There’s More of Everything at The Landings

There’s more of everything at The Landings—more golf, more activities, more people—along with a more modest, small-town feel

6:30 pm.

It’s Pickleball League Night, and the parking lot is overflowing with cars and golf carts. Games are in swing on the 15 courts, with at least another 75 players watching, kibitzing, and teaming up for when it’s their turn. A short walk away is The Deck, an outdoor dining and drinking venue that overlooks the sprawling Family Pool Complex. But that’s for later: Right now, the air is thick with the distinctive “thock, thock” of ball against paddle, as well as cheering, laughing, and other sounds of adults at play.

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Marshwood

The residents of The Landings have taken to pickleball the way they do to everything else: With gusto. It helps that there are a lot of them. Some 9,000 people live in the 4,600-acre community that fills most of Skidaway Island, a barrier island minutes south of Savannah, Ga., thick with trees, dripping with Spanish moss, and crisscrossed by marsh and lagoons, some leading to the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean.

The hub of the action is The Landings Golf & Athletic Club, which offers so much to do that one of its 7,600 members refers to it as a “stationary cruise ship.” Along with the 15 pickleball courts, there are 31 tennis courts, nine restaurants, more than 160 social clubs and organizations, five pools, 30-plus miles of trails, a community garden, eight bocce courts, a 52,000-square-foot wellness/fitness center, and two deepwater marinas.

And six golf courses. The Landings is, first and foremost, about golf and the friendships it creates. Golfers, both male and female—the women’s golf association has 400 members—structure play around groups, which can be as small as a foursome or as many as they want, teeing it up with the same people often for years. Those same groups often hang together for meals, playing other games, enjoying a full calendar of events, even world-traveling. As was explained to me, “it’s about being with people you like.”

magnolia
Magnolia

Something else about these groups that members repeat like a mantra: “You can play with someone for years and never know what they did for a living.” No one cares about status, and money is only mentioned when settling bets. The lack of pretension and “glitz” is one of the top reasons people give for living here, up there with golf and proximity to historic and culture-rich Savannah.

“We have a very humble vision,” says Steven Freund, the club’s executive director. “We’re about developing meaningful friendships, not the size or look of your house. What’s important is that we’re friends and we enjoy each other’s company.”

8 am.

The sun is just coming up over the trees and there’s a chill in the air, but 20 guys are on the putting green at Terrapin Point. Most are in shorts, about half are walking with push carts, and they’re all talking at once. Not even on the first tee, the needling has begun.

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Terrapin Point

The Landings is divided into five “campuses”—Marshwood, Palmetto, Oakridge, Deer Creek, and Franklin Creek—each a separate neighborhood with its own amenities and, except for one, golf courses. Marshwood opened in 1974, making this the 50th-anniversary year of the property; the others followed over the next 25 years, and since then have seen extensive clubhouse renovations, the addition of new and improved structures and features, and, more recently, course upgrades and redesigns.

Originally designed by four different architects, the six layouts offer very different playing experiences despite the similarity of the Lowcountry environment, distinctions that are being enhanced by long-term renovation plans.

The six golf courses offer very different playing experiences despite the similarity of the Lowcountry environment, distinctions that are being enhanced by long-term renovation plans.

Marshwood and Magnolia, both by Arnold Palmer, play out of the Marshwood clubhouse; a recent reworking gave Magnolia—the only course without marsh views—more undulating greens, putting a premium on skill from inside 50 yards. Palmetto (Arthur Hills) and Terrapin Point (William Byrd) start at the Palmetto clubhouse and couldn’t be less alike: Terrapin is the narrowest off the tee and has straightforward green complexes, while Palmetto just reopened after Bill Bergin reangled many holes, bringing water into play and surrounding the large greens with steep fall-offs and tricky recoveries. Terrapin is slated for renovation in a few years with a number of big-name designers already offering ideas.

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Marshwood

Hills also laid out Oakridge, which has a little bit of everything, including stunning views of the water and a 200-year-old gravesite off the 15th hole. It’s next up for renovation. Deer Creek is vintage Tom Fazio, generous off the tee but demanding at the greens, finishing with risk/reward challenges along the marsh.

To ensure that golfers experience them all, the club employs a unique tee-time system called “the draw.” Using a proprietary app (which also lists events, takes reservations, and more), individuals and groups enter the time they want to play four days in advance and the software’s algorithm assigns the course. That way play is spread out and players see the six roughly equally during a season. When play thins out in the afternoon, golfers can drop in wherever they like.

Most residents have their own golf carts, some of which are tricked out with coolers and other appliances. “There is no beverage girl. I’m the beverage guy,” one member says, his ride packed with sips and snacks. And with most of the roads on the island cart-friendly, no trip is more than 15 or 20 minutes.

That proximity also means few clubhouses have bag drop areas, shoe attendants, or locker rooms: Your garage is your locker room and golfers show up ready to play. They still order the traditional after-round beer, but lunch service tends to be quick and casual hot dogs, grab-and-go sandwiches—since home is close by.

The Landings
Deer Creek

The club runs more than 200 golf events a year, but one of the most popular attracts large numbers not as participants but as spectators and volunteers: The Korn Ferry Tour’s Club Car Championship has been played on Deer Creek since 2018 and will be shown on Golf Channel for the first time in 2024. Held the week before the Masters, it draws crowds from both on and off island, and with five other courses, barely affects member play.

Also at Deer Creek is the new Golf Performance Center, outfitted with the latest swing-analyzing technology, instructors (including two top 100 teachers), club-fitting, and club repair. Golfers can reserve hitting bays for their own use, working on their games with monitors and analyzers.

7:30 pm.

Even on a weeknight, every table is taken at Finjin, a sushi-and-noodle restaurant. It’s just as busy next door at Southern Table, where favorites like Georgia shrimp and grits and fried chicken (regular or “Nashville Hot”) are accompanied by collard greens and pit-smoked baked beans. No one thinks it odd to start with a Smoked Bourbon Old Fashioned at one bar, then go for one of Chef Jin’s special maki rolls at the sushi bar.

finjin
Finjin

“Golf is holy here,” says Kevin Walters, Director of Club Operations, “but food is right below it.”

Until about a decade ago, the club served mostly, well, club food. But as Savannah’s stature as a culinary destination rose, The Landings responded by becoming something of a foodie haven itself, and now offers nine full-time restaurants plus a food truck. Spread among the five campuses, there’s the side-by-side eateries above plus a steakhouse, Italian Osteria, seafood grill, congenial tavern, poolside bar at one clubhouse and a fast-casual food-and-drink facility at the family pools, plus an ice cream shop. A wine and gourmet store recently opened.

Another nice touch: A monthly $99 fee replaces tipping. Do the math.

Besides keeping members full, the extensive dining choices keep them on the island, where most of their other needs can be met, as well. Just outside the main gate in The Village is everything from a Publix supermarket and a gas station to a pharmacy, hair salon, dentist’s office, more than one brokerage firm—and a parking lot for golf carts.

“We have a very humble vision. We’re about developing meaningful friendships, not the size or look of your house. What’s important is that we’re friends and we enjoy each other’s company.”

As busy during the day as the restaurants are at night is the Fitness & Wellness Center, centrally located in Oakridge. Opening at 5 am on weekdays, 6 am on weekends, it welcomes more than 600 members a day, providing 105 different pieces of equipment as well as treatment rooms, classes, personal training, and more.

More? There’s a marina at each end of the island. Besides the family pools at Franklin Creek and a pool at Marshwood—as well as croquet, an event lawn, and banquet barn—the Wellness Center has two pools, one for therapy, the other for water aerobics and lap swimming. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the main ballroom at Palmetto is turned into a roller-skating rink. Among the 200-plus goings-on each year are parties for every holiday, a July Food & Beverage festival, and the 1,200-person Myriad Ball to ring in the New Year. Add in art and book clubs, card games, miles of tidal shoreline, day trips, philanthropic and community service opportunities, and whatever else one could possibly want to do.

pickleball

4 pm.

Kids are descending on The Landings Tennis Academy. Dropped off by their moms after school, the teens and tweens run to the courts and begin drilling. Shots are met with groans and giggles, and when pick-up time comes the next generation of players bubbles over, replaying winners for their parents.

Once upon a time, The Landings sold itself to retirees. Today, more and more young families are moving in, and there are now 1,000 residents under the age of 18. Along with the endless menu of activities, their parents appreciate the 24-hour security provided by manned gates and the single road onto the island. “Kids give a richness to the community,” says Freund. “They bring life and energy.”

That energy continues in summer, as more than 70 percent of residents live here year-round. There are always groups to play in, people to see, and things to do. The restaurants remain open and the pools busy. Like any other small town—but unlike many other golf communities—life goes on.

The Landings
The Deck at Franklin Creek

The curious can see for themselves, signing up for a three- or four-day “Discovery Visit” that includes golf, accommodations, a chance to explore the activities and restaurants, and a tour of the real estate. Of course, there’s far more to do than can be seen in a few days. Which is precisely why one lives here.

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