SEA ISLAND, Ga. -- Davis Love III still has the magic. So does the Sea Island resort.
Just as age hasn't dwindled Love's golf talent -- at 51, Sea Island's most famous resident became the third-oldest winner in PGA Tour history in August -- a bankruptcy hasn't dimmed the majesty of this classic Southern retreat, which dates back to 1928.
In many ways, Love's shocking victory at the Wyndham Championship -- his first since 2008 -- symbolizes the comeback of Sea Island from its bankruptcy and sale in 2010. "Uncle Davis," as the 2016 Ryder Cup captain is called by many local PGA Tour pros, introduced many of the island's 20 or so top players to the spoils of the resort, home to four courses, the best resort learning center in the game and two five-star hotels: The Cloister and The Lodge.
Sea Island is humming again -- charming resident tour pros known as the "Sea Island mafia" and guests with a laid-back lifestyle mixing luxurious tastes and the scenery of the coastal saltwater marshes.
Even the PGA Tour's RSM Classic is in expansion mode. The tournament, held at Sea Island since 2010, has a new date this fall, Nov. 16-22, and bigger field of 156 players competing on the resort's premier public courses, Plantation and Seaside.
Sea Island: The resort
Describing Sea Island, located off the southeastern coast of Georgia, halfway between Savannah, Ga. and Jacksonville, Fla., is simple. Just about everything associated with the resort is more beautiful or better than most anywhere else.
Sea Island is the only resort in the world that has earned four Five-Star ratings for seven consecutive years. The four five-star places -- the Cloister at Sea Island, the Lodge at Sea Island, the Georgian Room restaurant and the Spa at Sea Island -- are all special. During the resort's heyday, it attracted the 2004 G8 Summit, a gathering of the world's eight most important leaders.
The Cloister, the original 175-room Mediterranean masterpiece on the Black Banks River, was tastefully restored in 2003. It's popular with families that come for the yacht club and five miles of pristine sand at the beach club. The food prepared by the Georgian Room chefs tastes just as ornate as the dining room decor of gold and crystal chandeliers. My feast there one night was a progressive sampling of different entrees and appetizers off the menu, starting in the kitchen.
Golfers may be more comfortable at The Lodge, a 40-room English country manor on neighboring St. Simons Island. Everything is within walking distance: A posh men's locker room where food and drink are plentiful, a practice putting green outdoors, the two resort courses and the performance/fitting center.
My exquisite room overlooked the giant flag pole near the Saint Simons Sound. Guests can waste away an afternoon by sitting on the grand back porch, savoring a drink. A resident bagpiper draws a crowd for his daily performance at sundown.
Your massage doesn't have to be at the Cloister Spa -- a 65,000-square-foot, five-star relaxation zone -- to be memorable. Have you ever heard of "whole body cryotherapy?" Me neither, until I stepped into a chamber that looked like a vertical MRI machine at the new Performance Therapy Center in the Lodge. Wearing only gloves, underwear and socks, I shivered through two minutes of torture as the temperature plunged to minus-220 degrees. The therapy, akin to a high-powered ice bath, is supposed to rejuvenate the body. The treatment, called WBC for short, is a popular sports recovery technique used in Europe and by professional athletes and A-list celebrities, promoting faster muscle recovery and exhilarating endorphin release. Despite the growing discomfort toward the end of the treatment, I felt great afterward. It helped cure the inflammation in my shoulder that had been a problem for months. Call me a believer.
Post-recession, Sea Island got smarter, adding more budget-conscious accommodations in 2014 -- the 85-room Inn at Sea Island halfway between the two five-star resorts. Guests still get access to the courses, the beach club and other coveted amenities but don't have to pay for them if they aren't used.
I didn't have time to explore the tennis and squash centers, Yacht Club, Shooting School, Camp Cloister and Broadfield -- a Sea Island Sporting Club and Lodge offering a variety of seasonal hunting, fishing, sporting and organic culinary opportunities -- but I doubt you'll be disappointed with anything here.
Sea Island: The golf
The construction of the Lodge in 2001 altered the golf scene at Sea Island for the better.
Both Sea Island's Plantation Course , designed by Walter Travis in 1928, and Seaside Course -- with a front nine by English architects Harry S. Colt and Charles Alison dating to 1929 and a back nine by Joe Lee added in the 1970s -- were rejuvenated by Rees Jones and Tom Fazio, respectively, in the late 1990s. The result is two of the top 10 public golf courses in Georgia .
While the Plantation's 10th hole glances against the shore of the sound, Seaside swims in the gorgeous coastal setting for long stretches, the back nine most impressively. Fazio restored elegant, bold, circular bunkers as a nod to Colt and Alison. Caddies are mandatory on the par-70, 7,005-yard course. Golfers can ride or walk.
The Retreat Course , a Lee original redesigned by Love and his brother, Mark, is a third option I didn't play. The ultra-private Ocean Forest Golf Club , a world top-100 playground by Jones, is reserved for members and PGA Tour pros.
I normally avoid ranges, although I grew fond of the one at Sea Island after spending two half-days there for a Nike club fitting and golf-assessment test by the Golf Performance Center staff. It's one of the best ranges I've come across in my travels .
The newly named Golf Performance Center has recently almost doubled in size, featuring new, state-of-the-art technology and more top teachers than any other golf facility in the country. Randy Myers, a founding member of the Titleist Performance Institute, is the resort's fitness guru who now works for Nike. Todd Anderson, the director of instruction, teaches FedExCup champions Billy Horschel (2014) and Brandt Snedeker (2012).
Sea Island: Inside the PPI
I was one of the journalist guinea pigs in a new two-and-a-half-hour test called the Player Performance Index, a measurement of fitness and fundamentals using five stations that helps players gauge their games.
I performed admirably in the Trackman Combine, where golfers hit 60 shots from 50-yard wedges to driver. I was proud of my rating as a 3 handicap inside 100 yards until my short-game assessment, where I struggled hitting chips and flops from various lies to a green outside. As usual, I felt inadequate during Myer's fitness workout. The SAM Putt Lab was informative, although I've stuck with my hit-and-hope ways. The most fun was had at GEARS, a 3-D motion capture system where I hit shots wearing a full-body suit armed with motion sensors. Your swings are reproduced on a TV screen, allowing players to see which body parts aren't doing their job. Fascinating stuff.
After all the numbers were crunched, my PPI handicap turned out to be minus-15, the equivalent of 15 strokes lost to par every round. Yep, that's about right. I'm normally five strokes either side of an 87.
The grind of the Nike club-fitting session the next morning was offset by a cooling breeze off the water. Nike has aligned itself with Sea Island, following the lead of the TaylorMade Kingdom at nearby Reynolds Plantation. It's a way for a West Coast equipment company to have an East Coast presence and to provide an elite club-fitting experience to well heeled country clubbers looking for an edge.
Within an hour, the Nike staff had enough launch-monitor data to build my ideal set. Within a couple weeks, my full set of Nike Vapor irons, hybrids, wood and driver arrived. For a while, I was embarrassed to own my first set of "old man" clubs (featuring irons with graphite shafts), until I saw the results. In August, I shot back-to-back sub-80 rounds for the first time in my life -- a pair of 79s. The golf experts at Sea Island and Nike can probably help you reach a personal milestone, too. I'm particularly fond of the new wedges. For the first time, I keep five wedges in my bag to help me score from all sorts of lies.
For those guests who don't need new sticks or want to become a human popsicle in the "cryo" chamber, visiting Sea Island will still feel like a special getaway. Just the chance to see major champions Zach Johnson or Lucas Glover hitting balls at the range or bumping into Matt Kuchar or Chris Kirk at dinner is worth the journey.
It's nice to pretend that average folks like you and I can live like the golfers we idolize on TV, even if it's only for a weekend.