When Will Carter, the managing partner of Sea Palms Coastal Management, took on the task of renovating Sea Palms Resort on St. Simons Island, he knew he had a job in front of him.
“It was in general disrepair. Actually, it was in serious disrepair. So we’re just trying to repair it,” Carter said. “The whole thing’s getting redone.”
The announcement that Sea Palms Resort was acquired by a Texas firm was delivered on Friday via press release. RREAF Holdings, a Texas-based, multi-billion dollar commercial real estate firm, and private investment group DLP Capital Partners of St. Augustine largely financed the venture. Carter will serve as the managing partner through Sea Palms Coastal Management.
“This kind of fits their wheelhouse and their philosophy,” Carter said. “(RREAF) has some other coastal properties, which have been unbranded properties they’ve acquired and renovated.”
Carter said he plans to make use of his significant backing, completely renovating and retouching the resort top to bottom.
“‘Good things are happening at Sea Palms.’ That really sums it up. Everything will be touched in some way, brought up to world-class resort quality,” said Jennifer Broadus, a marketing consultant for Sea Palms.
Part of the effort to renovate the entire resort is changing what Sea Palms offers members. Carter said the resort is going to put an emphasis on attracting residents to the club.
“Local membership is extremely important to us,” Carter said. “We’re here to create a true club atmosphere at Sea Palms. There’s always been a challenge in regards to making it blend with the resort, so what we’re doing is we’re creating some members-only spaces.”
“From a programming standpoint, we’re structuring our club to give programming they’re going to want. So hopefully, all these residents will join the club as an alternative, a lot of them are driving off the island.
“... There’s no reason somebody should have to leave the island to go be a member of a club somewhere else. We’re hoping to create what will be a tremendous value to the cost-benefit of being a member at Sea Palms.”
A lot of people went to the Brunswick Country Club when Sea Palms increased its fees in the past, said Bob Broadus, another marketing consultant, and the resort’s management now hopes to bring them back with a more affordable membership and a wide variety of offerings.
“There is a distinction between Sea Island, being a really high-end product. Our product really reaches into the community,” Jennifer Broadus said.
“With more depth, we hope,” Carter added.
In trying to bring back former members and attract new ones, the bang they will get for their buck is of primary importance.
“We believe in serving hard-working Americans,” Carter said. “You know, people who, I guess the best way to put it is, are working-class people. We want to create a product they can afford, but also give them that feel of belonging to something that is of superior quality and gives superior service. We’re just trying to make that blend, and I think it’s something the community needs.”
Traditionally, most of the club’s members are golfers. With that in mind, the resort is creating a members-only practice facility at the ninth hole of the Sea Palms West golf course.
The old nine-hole course in Sea Palms West is part of the grand scheme, Carter said. The neighborhood’s homeowners association announced it was in negotiations for the course in September, eventually closing on it in December.
While members of the association said they hadn’t decided exactly what to do with it, turning it into a park of some kind was the prevailing thought at the time.
“We have leased it back from the homeowners, and we intend to keep holes No. 1 through No. 8 a green space for the community. We took hole number nine, and we have converted it to a private member’s short game facility,” Carter said. “We’ve created the Miracle over here as a retreat for them. As a place to get away and have some space and work on their game.”
The facility came from the minds at King-Collins Golf, a golf course design and construction firm responsible for the nine-hole Sweetens Cove course in Tennessee.
“There’s a whole world of golf geeks out there, and they know Sweetens Cove and now they know of the Miracle,” Carter said.
The neighborhood association is currently running through its options for what to do with the rest of the course, he said.
“It could be a hole is a community garden, another hole could be a dog park, another hole could be a fitness trail. I think the intent is to create this vibrant green space for the homeowners to be able to use,” Carter said.
The 18-hole course in Sea Palms proper and the Miracle in Sea Palms West will open on Sept. 29. A special ceremony will be held on Sept. 28 for members and invited guests, Carter said.
The two golf courses aren’t getting all the love, however. The Sea Marsh Suites, conference center, Public House restaurant and many other facilities are also slated for major remodeling.
“There’s two different phases there. The homeowners association is in the process of remediating from the storm, and that’s going to take quite some time, but once that’s complete we’ll go in and refresh the rooms. All new paint, all new flooring, all-new fixtures, all new furniture, a total refresh,” Carter said.
Along with the building renovations, infrastructure — sewer, fiber optic cable, maintenance equipment and computer software and hardware — will be brought up to modern standards as well.
Golf course walkways and golf cart paths will be redone with tabby because it’s more environmentally friendly, Carter explained. A complete overhaul of the tennis courts in Sea Palms West is also on the agenda, along with new exercise equipment for the fitness center.
No longer the Public House, Sea Palms’ restaurant will have a new name and a new menu soon under the direction of chef Ben Hankey.
Likely the most time-consuming venture, rooms at the Sea Marsh Suites will be opened in blocks as they’re complete, with a late fall, early winter timeframe for full completion.
“We’re probably looking at a full-on, everything-done (completion in) six to eight months,” Carter said.
No new construction is planned for the near future, but Carter said there are some things he’d like to do.
“We’re going to rebuild our 19th hole, the little halfway house that’s there. It still exists, it’s just so old and rotten we’re going to have to raze it down and rebuild it, so we have plans for that. And we’d like to do a couple of things around the pool as well. But most everything else, there’s a lot of furniture, fixtures, a lot of equipment that needs to be replaced. The air conditioners, there’s sewer lines that were broken,” Carter said.
While there were challenges to acquiring the property — and challenges in its renovation — Carter said he’s optimistic about the whole thing. He attributed his success so far to a combination of timing, providence and the right relationships.
“It’s like every door that needed opening has opened. Not saying it hasn’t been hard. The property is very challenging and the former ownership is very challenging. There’s a lot to overcome here but it’s just in the right place at the right time,” Carter said.
Among those blessings were the Broaduses, Sea Palms West residents who have been involved in marketing for the Sea Palms Resort for decades.
“It’s just like these two. What were the odds of two great professionals who have 35-plus years in the advertising business living in the backyard right here? That’s one of the little things I’m talking about, it’s the little things along the way that have been a blessing,” Carter said.
For more information on memberships, visit seapalms.com or call 912-638-3351.