The golf club community on the outskirts of Savannah, Ga., undergoes an evolution that capitalizes on one of golf’s most iconic names
Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories that look at golf club communities and the trends that are helping to drive their success.
SKIDAWAY ISLAND, Ga. — Showcasing six championship courses on this barrier island just a short commute from Savannah, The Landings appears to be the consummate private golf club community.
In fact, The Landings still holds the distinction of being one of the largest single-site, residential golf communities in America, and one of the rare places with a pair of Arnold Palmer-designed layouts. But 46 years after Palmer's Marshwood Course opened, this coastal community is evolving into a place that represents more than just golf — evident by the June 2 opening of the new Marshwood clubhouse highlighted by the guest appearance of PGA Tour player Sam Saunders.
Indeed, fueled by the club’s ambitious $26 million capital improvement plan that transformed three clubhouse campuses in the last three years, The Landings is nothing like its former self. In many respects, now that the member-owned club features a collection of new family-friendly aquatic complexes and unique food-and-beverage amenities, The Landings is now the quintessential private club of the future.
One of the biggest trends unfolding throughout America’s private golf and country club landscape is the move toward more distinctive dining venues, or branded food-and-beverage experiences. In the case of The Landings, two of the more exciting reimagined venues are Palmer’s Steakhouse and Arnie’s Tavern at Marshwood, which Saunders helped unveil on behalf of his iconic grandfather, Arnold Palmer.
For Landings Club executive director Steven Freund, the casual Arnie’s Tavern, or “19th hole,” adjacent to the club’s expanded pro shop, and the signature Palmer’s Steakhouse in the adjoining main dining room, couldn’t come at a better time. Palmer designed the original Marshwood in 1974 and opened the Magnolia Course In 1977, putting Skidaway Island on the minds of many northerners seeking warmer lifestyles in the Southeast. In addition to Palmer's designs, The Landings features four other courses developed by Willard Byrd, Tom Fazio and two by Arthur Hills.
“Mr. Palmer was an integral part of the promotion of the community or putting it on the map because he designed the first two courses,” Freund said. “Yet, when I arrived here, the one thing that was glaringly absent was any reference to Mr. Palmer, except for the road (Palmers Draw) entering the campus. … That was it. There wasn’t a picture; there wasn’t a room; nothing that drew attention and recognized his contribution. We neglected that part of our club’s history."
In other words, this golf community of some 4,400 resident members is finally getting a clubhouse fit for a King. Of course, the town of La Quinta, Calif., has the distinction of having the first branded Palmer restaurant, “Arnold Palmer’s Restaurant,” which opened in 2004 and Palmer co-owned about a mile from his former winter home at the Tradition Golf Club.
Now, members of The Landings Club can enjoy Palmer’s spirit and some of his favorite meals such as chicken pot pie and homemade meatloaf at Arnie’s Tavern. For beverages, members and guests can savor one of Palmer’s signature drinks: the “Bay Hill Hummer,” a frozen concoction of Haagen Daaz vanilla ice cream, brandy, Ketel One and dark crème de cacao.
Freund said Howard Kuo, whose Atlanta-based Kuo Diedrich Chi architectural group was the visionary team behind the Landings’ multi-year capital improvement projects, was the person who connected the Palmer family to the Marshwood clubhouse project. After various meetings with principals at Arnold Palmer Enterprises and visiting Palmer’s longtime Florida home, Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, the Landings got the Palmer group’s branding blessing and support to use an assortment of Palmer-inspired likenesses/photos.
For instance, one of the things Kuo designed for Arnie’s Tavern are bar lights designed in the shape of miniature umbrellas, the iconic symbol of the Arnold Palmer brand. Kuo is excited about the style of this casual venue because this is where he got to have fun with the “throwback theme,” highlighting black and white imagery from the “strapping younger Palmer” when he used to fly jets and smoke cigarettes.
Meanwhile, Arnie’s Steakhouse reflects a more elevated level of decorum, according to Freund, something that honors the traditions and timelessness of private clubs. For example, members will experience a white table-cloth environment with special glass settings, silverware and china. To further set the mood of this "warmer" setting, Kuo utilized more “colorful pictures of Arnie, perhaps from his later years in life."
Kuo is excited about the style of this venue because this is where he got to have fun with the “throwback theme,” highlighting black and white imagery from the “strapping younger Palmer” when he used to fly jets and smoke cigarettes.
“Everything we’re doing, all the way down to the design, décor, menus and lighted glass things are basically creating an homage to Mr. Palmer,” Kuo said. “And trying to link him to the work and his impact at the Landings.”
For the Palmer brand, it just might serve as a new commercial business opportunity.
“We want everyone to benefit from this relationship,” Freund said, “and continue to perpetuate the great name and legacy of Mr. Palmer.”
Leave it up to a person like Freund, who previously worked for the Ritz-Carlton brand, to lead this transformation that encompasses destination dining and top-notch aquatic and wellness facilities one would expect at world-class resorts.
“I was fortunate that I came to the Landings with no club experience except from a user’s perspective,” Freund said. “I came from hotels and resorts, so I think I looked at the club with fresh eyes. What I saw is we had four full-service clubhouses and restaurants with a similar identity.
“They were all serving a pasta and a steak, and piece of fish and a burger. But there was nothing to distinguish them from one another. I thought that was crazy because what I witnessed was members might come once a week (to eat), but the rest of the week they were streaming off the island to go to restaurants with identity (in nearby Savannah).”
When the new Marshwood clubhouse was officially unveiled during a subdued pandemic ceremony with a couple dozen members in attendance, Saunders seemed to be genuinely excited about the newly minted Palmer-branded venues.
“I have to tell you this is something my grandfather would be incredibly proud to see what you’ve done here,” Saunders said. "Not only to take the effort to enhance your club and make a huge commitment to the future of this place, but to have his name re-associated with it and rebranded with it. To honor his memory for what he did here, I know it would mean the world to him.”
Saunders, who plans to play the Korn Ferry Tour's Savannah Golf Championship when the Landings plays host to the event in September on the Deer Creek Course, went on to say: “Palmer’s Steakhouse looks pretty good. I might have to come back and have a meal.”
Freund then turned to him and said with a smile, “We can arrange that.” And probably throw in a few refreshing Arnold Palmers as well.
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