ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — It all started with Davis Love III, or “Uncle Davis,” as the younger PGA Tour pros who also live on this barrier island call him.
Love, 49, the 1997 PGA Championship winner and a 20-time winner on the PGA Tour, is at home on this idyllic island on the southern Georgia coast.
He really had no choice. Davis Love Jr., a former PGA Tour player, moved the family to St. Simons Island in 1969, when Davis III was 4, and he never left.
Love Jr., who became one of the top golf instructors in the country after moving to St. Simons, died in a 1988 airplane crash.
Love III, who joined the PGA Tour in 1985, was the only PGA player on the island until Jonathan Byrd moved there in 2002.
Since Byrd’s arrival, the word has gotten out.
The other PGA players calling St. Simons home this year are 2007 Masters Tournament champion Zach Johnson, 2009 U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover, Matt Kuchar, Harris English, Brian Harman and Hudson Swafford.
Then there are the part-time residents. Augusta native Charles Howell lives in Orlando, Fla., but has a house on St. Simons. Brandt Snedeker has a condo, as does Chris Kirk, a St. Simons resident for six years before moving back to his native Atlanta last fall.
Of that group, Johnson, Kuchar, Glover, English, Kirk and Snedeker (who was tied for the 54-hole lead in the 2013 Masters before finishing sixth) are teeing it up in this year’s Masters.
WHY HAS ST. SIMONS become such a hot spot for PGA Tour golfers?
According to Love, it started with the improved golf experience that A.W. “Bill” Jones III decided to bring to the island in the 1990s.
“When he took the reins of Sea Island Co., he wanted to update all the golf,” Love said. “He brought in Tom Fazio, Rees Jones and built new golf courses, built great practice facilities. He turned this into an incredible place to work on your golf game.
“When I was a kid and growing up, and when I was first on tour, I had to go find good greens somewhere else to practice my putting on. Now people are coming here because we have world-class facilities.”
It was not just the great golf courses (three of them at Sea Island Golf Club alone, plus Ocean Forest, Frederica and Retreat Golf Club) and their practice facilities that attracted the golfers. The island also has outstanding instructors (headed by nationally ranked Todd Anderson, Jack Lumpkin and Mike Shannon) and sports psychologists (including Dr. Morris Pickens, who works with Johnson, among others).
The golf amenities drew Johnson to St. Simons before he made the move in 2008.
“I came up here to practice, and I’m thinking, ‘Man, I could live here,’ ” he said. “From a work standpoint, I’ve got three or four places I can go and I can get a lot of work done. So, I mean from a golf standpoint, it’s second to none. It’s one of the top destinations, as far as I know.”
Johnson says the “beauty of the place is everything else. It’s the people, it’s the mom-
and-pop shops, it’s the food.”
Kuchar said the island has a small-town feel to it.
“It feels like a bit of a throwback in time,” he said. “You feel OK to let the kids ride their bikes down the street.”
Johnson said he felt much the same.
“It’s a small town, which we like,” he said. “The community has embraced us, too. I mean, we’re just part of the community. We’re athletes, but I don’t have to worry about where I go. I’m just part of the community like everybody else.”
Kuchar credits Love’s longtime presence for that.
“I think Davis kind of conditioned the island on how to treat and react to professional golfers that live down here,” he said. “He’s played such great golf for so many years it was just, ‘There’s Davis,’ and he was just one the regular guys. People would
congratulate him and then go about their business.”
ST. SIMONS ISLAND is part of what is known as the Golden Isles, which include Sea Island, Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons and Blythe Island. They are in Glynn County, where the only municipality is Brunswick. Because the Golden Isles are unincorporated, there are no population figures for each island, though St. Simons and Jekyll are the most populated.
Some players are listed as playing out of Sea Island by the PGA Tour, but they all live on St. Simons, which is much bigger than Sea Island.
“Technically, nobody lives
on Sea Island,” Love said. “We’re listed as Sea Island because the resort is called Sea Island.”
To get to Sea Island, Love said, “You go from Brunswick and cross a couple of bridges, and you’re on St. Simons. You go over one more little flat bridge, and you’re on Sea Island. It’s all kind of one.”
Even Little St. Simons is bigger than Sea Island, but it requires a boat to get there.
Because so many pros live on the island, they often play together and share airplane trips to and from tournaments. When English won the PGA Tour’s OHL Classic at Mayakoba, Mexico, in November, he shared a plane with Love and two other St. Simons golfers.
“He made us wait, but we didn’t mind,” Love said.
Do all the pros play together when they are off the same week?
“I wouldn’t say we have a regular game, but when everybody is in town, you might send out a text and get a game going,” English said.
Johnson and Byrd are such close friends that Johnson said they can help each other if they have a problem with their game.
Another reason for the influx of tour golfers is the PGA Tour’s McGladrey Classic, which debuted on St. Simons in 2010. Love is the “host” of the fall event, which offered full FedEx Cup points – and a Masters invitation – for the first time in 2013.
THOUGH KUCHAR says he thinks Love “was probably fine being the only guy down here,” Love says he is glad others followed his lead. “Uncle Davis” said the group of pros has helped him keep his competitive edge as he approaches his 50th birthday on April 13.
“It’s a great group, and they’ve had a great influence on me,” Love said. “I’ve got Zach and Jonathan and so many great guys around here to practice with.”
All of these advantages offset the fact that the players could be living about 80 miles down the road in Florida, where there is no state income tax.
“It’s amazing to me that we live an hour from the Florida border, an hour from zero state income tax, and everybody stays here and pays the 6 percent state income tax,” Kuchar said. “This place is really like nowhere else in the country.”
Howell said there is a “definite possibility” that he’ll move to St. Simons when his
children become school age.
“We spend probably eight to 10 weeks here,” he said. “We spend as much time here as we can.”
Another possibility some day is former PGA Championship winner David Toms.
“He came in, spent some time and joined a club (Frederica), and he’s here a lot now,”
Love said. “So, eventually, maybe we’ll suck him in.”