Those of you from this area know the unique story about Sapelo Hammock Golf Club and how the members bought the club, renovated it and reopened it.
I got the opportunity to meet Michael Hardy and Bob Claxton, two of the men who invested in the golf course. At first, I wanted to do my own story of what they went through and all that, but then I thought about it, and I rather tell the story of meeting these two men and the feeling or, as my fellow young folks would say, the vibe I got from the club.
I’ve been sitting on this story for a while now, and I couldn’t find a way to put on paper what impact the short visit had on me, so I decided to do it like this.
The Wall Street Journal and other publications have told the story, but I wanted to be different. Yes, it’s unique that they had a group of people invest in the club, put their blood, sweat and tears into it, and still do, but there was something different about it than other clubs I’ve visited in South Georgia. So my encounter is the story I’ve chosen to tell.
I traveled up to Sapelo Hammock earlier this year, and it was like stepping onto a wildlife retreat or destination golf resort, not in South Georgia. I drove through the small community of Shellman’s Bluff. I found myself wanting to live there because it just had that laid back old-school environment to it.
As I drove up to the clubhouse, the overhanging trees and natural beauty of the course took my breath away — all I could say was, “wow, this is gorgeous.”
In the 10 years since Hardy, Claxton, and the other owners purchased and reopened the course, — you could immediately tell how invested and just how much they love this piece of property. It was intriguing to hear Hardy talk about all the different things they have done to the course and the surrounding area.
As important as marketing is in the world right now, the folks at Sapelo have been marketing their course for years through the hard work these people put into it.
They even have a selfie area on their signature 17th hole that has hashtags and their social media on a sign, to share with the club, I mean that’s so unique and a fun touch.
While some golf courses struggled with the pandemic, Sapelo Hammock didn’t. They have this little destination getaway that can make anyone forget about their troubles.
When I walked into the clubhouse, sat on the couch with Claxton and Charlie — Hardy’s sweet yellow Labrador retriever — to discuss their story, it was like I was at Disney World, and all my troubles were gone.
That precious dog sat in my lap the entire time, and I felt like I was visiting with family friends that just wanted to know how things were going. It felt like home, and during my short visit there, the more I felt at home and calm.
We sat there for about an hour, and I listened to Hardy and Claxton talk about when they purchased the property, how they had volunteers help them redo the greens and the various things they’ve done throughout the years. I was just baffled and enthralled by it.
It’s not every day a group of people can come together and purchase a project like a golf course, but they did.
On their website, on their “Our Story” page, the first four words are, “Twice in trouble, twice reborn.”
That simple statement says it all. The owners fought through the hardships and got it reopened in July of 2011, then found ways to market it in 2017 to erase the debt and have some security in their golf club. It’s perseverance like that — well, you don’t see that anymore in today’s society. It’s all about individuals, but not at Sapelo Hammock.
It didn’t take me long to understand why these various publications came to this little oasis on the Georgia coast to do stories.
They showcase local artists in the clubhouse, who come out to paint the gorgeous scenery. Whatever they can do to support the local community, they try and implement it into their world.
Sapelo Hammock has a diversity of people, not just into golf, but their social stuff too. They host charitable events for food banks, and they help with the local high school golf teams.
It’s a community-driven golf course, and they give people the opportunities, like kids interested in golf, a chance to experience it.
“It’s truly a wonderful, beautiful place with the Live Oaks, the Spanish moss, but what’s neat about this place are the people because people came here because of the love,” Hardy said. “This has always been a diamond — it just needed us to polish it a little bit. It’s a lot of fun when someone says, ‘I love your golf course. What a beautiful place.’”
The lack of development around the course is what I think makes it even more special. Hardy talked about a fox who will come and take your golf ball on one of the holes. There are a ton of deer in the area, gators and just different wildlife creatures. That nature side of it may not appeal to everyone, but it’s something unique to this area of the state. Georgia’s coastline is so unique, and like a lot of golf courses and places along it, Sapelo Hammock embraces it and tries to preserve it.
They even made it more of a destination by adding a crow’s nest above the clubhouse, where people can book to stay for multiple days of playing golf.
It overlooked the marsh and gave people a beautiful view of the course. When I visited it, I didn’t want to leave because it was homey and made me feel like I could enjoy the scenery forever.
The sheer amount of change they’ve brought to the community is endless — to name a couple, a Dollar General was brought in along with an affordable medical clinic.
Hardy called it a country town, and the heart of that this country town is Sapelo Hammock Golf Club. “It’s the “heartbeat of the community,” Hardy said.
“Your blood pressure goes down, and just kind of take a deep breath. I never thought I’d consider myself as an environmentalist until I came here,” Hardy said. “You get here, you see all the natural beauty, and you recognize all this was here before you came here — so let’s do our part to protect it.”
The individualistic part of society that rocks so many people isn’t in this tiny community. I think that reason alone is why I started hunting an apartment or old house to live in up there because it just felt like a place you could call home.
Sapelo Hammock Golf Club is a rare gem on this coastline, and while there are beautiful golf courses and resorts on St. Simons and in Brunswick, that one up the road a tad adds its own little touch.
Quality golf while supporting local businesses owned by the people who live there — now that’s what it’s all about, and I loved every second of it.
“It’s a special society where we can all come together, live together and enjoy it,” Hardy said.