If golf's future forecast is so cloudy, then why do America's top golf resorts continue to invest millions in the game?
Sea Island, a Forbes Five-Star resort on the coast of Georgia, will follow the lead of Pinehurst Resort and Pebble Beach Resorts, among others, by launching a massive improvement project. Sea Island will spend $25 million upgrading its golf campus surrounding the Lodge at Sea Island, adding six new cottages, a new state-of-the-art Golf Performance Center, an oceanfront pool and pool house, and a new putting course.
Pebble Beach is in the midst of capital improvements in advance of its 100th anniversary and a U.S. Open in 2019, while Pinehurst recently debuted The Cradle, its first short course. Its designer, Gil Hanse, is busy at work altering the look of Pinehurst No. 4.
The work at Sea Island will be completed next November in time for the RSM Classic, an official PGA TOUR event held every fall on Sea Island's Seaside and Plantation courses. After that event, the Plantation Course will undergo a full renovation under the direction of Love Golf Design, reopening in October 2019.
Video: Davis Love III talks Sea Island plans
All these moves make perfect sense. When I visited Sea Island for a story in 2015, I spent several nights in the Lodge, enjoying its service, laid-back luxury, bagpipes at dusk and easy access to the courses and the current golf performance center, which was already the best in golf.
What was noticeably missing was a family component. The new pool and "putting course" should help in that regard. Most families visiting Sea Island gravitate toward staying at its sister property, the Cloister, or the more affordable Inn at Sea Island, an 85-room hotel built in 2014. The five-star Cloister, a 175-room Mediterranean masterpiece on the Black Banks River, is among golf's most historic resorts, luring families since 1928 with its yacht and beach clubs and five miles of pristine sand.
The putting course at The Lodge - essentially a large, undulating green - will emulate the massive putting greens that have emerged at Streamsong Resort (The Gauntlet), Pinehurst (Thistle Du) and Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (The PunchBowl), all copy cats to the original Himalayas putting green at St. Andrews in Scotland.
The new cottages will be perfect for families and buddies and couples trips, delivering privacy and space. Built on the western side of The Lodge, five of the cottages will have two bedrooms and a parlor, and one larger cottage will feature four bedrooms and a parlor.
The pool and pool house, decorated with double fireplaces, a wrap-around porch and food and beverage service, will add to the Lodge's capacity to host indoor and outdoor functions.
Premier instruction has always been a calling card of Sea Island, home of more than a dozen tour pros called the "Sea Island Mafia". My only minor complaint after a two-day club-fitting and swing analysis two years ago was a lack of space. All the technology and teachers are already in place.
The new 17,000 square-foot Golf Performance Center will raise the bar higher by offering six instruction and club fitting bays and a putting studio (both with industry-leading technology for teaching and club fitting); a full-service golf club workshop; a gym with locker rooms; spacious retail area; and indoor and outdoor meeting and event spaces. During the renovation, the driving range closest to the ocean - one I consider among the greatest practice facilities in golf - will also be expanded to allow for the long-hitting pros. Not that you or I need to worry.
Unfortunately, I didn't see any major champions like Davis Love III, Zach Johnson or Lucas Glover hanging out on the range or at dinner. If you do, consider yourself lucky. It's a not-so-subtle reminder that you're only as good as the company you keep.