Jekyll Island Authority hopes to improve its golf experience, and a 10-month long effort to create a new master plan for island golf is wrapping up.
The new plan, recently presented to the board of JIA, recommends options to combine the Great Dunes and Oleander courses to create one 18-hole golf course, improve the Pine Lakes and Indian Mounds courses and add a new nine-hole par 3 golf course.
The plan proposes other possible components, including creating a new practice area and golf instruction center, repurposing the club house, adding a new fitness center, enhancing the golf course entrance, introducing a boutique lodge and adding a low-density assisted living facility.
The plan increases the conservation area around the course to 81.7 acres, the amount of land that could be reallocated for purposes like reestablishing maritime forest, restoring wetlands and creating more habitat diversity.
Jekyll’s golf courses have a lot of potential but are missing the mark on offering what golf course visitors are seeking, said Troy Vincent, president of Vincent Design, a golf course architecture firm in Augusta, during a presentation to JIA at its September board meeting.
JIA contracted the firm 10 months ago to create a master plan that considered all options and took into account Jekyll’s priorities.
“One of the things that we felt pretty strongly about was the current courses don’t align with Jekyll Island Authority’s mission as stewards of the island,” Vincent said. “There’s a very delicate balance that has to happen between nature and golf, and they all can work together.”
Jekyll’s golf courses are falling short of the typical average of rounds played on comparable courses. A report by the National Golf Foundation found that the courses on Jekyll are well beyond their life expectancy, Vincent said.
Jekyll could choose to spend between $1.4 million to $1.7 million on basic improvements that Vincent described as “Band-aids.”
“It doesn’t fit what’s really wrong with everything on the golf course, which is below the surface, which you don’t see,” he said.
Jekyll’s golf offerings are missing potential opportunities to better serve players, and many golf groups are choosing not to travel to visit the island’s courses.
“In my travels throughout the state of Georgia, on other golf course properties I talk to a number of people, and I’ve yet to have one person say, ‘We like the golf courses the way they are,’” Vincent said.
“Everybody that I talk to, the common theme is, ‘We used to go to Jekyll, but we don’t anymore because the quality of the golf courses that Jekyll’s offering right now, we can get a better quality at the same price somewhere else.’”
The master plan created by Vincent Design took into account JIA’s objectives, which include determining the correct number of holes, creating financial stability, improving the golf experience, attracting a broader audience, incorporating new amenities and introducing additional green space.
The proposed project phases begin with combining the Great Dunes course and the front nine holes of Oleander to create a classic-style 18-hole golf course.
The new practice area would be constructed at the same time, and at least 36 holes would remain open for play at all times.
The second phase would be the redesign of Pine Lakes. The Great Dunes course, Indian Mound course and new practice area would be open during this phase.
A few options are on the table for the third phase, Vincent said, depending on Jekyll’s course needs.
Looking ahead, Vincent said additional planning, design and funding decisions have to be made.
Money has not been allocated to the project, and no timeline has been established.
JIA has received all public comments submitted over the past 10 months, and Vincent Designs plans to submit a final written report to the board as well.
Jones Hooks, executive director of JIA, said he plans to pull all the information together and that more board discussion will be necessary.
“My intention is to begin to massage some of the data and pull some of it together because you remember that there are three components to this now,” he said. “It was the National Golf Foundation study, then we issued a request for information where we had over 20 proposals that came in with different ideas, and that’s when we decided it would make a lot of sense to do an overall conceptual master plan, which is now what’s being completed.”