Fraser himself is no sportsman. His principal concession to outdoorsiness is a Sunday sail on his 44-foot ketch, invitations to which are said to be golden. In the matter of pure athletics, he would rank as a fair-to-good spectator. The values are not lost on him, however. Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye designed his fine golf course at Hilton Head where the Heritage is played, and Gary Player's firm did the first one at Palmas. Stan Smith is the touring tennis pro at Sea Pines and, as mentioned, Charles Pasarell et al. will play out of Palmas. They have condominiums there.
Fraser's true passion, the one that lights his eyes, is business. Surrounded by legions of MBAs from Harvard and Wharton, Fraser's force has increased tenfold since 1968 and is at work on 10 different projects, including a national parklike center in the North Carolina mountains, a sports "garden" of facilities near Atlanta and a resort of comparable scope to Palmas at Amelia Island off Jacksonville. Fraser does not say that Palmas del Mar is the pendant, for that would injure feelings. He concedes, however, that it represents the biggest expenditure—ultimately, $750 million, much of which will come from outside investors. And he would also admit that Palmas, though usually out of his sight, is never out of his mind.
Sitting recently in the living room of his home at Sea Pines, Fraser assembled for the record the Palmas evolution. He spoke in clear, well-modulated tones, measured and perfectly punctuated, as if it had all been said before and edited. He had his feet on a mahogany coffee table, upon which a copy of
Olympia: Gods, Artists and Athletes was heavily settled. He wore a sports jacket that contrasted with his accessories. He was wearing a tie.
"My learning process, the Adult Education of Charles Fraser, is a continuing one," he said. "In fact, it has speeded up with age. I read upward of 50 or 60 magazines a week. I have exhausted the Yale Library [he is '53, law school]. I travel extensively, looking for ideas.
"I have concluded that good resort areas, recreation areas, are products of hundreds of people's ideas. But good ideas do not spring from research. The selection process is often a singular thing, and that is really the role I play.
"I don't have a rigid mind on any detail. I do have a rigid mind on the purpose of a resort. I am an advocate of the mixture of man and nature. I get angry at people who would destroy one or exclude the other. The idea that 'this is a beautiful place, let's not let anybody else come here,' is repulsive to me. I have made enemies in the Sierra Club.
"I am a great advocate of national parks, and we will have one, but I am not for the expansion of wilderness. There are areas you can do nothing with, like Manhattan Island. Or places you cannot get to to do anything with, like the Okefenokee Swamp. Those cannot be changed.
"Much of what we have done has been new. My function is to provide the leadership for these things, for the economic, esthetic and philosophical detail. But. But. The best way to achieve those things is to have a champion in a given area. Nothing happens without a champion.
"When we bought Palmas del Mar, Steve Padilla was part of the package. He knew every rock, every cove. He had an understanding of the culture that was invaluable. He since has taught a whole generation of Sea Pines executives what Puerto Rico is all about. Palmas del Mar would have looked good and would have been appropriate without him, but Steve added an aura of distinction to the design, the philosophy. It will look better, and be better because of him."
In the spring of 1969 Fraser began to search for a way to utilize the Sea Pines force year round, to balance out a 12-month corporate activity. Sea Pines, essentially, is a summer resort. He wanted something for the winter, but something more encompassing than, say, a ski resort. He and the executive vice-president for Sea Pines, Jim Light, scoured the Caribbean in search of a property. They were unimpressed with what was available or discouraged by the prices. The search was lifted bodily and moved to Hawaii where, on a rainy April day, the two men sat in the Honolulu offices of C. Brewer and Company, a landholding and sugar-producing firm. A picture on the office wall—palms, a beach, a granite rise—attracted Fraser's eye.