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Nothing to Do—but Enjoy Yourself

At 41 years of age Charles Wilson Doughtie is an exuberant, cultivated man who has a wife and five children, a protean and spacious zest for living and, for the time being anyway, no job. A year ago he had a paid-for house in New Canaan, Conn., was working for a major Madison Avenue advertising agency (as creative supervisor he was responsible for such snappers as "Bring out the best in bourbon—bring out the Bellows"), had an income of $35,000 and, by calculations he enjoys retailing, a vested interest in the New Haven Railroad, on whose commuter trains he had sat for an elapsed time of 2½ years, or, in mileage, the equivalent of 16 times around the earth. Suddenly, sizing up these facts and figures as ridiculous propositions, he chucked his job, sold the house and moved his family to a piece of South Carolina real estate named Hilton Head Island, which, in recent years, has been reclaimed from swamps and boll weevils looking for a home. The site Doughtie found and bought (for $9,000) faces the Atlantic Ocean and lies within an area on the island called Sea Pines Plantation. For settling there, Doughtie's friends said right out loud that he had lost his mind. He replied that if he's crazy it is only to the extent that he waited so long to make his break with civilization.

Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head Island is a housing development, although one manifestly distinct from the developments commonly seen nowadays. The island is a strikingly comely parcel of land (see map page 58) lying a few leagues off the Carolina mainland about 30 miles north of Savannah, Ga. At Sea Pines the ocean pounds against four miles of pearl-gray, slate-smooth sand; live oaks, Sabal palms and magnolias sough soulfully in the forests; a golf course makes its way lazily over lagoons and through the woods; roads, with no place to go, go placidly; and the birds make music all the day. The climate is subtropical (53.4° is the wintertime average) and, for the young, the middle-aged and the retired, the rich and not rich, who live there, there is nothing much to do but enjoy yourself—your work as well as your leisure. These people have, accordingly, found what more and more Americans now seem to be seeking: an escape from overpopulated, over-mechanized, overregimented urban and suburban centers. They have found not only a place to live but, in the bargain, a place to play golf, fish and sail, swim, ride horseback, even pick oysters and hunt—and all just around the neighborhood corner.

Such leisure-oriented communities as Sea Pines, or recreational land developments, as they are called, are flourishing like green stamps and are being opened up on both coasts and in between. Different in particulars, they share in generalities. They are not the fashionable, financially and socially exclusive Newports and Tuxedo Parks of 60 years ago or the Sea Islands that developed in the 1920s. And they are not merely bedroom communities with a neighborhood gym, or impersonal resorts to be visited on the fly. Ideally, the new leisure communities strive to capture the best of suburb and resort, and, for those succeeding, the future looks like the kind that will send the developers themselves off to early retirement.

The safest risks, perhaps, are those communities convenient to cities—where the homeowner can pretty nearly have his cake and eat it. The more isolated developments, like Sea Pines, anticipate the day when shock waves of the population explosion will engulf them. Meanwhile, they depend on hard-sell promotion to tap the booming growth of Americans' discretionary or disposable income—that income not specifically tagged for the necessities of food, clothing and shelter. By 1970, market research predictions run, Americans will earn as much disposable income as they spent altogether eight years ago. And 80% of this throw-away money will be earned by people making $10,000 and up—precisely the sports-prone people Sea Pines and similar developments are after. These upper-income families who once bought a second car can even now afford a second boat beside their second house.

Such people are moving into communities like these: Marin Bay—Consisting of almost 2,300 handsomely turned out acres of shoreland and wooded hills, this community sits on a spit of land in San Pablo Bay about 30 minutes by car north of San Francisco. The salubrious life here will revolve around golf (with homesites on the fairway borders), swimming, boating, fishing, riding and country club activities. The architecture of the homes (80 are built) is controlled by the developers to assure that it is "consonant with the beauty of the land," which no PR man has to say is socko. Because of the proximity of San Francisco and Oakland, it ought to be a simple matter for commuters to live here, and to afford the land that ranges from $9,000 to $35,000 per lot. Lou Perini, part-owner of the Milwaukee Braves, is co-developer of Marin Bay.

Ginger Creek—All townsfolk dream of living in the country, claim the developers of this village off in one corner of Paul Butler's mammoth, $200 million Oak Brook development outside Chicago (SI, Oct. 22). However, only 181 country-dreaming families can be accommodated in Ginger Creek ("It was planned that way to preserve the natural tranquillity," says a brochure) and so far 42 have bought lots and 20 homes are built or are abuilding. Ginger Creek, a leisure community within the pulsing Oak Brook complex of play and profit, can offer residents three golf courses, a private airport, fox hunting and game shooting, water sports and, should the demand arise, 14 polo fields. Chicago's Loop, where the money is, is 20 minutes away. New Seabury—The developers of this community on the south shore of Cape Cod are so determined to preserve the natural good looks of their holdings that contractors are fined $100 per caliper inch for the first tree they maim or kill and are fired outright for the second. There are 16 miles of waterfront, plus forests, cranberry bogs, salt marshes and wildlife sanctuaries in the 3,000-acre community between Falmouth and Hyannis, now in its second year of development. Sixty-five lots have been sold at New Seabury and 10 houses built. The pitch here is to 16,000 Americans "who don't want to join the herd, but who don't want to become hermits, either," and planned for those who qualify are two golf courses, four beach clubs, "Woodland Walkways" and an inland waterway gas-lighted for nighttime sailors. Not wishing to become all things to all men, New Seabury talks of separate villages, with characteristics and recreation facilities of their own.

Laguna Niguel—The idea behind this huge development—virtually a city—45 miles south of Los Angeles, was of a community that a person would never have to leave to find recreation. Laguna Niguel, when fully developed, will have lake boating, ocean swimming, golf, horseback riding, tennis and hiking trails. Ultimately, the company hopes, the number of people who will avail themselves of these facilities will come to 30,000. Architectural controls are applied to all housing, and costs cover a wide latitude of middle and upper incomes. Because of its size and location (a freeway whistles along one side and a six-lane road will run through the heart of the project), Laguna Niguel is not exactly a sheltered retreat, but then we're talking a bout southern California, a contradiction of the term.

The Sea Pines development is second to none of these. The 5,200 acres that comprise it are situated on shoe-shaped Hilton Head from the southerly toe up to the bottom laces. A city of comparable size, Trenton, N.J., say, might squeeze in as many as 115,000 residents, but Sea Pines, under current plans, will limit itself to 1,200 homes. Building lots face the ocean or a backside bay, the golf course fairways or, through a shield of forest, one another and range from $2,500 to $11,000 with an average cost of $4,500. Total value, at today's selling prices, comes to $7½ million. So far (Sea Pines is barely five years old), 400 lots have been sold to 300 owners from 31 states and seven countries. Seventy-four homes, from year-round houses to vacation cottages, have been built on land that before was uninhabited and as feral as the deer still stalking it.

Charles Doughtie is not, of course, the sort you will spot behind every tree on Hilton Head Island—for the time being, anyway. It takes a bold man to uproot a seven-member family and forswear the big city's profits and pressures. But Doughtie, fairly overflowing in boldness, expects others to follow his example. "Those who stayed behind to laugh," says he, "are beginning to think I outsmarted them—which I did. When they make up their minds to move here, too, somebody's got to sell them the land, so it might as well be me." In the meantime, Doughtie and his wife Sallie have other plans. They soon will open a shop in Sea Pines where, "like Indians in blankets," they will sell books, antiques and paintings sent to them by Doughtie's advertising art director friends still shackled to their Madison Avenue drawing boards. Doughtie will also continue to write children's books; he has had three published already. "If once, just once, I begin to miss New York, I'll know I'm coming down with some tropical island bug," he says. "I've never had so much fun before in my life."

Others already at Sea Pines seem to share the Doughties' satisfaction. One Schenectady couple, for example, spent 10 years scouting Florida for a retirement home, decided to build on Hilton Head the first time they saw it. Another man, not about to retire (he's 27), has built a $60,000 home on the beach for weekends and vacations from his executive job in nearby Savannah. A third, aberrant when it comes to golf, lives in St. Paul, Minn. but is building a home facing a Sea Pines fairway. A fourth, a fisherman, lived in Boston, now has built a house in Sea Pines just yards from the ocean's edge. An artist, who left a family chemical business to move to the island to paint, says: "It was a frightening idea at first, but we have never regretted the decision since." One way the company hopes to prevent later regrets by Sea Pines homeowners is by screening prospective buyers for what it subjectively judges to be community compatibility. There are many people who don't care about passing such a test but, refreshingly, any considerations of conspicuous affluence and religion are given no weight by the Sea Pines management.

Hilton Head Island takes its name from one William Hilton, a 17th century English explorer—no kin to Conrad, but the present developers will pardon you for confusing the two. Hilton went back to England to report that on the island "the Ayr is clear and sweet, the countrey very pleasant and delightful, and we could wish that all they of our English Nation, who wish a happy settlement, were well transported thither," and his unabashed remarks are widely quoted by the Sea Pines Company, as you can imagine. But, of course, it was Indians who were first transported thither, followed by Spaniards, Frenchmen and even Yankee soldiers during the Civil War. A Sea Pines bird watcher with extraordinary peripheral vision frequently picks up the Indians' left-over arrowheads nowadays and ceremonial ruins, still visible, were built around 3,800 years ago.

The renaissance of Hilton Head began in 1950 when a syndicate of southern lumbermen bought the island and began to cut its stand of yellow pine. Supervising the shipping of the timber, destined for Norwegian shipwrights and African bridge builders, was Charles E. Fraser, the 21-year-old son of the syndicate head, Lieut. General Joseph Fraser, now a retired Army officer. Charles Fraser, 33 today, is a man of compact size and enormous mental energy, and it is he, chiefly, who has been responsible for building Sea Pines into a multimillion-dollar empire.

While working on his father's shipping docks, Fraser was between the University of Georgia and the Yale law school, which he entered that fall. In his free time he used to drive a logging tractor around the island to explore it—especially the south end, where the beaches, forests, marshes, creeks and lagoons crowd upon one another in romantic profusion.

"For years I had had a hobbyist's interest in architecture and land development," he says, "and it was easy to see Hilton Head had a lot of promise. For what, I wasn't really certain, but I did feel it was far too fine a place to be chopped up in a quick-buck, real estate operation. I thought it would be better to leave it alone entirely."

What Fraser proposed to do, then, was to come up with some sort of ideal answer, then sell the land to someone who would follow his ideas. By the time he got out of Yale, and a two-year hitch in the Air Force, he had a plan for a leisure-oriented community in mind and a buyer in hand: himself.

Says Fraser: "I made such a good case for the island's potential that I no longer felt like entrusting it to somebody else." Thus, in 1956, he bought 4,000 acres of Hilton Head from his father and his family for $600,000, later added 1,200 acres which he bought (for $1 million) from other syndicate members. He formed a corporation, Sea Pines Plantation Company, and was in business.

The master land development plan for Sea Pines is the work of Sasaki & Walker, a Massachusetts firm noted for its knowledge of optimum land use. The plan, in broadest terms, provided a layout that would permit as many as six rows (nonuniform rows, to be sure) of houses along the beaches, plus less dense concentrations of houses facing a golf course, the tidal creeks that will be dredged for small boats, and so on. Following the plan, main roads in the Sea Pines area are set well back from the beach, while short, dead-end access roads lead to the beachfront homes. The arrangement not only preserves the good looks of the beach but brings front-row (and back-row) houses nearer to the water and gives depth to property values. "There's less drop in prestige than there'd be if you had to cross the main road to get to the beach," says Fraser. "There's a psychological lift in being on the ocean side."

Because the main road does not run along the shoreline like a cartographer's tracing pen, says John Wade, an architect and land planner formerly with Sasaki & Walker and now with Sea Pines, there is no special pressure on front-lot builders to put up show places to be admired by passers-by. "The effect," says Wade, who has designed 60% of Sea Pines buildings, "is to give all the houses, whether near the water or farther back, a feeling of balance. You don't have a situation like you find in Palm Beach, where the showplaces on the beach—and the road—put to shame the houses behind them."

All Sea Pines home designs are carefully scrutinized by an architectural review board before they are built. Even the placement of some houses is dictated by company covenants; front-row beach houses, for example, must not block the view of second-row houses. The reasons for the covenants, of course, are not to create sameness and look-alike housing, but to ensure that durable, low maintenance materials are used, that strong foundations are built (hurricanes are not unknown along the Carolina coast), and that bad design or just plain ugliness does not pull down the values of adjacent sites. Except for minimum-size restrictions, cost of a proposed house, which on Hilton Head can run as low as $10 a square foot, is expressly outside the company's jurisdiction or interest. The homes already built vary in architecture but show consistent use of bleached swamp cypress and redwood siding, light-colored masonry foundations, large expanses of glass and breeze-ways and, overall, the stamp of contemporary design. Taken as a whole, the homes are as handsome and unobtrusive as the surroundings.

The purchase of lots has followed a predictable progression. Says Wade: "The first to sell were the most expensive ones, those on the beach side of the road, because of the view amenities. The next-highest demand is for golf course lots—recreational amenity. Then the community amenities will take over. The pioneers will be settled and the less adventurous will come because they can find the security of precedence."

Since the idea behind Sea Pines is recreation, and since to 5 million Americans the idea of recreation is golf, the company has built one of the finest courses on the Atlantic seaboard. Yet early in the area's development the golf course was not given particular thought. "We were all rank amateurs in the beginning," says John Wade. And, adds Charles Fraser, "We had in mind just something we could build houses around that would give us a year-round attraction and would give the duffers something to do." What changed that bland approach was the golf course architect, George W. Cobb, who was hired to design the Sea Pines course.

"Right off the bat," says Cobb, an expansive man who is also a consultant to the Augusta National course, "J told Charlie that a second-class golf course was the best way I could think of to create a second-class community. But a first-class course! Now that's what would bring the first-class golfers, the people with the first-class taste."

The course Architect Cobb was eventually allowed to build cost about $750,000. For professional reasons he will not say whether it is his proudest achievement, but it is the first course he has designed that his wife has walked over from one end to the other—"just because it's so beautiful." A good part of that beauty accrues quite naturally. Because of a quantity of marshes, swamps and lagoons on Hilton Head, much of the course is built upon drained and filled-in land. Consequently, relatively few trees had to be felled to clear fairways. The dense forests left as natural borders give the course, not yet two years old, an air of serene maturity and mellowness. The 304 highly desirable home-sites that line the fairways sell for an average $6,000.

Cobb and Fraser got so carried away with the native splendor of the golf course terrain, in fact, that on one fairway they extemporaneously created a dogleg in order to skirt around a monumental old magnolia tree, and in the process Fraser euchred himself out of a dozen already plotted building lots. "It's not the tactic most real estate salesmen might take," says Fraser, "but then that's one reason I didn't mind doing it."

Aside from the stunning expense, ($175,000), Fraser also did not mind giving the go-ahead, either, for the picturesque 15th green. This green sits high atop the filled-in mouth of an old lagoon and, from a distance, it appears poised to swan-dive into the ocean below. Since all new golf courses come with built-in inferiority complexes and are customarily compared to eminent predecessors, company men like to stand around gazing at the 15th green and asking solemnly if it doesn't remind you of California's Pebble Beach or of Scotland's St. Andrews.

Other lagoons, not filled in, meander through the course, and their earliest inhabitants, lethargic alligators, have been left to their private devices. The reptiles are water hazards of no importance, the company explains to new arrivals, with what it hopes is infectious casualness. The deep concern for senior-citizen magnolias, wildlife and damn-the-expense greens has practical aspects, too. As Fraser candidly points out, "the golf course we built would have been a financial folly except for the fact that we created about $2 million worth of fairway lots at the same time. On the other side of the coin, the same land would have been virtually unsalable without the golf course in front of it. It has turned out to be a rat her pleasant mutual accommodation." The ex-swamp golf course has given Sea Pines subtler benefits, too. It helps keep the William Hilton Inn, a resortish hostelry owned by the company to entice prospective buyers, in guests and in the black all year. And 2% of the guests come across with down payments. Finally, the course has brought in the shops and services that could not be established for the summer season alone.

As is true in many of the other recreational land developments, the conscientious attempt to leave much of the property unmolested has led Sea Pines to set aside 1,600 acres of interior forests as a wildlife refuge where residents in supervised parties may hunt deer, wild pigs, rabbits, quail, chukar and pheasants. There, in contrast to the bustle of building outside it, things are statically beautiful, smothered under tons of moss that hang like southern history, gray and forlorn, from the live oaks. In the refuge and elsewhere on Hilton Head some 240 species of birds come and go, and if you won't take the word of the local Audubon Society on that, they will supply you with a list and you can check it out yourself. Although the preserve has been permanently excluded from development plans, estates (at $1,500 an acre) are sold along one edge for those to whom the solitude amenities loom large.

The company quotes Naturalist Julian Huxley on the subject: "Wilderness lovers constitute a sizable minority—and also include a sizable portion of interesting characters and original thinkers. Wilderness is, in the long run, one of the major functions humanity demands from the surface of the earth."

This year Sea Pines will sell about the same number of lots as last year—for $850,000—and, emboldened by this momentum, the company will continue to push expansion plans that run 15 years ahead. Already three churches, on donated land, are beginning to rise, and next year the Sea Pines Beach and Golf Club will get under way. The club, to become the social nucleus of the community, will have guest rooms, an indoor-outdoor pool, tennis courts and a beauty shop. Near by, two-story cooperative apartments will be built. Off on the bay side of Sea Pines facing the inland waterway, the present marina will be enlarged and a yacht club ("with a lower-case Y," says Fraser), a landing strip and another golf course will be constructed. The company's list of improvements grows as fast as the community.

But however the development grows or changes, profit, says Fraser, must always be balanced against respect for the land. "Unspoiled tracts of land on the Atlantic seaboard will be used up by 1985," he says. "Owners should therefore develop them cautiously to preserve their natural beauty. Hindsight will be worthless because there won't be any place to start over."


Sea Pines Plantation covers the toe of shoe-shape Hilton Head Island. Homes have been built along the Atlantic Ocean, along the golf course fairways and upon Calibogue Cay beaches.
















Charles Fraser developed the wilderness of Sea Pines into a million-dollar community.