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

Part Time Sea Island Resident

March 10th, 2010
4:18 pm

I have spent my entire life enjoying Sea Island as a visitor and the many friends we have made there. We have loved it so much that my wife and I bought a vacation home there in 1975. We have known all three generations of the family that owns the resort. While the first and second generation of this family had an acute understanding of the needs of its customers, it is clear the third did not. Many changes were made to the operations and facilities in an effort to make it more “posh”, but less accomodating. In doing so new management did not fully appreciate the marvelous qualities Georgians possess – that of not being snobs. This move towards exclusivity (whatever that means) has only alienated us Sea Islanders from most of the year-round people who live in the area. This is sad. I think it is very possible that the new owners of the Sea Island resort will realize how important it is to better integrate ourselves into the community (as we once were), restoring some of thewonderful tradtions now gone, while removing some of the obstacles that have become prohibitively expensive to maintain. Let’s hope things get better!

former visitor

March 10th, 2010
5:02 pm

I have many fond memories of the Cloister of yesteryear. Haven’t bothered to go back once it was “improved” as it seemed management was interested in a different clientele. Notice they advertise heavily in the NYT – maybe it’s the monied New Yorkers they’re trying to entice instead of the regulars folks who made it the wonderful place it used to be.

greg sorrow

March 10th, 2010
5:45 pm

I grew up in Brunswick, just a few miles from Sea Island and St Simons and even spent one summer pushing a lawnmower for the Sea Island Company. It was interesting spending that much time up close to the “rich and famous”. One day, Mrs. Sanders, wife of our long ago governor, brought us something to drink and talked to us. The American Cancer Society relay for life had events on Sea Island and aided in raising thousands of dollars to fight cancer as my mother used to work for the cancer society. Old money people were always friendly while new money people were snobbish, usually. Hopefully the island will retain its charm and beauty.

Chicago Visitor

March 10th, 2010
6:16 pm

I have vacationed at Sea Island for years, first as a youngster and then as an adult looking for that wonderful slow pace and hospitality of Sea Island. I was there last week and although I enjoyed the golf courses – this special place has not been the same since before the G-8 summit. The third generation did a great deservice to the history of the resort by not being better stewards of this special place – instead greed and arrogance took over. They only looked at the upside and never contemplated a downside case to their models. Shame on those banks as well for indulging Bill’s folly that put the resort in jeopardy. I hope they find someone that will restore Sea Island to it’s roots.

SE GA Resident

March 10th, 2010
6:22 pm

As a resident of St. Simons Island for fourteen years, I find it sad that Sea Island Company is having hard times, but I promise the beauty of this area is still intact. I don’t know where you are finding the national chain stores, but I don’t think it’s on SSI or Sea Island. Yes, they are in Brunswick, but we are happy they are, for it allows more convenient shopping. We do have some chain restaurants, but they are needed to feed the tourists and locals. The family-owned restaurants are still around.
Please stop trying to paint such a bleak picture and scare off visitors to this beautiful island.

UNaffiliated Voter

March 10th, 2010
8:03 pm

I would imagine that our Presidunce could take it over successfully…can you say bailout?

Island Girl

March 10th, 2010
8:57 pm

Count me in as one who grew up in Glynn County – Brunswick/St. Simons. As a teen I spent a summer working for the Sea Island Company. Other than a source of part time employment and a nice place to take a Sunday drive to look at the “cottages” Sea Island didn’t play much of a role in our lives. (Oh yeah, I almost forgot about the Sea Island Dances I attended as a teen during the disco era!)

Calvin Coolidge

March 10th, 2010
9:28 pm

The place used to have class. It’s been awhile since it went way over the top. Pathetic!

SSI resident

March 10th, 2010
10:10 pm

When we moved to SSI from the Atlanta area in the late 1980s, Sea Island still had the “Old Charm” which was an easy going pace. Both of our sons worked for Sea Island during the summers and they also attended the weekend dances for the teens. Both sons learned to dance and also learned manners of how to escort young ladies. They were welcomed by Sea Isalnd Mgt. so there would be enough young males there dance with the young girls.

One son worked in the fine dining restaurant and waited on politician’s families (Carl Sanders) and celebrities (John Travolta). The other son worked in the old Beach club as a cook and waiter. They had some great times during those years.

We also had a membership card (free) where we could actually get on the island and eat dinner which we never actually did. We also got all of the flowers for our son’s dates at the flower shop. We also could ride our bikes out there any time we wanted.

Too bad it went exclusive and catered to the billionaires. When they finished the renovation to the Cloister and built the security gate, that was the end to the “old Sea Island.” There are not many people that could afford over $1,000 a night for a room. So, they built a beautiful resort but who could afford to go there except billionaires.

Too bad they ruined the old for the new. They ruined the charm by making a resort too exclusive.


March 10th, 2010
11:33 pm

Part time Sea Island Resident has nailed it. As I understand it, this fantastic company (Historically) had no debt to speak of until current management/generation undertook it’s “exclusive” vision which clearly abandoned it’s roots. And how the heck did it’s lenders think it was a sound financial plan to have something like 3 times (or more) per key/ room cost over an average Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton? The recession has claimed many real estate victims: Sea Island, enabled by lenders with stars in their eyes, seems to be a victim of it’s own design. Having said that, I sincerely hope that this wonderful Georgia institution survives with the assistance of a deserving investment group.


March 11th, 2010
6:10 am

Riches do not protect those who would be irresponsible. Forest said it best…”stupid is…as stupid does.”


March 11th, 2010
6:33 am

My family and I began staying at the Cloister three decades ago. I considered my little peice of heaven when we were there. We were not their biggest customers but I think we were good customers. We probably stayed there three times every five years like many other Georgia families. When they tore down the old buildings and started chaarging a thousand dollars a night they threw out all of us like old garbage for the rich A-Rab and European money. I hop Bill Jones burns in hell.


March 11th, 2010
8:08 am

I lived on St Simons in an area close to Sea Island and Frederica Roads. I did not like it when Glynn County gave much of Sea Island Road to the Sea Island Company which promptly built a barricade just before the bridge that so many people used to fish, crab, throw a shrimp net and just view the marshes. In exchange, Sea Island Company contributed to a new pier on the west side of St Simons, but it was just not the same.

Sea Island residents could keep their privacy and safety concerns, but that causeway and bridge should be returned to the people.

Maybe the new owners will tear down that barricade and allow people (who helped build the bridge with their tax dollars) use of the bridge again. Maybe the new owners or Glynn County would build sidewalks/bikeways alongside Sea Island Road out to the bridge so others could enjoy the view across the marshes.


March 11th, 2010
8:23 am

My bride and I had a blissful honeymoon at Sea Island in the days of the old Cloister. While our kids were growing up we were more likely to vacation at a Pawleys Island area beach house or camp at Cumberland Island. Recently we had a brief visit to Sea Island Lodge for a meeting. It’s nice, but not the same as the classy old Cloister.

My theory is that Sea Island started down the road to perdition when they put TV sets in the rooms.

Stone Barrington

March 11th, 2010
8:38 am

Bubba, that’s an exceptional observation on the TV’s there…love it.

Grace DeVita

March 11th, 2010
8:40 am

Sea Island, the Cloisters is my favorite place in the world! The stately southern charm is irresistible. They can’t change the place….

Native Atlantan

March 11th, 2010
9:29 am

I grew up vacationing every Summer on Sea Island (for past 38 years). It was the perfect destination for Atlanta families, and I could always count on seeing friends and making new ones. Now, however, it is just like going to a Four Seasons or Ritz. It’s nice, but impersonal. Most visitors are not local, and you certainly don’t make friends like in the past. There is no reason to return. They’ve outpriced most Atlanta families, and it’s overly-exclusive attitude appeals only to new money. Too bad.


March 11th, 2010
9:44 am

Over hyped and over priced. Sea Island has always been a pleasant resort to gather with family for a relaxing short vacation. As for the beach and location…5 stars it is not … and never has been. Why bother with other’s folly. Sea Island will go forward under new owners with a more realistic perspective of value. Yes, Sea Island is being deflated in prices and self imagine. All for the better.


March 11th, 2010
9:51 am

I am likewise from Glynn County and worked at Sea Island Co for 3 summers during school.

As a bartender at the old Beach Club, I served and talked to a wide range of guests, from the members I knew to the guests from Atlanta and Europe. The new Cloister was widely viewed as too impersonal and expensive, since if you were considering getting 2 rooms there, you might as well consider renting out a cottage from the rental pool. This is emblematic of Bill Jones’ lack of listening to his guests and members, and more about his ego. One thing that particularly surprised me is that when planning and designs were being drafted on the new Beach Club, the staff was widely overlooked for suggestions and ideas on how to make the new Beach Club even better than the old one. While the new Club might have more pools, it lost the relaxed, casual of the old Beach Club.

I could not tell you the number of quality managers whose backgrounds were from Hilton, Ritz, etc. that were run off from the Beach Club due to frustrations with how the operation was run. There were several instances where BJ3 would personally override a popular guest item when he simply didn’t like how it was perceived.


March 11th, 2010
10:10 am

My wife and I vacation every year on St. Simon’s. A few years ago we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the Cloister on Sea Island, only to be told it was not open to the public. We have been lucky enough to travel other places and have enjoyed dining at the Breakers in Palm Beach and even the luxurious Cap du Eden Roc on the Mediterranean at Cap d’ Antibes in France. We were disappointed that we could not lunch at the Cloister, but now think that may be their problem. It’s hard for me to have any sympathy for their financial situation, when they could have made good money off of us in the past and possibly the future. We will still go to St. Simon’s as we always do, and we will always consider Sea Island off limits to riff raff, like us.

Almost a native

March 11th, 2010
10:14 am

My husband and I moved our family to St. Simons in the 80’s to enjoy a more relaxed way of life. When friends and relatives would come to visit, a drive across the Sea Island causeway was always part of the entertainment. A slow trip down the drive to see the cottages and dream of “someday” after our ship comes in, or winning the lottery, which cottage would we want to buy? Even enjoyed a night at the old Cloister hotel, courtesy of a client, and several meals at the Clositer and Beach Club. The gate put an end to the drives down the main drive to dream about “someday.” It is such a shame that greed and the desire to be among only the very, very rich and famous has now come to where it is today. Billy Jones, I’m sure will never suffer hard times personally, but he has put an end to all of the extended family that relied on Sea Island as their primary source of income. Can you imagine how welcome he is at the Family Thanksgiving Dinner… about as welcome as ants at a picnic!


March 11th, 2010
10:19 am

We still vacation at St. Simons. Used to like Hilton Head but it got to big and crowded. St. Simons is more comfortable now. It’s now our favorite place for a weekend at the beach.


March 11th, 2010
10:28 am

Almost a native – I have a friend who was a member of the extended family and retired a few years ago at the age of 35. Have not heard for him in years. Have to wonder.

C J Rose

March 11th, 2010
10:30 am

As a small B & B owner for 15 years in Brunswick, I had the opportunity of meeting travelers from all places. Some of them even stayed with me when there was a function they had to attend on Sea Island. They stayed with me because of the rising prices. Others who had visited Sea Island years earlier wanted to splurge for an anniversary or birthday by going for dinner. Imagine their surprize when they were told they could not have dinner unless they were members or guests. They felt as though they were being treated as bad children. So many tinmes my gueats would try to take a ride to Sea Island only to b turned away at the gate. My husband and I used to enjoy quiet Sunday afternoons after our guests left by having a late lunch at the Retreat Club House (now caled the Corn Barn). It,too, was closed to non-membrs. How many times can you turn people away and expect them to come back. From what I have observed of the area, those businesses that don’t consider the locals, don’t make it. Even Sea Island members stopped going to the members only restaurants and started frequenting the fine restaurants on St. Simons because the food and the atmoshere were better.The Jekyll Island Cub became the place of choice for elegant weddings and well as weddings and special events by superb caterers like Straton Hall. Perhaps we can look at the bright side. We in Brunswick & the Golden Isles are survivors of sorts. As we tighten our belts, Sea Island is loosing their shirts. The end of an era -perhaps. The beginning of a new way for all of us – I think so.

Former Demere Rd Resident

March 11th, 2010
10:37 am

So many residential and commercial developmental changes have taken place back home since I moved to Atlanta. Some good decisions, but mostly bad. I grew up down the street from the south-end fire station, which was housed near the King & Prince. My aunt took me with her during the summer to help housekeep for the wealthy part-timers. Back during the early 70’s as kids of color, we were shunned from socializing with children of guests. We only wanted to play with them at the beach, run in the sun side by side, and teach them how to keep fiddler crabs living long enough to fish with the next day.

I can’t relate to the stories of knowing management or other guests as intimately. We were only as valuable as the service we provided. I remember being pulled into the kitchen many times when the guests would enter the home, including their children. We were told to stay out of the way and folks like us were not to be seen unless requested.

But my reference point of the new management was impacted when so many of my family members and childhood friends were layed off during the transition. I was in college in Savannah at that time. Loss of jobs for residents of Demere Rd, Harrington, Jew Town, and Proctor Lane meant fewer resources to take care of families at home. This spelled devastation for many I knew and a nervous scrambling to look for work “in town.” Many of us would always cringe at the thought of having to cross the bridge daily for work. Having to attend school there after SSI Elem. was sad enough.

But old or new management, I recall countless stories of family members and friends who over generations, suffered so many physical and respiratory injuries and illnesses from tolling endlessly to keep many of your cottages spotless, yards kept, and properties safe. Their stories are under the radar.


March 11th, 2010
10:48 am

Having grown up in Brunswick when Sea Island was still ‘open’ to the people of Glynn County I remember as a child all too well the Sunday afternoon drives to see the ‘millionaire’s’ homes on the island. I had friends whose family belonged to the Beach Club and as children we were often dropped off in the morning to hang around there all day to swim and have our lunch on the parents tab. A number of years ago Sea Island ended memberships for locals except for those lucky enough to have property on the island. So all the good will that years and years of local patronage had produced was gone overnight. (closing the causeway to locals was the nail in the coffin) My remaining friends who’ve lived in Glynn County forever who used to be proud of Sea Island now refuse to send visiting friends there to stay at the Cloister. And having lived in Atlanta for years myself I recently asked some of my Glynn County friends living here if they refer their acquaintances to Sea Island to stay and to the person all of them say they don’t. So a whole book of business that used to flow to the island is no longer there.

I think the ultimate irony would be for a large foreign company(how about Tata, Inc.?)to buy the place, turn it in to a giant Days Inn staffed with members of the Patel family so that the place would begin to actually service the ‘average’ Georgian much like Jekyll Island should. My only question would be; would all the snooty Republican Fortune 500 Execs abandon the island overnight? Sweet revenge?

And if the beach is owned by the citizens of Georgia how is the average guy supposed to access it if the causeway is closed?


March 11th, 2010
10:55 am

The best result would be the Company broken up into smaller manageable (and thus less risky) ventures. This is already happening with the deeding of the Frederica Township property, and the Cannons Point property to Wells Fargo (WF). Cannons Point is in process of sale by WF. The Frederica Golf Course & Club will probably be sold off seperately from the Residential lots. The Stables Tract is still owned by WF, but leased to a professional operator that has opened it to public use. Additionally, the Cabin’s Bluff Resort & Conference Center was traded to the Mead family for an undisclosed property; obviously the Mead’s will continue to operate the Cabin’s Bluff property. If this pattern is followed with the remaining assets, the Lodge, the Island Club Clubhouse, The Retreat and Plantation golf courses, the Cloister Hotel, Ocean Forest Golf Club, and the remaining developed & undeveloped residential properties will all be sold off in bankruptcy at 30 cents on the dollar to the loan amounts, to seperate corporate owners, and operated as public resorts. The first thing to go will be the gate at the Sea Island Road. When all this happens – and it most certainly will – the Property(s) will once again be profitable and a draw. Unfortunately, all the Sea Island Club Memebers will lose their private club, and of course their “refundable” application fee deposits (most over $100,000.) will be unrecoverable under the inevitable bankruptcy. The key is, this can and will be a very profitable set of public resort properties to own & operate, and will prompt an swift economic recovery for the Golden Isles. In my opinion, now is a good time to buy real estate down here – while the prices are low, bargains can be found, and in time to benefit from a recovering economy.


March 11th, 2010
10:58 am

Bubba, I too was there during the years of no TV in your room. What a difference. I still go at least one or twice a year, but no longer stay at the Cloister (rather rent a cottage).

I feel that the new beach club and many activities on the island have been targeted towards children versus adults. This is a huge mistake. Under no circumstances do I want my grandchildren catered to, to this proportion.

Another big mistake was building the numerous beach condos, seen as soon as you enter the island. Looks like a Florida developer trying to make money…no old world feeling there. But calm, peace, and tranquility can be found further down Sea Island Dr. as you reach the cottages.

Another mistake was made when Sea Island took away permanent City Ledger Club Memberships. (One had to be sponsored by fulltime members and approved.) The exclusivity of Sea Island has been replaced by greed, ego, and the desire for big new money.


March 11th, 2010
11:44 am

The decline started about 10 years ago. The powers that be failed to recognize that the charm of Sea Island was not primarily its buildings or its beach. It was the homey atmosphere that drew in the rich and famous long-time patrons — the long-term staff they developed relationships with, the dining rooms open to nonmembers where locals would come for special occasions (the prices kept it exclusive enough), and the quiet, noncorporate atmosphere. People like the Bushes and John Travolta could go anywhere they pleased. If they had wanted an exclusive, “world-class” resort, there were always plenty to choose from. A crew of Enron-era, B-school guys came in determined to strip Sea Island’s charm in an effort to become like other newer resorts they viewed as successful. The new lodge went up and during the off-season, the dining rooms have always been nearly empty — at the old Island Club, nonmember paying diners would drop in during the slow times. How is it good business sense to cut revenue sources and nightly operate empty restaurants for the sake of a new, more exclusive branding plan? The highly successful real estate office that operated on SSI and was filled with the best agents poached from other area companies in the mid-90s was also cut because it didn’t “reflect the brand”. They put a lower cap on available memberships to make Sea Island more exclusive — again, cutting revenue. And while cutting off all those revenue sources, they were building, building, building.

So will it lose its luster if sold? Nope. The luster is already gone. It hasn’t felt like a homey, family-owned resort for years.

Do you have it?

March 11th, 2010
11:49 am

Remember one thing if nothing else. If you use the word class or classy you most likely don’t have any.

Old Southern Upbringing

March 11th, 2010
12:09 pm

Amen to the words class & classy. You must be related to my grandmother (born in 1895)…she always used the term, of good character, and taught me to do likewise.


March 11th, 2010
12:10 pm

Wow, just wow. Why do all of you want go to Sea Island? To rub shoulders with the rich or to enjoy the coastal experience? Do you think you’ve missed out on life just because you don’t live in a million dollar “cottage” or can’t eat dinner at the Cloister? This is the kind of attitude that helped build that place. I love the St Simon’s/Jekyll, coastal Georgia area. I’ve always looked over at Sea Island and felt that those people were too busy trying to impress each other to enjoy the beauty that surrounds them. Surely the more money you spend for a room on Sea Island, the better experience.
The Sea Island Club should be allowed to go under. If public money (and it is) is being used to maintain the roads/bridges/fire/police/etc then the beaches should be open for all. I for one however, will not visit.


March 11th, 2010
12:26 pm

wow, i find it interesting that people expect their childhood home or retreat to remain untouched while the rest of the world should bear the burden of all their starbucks and outback steakhouse desires. Everytime i hear people talk about Sea Island its like an exclusive club that only a few wealthy “in the know” should enjoy….im glad the overpriced development is going under…how about opening it to the “classy” masses…snobs.

Former Sea Island Employee

March 11th, 2010
1:02 pm

I was so excited to find a position at Sea Island in 1996. At that time it was a wonderful place to work. Living on St Simons Island with a great job so close by was a dream. However, that dream fell apart with the money and fame hungry third generation of the family. They have made it inaccessible to those of us who would love to work, eat and spend time there. What a crying shame!

Rob Vinson

March 11th, 2010
1:13 pm

I have never stayed at the Cloister or the Lodge, but have driven through a few times over the years. Now, when i have a chance to go to the GA Coast, i head to Little St. Simons Island, which is not far from Sea Island. 10,000 plus acres, 7 miles of private beach, 30 guests on the island max. at a time and 30 staff members. It’s a wonderful place. Plenty of animals and nature and they have it right because they know how to treat people. Check it out if you can!

truth is stranger than fiction

March 11th, 2010
1:48 pm

Sea Island has been destroyed by greed,arrogance and debt. former CEO’s mc crary and everett are the ones to blame. they lead mr. jones III down the path to destruction and reaped the benefit of large incomes and benefits. they both are locals from Georgia and they flushed the values of the Jones family. when history reviews the truth it will be stranger than fiction.


March 11th, 2010
1:50 pm

I was engaged at the Cloister, married at the Cloister, honeymooned at the Cloister, and spent my anniversary at the Cloister. I felt that I had bought a slice of time that could never be taken away from my wife and me. I hope that I was not wrong in that assumption…..

Coastal Dawg

March 11th, 2010
2:11 pm

Your comments prove you have no clue about the process or what is currently happening with Wells Fargo or Goldman Sach’s efforts to dispose of the assets. Not even close.

ATL Banker

March 11th, 2010
3:03 pm

Sea Island turned away the GA Bankers association, which is where they held meetings and conventions for years. They said, “Go away bankers, we don’t need your business anymore, we’re focusing on Billionaires.” Now, they would love to have us come bail them out, unfortunatly that’s not going to happen. Good bye to the Cloister, I’m sure some foreigner will come buy it for 20 cents on the dollar.

truth is stranger than fiction

March 11th, 2010
3:35 pm

Coastal, you are correct in that the “realtor” has a dog in this fight. most, and i mean 95%, of the realtors in the SSI area are starving. many have lost everything they had in this downturn and they deserved what they got. living high on the hog, ski trips twice a year, new york three times a year, the carribean in winter, travel abroad, MB’S, lexus, jags and all on credit. now the bills have come due and they are filing chapter 11. let the good times roll!(the sea island company motto)

The Cynical White Boy

March 11th, 2010
4:29 pm

The Rise and Fall of Sea Island reminds me of the “New” Coke debacle.

The “new” Coke CEO wanted to “make his mark” and he changed the Coke formula. Heh heh heh.

The “new” Jones at the helm wanted to “make his mark”. Well, he sure will be remembered, that’s for darn sure.


March 11th, 2010
5:05 pm

Considering I’m not rich or famous, I couldn’t care less if Sea Island loses its charm. Bulldoze it and throw up public housing from beach to beach.

Cumberland Isl. Rules

March 11th, 2010
5:09 pm

I know some of you like to be treated as if you actually are more important than others, but all you’re doing is paying way too much to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Grab your camping gear and head down to Cumberland Island. Still beautiful and no snobs.


March 11th, 2010
5:34 pm

I too honeymooned at the Cloister and vacationed there for many years afterward. We enjoyed Nathalie Dupree’s Cooking School and we loved the family environment at the “old school.” So many people enjoyed the old world charm of the buildings and I know all of that went away with the bulldozer. I still reside part time on St Simons and enjoy what’s left of the slow pace there. There may be a couple of “chain” places on the island, but those who know, know where to go. Greed is such an ugly creature.


March 11th, 2010
6:01 pm

Quote from the movie “Mame”:
Exclusive of whom?”


March 11th, 2010
6:17 pm

The sea island of everyone’s childhood was gone years ago. The island lost it’s family values once Mr. Jones passed. We owned two homes on the island and sold them over the last decade because of what’s happened to the island. This is actually great news for the island and a new owner is the only way it can be saved. Drop the memberships! Open it up to the families again! Take out the guard posts and book the Tams and Drifters every Saturday Night. Maybe they should hire me to run the island.

B Ha

March 11th, 2010
7:01 pm

in the late 80’s we used to take our children to the cloister for a few precious days each summer. it was a magical place for families and while pricey was a good value considering meals were included in the room rate. as the current management started “movin on up” they priced the family business out of their market and as i understand it courted a more corporate meeting clientele that centered around golf. when it was announced they would demolish the main building my family was heartsick. we stopped by one day to take a last stroll through the lobby and public areas. all with a lump in our throats. i do hope that the cloister can return to the gem that it was.

North Ga Dawg

March 11th, 2010
7:05 pm

This is just a fine example of how the greed of some ruins things for all. I enjoy visiting the coast, but the select few that are trying to take everything over have got to go. It’s us “regular folks” that keep things going and appreciate the charm & beauty of the Golden Isles. Hope someone with sense can come to the rescue.


March 11th, 2010
7:46 pm

Speaking of “reators,” I’ve never understood how Sea Island Company could, for all practical purposes, keep “non-Sea Island Company” agents from selling Sea Island properties. I have to give them the name of my client so they can see if my client is in their database? If my client is in their database, then I can’t earn a commission if I sell a “cottage” they have listed? How absurd is that? And guess what? If I was stupid enough to give them the name of my client . . . it goes straight in their database. The hoity toity attitudes, from Bill Jones on down, is what got them in trouble. Good enough for them!

And truth is stranger than fiction – please don’t put all SSI realtors in your sinking boat. I have every penny I ever made selling real estate sitting in the bank – and it’s not Synovus.


March 11th, 2010
8:10 pm

True, I do have a dog, a client, in this hunt. IIf he lfollows my advice he will make a killing in this resort market over the next decade. As to my predictions; son, I forecast this all for my clients 3 years ago, and every single thing I told them has happened, on schedule and precisely as predicted: right down to naming Goldman Sachs. Print it out and watch over the next 3 months. You can check off the correct predictions as they happen; a game everyone can play.

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.