While Georgetowners are very aware of the Salamander Resort & Spa located in the Blue Ridge Foothills in nearby Middleburg, only some seem to be aware that the Salamander is on the move. The Salamander now has seven hotel and resort options throughout the southeastern United States, offering a multitude of activities, and appealing to all types of travelers. Hotel Bennett is just opening this year in Charleston, with 179 luxury rooms and rooftop pool complete with cabanas and French patisserie. The recently opened swanky New Orleans NOPSI (Former New Orleans Public Service Inc. Building) hotel just opened its doors. In addition to the top notch Florida-based Innisbrook (Home of the Valspar PGA event) and Reunion Resorts, The Destin just opened up on the pristine sands of the West Coast.
Two weeks ago, ducking out of another cherry blossomless, long-winded D.C. winter, I visited Salamander’s Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Florida. Just south of St. Augustine along 19 miles of unspoiled beach in Flagler County, Palm Coast has recently been acknowledged by Money magazine as a “Best place to retire.” Hammock Beach is ready and able to absorb some of this recent interest. A Washingtonian friend of mine just retired there, and it was a pleasure to play the Nicklaus Ocean Course and Watson Conservatory Course while visiting him there.
The Nicklaus course boasts the only six consecutive ocean golf holes in Florida. Heralded in many publications in the golfing world for a variety of reasons, what I liked about it was its “Nestledness.” I found it to be perfectly arranged within the setting so that we could walk off into a lunch situation, pool, cigar bar, fine dining, fitness or beach area. This is what a resort course should offer. If I am playing bad after a long winter, I want the option to walk down a 14-foot path from an Oceanside tee box and go swimming instead. The insulated pocket in my golf bag is a good place for a swimming suit too.
Watson’s Conservatory Course was the exact opposite experience and I loved that about it. Expansive, challenging, and the highest slope of any Florida course make this a true undertaking. An elevated 18th green gives you a great view of the property. The many Watson trademark sand traps are beastly, and I recommend staying out of them. Why not? The two of these courses could not be more different and make a wonderful pairing within a membership.
Hammock Beach has all the trimmings, and it was a pleasure to enjoy the fine food at Delfinos and take a spinning class while there also. All of the amenities would make it an easy place to hang out with eight buddies or eight kids and a wife. It made me feel good to see my friend meeting like-minded, successful East Coast transplants that he could talk to at this club, and it got me thinking…a lot.
Retirement is not too far down the road for my family. When I was younger I just could not understand why everybody wanted to head south to retire. Now it makes sense, and I hear myself listening to people’s travel experiences and ideas about retirement a little more closely. The forever-baffling to me when younger second-home purchases that friends are making seem to make a little more sense, and I want to know why they purchased and where.
Without really realizing it, my friend joined Hammock Beach because he was familiar with the Salamander brand. Having watched Sheila Johnson develop her resort locally and be an active Washingtonian for many years has endeared her to the community, and we now know the Salamander name well. I cannot count the number of times I have stopped into Middleburg and visited the Salamander Market for a quality sandwich or bowl of soup. It has a comforting feel to it.
Southern destinations can sometimes be daunting, and communities can be hard to break into. Even if they were not (and they are), knowing that I can count on a certain level of service, a varied amenity base, and a friendly name in a place I am not extensively familiar with is comforting. It is nice to be able to bring a little bit of home with me as I explore these destinations with eyes towards the future. Association with a Salamander Resort opens the doors to relationships at all of its resorts, and my friend is already talking about visits to the other Salamander Resorts.
This year, I plan to visit their new Charleston location when it opens, since this is one of the stops on our pre-retirement tour. I know it will be a nice stay and will be a great base from which to explore a potential permanent location. Even if southern belles do not run across the street to immediately relinquish their family recipes to us, I will have a secret weapon. I will have a little Salamander in my pocket.