Human InterestPersonal History


For decades, Hilton Head Island was the designated annual summer vacation spot for our family. We said we went to Hilton Head, but more specifically we went to Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head. Sea Pines Plantation, as it was originally known, occupies the southern tip of Hilton Head Island and has always been recognized as one of the premier resorts along the Atlantic coastline. Hilton Head is a barrier island meaning it is separated from the mainland by Calibogue Sound and Mackay Creek and forms a “barrier” between the Atlantic and the mainland. However, it is an entity unto itself. Although Hilton Head is in South Carolina, the nearest large city is Savannah, Georgia, some 40 miles southwest.

Our first time at Hilton Head was in June, 1976, as guests of two very good friends from Chicago. We drove to Atlanta, then to Savannah, and on to the island. We were immediately surprised that unlike Florida resorts, the island was very isolated, and getting there required driving through forests, marshlands, and over large bodies of water. Suddenly, you break into the open, cross a drawbridge, and you’re there. This part of South Carolina is called “the low country.” 

In 1976, the island was just beginning to develop. Sea Pines Plantation was the largest and most luxurious development, but there were also Palmetto Dunes, Port Royal, Shipyard, and Hilton Head Plantation communities. The focus, around which these areas was developed, was golf courses like none we had ever seen before! Each of the 8 courses was a links course. This was a new experience for me as was playing golf in a pine forest or on fairways lined with homes and condos. The homes’ unique architectural style blended in very well with the natural environment. Despite the size of some homes there was a subtleness to the design.

Here, also, was the first time we stayed in accommodations other than a motel on the beach at Daytona. We stayed in a condo that had real furniture, glass top tables, plush bath towels, a fully equipped kitchen, and was owned by somebody else. Man, this was luxury. We were very impressed. 

Driving through Sea Pines, peering between the trees and open areas, we could see golf hole after golf hole—the sand bunkers, lagoons, greens, and lush fairways, and beautiful homes lining the two-lane roads. Along the road, at the entrance to the driveway to each home was the same large green mailbox with the owner’s name written in white letters attached to the top. Man, was that classy! This place was really something special.

Here, also, was the first time I had ever seen a round-about/traffic circle. At the entrance to Sea Pines there was a huge, two-lane traffic circle, one spoke of which led to the plantation. At the entrance was a guardhouse manned by uniformed men who checked to see if you had the right credentials to enter the resort. Man, how VIP was that? Before you got to the entrance, however, you had to check in at the Welcome Center, which was much more luxuriously decorated than any motel lobby I had ever seen. 

Here, you received your packet of credentials—a car pass allowing access to the plantation, ID/charge cards, keys to your rental, and information on dining, recreation, and special activities at Sea Pines. We drove what seemed like a long way to South Beach to get to our “villa.” Upon arrival, we found a beautifully decorated two-bedroom condo on the second floor over-looking a tennis court. We had never stayed in accommodations quite so nice. All this and we have yet to play golf! 

Immediately, we were smitten. We had never seen any place like this. People were friendly and southern hospitality was abundant. College kids ran everything—tennis sign-ups, bike rentals, tennis court time, swimming pool access. We played golf, tennis, rode bikes on the miles of bike paths and on the wide packed-sand beach, walked through Harbour Town, and ate seafood at every opportunity available. There was nothing about this place we didn’t love. 

For many years, The Family Circle Cup tennis tournament was held at the Sea Pines Racquet Club. It was played on clay courts, which for this Hoosier was a novelty. The tournament was televised nationally so Sea Pines became known for its quality tennis. Professional player, Stan Smith was Sea Pines’ “face of tennis.” He was a well-known and popular player in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s and played exhibitions and gave teaching clinics there regularly. 

Sea Pines also became well known for golf through its signature course, Harbour Town Golf Links, which hosted the Heritage Classic PGA tournament. The course was designed by Pete Dye, and is the one with the red and white striped lighthouse across the marina behind the 18th green. What golfer doesn’t recognize that? Television once again created a positive image for Sea Pines and promoted it as a very desirable vacation destination. 

During our first visit to Sea Pines we played golf three times on three different courses. I had never seen so much sand and water nor seen as many beautiful homes. Our appetite for more was definitely energized.

So what do you do when you like a place so much you want to come back again and again? Well, our choice was to buy a timeshare! Prominently advertised everywhere at Sea Pines was a new concept called “Villashares.” To ensure you were able to come back to Sea Pines every year, you could buy a guaranteed week, or weeks, to fulfill that overwhelming desire into perpetuity. We couldn’t afford to buy a home or condo so this was the next best thing. We and our friends bought two weeks back-to-back, the thinking being our families could both come and stay together for two weeks every year. Impulsively we did it! 

So now, we’re committed to staying there every summer. The first summer we took our kids, they became smitten, too. They skipped golf and tennis, but went swimming in the condo complex pool, in the ocean, rode bikes everywhere in Sea Pines, and just had fun in the sun. They were hooked, just like we were! They never wanted to go anywhere else for summer vacation again. In later summers, we introduced friends to our favorite island resort, and they fell in love with Sea Pines, too. The popularity spread from them to others and beyond. None of us could find a place we liked better. We began comparing anywhere else we went to “our resort,” but none of them matched up to the enjoyment we had at Sea Pines.

So what is it about Hilton Head? If you haven’t stayed in Sea Pines, in my opinion, you haven’t been to Hilton Head. Sea Pines is the ultimate family resort, and the “gold standard” for the right way to develop a recreational facility. We were never bored and you won’t be, either. You can swim in the ocean or one of the many pools, sunbathe on the beach, ride bikes over the miles of bike paths, ride bikes to breakfast or to Harbour Town, browse through the shops at Harbour Town, listen to Gregg Russell sing under the Liberty Oak every evening during the summer, and eat seafood to your heart’s content. You can play golf or tennis or take lessons, while you send the kids to one of the many scheduled youth activities. You can watch the yachts come into the Harbour Town marina, climb to the observation deck of the lighthouse, watch the dolphins swim in Braddock Cove at South Beach, and ride a jet ski in Calibogue Sound. You never run out of things to do. 

But be ready for hot temperatures, high humidity, and the occasional torrential downpour during summer months. Storms are brief but very heavy and can disrupt an activity for an hour or two. The rain either runs off quickly or soaks into the sandy ground surface, so activities can be resumed with little delay.  

The most appealing thing about Sea Pines is that everyone in the family can find some enjoyable activity, and the family is brought closer together. Sharing time and being together for meals and recreational activities at the best residential resort development in the U.S. had a positive influence on family harmony and unity. Some of my fondest memories as a kid were of the family vacations we took. I got to spend more time with my Dad, and we did things we couldn’t or didn’t have time to do at home. Sea Pines provided the backdrop for our family to create the moments I hope my kids remember fondly.

Hilton Head was closer than Florida and a totally different environment. It was more isolated, less commercial, attracted a different population stratum, and had something for everyone. We only spent a week there each year, and the time flew by, but each summer we went back and each summer we did the same things. We never got tired of it or bored. We looked forward to it. It was such an incredibly nice place, we felt blessed to be able to go there. 

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