. With sumptuous accommodation and a plethora of recreational facilities, including two public courses (Seaside and Plantation) Sea Island is one of those resorts that simply cannot be overlooked.
The Seaside course was created in the late 1920s by C.H. Alison of the great English partnership of Colt and Alison. Today's 18 holes comprise a front nine that was laid out by Joe Lee in the 1970s and a back nine that dates back to its original construction, with both circuits updated by Tom Fazio in 1999.
The 421-yard 4th is a really distinctive hole where the tee shot requires a forced carry across wetlands to a fairway that then takes a severe ninety-degree turn left towards a green sited on the other side of marshland. With bunkers on the right side of the fairway, golfers who play too conservatively away from trouble on the left will find themselves punished for their lack of ambition.
“One of the boldest designs of the 1920s,” remarked Tom Doak in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, “the original Seaside nine was created by dredging and filling the tidal marshes at the mouth of the Brunswick River to create several islands of golf, connected by bridges. It was exactly the sort of big idea Tom Fazio would build today, if they’d let him, so it’s only fitting that it was Fazio who updated the course. The bold carries on Alison’s old 4th and 7th holes remain, while the weak-sister Marshside nine was extensively renovated to fit the new style.”
I played Seaside this past Monday and really enjoyed my round. It has long been on my list as it is a Colt/Alison with great history and pedigree. First, let me say the clubhouse and locker rooms were top notch and felt more like a classic southern private club than a resort. The place was flat out top notch. Moving onto the course, the green complexes and runoff areas around the greens were most memorable for me. I would say its a classic second shot course because of this, but there are too many tee shots that require your attention as well.
The first hole was welcoming from the tee but after that, it required a bit more thought. The most memorable holes for me were back to back on the back nine #15 and #16. Starting with #15, it is a dogleg left and you can chew a bit of it off with a big drive which could make it reachable in two. The green however is still protected with two bunkers and is of course raised so even for the bigger hitters playing it as a three shot hole may be the best play. #16 is probably the signature hole. Par 4 dogleg left and you can hit iron out into the fairway or cut quite a bit of the hole off by carrying the water leaving merely a 30-60yd pitch to the green for big hitters.
I would encourage anyone to make a trip to Sea Island and lastly I will add that as a golf historian, the wicker basket pins just felt cool. Simply added to an already great experience.
Sea Island Seaside is a magnificent golf course. Our day started on a high. I had made a couple of calls to secure a tee time the weekend of the annual World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, i.e, Florida/Georgia football game. I was successful. It was pretty cool pulling up to the gate and dropping Brandt Snedeker's name.
While the original design dates back to the 1920s the course has clung to it's past yet stayed current. From the traditional (non-traditional) woven basket flagsticks to the abundance of greenside collection areas the course will test your mettle. The collection areas are particularly galling as Seaside has relatively small greens and as per it's name it is seaside and the wind is always blowing. You think you hot a good shot and you find yourself shortsided and par is now a hope. To the course:
The first hole is welcoming, slight dogleg left with bunkers on the right elbow. The green is slightly elevated and plays half a club longer than you think. The par 4 second is not for the faint of heart. Gunch left and water right. Your approach is to a well protected green, especially on the right side with water and a bunker. The par 3 3rd is mid length with a bunker guarding the front of the green. If you are going to miss, do so to the right. The long par 4 4th is a spectacular golf hole. You make par here and you earned it. Hard dogleg left with gunch left, water right and a bunker thrown in at the outside elbow for good measure. The 5th while opposite hand of the 4th is much shorter and much more manageable. Having said that do not let your eyes get bigger than your stomach and try to cut too much of the corner. The 7th is the only par 5 on the front and is reachable depending upon the environmentals. Having said that, off the tee water right and dunes left. On the second shot the dunes are right with a large fairway bunker right. I would suggest playing it as a 3 shot hole. The short par 4 8th is a birdie oppty. Be wary of the right fairway bunker. The green is slightly elevated with a false front, you probably need a half a club extra. The front closes with a long demanding par four. Water right the entire way and a magnetized fairway bunker left.
The backside starts off inviting, especially if the pin is left of center. If not, take an extra club and take your chances. Do not be intimidated by all the bunkers you see on 11. A decent tee shot in the fairway will give you a green light. The long par 3 12th is hit and hope. While there is a cavernous greenside bunker right, your fate is dependent upon what the wind is doing. The par 4 13th is the signature hole. Gunch left and plethora of stacked bunkers right make the hole seem much more difficult than it actually is. The long par 4 14th is as tough as it looks. Favor the left side of the fairway off the tee as there is a large oak tree right that will block you out. Too further tighten your sphincter, gunch all the way down the left side and dunes right. For 90% of golfers the par 5 15th is a 3 shot hole. Dogleg left, with bunkers on BOTH sides of the elbow, water left, dunes right to a well protected green. Hit 3 good shots and take your par. Many think the par 4 16th should be the signature hole and perhaps it should be. A dogleg left with a creek running down the left side, it is a how big is your appetite tee shot. The long par 4 18th is a super finishing hole. Water left, fairway bunkers left and right with a well protected green with bunkers left and right, this is another par that is earned.
Super golf course
The first unique thing you notice about the Seaside course are the distinctive red wicker baskets instead of hole flags, like those at Merion. Most of the green designs are like the first green, with slopes and shaved areas that repel shots hit short away from the green. Most of the greens are small. Many holes have a forced carry off the tee.
The fourth hole is 421 yards on the card, but is one of the severest dog-legs in all of golf. The hole makes an acute left turn at 300 yards to a green situated on the other side of the marsh at a ninety-degree angle from where you are standing on the tee. The fourth hole was originally named "It Is" which was short for "It is unlucky if played carelessly." Perfectly named.
When Bobby Jones played the course, the current front nine played as the back nine on a different composite course. Jones said, "Second nine is one of the very best I have ever seen." Who am I to disagree with Bobby?
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs