If ever a community needed a 72-hole pick-me-up it was St. Simons Island. Just ask Mark Love, whose youthful eyes were framed by fatigue on Sunday as he slumped into his office chair deep within the confines of Sea Island Resort’s old “corn barn.”
“What does this mean to the community?” Love asks, echoing the question for clarity more so than effect. “For this community it’s been two long years of property value problems and not as many visitors. The uncertainty with everything that’s happening with the resort. So much negative press just adding to people’s burden. The event gave them something positive to focus on.”
What folks in these parts call “the current unpleasantries,” a genteel take on Sea Island Resort’s bankruptcy and impending sale on Monday in Atlanta to the highest bidder, have hung over this tony seaside enclave like a five-hole deficit to a hot-putting European.
Staggering debt and the real-estate collapse that accompanied the economic downturn are the ultimate culprits, but to those who grew up in the shadow of the southern staple it may as well have been a malice-filled hit-and-run on a dark country road.
For Davis Love III, Sea Island’s slide has been particularly personal. Love’s father, Davis Jr., was hired in 1978 to be the resort’s head pro and the day DLIII left North Carolina for the play-for-pay circuit then-owner Bill Jones III signed him to an endorsement deal. “When I got to Q-School I had three shirts and a bag, all of them had Sea Island on them,” he said.
Love owns a house on the far side of St. Simons Island, redesigned one of the resort’s courses and is a member of the company’s board of directors. So for the 20-time Tour winner the “unpleasantries” went well beyond headlines and hearsay.
“Somebody's going to buy a diamond for a cheap price and they're going to polish it up and have something worth a lot of money down the road,” Love said of Monday’s auction. “Really the only loser in this is the (Jones) family.”
On Thursday before Love teed off in the inaugural McGladrey Classic Jones wished him well on the practice tee. It was an emotional moment for both men.
“It’s hard,” Love said. “Everything that’s going on here is hard for me and Bill.
“Bill always wanted bigger and better tournaments and to be able to do that for him, it was awful nice to see.”
It’s a truth that at least partially explains why a player still a few years shy of his competitive twilight with a looming Ryder Cup captaincy and a litany of business interests so zealously took on the role of tournament host.
Nine months ago the Tour hurriedly announced the addition of the McGladrey Classic to the fall schedule and from that moment Team Love was on the clock. And it’s little surprise to anyone with a passing knowledge of Love’s Type A personality that he wanted Quail Hollow on a fraction of the budget and a fast-approaching deadline.
But he delivered for a community mired in what at times has felt like a standing 10-count, and perfect weather and a solid field by Fall Series standards proved to be the perfect respite even if it was for just 72 holes.
For Mark Love, Davis’ brother and the McGladrey Classic’s executive director, the ultimate compliments came from the fraternity brothers.
“This feels like Quail Hollow (Championship) the way they take care of players and caddies,” one Tour player told Love.
Charles Howell III, who put a scare into tournament officials when he closed with a 62, used the occasion to soap box Augusta National, of all places.
“Somehow (Fall Series events) got classified with an invisible asterisk besides them,” Howell said. “If you win some of these tournaments, you should get in the Masters. How you can make a decision where if a guy wins a Fall Series event he's not in the Masters? I don't understand that. You look at the field we have this week. Sometimes decisions like that are made that aren't the best decisions.”
Had the powers that be at Augusta been on site this week they would have seen valets, for players and caddies, near-perfect course conditions and an attention to detail that felt more mid-major than post-Tour Championship.
Not that Love was content with his first at-bat as a host. After signing for his final-round 72 he began running through a post-op “to do” list.
“We need to put a path between the (18th) green and the scoring area. I’d like to see a first-cut of rough. We can do better,” the perfectionist reasoned before pausing to enjoy the moment.
Sunday’s chamber of commerce skies belied Monday’s impending storm in Atlanta, providing a temporary escape for those who have all at once dreaded and dearly needed the “unpleasantries” to be completed. The new owners may embrace the time-honored status quo of Sea Island, as many hope they will, but without Jones there is no escaping the notion that an era has ended.
“It’s a very strange coincidence,” Mark Love observed. “It puts a strange feel to today, but it also kind of served to keep people’s minds off of what is happening.”
The collective procrastination culminated in an awards ceremony during which Davis Love, running on fumes following last week’s Ryder Cup and this week’s hosting duties, offered heartfelt gratitude to Jones and his family.
For one sunny snapshot, St. Simons Island was smiling again before everything changes on Monday.