- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Since the idea behind Sea Pines is recreation, and since to 5 million Americans the idea of recreation is golf, the company has built one of the finest courses on the Atlantic seaboard. Yet early in the area's development the golf course was not given particular thought. "We were all rank amateurs in the beginning," says John Wade. And, adds Charles Fraser, "We had in mind just something we could build houses around that would give us a year-round attraction and would give the duffers something to do." What changed that bland approach was the golf course architect, George W. Cobb, who was hired to design the Sea Pines course.
"Right off the bat," says Cobb, an expansive man who is also a consultant to the Augusta National course, "J told Charlie that a second-class golf course was the best way I could think of to create a second-class community. But a first-class course! Now that's what would bring the first-class golfers, the people with the first-class taste."
The course Architect Cobb was eventually allowed to build cost about $750,000. For professional reasons he will not say whether it is his proudest achievement, but it is the first course he has designed that his wife has walked over from one end to the other—"just because it's so beautiful." A good part of that beauty accrues quite naturally. Because of a quantity of marshes, swamps and lagoons on Hilton Head, much of the course is built upon drained and filled-in land. Consequently, relatively few trees had to be felled to clear fairways. The dense forests left as natural borders give the course, not yet two years old, an air of serene maturity and mellowness. The 304 highly desirable home-sites that line the fairways sell for an average $6,000.
Cobb and Fraser got so carried away with the native splendor of the golf course terrain, in fact, that on one fairway they extemporaneously created a dogleg in order to skirt around a monumental old magnolia tree, and in the process Fraser euchred himself out of a dozen already plotted building lots. "It's not the tactic most real estate salesmen might take," says Fraser, "but then that's one reason I didn't mind doing it."
Aside from the stunning expense, ($175,000), Fraser also did not mind giving the go-ahead, either, for the picturesque 15th green. This green sits high atop the filled-in mouth of an old lagoon and, from a distance, it appears poised to swan-dive into the ocean below. Since all new golf courses come with built-in inferiority complexes and are customarily compared to eminent predecessors, company men like to stand around gazing at the 15th green and asking solemnly if it doesn't remind you of California's Pebble Beach or of Scotland's St. Andrews.
Other lagoons, not filled in, meander through the course, and their earliest inhabitants, lethargic alligators, have been left to their private devices. The reptiles are water hazards of no importance, the company explains to new arrivals, with what it hopes is infectious casualness. The deep concern for senior-citizen magnolias, wildlife and damn-the-expense greens has practical aspects, too. As Fraser candidly points out, "the golf course we built would have been a financial folly except for the fact that we created about $2 million worth of fairway lots at the same time. On the other side of the coin, the same land would have been virtually unsalable without the golf course in front of it. It has turned out to be a rat her pleasant mutual accommodation." The ex-swamp golf course has given Sea Pines subtler benefits, too. It helps keep the William Hilton Inn, a resortish hostelry owned by the company to entice prospective buyers, in guests and in the black all year. And 2% of the guests come across with down payments. Finally, the course has brought in the shops and services that could not be established for the summer season alone.
As is true in many of the other recreational land developments, the conscientious attempt to leave much of the property unmolested has led Sea Pines to set aside 1,600 acres of interior forests as a wildlife refuge where residents in supervised parties may hunt deer, wild pigs, rabbits, quail, chukar and pheasants. There, in contrast to the bustle of building outside it, things are statically beautiful, smothered under tons of moss that hang like southern history, gray and forlorn, from the live oaks. In the refuge and elsewhere on Hilton Head some 240 species of birds come and go, and if you won't take the word of the local Audubon Society on that, they will supply you with a list and you can check it out yourself. Although the preserve has been permanently excluded from development plans, estates (at $1,500 an acre) are sold along one edge for those to whom the solitude amenities loom large.
The company quotes Naturalist Julian Huxley on the subject: "Wilderness lovers constitute a sizable minority—and also include a sizable portion of interesting characters and original thinkers. Wilderness is, in the long run, one of the major functions humanity demands from the surface of the earth."
This year Sea Pines will sell about the same number of lots as last year—for $850,000—and, emboldened by this momentum, the company will continue to push expansion plans that run 15 years ahead. Already three churches, on donated land, are beginning to rise, and next year the Sea Pines Beach and Golf Club will get under way. The club, to become the social nucleus of the community, will have guest rooms, an indoor-outdoor pool, tennis courts and a beauty shop. Near by, two-story cooperative apartments will be built. Off on the bay side of Sea Pines facing the inland waterway, the present marina will be enlarged and a yacht club ("with a lower-case Y," says Fraser), a landing strip and another golf course will be constructed. The company's list of improvements grows as fast as the community.
But however the development grows or changes, profit, says Fraser, must always be balanced against respect for the land. "Unspoiled tracts of land on the Atlantic seaboard will be used up by 1985," he says. "Owners should therefore develop them cautiously to preserve their natural beauty. Hindsight will be worthless because there won't be any place to start over."