"Good morning, Ms. Matheson," booms a delectably foreign accent into my sleepy ear. "This is your wake-up call. Would you like me to ring you up again in about 10 minutes? And is there anything else I can do for you?"
Sea Pines Resortâ€™s daily schedule of activities includes eco tours, water sports, spa packages, photography clinics and kids' programs. You can stay at the impeccable 60-room Inn at Harbour Town or explore more than 500 villas and houses, available on a weekly basis and featured on www.seapines.com. Call 1-800-SEAPINES for more information.
Fast forward exactly 10 minutes. "Good morning once again, Ms. Matheson," says an even more jovial voice than before. "Is this going to do it for you, or shall we go one more round?"
Ahhh, Hilton Head. And double-ahhh, Sea Pines Resort, where the butlers are from England, the staff wears red tartan kilts with confidence and the room service runs 24 hours a day.
Take advantage of the human snooze button at least once during your stay at Sea Pines and use the 10 minutes to enjoy the luxury of waking up in one of its beds. The rooms evoke European style, with incredibly soft bedding in Provencal shades of blue and white, French doors that open into a bathroom with soaking tub and separate shower, and twice-daily room checks (with bed turn-down each night and chocolates on the pillow). I even have a small lanai that overlooks the first tee box.
At Sea Pines, the views are of the golf courses and tennis courts, where much of the action takes place as well.
I arrive on Hilton Head ready to hit the beach â€” my standard M.O. for any island vacation. There are gorgeous beaches to be sure, with my favorite beach accessory of all â€” hunky lifeguards â€” but who's got time when you're teeing off on one of three renowned golf courses or playing tennis on one of the clay courts that speckle the extensive grounds?
"This is a shot-maker's course," Kyle Brisch, an assistant golf pro, explains with a serious grin as we gaze out over the Harbour Town Golf Links, ranked the No. 1 Resort Course in South Carolina by Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golf Week. The golf staffers at Sea Pines take great pride in their tricky courses â€” this is thinking-man's golf, and they're quick to let you know that you can't let your guard down, ever. Sam Zabawsky, director of resort marketing, notes with a mischievous glint in his eye that Tiger rarely plays at Sea Pines because he can't use his driver the way he usually does; in other words, the short, technical course is too difficult for someone who's most confident hitting 'em long and deep.
"When in Rome â€¦" I grumble, dropping my towel and picking up a club for my first golf lesson. I'd never really understood the appeal of golf. I love "Caddyshack," as well as the scene of a lonesome Bill Murray silently thwacking away on a Japanese course in "Lost in Translation." But why play a sport that's so damn frustrating?
Today, I write these words as a convert. I connect a few times, hit a couple more than 50 yards, and want to do it again and again and again. How satisfying to actually succeed on a single swing! It's a ludicrous, finicky and incredibly inefficient game, but one good shot makes up for all the heartache.
Meanwhile, Stan Smith, 1972 Wimble-don champ and "the guy with the shoe named after him," presides over the tennis compound, where classes are always in session. Now this is something I longed to experience, but it is not to be â€” my personal lesson is rained out, so I wait for the storm to blow over and then spend the afternoon biking excellently groomed paths.
When you find time to eat, good luck choosing from the many restaurants available on this resort, ranging from beachside cafes to fine restaurants overlooking (ta da!) the golf course. Of course, I was raised on pancakes and PB&J â€” seafood rarely makes it inside the gate. What a shame, what a shame. Everyone around me seems to be enjoying fresh-boiled shrimp from the original Salty Dog CafÃ© and the Beach Club crab cakes. Fortunately for me, Pool Bar Jim comes to the rescue with sustenance in frozen alcoholic form. An island icon, Pool Bar Jim has reigned over his tiny beachside bar on the south end of Hilton Head for almost 30 years. The book of frozen drink recipes on the counter is his; turn it over and you'll see that the guy whipping up a concoction right in front of you is also smiling out from a black-and-white photo. Granted, Pool Bar Jim no longer sports the wild afro of his '70s heyday, but as his hair count has diminished, his drink knowledge has increased. With a new book of 1,000 recipes due out later this year, he's known as the authority on frozen drinks.
After a strawberry daiquiri and some bodysurfing on the waves blowing in from a tropical storm farther south, a few of us go for a bike ride on the beach. The wind is to our backs, and there aren't too many tourists. "Changeover day," our trusty island guide, Erin, explains. Since most Hilton Head vacation rentals work on a Saturday-to-Saturday schedule, it's a great day to get out and explore without the crowds. But, she warns, don't wait until Saturday afternoon to do your grocery shopping â€” every mom who just arrived on the island is stocking up for the week ahead.
Grocery shopping is certainly not in my plans. In addition to the multitude of restaurants at the resort, my little island paradise inn serves a lush breakfast every morning, with dishes from the omelette station as well as a divine spread of pastries. By the end of my stay at Sea Pines, I know enough to indulge in the bounteous breakfast spread, in case lunch and dinner lose out to the other activities that entice Sea Pines guests every single day.