A trip to the PGA Tour's final official event of 2019 was an eye-opening experience—in a good way
There’s a rule on the PGA Tour that states if a regular member plays fewer than 25 tournaments in a season, he has to add an event to his schedule he hasn’t played the prior four seasons. Perhaps, this should be a requirement of golf writers as well.
Tasked with covering a fall event for the first time, I felt a bit like those tour pros trying to round out my schedule—save for the fact I wouldn’t be attending one with the chance of earning a fat check. I wound up choosing the RSM Classic, because, well, honestly, the other options were gobbled up by a colleague. But upon arriving at Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons Island, Ga., it didn’t take long to realize I had lucked out in terms of a work assignment. I soon began taking (bad) photos with my phone to document my experience covering the final official PGA Tour event of the year (and decade!). Here’s what I saw.
At approximately 12 miles long and three miles across at its widest point, St. Simons Island is about the size of Manhattan. Of course, you wouldn't compare the two in terms of hustle and bustle, with the latter having a population of 13,000. Yet, I wouldn’t call it a sleepy seaside town, either. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of restaurants and shops the area boasted. There was no Chili's, but I survived. And while I’m not a seafood guy, I spent five days feasting on BBQ and fried chicken:
And washing down those hearty meals with glorious chocolate milkshakes from a great spot called Frosty’s:
With a name like that, how could it not be great? Seriously, St. Simons might have more ice cream spots per capita than anywhere in the world. To avoid being a total pig, I would enjoy my decadent dessert while walking the town's streets, hoping to burn off at least 10 percent of the calories I was consuming. Because of work—yes, I did something other than stuff my face—and early sunsets, those walks took place in the dark, but the 60-degree temps made these jaunts quite comfortable. I came to really enjoy this “quaint” spot, although I’m guessing this isn’t the area’s official slogan:
Admittedly, my five nights in the Golden Isles don’t make me an expert on the region, but the place seems a lot more innocent than that. Kids get ice cream and hang out at the St. Simons Island Pier:
Or walk to the Neptune Beach Mini-Golf, which sits in the shadow of the island’s scenic lighthouse:
Residents are often seen driving around in golf carts:
And heard discussing the Bulldogs’ national championship chances:
And while there’s no Magnolia Lane, there is a Magnolia Avenue:
The tournament itself was quaint compared to the bigger events I’ve been fortunate to cover. And I mean that in the nicest way possible. Fans ride bikes onto the grounds:
And there’s quite the juxtaposition between present and past all over the grounds:
Those are remains from Retreat Plantation on the left. More specifically, those are tabby ruins, a term for the oyster shell-based concrete used to build these old structures. Look, mom and dad, I learned something while I was down here as well!
In addition to typical overpriced tournament merch, fans can buy boats and golf carts. Which makes a lot more sense after seeing golf carts cruising the streets like cabs in New York City.
Other sights include this mini lighthouse:
And this giant capsized cargo ship!
OK, so that’s not usually there. But the Golden Ray was by far the most photographed subject of the week, providing a unique backdrop to the PGA Tour pros cruising around Sea Island Golf Club. And unlike at a major, where seeing the action, let alone walking the course, can be difficult, fans here almost always had a front-row view of the action (Oh, and shorter port-a-potty lines):
In essence, star power was swapped for quality star gazing. In fact, other than following the final group on Sunday, I felt silly utilizing my inside-the-ropes pass. Speaking of doing my job, not that you care, the laid-back vibe and lack of media relative to the big events, made things much easier. With no media shuttle necessary, I had easy access to the course and even better access to the players. Covering a Tyler Duncan/RSM Classic win didn't quite get the juices flowing like seeing Tiger Woods win the Masters a couple hundred miles north in April, but it had its own charm. Speaking of flowing, how about the never-ending supply of what my uncle calls "the champagne of the South"?
And the media center was actually a building, not some giant, soulless, freezing tent like those that pop up at majors. Heck, it even doubled as the interview room:
Talk about convenient! Truth be told, I was also a big fan of the more compact days that allowed me to complete my work earlier than expected and actually eat dinner (and dessert) at a reasonable hour. Although the lack of daylight kept me from enjoying the beach directly behind where I stayed:
Maybe another time. Hmm ... On second thought, forget what I said about golf writers being required to cover a new tournament every year. Next year, I think I'd rather just come back here again.