by Karen Rubin
by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate
The King & Prince on St. Simons Island among Georgia’s fabled Golden Isles is a resort with all the delights one can imagine to draw generations of families, honeymooners, empty-nesters and golf enthusiasts. A member of Historic Hotels of America, what makes the King & Prince so special is its connection to St Simons Island and the history of the Georgia coast – in fact, the America’s colonial past and the Civil War.
Indeed, each of the 235 members of Historic Hotels of America is unique, with its own special history, personality and character. Each has a special connection to place as well as events and people. These are so much more than mere buildings, structures and rooms. They embody the spirit and lore. These properties keep – and tell – the stories of the people and place – and as a result, you feel a connection to the generations who have stayed here before – and you come away from this step back into time realizing that people then are not so different from people today. That is very humbling. And while they are all distinct and different – some are grand and luxurious and some are modest inns – I have always come away with a very special experience (800-678-8946, historichotels.org).
The King & Prince resort’s storied past dates back to 1935, beginning with Frank Horn and Morgan Wynn founding their own private club after being thrown out of the Sea Island Club for being practical jokers and troublemakers. They built their club as a gambling, drinking, dancing destination. Mysteriously, their club burned down within a matter of months of opening. They rebuilt and opened again and that building, too, was burned down. But the third time was the charm.
View slideshow: King & Prince Resort on St. Simons in Georgia’s Golden Isles
Every owner of a historic property adds to the story, and also takes on the responsibility (most say it is a love) of caretaker, steward, guiding and nurturing the hotel for future generations. The Sturdivant family of Mississippi bought the King & Prince in the 1970s and turned the King and Prince into the jewel of their company, MMI Hospitality.
Over the last 10 years, they have invested $15 million in renovations to the golf, lobby, pool and rooms: the Historic Building was renovated and restored in 2003; the Oceanfront Building rooms where we stay were renovated from 2007-9; the golf course was done in 2009,the pool complex redone in 2012, and even during our visit, they were putting finishing touches on the renovation to the ballrooms, front desk and executive offices.
The renovation has preserved what is so special about the King & Prince. For example, the ballroom, which overlooks the water and is so popular for destination weddings and special events, has these utterly exquisite stained glass windows, each that meticulously tell a story.
All the windows but the north wall were installed in 1938 and designed by High Point Glass and Decorative Company from High Point, NC. Three additional arches were discovered on the north wall during renovations in 1983. Three new stained glass windows were designed by the son of the original artist.
The Historic Building also has specialty accommodations including oceanfront suites, Tower rooms, and Cabana rooms (my favorite) with oceanfront parlors and patios (I vow when I return this is where I will stay).
The resort is its own village, with several different buildings offering a combined total of 194 rooms.
There is also the Oleander Building with spacious rooms each with its own balcony and ocean view; and Beach Villas with two and three-bedroom accommodations and full kitchens, living areas and patios or balconies; and Resort Residences which are quaint one-bedroom beach cottages and private homes with up to five bedrooms.
Our room in the Oceanfront Building has a refreshing nautical color palette of blue and white, and when we open the balcony door, the sea breezes flush through. We overlook the newly redone pool complex (stunning) and the lush landscaping, palm trees, the beach and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
Within minutes of gazing out to the water, I see a pod of dolphins swimming by.
Exploring the King & Prince
The King & Prince resort offers today’s vacation goers what resorts have always offered previous generations: rest and respite, a place to be together, updated to be sure to for modern tastes. But then again, the resort was modern in its day.
In this age when time seems to be sped up so much, these historic hotels have a timelessness that makes you feel as if time stops when you walk through. You take a breath as you cross the threshold, like a “zen” aura.
This is what I hoped for – and found – as I explored the King and Prince, but what I had not ever known was how historically significant St. Simons Island was.
And while there is plenty to do at the resort – especially playing its championship golf course – it is also the base from which to explore, preferably by bicycle, this interesting island.
I am off to explore.
A focal point for the resort is the oceanfront pool complex, which was completely redone for the resort’s 77th birthday. It is absolutely exquisite, with three different pools, lush landscaping, dramatic lighting at night, and a new Ocean Terrace Grille lets you dine amid the magnificent ambiance.
There is a family-friendly wading pool with water features, shaded areas and castle-building space; a lagoon-style pool with underwater benches and deck-jets; a formal relaxation pool with chaises, umbrellas; and an oceanfront deck where you can lounge.
I’m loving the name they have given to the historic beach cottage where they offer spa treatments, The Royal Treatment Cottage. The quaint cottage is designed for relaxation, with a fireside relaxation lounge, changing cabanas, and quiet treatment rooms. The focus at The Royal Treatment Cottage is on massage therapies and treatments, both traditional and customized – Swedish, aromatherapy, reflexology, sport-specific, side-by-side for couples, and custom therapies. Massage appointments at The Royal Treatment Cottage are available daily (based on availability) and require advanced reservations. (Click for a complete listing of services, 912.638.3631, ext 5690.
There are also tennis courts and a tennis pro on property.
I head for the beach, the best place to completely decompress as you walk.
By now it is sunset, the colors changing the landscape so dramatically moment by moment.
I walk back along a small promenade that goes in front of the beachfront cottages, where there are delightful swing chairs.
We head to dinner at The King’s Tavern Restaurant as couples arrive, every woman in a red dress, for a special ball in the ballroom.
The King’s Tavern Restaurant
The King’s Tavern Restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, offers a perfect atmosphere: very colonial, with a fireplace and wood paneling. Here you delight in Southern coastal cuisine while enjoying the breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean through a gorgeous oval picture window.
The dinner selections this evening include baby spinach and artichoke salmon; Atlantic salmon; Angus beef rib eye, 12 oz ; New Zealand rack lamb loin); Surf & turf, Crab legs. They offer a special where you can get all you can eat crabs legs, served on an enormous plate; there is also a prime rib special that is superb.
We thoroughly enjoyed the tomato/mozzarella appetizer and the crab-shrimp bisque was sensational, a perfect texture and flavor.
For dessert, we enjoyed the Granny smith caramel apple pie, key lime pie. Other popular selections: the Southern bourbon peace pie; triple chocolate cheese cake.
We start our day with the Southern Breakfast Buffet that includes King and Prince Muffins, Omelettes Made-to-Order, Belgian Waffles, Cheese Grits, Sizzling Bacon, Sausage Patties, Biscuits & Gravy, Fresh Fruit, Pastries, and much more. There is also an a la carte menu. Offering a delicious selection of fresh local delights, dine ocean side while choosing from chef inspired soups, salads, and sandwiches, or try the signature Shellfish Spaghetti.
The King and Prince was in the midst of transitioning to a new Executive chef, Jason Brumfiel, who had been at the Cloister Hotel on Sea Island. He brings a farm-fresh-to-the-table orientation and a focus on healthy dining experiences.
At The King and Prince, Jason is creating dishes with an elegant yet delicate hand. He uses his knowledge of global cuisine and ingredients to add an exciting twist to Southern culinary traditions that have been the Resort’s signature for nearly eighty years.
The pool menu is being enhanced with more healthy options as well as grab-and-go salads, wraps, Gazpacho, Mediterranean selections, but there will still be burgers and fries (you have to).
King & Prince Golf Course
In the morning, we get to experience one of the unique attractions of the King & Prince – its championship golf course.
The King & Prince Golf Course is on the north side of St Simons, about a 30-minute drive along the 16-mile long historic Frederica Road from the resort on the southeast corner of the island.
It is one of the most beautiful courses I have ever played on.
Unlike tennis, where the environment and atmosphere play hardly any part, golf courses are unique settings, and the King & Prince is an outstanding golf destination. It is no surprise that Golf Digest Magazine featured the King & Prince among its “36 Best Buddies Trip Destinations” – and I have to believe that is because the course isn’t just great for golf, it is a destination you want to experience.
The King and Prince is designed to wind among the ancient oaks (you can spot an eagle’s nest at the 13th hole), vast salt marshes, and dramatic island holes (see for yourself: you can actually take a 3_D, hole-by-hole flyover of all 18 holes online, www.kingandpricecome/golf.php).
Originally designed by architect Joe Lee, the 18-hole, par 72 course is renowned for a group of four spectacular signature holes on the back nine, carved from the marsh “islands” and accessed by 800-feet of elevated cart bridges.
The championship course underwent a $3.6 million renovation in 2009, improving play and the golf experience.
“Our long awaited golf course renovation now features Mini-Verde greens, 60-inches of Tif sport collars, Celebration tees, roughs and fairways – and our traps are wrapped in Emerald Zoysia,” said Rick Mattox, Golf Club Manager “We’re the only course in our region with these types of grass and our golfers are amazed at the fantastic course transformation.”
Each green has four different grasses – so it looks lush, and enhances the playing experience.
What I find particularly striking is that instead of “men’s” and “women’s” tees, they have five different tees, so you don’t have to be self-conscious about your play, and you can enjoy playing more. Beginners (and occasional golfers like me), can avoid the frustration of attempting to hit over water and marsh (and spend more time enjoying the serenity of the view!).
Golf is social, but it is a game you play against yourself. Here, you really do get the peace, the zen aspects of golf.
I was surprised to learn that it also is one of the most affordable golfing experiences for a course of its quality – astonishing: King & Prince guests play for $79 (and there are golf packages that include balls, carts, multi-day); walk-ups are invited ($115) (Tip: everyone wants to play in the morning so it is easiest to get time in the afternoon).
The Hampton Grill is a lovely restaurant in the clubhouse – more like a parlor than a restaurant. Its famous for its chicken salad (they’ve been making it the same way for 24 years) and seasoned fries. The prices are actually very reasonable – Caesar salad $6.75, Asian chicken salad, $8.75, burger $7.75, sandwiches $5.75-9.75.
A Resort with a Storied Past
I get back to the King & Prince in time to hop on the Lighthouse Trolleys Tour, which appropriately starts for me with a history of the King & Prince.
The King and Prince originally opened in 1935 as a private club – that everyone seems to agree upon. But there are several versions of the origin of its name. One version is that its owners, Frank Horn and Morgan Wynn, two “cut-ups,” practical jokers, and basically troublemakers, opened their own private club after being thrown out of the Sea Island Club. The name was derogatorily applied to suggest their self-importance and the fact that one was tall and the other stocky; another version is that the name “befitted its regal atmosphere.” (I have my own notion that the name came because of there was a landowning family, King, who owned one of the largest plantations, Retreat Plantation.)
They built their club for gambling, dancing and drinking – and had pavilions. But just three months after opening, a fire, attributed to arson, destroyed the Club. Two months later, the rebuilt King and Prince Club reopened with the Mediterranean architecture. That, too, was burned down and they rebuilt again.
At the onset of World War II, radar was in fledgling years. It was developed first in England but the technology was brought here to St. Simons for further research and development of enhanced radar. A top-secret project, St. Simons was selected as a radar research facility because of the island’s isolation from the mainland. The government took over the King & Prince was taken over by the government as a naval training facility and a radar station.
The Lighthouse Trolleys tour is fascinating (more to come); 912-638-3333, www.lighthousetrolleys.com), and shows off many places I come back and visit in more depth – plenty to fill out a week’s holiday: the St. Simons Island Lighthouse (which you can climb; this one dates from 1872) and Maritime museum and AW Jones Heritage Center (saintsimonslighthouse.org), and Neptune Park Pier village (the waterfront park is marvelous and there is a new Fun Zone playground), which is a block-long “downtown” of shops and restaurants (the island has more than 20 galleries and antique shops); the St Simons Island Island Playhouse theater and Library, historic sites including Bloody Marsh, Christ Church (dating from 1884, has a Tiffany stained glass window, and cemetery that is absolutely fascinating, (christchurchfrederica.org), and most fascinating of all, Ft. Frederica National Monument, where you can see ongoing archeology of the colonial-era community (nps.gov/fofr).
My favorite way to get around is also a major activity here: biking.
There is a bike-rental shop, Ocean-Motion, a short walk from the King & Prince, and miles and miles of paved paths around the island; Ocean-Motion also organizes kayak nature tours (1300 Ocean BlvdSt. Simons, 912-638-5225, 800-669-5215).
And we are off to explore the island (see next).
St. Simons Island is one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, a popular resort playground lying midway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida, offering a mix of natural beauty, rich history and quaint charm, and year-round pleasant weather.
The King and Prince offers guests a complete resort experience, including beachfront activities to horseback riding, tennis, biking and fishing. A variety of tours are available that provide samplings of the area’s history and culture, whether by foot, bike, trolley or boat.
High season is from Memorial Day Weekend through mid-August, with a bump around spring break, mid-March through mid-April. Low season is from the week after Thanksgiving through mid-February. Check the website for a host of packages and specials.
The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort, 201 Arnold Road, St. Simons Island, GA 31522
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