The wonderful retreat of St. Simons Island, Ga., full of golf courses and fabulous beaches, is often overlooked by travelers from outside the southern United States. North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida get far more attention, even from golfers who tend to gravitate to the big-name courses in those states. Here’s a tip: Take a closer look at Georgia, where golfers will find many hidden gems, such as the Hampton Club on St. Simons Island.
In the 18th century, the Hampton Club land was part of the Hampton Plantation, where cotton, indigo and rice were grown. When the decision was made to build a golf course here in the 1980s, 300 acres of mature oaks and pines at the northernmost tip of the island were turned over to course designer Joe Lee, who used the natural topography of the land — lagoons, tidal marshes, ancient trees and even natural marsh islands — in his design. The result is a course that presents some singular challenges and offers golfers spectacular views, especially from the elevated cart paths.
The full-service clubhouse provides all the necessary amenities, but the true beauty of the Hampton Club is its connection to The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort. (The course is just a 10-minute shuttle ride from the hotel.) The King and Prince, a member of Historic Hotels of America, has a history on the island that goes back more than 70 years. It opened as a private club in 1935 and when the original building burned down a few years later it was replaced by a marvelous Spanish Colonial-style hotel complete with red-tile roofs and a terrazzo ballroom floor. After opening in 1941, the hotel was commandeered for use by the U.S. Navy when a German U-boat was spotted off the coast in 1942. By 1947, it was back in service as a hotel and renovations and upgrades to the guestrooms, suites and villas have been made regularly — most recently in 2003.
My guestroom was literally steps from the beach, which was inviting and never crowded. The resort’s amenities, restaurant, bar and pool all were tops, and it was a perfect place to relax after taking on the challenge of Joe Lee’s Hampton Club course.
(570 yards, par 5)
From the blue tee this is a long hole with lots of mature trees on either side of the fairway. A trap lies on the right side of the fairway positioned to catch any drives that fly off the mark. On your second shot, stay away from the pond that lies to the right. From here your approach to the green should be between 120 and 150 yards, depending on the length of your second shot. Joe Lee made sure this was a playable course, so golfers should have fun. This green, with its links style approach, allows you to roll the ball to the pin.
(196 yards, par 3)
This tricky par-3 is made difficult by its length and by the pond that lines the right side of the fairway, starting about 110 yards from the pin and extending to the green. The water is far enough from the green that it should not really come into play, however a bunker on the left side might interfere if you hook the ball slightly.
(500 yards, par 5)
Another par-5 on the front side; this one is slightly shorter than Hole 3. A large pond lies to the right side of the fairway and trees line the left, which makes accuracy off the tee box crucial. Drive slightly right and past the pond to gain perfect position for your second shot. Then, presuming you followed my advice, you can give it all you’ve got and drive a straight ball down the fairway. Theoretically, a big hitter can make this green in two; less aggressive players will end up with a short chip to the green. Beware of the perfectly placed traps, one on either side of the fairway about 20 to 30 yards from the green. These traps can end your dreams of birdie or par.
(365 yards, par 4)
Water, water everywhere makes this par-4 a nuisance. Off the tee you have to carry water, which then turns and runs along the left side of the fair way all the way to the green. The dogleg left requires you to cross the water to reach the green. A 200-plus yard drive off the tee, positioned center of the fairway, will place you perfectly for your approach shot. From here you will be about 150 to 160 yards to the green and your shot will need to partially clear the water just before the green.
(373 yards, par 4)
This dogleg right requires you to drive your tee shot past the pond on the right to the center of the fairway to make your turn to the green. From here you should have a mid-iron shot to the green. Beware of the two traps that protect the front section of the green. The green is elevated in the back so be mindful of the pin placement.
(461 yards, par 5)
Don’t let the length fool you on this par-5; it is a very difficult hole and it requires perfect placement of your shots. Your drive from the tee box need only be about 180 yards to place you well short of the pond that runs up the right side of the fairway to the green. You must also avoid the marsh that lines the entire left side, running up and wrapping around the back of the green. Your second shot must stay clear of the water and take you about 100 yards to the green. The green itself is slightly elevated and has two nasty traps, but they might not be the worst hazard here as balls hit with too much gusto can end up in the marsh.
(155 yards, par 3)
This is a fairly easy par-3 with water on the right that should not come into play. There are three traps that protect the green if you fall short right or left.
(430 yards, par 4)
This dogleg right will require an accurate drive from the tee box avoiding the trees that line the narrow fairway. A lone fairway trap lies on the left side about 230 yards from the tee box. Your second shot might bring you into birdie territory. Again, a straight and accurate shot is necessary, but you will be able to roll your ball up to the green. One traps lies to the right side of the green.
The Hampton Club
St. Simons Island, GA 31522
tel 912 634 0255
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