By James A. Frank
For the last 25 years—and largely under the radar—Davis Love III has been designing courses. With brother Mark, the Loves have done quite a bit of renovation work as well as creating some wonderful original layouts, among them Atlantic Dunes on Hilton Head Island, The Dunes Course at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, and the Love Course at Barefoot Resort in Myrtle Beach. If they have a style, it harkens back to the “Golden Age” of architecture, the first few decades of the 20th century, which gives their work a classic look and feel… with a few surprises along the way.
Their 25th project together—with architect Scot Sherman—is something of a “home game” for the Love brothers. They lived on St. Simons Island, one of Georgia’s “Golden Isles,” since their father, Davis Jr., became the resort’s teaching pro in 1977. The courses at Sea Island were literally in their backyard—Davis lives on Sea Island still—and while playing them both boys dreamed about what they would do if ever given the chance. It came on the Plantation Course, which just reopened after a 10-month-long redo.
The front nine had been designed in 1928 by Walter Travis (another player-turned-architect); the back nine in 1960 by Dick Wilson. In 1998, Rees Jones put the nines together under the Plantation name. When the Loves went to work, they first looked back, as Sherman explained to Golf Course Architecture: “Davis, Mark, and I are most comfortable thinking the way course builders did in the past….the historic plans and images we found in Sea Island’s archives have guided us—while also being influenced by the great Golden Age designs of the past.”
The architect they borrowed from most was Seth Raynor, incorporating his large, square-shaped greens and adding subtle breaks and quirks like a big “thumbprint” on the lower front half of the 6th green and a swooping boomerang on 8. The bunkers also were redone in straight lines and square edges—a throwback feature Davis wanted to use wherever possible—and while there are still roughly 80 bunkers on the course, the total amount of sand was drastically reduced: The old-style bunkers are flat and mostly small, and there is no flashing of sand up the sides of greens. As for the fairways, they are wider than they seem from the tee, with deceptive camouflaging reminiscent of Pete Dye.
The front nine retains most of its original routing, although a few holes were lengthened and their greens relocated, usually toward the lagoons that run throughout the course. On the back—where some greens are slightly raised, a common Wilson feature—holes 14-16 were rerouted: After Jones redid them as 4-3-5, the Loves returned them closer to their original status, now a long par 5 followed by a short par 4 and medium-length par 3.
In their research, the Love team found photos of “chocolate drop” mounds in the original Travis design, so a few of those have been sprinkled in. They also saw evidence of wooden bulkheads, which have been brought back to shore up lagoons and bunkers here and there while creating visual excitement.
More modern is the use of four new grasses. Tees and fairways are Platinum paspalum, the rough is TifTuf Bermuda, and the greens are TifEagle; the interesting addition is a wide collar of TifGrand Bermuda around the greens, sometimes extending 20 yards back to the fairway, providing both another shade of green and a great surface to chip from. The scenery also was enhanced by slightly lowering the entire back nine and trimming trees, which opened up views across the course, the neighboring Seaside Course, and all the way to the Atlantic. Golfers playing in the afternoon will be greeted by a glorious sunset as they finish.
Plantation just re-opened—Davis hit a ceremonial first tee shot last Monday, after club members had the course to themselves the previous weekend—and will be showcased during the PGA Tour’s upcoming RSM Classic, where it will stretch to its 7,100-yard limit. The rest of us get all we need at 6,671 or 6,264 yards.
The redesign is the latest in a series of upgrades to the Sea Island golf experience, which also includes a year-old putting course, six new cottages, and a new, larger building for the Golf Performance Center, which is one of the most up-to-date teaching centers in the country and includes six outdoor/indoor bays. From 3-D motion capture to pressure plates in the floor, the latest putting platforms, and full club-fitting facilities—as well as mental and physical training—GPC is as future-forward as golf instruction gets
Delightfully complemented by the proudly old-school Plantation.