By KAREN CROUSE
Published: September 22, 2012
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga.—The golfer Davis Love III is like the Spanish moss draped over the stately trees on the Avenue of Oaks. He has been hanging around this barrier island for so long that he has become part of the scenery, a low-maintenance presence invisible to the local residents.
Love, 48, who has lived here since he was a teenager, holds dear his ability to blend into his surroundings. “He grew up as Davis Love III the guy,” said Brannen H. Veal, the director of golf for the Sea Island Golf Club. “He didn’t grow up as Davis Love III the superstar.”
Love’s appointment as the United States captain for the 39th Ryder Cup has blown his cover. Here in his hometown, it is as if the curtain has been pulled back to reveal Love operating the wheels and levers that made the place hum.
Three of the 12 players on the United States squad live in St. Simons: Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker, who is one of Love’s four captain’s picks. It seems crazy to consider that an island with a population under 13,000 has four residents participating in the Ryder Cup, and crazier still to contemplate what might have been.
“I was hoping we’d have half our team living on St. Simons Island, myself included,” said Love, the don of what has been called the Sea Island mafia, a growing group of St. Simons-based touring pros that includes Jonathan Byrd, Lucas Glover, Brian Harman and Harris English.
The players were drawn to St. Simons, part of the Golden Isles chain of barrier islands along Georgia’s southeast coast, at least in part by Love, a 20-time PGA Tour winner whom they affectionately refer to as Uncle Davis.
“He’s everything from a plumber to an electrician to a hunting guide to a fishing expert, not to mention a pretty good chef when we grill out,” Snedeker said. “He’s kind of like everybody’s safety net.”
Kuchar, whose wife, Sybi, grew up on the island, said he and the other players were able to live like everyday people because of the precedent set by the easygoing Love, whose temperament suits an island that is the size of Manhattan and has the feel of Mayberry.
It is a sportsman’s paradise, with shrimp, oysters and crabs inhabiting the salt marshes, and dolphins and sea turtles sharing the waters just offshore with windsurfers, kayakers and paddlers. “It’s got a lot going for it in golf and other things,” Love said.
The island has several championship courses, including the Seaside layout at the Sea Island resort, site of next month’s McGladrey Classic. Its tournament chairman is Love, who plays in it. The resort also is home to the Sea Island Golf Learning Center, a multidimensional training program that features some of Golf Digest’s top 50 instructors, who work with Love and the other touring pros.
The practice sites they use offer picturesque views of sailboats skimming along St. Simons Sound on their way to and from the Atlantic Ocean. Jekyll Island is visible to the south, and if you squint you can almost see Cumberland Island.
“It has beautiful low-country scenery with the reeds, the marshes and the oceanfront property as well,” said Kuchar, who moved his family here two years ago. “I think one of the things that I may enjoy the most is seeing these big oak trees. Something about going down a drive with just big old oak trees canopying a place puts me at peace. And then having the ocean; something about the natural ebb and flow of an ocean adds an unreal, peaceful rhythm to the place.”
On Friday morning, Love’s gray pickup truck was parked outside the building at Sea Island resort where the corn barn stood on the original 1800s plantation. The oval Ford insignia on the tailgate had been replaced by a custom-made one that read, “Ryder Cup Captain.”
In 1996, said Veal, the club golf director, he met Love inside that building during one of his first days as an assistant pro.
“Davis had just won a tournament, and he comes in here with seven buddies, they’re going to play golf, and he introduces himself like nobody knows who he is,” he said. “That kind of set the tone for me.”
With his quiet clout, Love is able to turn back the calendar on the island so it is like the Fourth of July once more. More than three dozen residents are assembling wardrobes in the colors of the Stars and Stripes for their trip this week to the Ryder Cup matches at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago.
At Paddle and Putt, a Redfern Village shop owned by Love, red-white-and-blue T-shirts celebrating Love’s captaincy are a brisk seller. A putting green covers part of the floor, but the store caters primarily to paddle boarders, with a few putters sticking out of golf bags scattered about like potted plants as if for ambience. The only piece of sports memorabilia adorning the place is an autographed poster of the professional paddler Packet Casey on the storeroom door.
On the wall next to the door, all but obscured by a rack of paddles, is a matted and framed article from the suburban Chicago Daily Herald on Jan. 21, 2011, announcing Love’s appointment as the Ryder Cup captain. “I guarantee you he didn’t hang that up,” Veal said.
Down the street at Southern Soul Barbeque, housed in an old gas station, the lunch line stretched outside. Love and the other golfers are among the regular customers, said Griffin Bufkin, who with his co-owner Harrison Sapp, a pit master, was discussing their Ryder Cup itinerary.
Sapp planned to drive to Chicago on Sunday and meet Bufkin, who was flying there. After attending the practice rounds, they will return home before Friday’s start of the matches, which they will watch on the restaurant’s flat-screen television above a shelf of barbecue sauces.
As they went about their business, the TV was tuned to the Golf Channel’s second-round coverage of the Tour Championship, taking place 310 miles away at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Kuchar, Johnson and Snedeker were high on the leader board.
“I think what I’ve tried to do with those guys is let them tag along,” Love said. “They’ve certainly done a lot more for me, motivating me to keep playing and play hard, than I’ve done for them.”
A version of this article appeared in print on September 23, 2012, on page SP4 of the New York edition with the headline: A New Capital For U.S. Golf (Pop. 13,000).
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