Golden Isles

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History of Golf in the Golden Isles

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Whether for competition or relaxation, Golden Isles golf is a distinguished tradition.  Many golfers are aware of the exceptional golf courses found on the Georgia coast but, some golfers might be surprised to learn that Golden Isles golf and its competitions have a long, celebrated tradition that goes back more than 100 years and includes some of the greatest names in golf.

The Golden Isles' first official recognition as a golf venue came in 1894, when the Jekyll Island Golf Club was registered with the United States Golf Association.  The millionaire members of the Jekyll Island Club built the area's first golf course in 1898.

Accounts of the day note that the course was "absolutely flat with sand greens" and caddies used mats to drag and even up the green after play was completed on a hole.  USGA records credit the architecture to Willie Dunn, Jr., a Scot who was close friends with John D. Rockefeller and W.K. Vanderbilt, the latter an original member of the Club.  The exact layout of the course is unknown, though one account said, "It wasn't even the quality of a cow pasture.".  A "new and improved" course, designed by Donald J. Ross, was built in 1910 on land now occupied by Jekyll Island's Oleander course.

The Golden Isles received a big boost in prominence as a vacation destination in 1926 when Howard Coffin bought Sea Island and the old Retreat Plantation on St. Simons Island.  Coffin's ambitious plan called for the transformation of Sea Island into an elegant playground for his wealthy and sophisticated contemporaries.

He chose the venerable Walter Travis to design and construct the Plantation Course, which opened to much acclaim in 1927.  That auspicious beginning put Sea Island on the fast track toward becoming a world-class resort and golf destination.

Not to be outdone, the members of the Jekyll Island Club commissioned Travis to build a course for them.  Opened in 1928, the remnants of that course comprise Jekyll Island's historic Great Dunes course.

These courses established a Golden Isles legacy of great golf courses conceived by many of the world's greatest course designers. Colt and Alison. Dick Wilson. Joe Lee. Rees Jones. Davis Love III. Tom Fazio. Mark Bennett. Clyde Johnston. All have left their mark with challenging layouts from the mainland to the barrier islands.

Build great golf courses and great golfers will come to challenge them.  It wasn't long before the challengers arrived. Bobby Jones shot the Sea Island Plantation course record of 67 in 1930. His record stood for 28 years, until Sam Snead bested it with a 63.  Their names are among the scores of well-known professional and amateur golfers from around the world who have been drawn to compete in state, national and international tournaments in the Golden Isles.

Among the better-known international golf events that have taken place in the Golden Isles are the UBS Warburg Cup, a senior event that pitted a U.S. team led by Arnold Palmer and an international team led by Gary Player, the Walker Cup and the London Daily Telegraph Junior Championship.  National events have included USGA and LPGA championships as well as the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship.

In October 2010 a new PGA TOUR Fall Series event, The McGladrey Classic, brought professional golfers from around the nation to compete on the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club. The first two years of this now annual golf tournament have received accolades from golf professionals and spectators, and is poised to become a fall tradition in the Golden Isles.

[Photograph of a couple playing golf, Sea Island, Glynn County, Georgia, ca. 1935] |1935 | Vanishing Georgia