Located just south of Savannah, Ga., pushed up against the banks of the Ogeechee River and spread out across 1,800 acres, The Ford Plantation has come to be known as one of the finest private sporting clubs and residential communities in the country.
And this is no accident. Established in 1998, Ford is at the top of the list for those wanting centuries-old live oaks and classic southern elegance.
On any given day, and without a tee time, members can play the newly designed Pete Dye course, go horseback riding from Ford’s 22-stall equestrian center and then spend the afternoon with a fishing guide catching reds on the fly.
And that’s just the start.
What stands out at Ford, aside from its rich history that dates back to 1733 and acres of protected wetlands, is one person: Mike Womble, director of outdoor pursuits, who is the epitome of everything you want to experience at Ford.
Talk about a dream job, most days Womble is taking members fly fishing, kayaking, hunting or simply bird watching. Part naturalist, part outdoorsman and little bit brand ambassador thrown in, Womble is always up for anything. And even if you’ve never held a 9-wt rod or shot a custom shotgun before, it’s all about the adventure.
A Georgia native and wildlife specialist by trade, Womble is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the outdoors. Not only will he tell you the species of the fish caught, he’ll describe, in detail, its habitat and seasonal runs.
You don’t know whether to let it go or study it, but that’s Womble’s charm. His enthusiasm is infectious and it carries over to Ford’s members.
“He’s very outgoing and enjoys getting to know the members at Ford and their families,” said Jim Trolinger, a Ford Plantation member. “Mike is always happy to create a special excursion for any family members and their guests.”
There’s a culture of sport and an element of competition that exists at Ford. Every year Ford hosts the Silva Dolla Tarpon Tournament, one of the longest running fishing tournaments in the Lowcountry. Throughout the year there are member events that test their skills.
Of course, everyone wants something different and they want it now. That’s where the beauty of Womble and his staff come into play. Their adventurous spirit and flexible nature are both inspiring and encouraging, often turning a busy New York attorney into a glorified fishing fanatic. Even if for a few days.
“Each individual event we do is tailored to members’ needs … what they want and what they’re asking for,” Womble said.
On a normal day, Womble arrives by first light and gears up to take members and their guests out on the water or out in the fields. Ogeechee Outfitters is his office, and just so happens to be Ford’s own outfitter store. Here, there is everything from fishing gear to the latest outdoor clothing brands.
Womble often tells the story of a new member’s sons coming down to visit on college break. They wandered into Ogeechee Outfitters, started talking fishing and one thing led to another.
“The redfish were running, so I told them, ‘Hey, we’ll jump on a boat, run out, catch a few redfish and be back by dinner,'" Womble recalled.
“You can do that?”
“Yeah, you can do that.”
According to Womble, an hour and half later they were out on the Ogeechee pulling up 30-pound bull reds like it was Christmas.
For the adventuresome golfer, there is the Dye-designed Ford Plantation Golf Club, which was opened in the late 1980s. Around 2013, Ford’s membership figured it was time for something new — yes, they actually discussed overhauling a Dye course.
A year later, Dye personally oversaw the entire redesign of his own course.
Golf Digest and Golf Magazine went on to praise it one of the best new golf courses in America. The opening nine has a classic country club course feel with frustrating Pete Dye flair. The inward nine is an unbelievable links course that brings Ogeechee’s winds into play, so overall it plays like two different courses with plenty of options.
You know, just a typical day at Ford.
Patrick Rhyne has spent the last 20 years building luxury and private community brands across the United States, Mexico and Caribbean. He lives in Asheville, N.C.