Will Sea Island gem lose its luster if resort is sold?

News that the posh Sea Island resort has gone bust and is seeking buyers leaves me feeling wistful for the days I spent on the Georgia coast in my childhood – even though I have never actually vacationed on Sea Island.

I have traversed the small Sea Island Road many times in the past 38 years, but I have never stayed there overnight.  All of my life, at least some part of my family has lived on neighboring St. Simons Island. As a result, it never made sense to consider paying to spend the night just few miles away – either at the famed Cloister or in one of the beautiful, multi-million dollar “cottages”.

Sea Island was still a lovely draw, however. Life seemed to slow down and take on a peaceful tone the moment we drove or bicycled past the old Cloister and those first cottages. (St. Simons was more peaceful back then too, but it has always been more commercial and more populated than Sea Island.)

Development came like gangbusters to St. Simons in the years after I graduated college. The small houses and small businesses on the St. Simons of my youth now sit alongside multi-million dollar mansions and a growing number of national chain stores and restaurants. But we could still head over to Sea Island for a while to get a reminder of a slower, smaller – if not infinitely more upscale – way of life on the beautiful Georgia coast.

Of course, development and change also came to the “old” Sea Island. There are no Starbucks or Outback Steakhouses on Sea Island (and you still have to cross back to SSI to hit the Harris Teeter for groceries), but Sea Island’s houses began multiplying greatly in number and square footage.  The G8 Summit in 2004 brought international dignitaries and even more prestige to the already prestigious resort. When the history-filled Cloister was torn down, a new $200 million Cloister rose out of the remnants of old Sea Island in 2006. Around that time, the Sea Island Company also erected a security gate, which restricts access to the island for the casual visitor.

Now that Georgia’s famous resort is in troubled financial waters, I wonder how it will affect the community of owners and vacationers who hold so many fond memories of the grand old place.

Even with all of my family a few miles away on St. Simons, I had always harbored the dream that my husband and I would one day leave the kids with their grandparents for the weekend and enjoy a luxurious stay at the Cloister. I don’t know what the future holds for the Cloister or Sea Island, but I do hope that dream isn’t gone for good.

Do you vacation on Sea Island – at the Cloister or in a cottage? What draws you there? How do you think the Sea Island Company’s financial woes will impact the resort?  If the resort is sold and big changes are made to the island, will you still return for vacation? What Sea Island attributes are most important to you?

Do you have any classic memories of past vacations on Sea Island or at the Cloister?  Will the coastal gem that we know as Sea Island lose its luster if the resort is sold?

84 comments Add your comment

truth is stranger than fiction

March 11th, 2010
9:08 pm

another realtor, how they pulled this off is why they have gotten in the debt situtation they are in now. they did it because as one former CEO put it, “because we could, sea island company answers to no body.” arrogance!!! congrats on your seeing the future and saving. i think you will agree most have spent it and are now out begging. buddy can you spare a dime.

truth is stranger than fiction

March 11th, 2010
9:13 pm

realtor, are you saying you have a client and he will make a killing in this resort market? are you full invested in real estate on SSI and SI? some preach and some stay on the sidelines. if you knew about goldman then you are the only one cause the banks made this decision a very few weeks ago. if you think this market is going to recover in three months then i suggest you jump in now. for me, i see a 10 year period of adjustment in resort, residential, and commercial in SE georgia.

Mr. P

March 11th, 2010
11:08 pm

Sea Island is getting what they deserve. Local business’s do not work for Sea Island. They don’t pay their bills. There house of cards have fallen down waiting for some Saudi billionaire to take over for pennies on the dollar.


March 11th, 2010
11:29 pm

We went to Sea Island for many years starting in the early 80’sand always stayed in the guest houses. When we first started going the main building and River House didn’t have TV’s but the guest houses did. After our daughter was born, she loved coming every year, enjoyed the traditions and had a great time in the camp. It was almost like her second home. We continued coming through her high school years and into college. We first came with our in-laws and it was an opportunity for her to spend time with her grandparents since we live a long distance away.
After my father-in-law became more ill and later died, we continued to come.
We were aware of the plans to replace the main building and could see why that was supposedly necessary. However we weren’t told about what would happen with the Beach Club which had been renovated for the G-8 and couldn’t see a good reason for good buildings to be demolished for the condos.
Over the years, fewer and fewer of the employees who we would see year after year were left. Some grew to retirement age but others were forced out or retired earlier than they wanted.
At the end, we went to a manager’s reception. These used to be very nice events but this one was just an attempt to sell condos. When my wife was talking to someone who apparently was a salesman but was supposedly there to answer questions, he rudely turned away from her in the middle of a sentence to speak to a better prospect. My daughter was left in tears when we realized that the Beach Club where she had had so many happy memories would be replaced. We did write Bill Jones and received a reply but it was of the “I’m sorry if you were offended” type.
It would have been nice that if she ever had children, we could have continued the family tradition but I doubt that will happen because she is so bitter. My wife and I might go back to see it but it will never be the same. Progress is always necessary and nothing stays the same but many of these changes were so ill advised.
Over the years we and my in-laws spent a large amount of money at Sea Island and it became apparent that they didn’t care about our business anymore.
I wonder how many of these oh so important condos were sold.

Its me Glynn

March 12th, 2010
7:46 am

I moved here in 05 and watched as the overseer’s of Sea Island wasted millions of dollars. I have seen them give away truck loads of very expensive building products. I have also stood by and watched a St. Simon Business owner plan how to get over on The Cloister by supplying c&d grade materials. It worked and he got paid. I can promise you this “the only thing real on that Island is the sand.” oh and the crooks. They are getting what they deserve. Just wish we could flush all the Realtors along side them down the toilet.


March 12th, 2010
7:55 am



March 12th, 2010
7:58 am

I remember the days of no tv in the rooms. I would go to the lobby at 6:30 and watch the news and socialize with the other guest. It was part of the charm.


March 12th, 2010
8:03 am

Maybe the new owners will tear it down and build an alligator farm and a motel 6 to appeal to the human sewage flowing down I95 from NY on their way to Fl. They have made Fl unbearable and now they can do it for Ga.

everything changes...

March 12th, 2010
9:14 am

when the third generation came around, there were more mouths to suck off the teet of the sea island company, so the “jones’ ” had to do more to keep up with all the “jones’ “.
was at the beach club last summer and it looked like the jersey boardwalk had sent all it’s visitors south…tattoos, piercings, sideways ballcaps.
all good things come to an end and it looks like the cloister will become just another high end resort that will be run by some large corporation and loose it’s soul. thankfully that state is doing some work over at jekyll. maybe they will learn a little from the sea island spectacle and add some old school charm to the plans.


March 12th, 2010
9:17 am

We were lucky enough to live at SSI in the late nineties briefly after having vacationed there for 15 years. After moving back to Atlanta, and returning, it seems as if the Island has lost an essential element – families. More often than not, the homes belong to rental agencies or are vacation homes, and it has made a big difference in the entire island’s atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, we still (and will always) love SSI, but it has changed. On Sea Island – we didn’t go there that much, but I am totally outraged that a barricade has been erected. That was one of the BEST crabbing spots, and the site of a great ghost story for my kids. It was really fun going there in the early a.m. and seeing the marsh rabbits through the fog. Really tacky on Sea Island’s part to distance themselves from the rest of the island.

Do check out St. Simon’s though. We particularly recommend Brogen’s in the Village and Sandcastle for breakfast,,,and Barbara Jean’s for the most awesome veggies and cornbread!


March 12th, 2010
9:28 am

Enter your comments here


March 12th, 2010
9:46 am

Oh no, that gate might not come down. Sea Island could end up being a Saudi playground, gate and all.


March 12th, 2010
10:36 am

My family has had a vacation home on St. Simons for three generations. While we loved laid-back St. Simons, it was always a rare treat to get dressed up and head over to the Cloister for a special dinner and bingo. As a teenager, I would hang out at the beach club with my Sea Island friends and pay cash at the snack bar ($5 for a grilled cheese and a coke). My family would horseback ride on the beach and rent bikes to tour the beautiful architecture and oak trees on Sea Island Drive. Over the years, the welcome mat was pulled away from visitors from St. Simons. It started off slowly–first with “members only” at the restaurants and finally with the erection of the guard gate. The memories of being turned away after all those years still sting. Now that I actually have the means to vacation regularly at Sea Island, why would I? I have only been one time as an adult. The new Cloister is very posh & very expensive, but I am unable to shake the feeling that the establishment has not earned my business. I just feel lucky that I have been able to travel to many other amazing places and know the difference between top notch and “exclusive”. I hope good things come back to St. Simons out of this unfortunate turn of events.


March 12th, 2010
10:37 am

What’s all this “Yankee, Yankee” nonsense. The Joneses have been in Georgia more or less for a 100 years. This is the same old Southern insecurity at work, Atlanta imagining itself a “better” city than NEW York, the Braves “better” than the Yankees, collards better than pasta…Bill Jones imagining billionaires with access to the French Rivera, the Greek Isles, Sardinia, Tahiti, would make a bee-line for fly-bitten Georgia. Here’s a Yankee lesson: there are no loyalties anywhere.,

Loyal Southerner

March 12th, 2010
12:54 pm

VJ, bless your heart, you just don’t know about Southerners and the good life. Honey, we don’t want to be like NYC.

Former Employee

March 12th, 2010
3:41 pm

CJ Rose… the Retreat Clubhouse is still that. The Corn Barn is located between the 1st tees of the Seaside and Plantion golf courses at the Lodge.

Former Employee

March 12th, 2010
3:52 pm

VJ, Atlanta may not be a “better” city than NYC… it just has better people living in it. This goes for pretty much everything south of the Mason Dixon… and I’m from Ohio! Now you can go tell yourself you did a good thing by voting for Obama.


March 12th, 2010
7:42 pm

Sorry about the empty post earlier, I was interrupted by a client to talk about the status of negotiations on the house they’re trying to buy down here. What I was going to say was, Yes, i do have a client that is one of many looking to profit from the Sea Island balkanization. And yes, I knew Goldman Sachs would be called in to be a mediator in the final stages. Someone would logically have to be, and the only likely candidates were Wells & Goldman. Wells was out because of the deed transfer of Frederica.. What was the other question? oh yes, I am fully invested in Golden Isles Real Estate and am advising all my clients to buy as much as they can afford now. I mean, come on, have you seen the prices things are selling for right now?. My comment about the 90 days was not to indicate that the economy would have recovered by then, just that the Sea island mess will be much less messy, and that prices will again start rising for all real estate in the area when those accomodations i predict have been reached between the new owner(s) and the banks. I don’t think it will be 10 years after that for a full local recovery, maybe 5 or 6, but the absolute bottom is almost here. Now is the time to buy in my opinion.

truth is stranger than fiction

March 12th, 2010
8:27 pm

Realtor, wrong again!! it was always morgan, stanley til they screwed up the deal. as far as buying or selling anything here, you are making a living doing it. if you don’t recommend to buy then how do you make a living? i have never seen a way that realtors make any money in a down market. the 7% is suddenly 4% if you can get it. it is always buy, buy, buy and are you listing property? a very well known and successful real estate broker on SSI is quoted as follows,” list now and you will lose and by the way i can’t afford to advert your 2M house”. when i said you have a dog in this fight you know what i meant. come and see me in 5 to 7 years and you will know bottom.if you got property here i hope the bank has called you for a little de-leverage for it they have not they will soon.


March 12th, 2010
9:48 pm

How can it be a good time to buy or sell. Surely the bottom is not even in sight yet.


March 15th, 2010
7:57 am

@truth – I’m listing, and I’m selling. Commision rates are still 6% and up, commercial @ 10%. It’s all moving – slower than 2 or 3 years ago, but still moving. I’ve seen an upturn in the past few weeks. No, it was never Morgan Stanley. With all the negative Synovus publicity, their Board was very leary of any involvement with Sea Island which took them out of consideration to be mediator – it’s possible Sea Island (you?) didn’t know that and was hoping to lure Morgan Stanley, but there was no way that was happening. Goldman was the only strong candidate in the field that actually felt like taking on the bad publicity aura that is Sea Island Company. Goldman takes the long view and seeks opportunity to leverage their own interest over a clients (see the stories on the Sawgrass Bankruptcy). No, the banks aren’t calling me personally to de-leverage because I only buy at a 25% LTV or less. Cash is King. Once again,the market is so close to the bottom as to make no appreciable difference. Buy now while there is no real competition. When it hits bottom hard enough for the masses to realize the rebound is coming, competition for these low priced homes will negate any negotiating advantage a buyer may have.

truth is stranger than fiction

March 15th, 2010
1:38 pm

Realtor, this my final repy to your posts. what mobile home park at you buying in? didn’t you tell your clients three years ago to buy as the market was on the way up? reading the local sales of real estate is about like looking over the obit section of the local paper. all you guys and gals in the bidness base your recommendations on what you have experienced in the past. (unless you are 90 or above you missed the last depression) take a trip over the bankruptcy court and see some of your former clients in line to file. since one of every four residents of SSI are real estate sales agents, i think a bounty should be offered for thier hides to shrink the population before they kill each other off.

Chicago Visitor

March 16th, 2010
11:05 pm


I would say that things are far from the bottom either locally or nationally (all real estate is local at the end of the day). The next crisis in our country is our states, county, and city municipalities with defaults on project specific bonds coming this summer into 2011 and beyond. Barron’s article missed the mark with the unfunded pension liability nationally – this is old news – although still a disgrace at trillions in liabilites. Every state in the union has a project specific muni bond that could default.

Listen, our country has been in a fundamental shift for several years which it will take some time to adjust – the average American is just beginning to understand this including my great southern brethen – I am a southern native. The current administration in Washington is lost but lest we get lost from the real need and that is the survival of the Sea Island community – a major equity partner or buyer is needed and the Jones family needs to be relegated to official greeter if they qualify.

truth is stranger than fiction

March 17th, 2010
7:47 pm

chicago, u are correct. the jones family is not needed in any capacity nor are those left who retain the idea sea island company way is the only way. get rid of all the left overs and begin again. those left are just that left overs and should go to the trash bin.

Dan B

March 18th, 2010
10:46 pm

I read all the comments with great interest. I had always wanted to go to Sea Island as I heard so many good things about it from a long time home owner from Chicago that I did business with. I guess that was the old Sea Island so many of you long for. Sadly I missed that. My wife and our 4 kids 9,7,5,4 spent 2 weeks there last summer in the cloister – was originally going to stay at the Beach Club but that was sold out? We were upgraded to the Cloister’s Black Banks Suite ( a sign of business being slow) and had every 3rd day free. So while expensive in the in the end not much more than much lesser resorts I have visited and one room accommodated a family of six. I absolutely loved the place as did my entire family. Certainly some things were way over the top and other very expensive, 4 kid in kid camp ends up at $200 a day, many resort we visit its free. I can’t wait to go back. Service and friendliness was the best I ever experienced. The amount to do and facilities are top notch, never seen anything better. The only complaint was it was a bit too formal, women fully made up in the pool, thought that might be a southern thing and we are NY’ers. I imagine the old Sea Island would have been perfect for us but the new one was plenty good as well. I can’t wait to see the deals I can strike this summer!!! If I could I would buy a house there I couldn’t imagine a nicer place to spend my summers and retirement years. My feelings are now would be the time to buy a home. Perhaps the new owners won’t run it the same way but since they will get it cheap I expect it will remain nice and home prices will head back up. Of course listing prices are nothing like sale prices from what I have seen- last update from the Realtor was 60% of listing price. There are some foreclosure there that must be a steal – wish I had the money.

A question for those down there what is going on with the Ocean Forrest Golf club? How is it being effected by all of this?

I love Sea Island and hope it remains as one resort and perhaps it moves back in the direction that so many of you fondly remember.

Look forward to hearing from you.


truth is stranger than fiction

March 20th, 2010
8:49 pm

it is all over but the shouting!!! when will the pain end???

Former Sea Island Employee

March 22nd, 2010
12:29 pm

The pain will never end!


March 22nd, 2010
10:33 pm

I just returned from my first visit to SI in about three years. After marrying at the Cloister 12 years ago, we were in the habit of going 2-4 times a year but have realized that we can’t sustain that standard of vacation living for the long haul. (Why get our kids attached to it?) Still, the place holds much sentimental and aesthetic appeal, particularly for my husband, whose Cloister memories date back 40+ years.
The good news: I found the level of customer service to be back at levels I haven’t seen since the privatization and rebuilding. To a person, the staff members were cordial and available to help at all times. The grounds are gorgeous and it certainly isn’t apparent that times are bad in terms of deferred maintenace or lackluster decor.
The bad news: All those nice staff members are new faces; gone is the no-tipping policy; the American meal plan is but a fond memory and the prices certainly don’t fit my family’s streamlined budget. Most regrettably, when you call the switchboard, no one says, “Thank you fuh callin’ the Cloistuh at Sea I-lun; how may I duhrek yore cawl?”
We have, sadly, put our Sea Island days behind us but are singularly grateful for the blessed years we considered it our home away from home. It was idyllic and hopefully will remain so for others.
…and I miss the peach soup and cornbread for lunch.


March 30th, 2010
8:09 pm

The Georgia coast is rich with memories and traditions for the wealthy,the average,and the poor.
When you erase that and try to sell a fantasy as the Sea Island Co. did, you get what they got: failure.
If I am going to drop 1k-2k for a weekend of “Generica”, I’ll go to Vegas, Watercolor, Fl. or Amelia Is.


April 2nd, 2010
12:11 pm

Is anyone else having trouble getting their membership dues refunded? We put our long-time membership on hold with the promise that it would be refunded and we haven’t seen a dime. Was told that they are refunding on a “lottery system.” Anyone else having trouble?

Bill C.

June 3rd, 2010
1:07 pm

My wife, now age 70, first came to Sea Island at age 5; her parents had come several times before she was born, as did her grandfather (by invitation I understand). Her family always rented “cottages”. Her family’s tradition became ours as well. Renting an older (read smaller and less expensive) SI cottage for two weeks each June became our (almost) every-year vacation plan until our youngest was through college. We had a gap of 20 years thereafter. Of course, we have MANY pictures and warm memories….

We loved Mr. Everett’s Wednesday-night lectures about the history of the Golden Isles. Bingo was a big (and inexpensive) evening out. It started be getting a reservation in the clubroom and being recognized by Vance, the headwaiter, to get a good table in the clubroom near the dance floor. Mr. Everett’s tongue-in-cheek wit while calling bingo made it good fun. That was followed by dancing to the Sea Island Orchestra, followed by graham crackers and milk off the Cloister lobby near the ever-present jigsaw-puzzle-in-progress. The package made winning at bingo irrelevant; it was a fun family evening!

The kids got dancing lessons at an early age (included with the $40/week/cottage Club Membership). They loved horseback riding (Amy, we miss you!). Percy taught them all to swim. Our son became an excellent skeet shooter under the tutelage of Fred Missledine. And, of course, they learned our household Ledger number so they could charge stuff at the Beach Club snack bar, where Big George held forth.

We spent hours on the beach, riding the waves, reading, sailing Hobie Cats, and (toward sunset) enjoying a drink or two in our beach chairs. (One evening, Jimmy and Roselyn Carter strolled by and said “hey”.)

When adults wanted a night out, we could depend upon Mrs. Forbes, the chief Sea Island telephone operator, to line up sitters, then go to the Georgian Room at an OK price, or else off-island. And the whole family looked forward to the Beach Club luncheon buffets and Sunday night buffets at the Cloister. Since Cloister guests were on the American Plan, these venues were bustling! I could go on..

For the past three years, we have rented a SI cottage for a week because it is a place with so many good memories and our children are willing to travel long distances to get together; we now live at great distances from each other. SI has a safe, wide beach with swimmable water temperatures and some amenities that we still use. As a matter of fact, I am sitting in 1950’s-era Cottage writing these notes. All of our children and grandchildren are here under one roof, and it is still one of the best places we can envision for a family “reunion” vacation. But the Sea Island Company, in reaching for 20 stars, has lost its soul.

Of course, all of the old-timers have retire, left, or died. More than one was forced out by the new management team, of course. The new team is polite, but for us, distant.

The beach club is bigger, and the multiple pools are nice. (Of course, diving has been eliminated for liability reasons.) The condos looming behind the beach club are an architectural travesty; hello, Marco Island!

I used to go into the Cloister (it could now double as a huge mausoleum) daily to get newspapers at the shop just off the main lobby. No more; go to the Beach Club.

Horseback riding is now limited to walking only; someone must have gotten injured cantering along the way. Goodbye, horses!

We have always prepared most of our meals at home, and we do so more than ever, since reasonably priced alternatives on Cloister property seem nonexistent. No more buffets (too wasteful). The River Bar has some life in it, I’m told, but otherwise, Cloister restaurants (those that remain open, that is) do very little business.

Bingo has someone who can call numbers accurately, period, its venue is totally devoid of charm. We didn’t bother to sign up after year one.

Children’s activities are available — all at high prices. Dancing, either for children or adults, is not offered. Goodbye, line dances; goodbye, ballroom dancing. Goodbye, lectures about the area.

So when we come here these days, we have a sense of loss and anger toward the misdirection of current management. Even so, we always always appreciate some of the amenities and the natural beauty and exquisite landscaping, not only of the hotel areas, but of the cottages as well.

I agree with some of the other bloggers who look forward to a less “exclusive” resort. It is essential that locals and visitors be welcome again!

CA Clark

July 7th, 2010
1:22 pm

A late posting, to be sure, but I had not seen this news. We lived on SSI in the 60’s &70’s; I worked at the Cloister twice, once in housekeeping during high school, and again in the dining room several years later.
The employees knew “their place”, and we kept that tongue-in-cheek. Even though we viewed Sea Island with a healthy dose of irreverence, we all took a great deal of pride in delivering the sort of service that made our guests happy to be there and look forward to coming back. To this day, I enjoy having being a small part of a long tradition of elegance and quality.
Our guests were just that – guests. They were clearly of an economic class several notches above us, but never once did they attempt to lord it over the staff. Most of them were friendly, even gracious. I learned how to deal with people there, and I still believe that everyone should wait table, if only for long enough to find out if one has what it takes to do it well. The experience has served me well for a long time and in many ways.
When an employee made a suggestion to improve service, it was taken seriously. If a guest wanted something returned to the kitchen for any reason, we were told to discard it. Mr. Chalfa was the maitre d’, and he told me not to worry about costs – “we have accountants who do that.” – just worry about providing the best service. He was hard to please, but if you did, you knew it was because you were one of the best.
When Sea Island got started, the Depression put a hurting on them, too. When there was no cash for paychecks, many of the hired help kept right on doing their jobs. The kitchen kept them fed, and even let some good food go home to their families. Their loyalty was repaid in kind; when I was working there the first time, there were a few old guys who had free room and board at the employee dorms, and would until the end of their days. Alfred Jones intended to keep his promises.
Pity his descendants strayed from his vision.

John Black

July 18th, 2010
12:24 am

This is another late entry. My wife and I have been going to The Cloister since about 1982. It was just wonderful. But, Bill Jones seems to have gotten grandiose in his vision. He decided to remodel to become the best resort in the world, and basically left his base of Southeastern clients. I think that he would have failed even without the downturn in real estate the last two years. If he is stroking his ego that the economy ruined him, then he should rethink this. He left the roots of Georgia, Florida, SC, and NC. What a waste. The best thing that one could do was to upgrade to be ocean front. You could barely afford what you were doing, but it was The Cloister so let’s upgrade to the beach. The food charge will be the same, but we will be like the wealthy for the week. It was worth saving for this opportunity.

Tear down the new beach club and rebuild the numerous rooms that gave us all a chance to be on the beach in paradise. Bring back the American Plan for meals. Where is our Cloister, Mr. Jones.

Chris H.

August 12th, 2010
9:28 pm

Another REALTOR, that’s a great point you raise about non-SICO realtors being able to access the island. I tried to push that issue and was told that “your buyer will not be able to join the Sea Island Club if you sell your house any other way than through our agency”, and that included FSBO. That’s criminal. The thing that gets me is the Brunswick area MLS would not push the issue because local politico’s were afraid of the big bad SICO. That’s criminal.