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St. James Plantation community: Bigger and better than ever

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By Elsa Bonstein, Golf Gab

Continuing my series of highlighting various golf communities in Brunswick County, I visited St. James Plantation earlier this month and spoke with Alan Deck, the general manager.
The always-congenial Deck met me in his office and we had a great, far-ranging discussion of St. James: history, present-day activities and trends for the future.
St. James started with a vast amount of property and one course, The Gauntlet. I remember playing it and thinking it was a good name for a course with tree- and marsh-lined fairways, deep bunkers and elevated greens.
Three more courses were added over the years and today St. James has 81 holes of golf designed by some of the world’s best golf course architects. The Gauntlet was renamed the Founders Club several years ago. It is a P.B. Dye creation. (Dye is the son of the legendary golf course designer Pete Dye.) The 27-hole Members Club is by Hale Irwin; Tim Cate created The Players Club. The newest course at St. James is The Reserve Club, a Nicklaus design.
“Not all our residents play golf,” Deck said. “We have a very diverse group of people here. Some take up golf for the first time ever, others decide to hone their game, now that they are retired and have the time. Some of our residents don’t play golf at all but enjoy tennis or fishing or any one of our many activities.”
Not everyone at St. James is retired. Many still work. Some residents own vacation homes at St. James and live elsewhere the rest of the time. To accommodate everyone, membership is not a requirement for owning property there.
“We send out notices in the fall and ask folks to decide on their level of membership for the next year by December 1,” Deck explained. “They can opt for a golf membership that includes everything else, or they may just want a social membership that includes everything except golf. They can change from year to year without penalty. For example, if a couple decides to do several months of traveling one year, they may not take the full package.”
St. James has about a dozen tennis courts with more 300 people in the tennis program. There are several fitness centers that hold more than 40 classes a week and come equipped with weight rooms and personal trainers. St. James has an indoor pool, outdoor pools, a marina and a beach club. There are countless clubs and organizations for every interest, every need.
A friend is in the tap-dancing group. There are bridge groups, book clubs, fishing clubs and more. One group periodically gathers at one of the lakes with their remote-controlled powerboats.
“If you cannot find something to do at St. James, you’re not looking,” Deck said. “In fact, if someone comes to us with a special interest, we’ll try to help them organize a group.”
Sheer numbers makes all this possible. There are more than 2,500 units in St. James, ranging from one-bedroom condos to large brick homes with several bedrooms. The Men’s Golf Association has 400 members; the Women’s Golf Association has more than 200 members.    
Barry Walters is a PGA golf professional and the head pro at The Reserve Club. Among his many responsibilities is teaching golf, especially the Get Golf Ready program.  
“This is a PGA initiative that is available all around the country,” he explained. “It consists of five lessons in a small-group format for $99. New golfers learn all the fundamentals and basics of golf: etiquette, how to sign up, how to enter scores into the handicap system, which clubs to use, the basic swing, putting and chipping. It’s a useful tool for those who want a quick start in golf and we run several of these each year.”
For the more artistically included, there is a huge community of artists and crafts people at St. James. Their showcase is the Artisans Gallery and Boutique at the Marina.
I visited the gallery and was amazed at all the beautiful items for sale.
“Everything here is made by St. James people,” said Mary Jones, who was working at the cooperative gallery that day. “It is all done by consignment with 80 percent going to the artist and 20 percent going to keep the gallery operative.”
There were numerous Christmas decorations, including gorgeous wreaths and table centerpieces, homemade candles and ornaments for the tree. A wall displayed hand-knit baby dresses and sweaters. Dozens of paintings lined the walls. I saw pottery and sculptures, jewelry, purses, scarves, sweaters and capes. I felt as if I were in a high-end shop on Park Avenue in New York City, yet all the lovely items were made within a mile of where I stood.
Despite its size — St. James was incorporated as a town in 1999 — the community manages to have a close, caring, homey feel.
“Each neighborhood has a ‘captain’ who meets and greets newcomers and acquaints them to the community. Residents are encouraged to join groups that reflect their interests and also to branch out and learn new things,” Deck said. “We have lots of volunteers here who work our internal events but also help in local schools, churches, hospitals and The First Tee.
“We are still growing but do not plan to build any more golf courses. We’ll be doing more tennis courts and another fitness center. St. James Properties, the entity that is developing St. James, has been growing the community at a slow and steady pace. They are looking at the future, not a quick turn-around on their investment.”  
So there you have it, a quick overview of our largest golf course community.

Golf Gab groaner: The golfer was in a vile mood at the 19th hole.
“I was about to win the match with only a 5-footer left on the last green,” he complained. “I putted it straight toward the hole, when this squirrel ran up and grabbed the ball, ran away with, dropped it into the fairway where a goose grabbed it and waddled away. The goose dropped it in a bunker and just then, an eagle swooped down, picked up my ball and plunked it into the pond back on the 17th hole.”
“That’s the last time I play with St. Francis of Assisi,” exclaimed St. Peter.
(From “A Round of Golf Jokes”)  
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net. Follow her at facebook.com/elsa.bonstein.