Some properties on St. Simons Island come with the privilege of applying for membership in the Sea Island Club. Lots are as costly as on Sea Island but are larger and more private. A five-bedroom house with 14-foot coffered ceilings in the Hawkins Island neighborhood recently sold for US$2.7 million, and homesites on the lake at Frederica, the newest development, average US$1.7 million.
St. Simons is connected to Sea Island by a causeway and is the site of MacKinnon Airport, a private airstrip that makes possible Sea Island's real estate slogan, "From tarmac to tee in 10 minutes." The island also has the Lodge, a hotel and clubhouse that's part of the Sea Island Club, and the big-name links: Tom Fazio's Seaside Course and Frederica Golf Club, Davis Love III's Retreat Course, and Rees Jones's Plantation Course.
The color palette is subdued; the treatments, stellar, judging by the ones I had; and the menu packs some surprises, like a 30-minute session in a So Sound Chair. You recline, don earphones, and listen to music—I chose densely hypnotic New Age that put me on Mars in minutes. I followed that with a deep-tissue massage, given by a scholarly therapist named Ivan Glymph, who incorporated some creative hot stone work and stretching. He's one of 34 therapists who embody what Root says he looks for: "therapists who have the heart of a servant." The spa treatment manager, Seraphina Ashe, thinks along the same lines. "Intention takes precedence over schooling," she says. "I want therapists who don't feel complete in their life unless they're giving a treatment. But I still like to have more than 650 hours of core education." (That's considerably more than most states require for a license.)
There are 23 treatment rooms, including two "together suites" for couples. The menu includes a seven-step Japanese Basu bathing treatment, reiki, and a head-foot-and-hand massage for children as young as eight. The staff includes a certified structural integrationist and a certified Rolfer. The fitness center has a yoga studio, personal-training studio, aerobics room, and three state-of-the-art squash courts. They lured venture capitalists Margaret and Jack Wyant, both avid over-60 amateur squash players, here from Cincinnati. "I do aerobics and spinning and play squash," says Margaret, a self-described spa junkie. "I also go for nutritional counseling. There's a sense of almost infinite variety at the spa, and in every single case, the people running these programs are the best of class."
Sea Island has traditionally been a second-home destination for well-heeled Southerners whose families have been members for generations. You find people like Trey Brunson, who worked as a lifeguard at the club as a teenager, met his future wife here, and at 37 is a member, as were his father and grandfather. (I had the feeling that many residents' Sea Island connections were the most important ones in their lives.) Brunson owns a lot in Frederica and plans to build in the next few years. He says, "I want my children to grow up here." Lately, this establishment has been joined by what Mark Bedner of Sea Island Properties terms "the Greenwich crowd, hedge-fund guys in search of a family tradition. They're buying into our culture." By which he means an old-South cocoon of privilege.
But Sea Island's tone of Southern gentility is genuine. People are proud that the G8 Summit was held here in 2004, that the senior Bushes honeymooned and celebrated their 50th anniversary at the Cloister, and that six American presidents have visited. Most buyers become members of the Sea Island Club because it's the portal to social life on the island. As Steve Melnyk, a former ABC and CBS golf commentator turned director of sales for Sea Island Real Estate, says, "You don't come here to be a hermit. If you're bored here, you have a problem."
Sea Island at a Glance
Sea Island and St. Simons Island, GA
Nearest Large City
Jacksonville, FL (90 minutes away)
Nearest Major Airport
Your Own Wings
McKinnon Airport on St. Simons Island
Sea Island (1,000 acres) and approximately 18 square miles on St. Simons Island Developer Sea Island Company
Sea Island Resort, 888-732-4752, www.seaisland.com
Sea Island Properties, 912-638-5161, www.seaislandproperties.com