THE DEAL: The Cloister, Sea Island, GA
THE BACKSTORY: It’s hard to believe that there’s another U.S. resort quite like this one. It was begun in 1928, by an industrialist named Howard Coffin, the man responsible for designing Hudson motorcars. He built The Cloister on Sea Island, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia, a place with a good beach and, on the land side, endless saltwater marshes. To compliment the hotel, Coffin’s well-heeled pals built "cottages" on the island, buildings that would be dubbed "mansions" if a fact checker had been employed back then. Golf courses were laid out, and thus began a tradition for notable Southern families, who would come back year after year after year. The fourth generation of Coffin’s family, Bill Jones III, now runs what has turned into a small empire. In the last couple of years, Jones spearheaded a radical modernization. He razed the old, Addison Mizner (think Palm Beach Mediterranean) designed hotel (it was in dire shape) and built a new one in its stead that gives fresh meaning to the term "luxury." Added a jaw dropping 65,000 square foot spa and fitness center. Not to mention a separate Beach Club and pool complex that in itself is larger and more lavish than most resort hotels. They had architect Peter Capone do it all in faux Mizner, with Spanish tile roofs and a style that’s California Mission meets London men’s club. And it works, beautifully.
THE ROOMS: Think Ritz Carlton on steroids. Oversize furniture. High thread count linens. The standard rooms are huge, the suites embarrassingly big. And there’s only 100 accommodations in this building (and 50 more across the property). Every detail has been attended to, from commissioning hundreds of Turkish carpets to coffered ceilings built with vintage cedar that was rescued from lake beds all over the South. The public rooms are vast, especially given the number of guests, sort of like Tara meets a European country estate.
MORE REASONS TO STAY: Did someone say golf? It’s the resort’s raison d’etre, with one course each by Tom Fazio, Davis Love III and Rees Jones. Golf Digest rates the resort number one. Enough said.
THE DEAL: I doubt that the word "deal" and the Cloister have ever appeared in the same sentence, and I am not about to start a new tradition. A stay here is pricey, no getting around it. But if you’re a golfer who likes (and can afford) the finer things and enjoys the unsung coastline of Georgia, then it’s worth it. On selected nights from December though February, the rate for a double is $595 per night, based on a two-night minimum. That includes daily breakfast and one round of golf for two (per package), as well as one $300 Sea Island gift card per package for dining or spa services.
INSIDER TIP: Scott Crawford is the chef de cuisine in The Georgian Room, a dining area so formal that it evokes Parisian two stars. The good news is that Crawford’s food is worthy of the setting. And don’t miss breakfast or a drink at Big George’s at the Beach Club, set surfside, and as casual as this place gets.
CAVEAT: You’re in a cocoon of privilege. Think twice if that’s not your cup of tea.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: Sea Island is an hour’s drive from Jacksonville, about 90 minutes from Savannah, and spectacularly set on the Atlantic coast.
THE DETAILS: SeaIsland.com