HILTON HEAD, S.C. -- When real estate developer William Goodwin purchased The Sea Pines Resort in 2005, a large part of his group's offer to shareholders was his commitment to an extensive upgrade of the property.
A decade later -- as an updated Harbour Town Golf Links reopened in September, one of the final steps in a total overhaul of the golf product highlighted by two redesigns, two new clubhouses and a brand new practice facility, and with off-course amenity upgrades ongoing -- it's safe to say the Goodwin family has delivered and then some.
Sea Pines became a household name to golfers largely based on hosting the PGA Tour's RBC Heritage since 1969. The event was moved to the brand new Harbour Town in 1971, and it has become one of the longest-lasting hosts on the tour schedule and a beloved spot for players to bring the whole family for the week.
The Goodwin family, which lives in Richmond, Va., has been vacationing and playing golf at Sea Pines for decades. When the family assumed ownership, the property was still a beacon of Lowcountry luxury, but as the island's first master-planned development, it was beginning to show its age.
Goodwin appointed his son Matt as chairman of the resort in 2006, and he has been overseeing a revolving door of construction and renovation to the golf product. It's been a risky decade for many in the golf business as economics, environmental and participation factors have all taken their toll.
But in large part because Goodwin's company, Riverstone Group, has chosen not to finance any of its projects at Sea Pines, the progress has been striking. Sea Marsh was transformed into a Pete Dye course, Heron Point, in 2007 (since then, greens have been enlarged and many mounds removed to make it more resort-friendly). Then, both golf clubhouses were torn down and rebuilt, along with a new practice area and golf academy.
Then, just weeks after the 2015 RBC Heritage at Harbour Town -- the first with the lavish 55,000-square-foot clubhouse -- the course closed for the entire summer for a wall-to-wall re-grassing.
Talk about a rally-killer.
"The timing certainly wasn't optimal," Matt Goodwin said. "But we had to make a tough decision to go ahead and make the changes because we knew our Ocean Course was going to be closed for renovation in the fall."
Bringing Sea Pines up to snuff in the luxury golf market
The family owns three premiere golf properties: Sea Pines, Kiawah Island (purchased in 1993) and most recently Keswick Hall (purchased in 2012).
Kiawah's Ocean Course and Harbour Town may be competitors when it comes to top 100 rankings (Ocean is third and Harbour Town is 19th in Golf Digest's 2015 top 100 public list), but the two have distinct styles.
"Harbour Town requires finesse, skill and strategic course-management," said Matt Goodwin, a 3.3 handicap. "You'd better get your tee shot in play or it can be a long day.
"The Ocean Course [at Kiawah] is a links course along the coast of the Atlantic. Battling the elements requires the ability to flight your ball low and in both directions."
The resorts at each couldn't be more different, either. At Kiawah, the allure is your beachfront room on a remote island. Sea Pines, meanwhile, is in the heart of the action on Hilton Head Island, with hundreds of restaurants and family activities to explore.
The Goodwin family has certainly leaned on Dye for much of its golf construction. In addition to Heron Point, Dye completely rebuilt Keswick Hall, which opened its Full Cry Course in 2014. But the last of the many golf projects currently underway is in the hands of someone else: Five-time winner of the RBC Heritage and resident of nearby Sea Island, Davis Love III's Love Golf Design.
Sea Pines' Ocean Course, which was the first course built on Hilton Head Island in 1962, is closed for a full year for the transformation.
"[They are] the perfect fit for renovating our Ocean Course," Matt Goodwin said. "I could sense that we had great chemistry with Davis and his team after our first meeting. The combined expertise and creativity of Davis and his team, and the ideas and involvement of our people at Sea Pines, will result in a spectacular golf course."
Love will bring a more wide-open look, which is entirely different from Heron Point and Harbour Town. Fairways will be encircled with coquina shells rather than trees. While it will be designed to be a championship test for lower handicappers, Goodwin expects it to play several shots easier than the narrower Dye courses.
Looking beyond golf
Following the Ocean Course's reopening next fall, more attention will be paid to off-course amenities. Sea Pines unveiled a brand new beach club in 2014, and now there are plans to look at expanding the Inn, currently a boutique-sized 60 rooms, to another 40-50 rooms as well as adding a full-service spa, and improving its 4-star ratings from Forbes and AAA to five. Multi-room golf cottages, aimed at buddy trips, are also on the table.
A fixture at Sea Pines even longer than the Goodwin family, former Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion Stan Smith still runs the tennis program, and a new facility for him is in the works.
The whole product should bring a facility that became known across the U.S. long ago back to the forefront of golf and leisure resorts.
"While the golf industry isn't growing, I believe there will always be strong demand to play high-end destination golf resorts," Matt Goodwin said. "Sea Pines and Hilton Head have so much more to offer than golf, which certainly helps sustain a consistent business for us."
It's been a commitment of the Goodwin family since it laid eyes on the resort.
"Our mindset and philosophy is always to do it right," Matt Goodwin said. "And to invest for the long term of 30 or 40 years."