By Elizabeth Florio
Photography by Brian Austin Lee
Jekyll’s most beloved recreational pursuits have more than stood the test of time
At the Jekyll Island Club Resort (established 1888), guests can swing a croquet mallet on the front lawn, take high tea in the Grand Dining Room, and immerse themselves in a Victorian fairytale in the surrounding Historic District. When America’s wealthiest families wintered on Jekyll a century ago, they did much of the same: a bike ride, a tee time, and plenty of vitamin D were always included. Here’s a look at some beloved island pastimes, then and now.
A Trot to Remember
In 1916, Charles Lanier, president of the Jekyll Island Club, wrote: “Too much cannot be said of the attractiveness and beauty of the thirty miles of drives, also of the bridle and bicycle paths, through the pine and live oak forests and the palmetto, holly and magnolia, thence out on the magnificent beach.” (Pictured below: Employees riding horses along the beach, 1911). Experience this majesty on horseback with the help of Golden Isles Carriage and Trail at Three Oaks Farm, which offers guided rides.
Golf arrived on this golden isle in 1894, when the Jekyll Island Club became the 36th chartered golf club in the nation (Inset: A group tees off on the 13th hole at Great Dunes sometime in the 1930s). The first links came along a few years later but have been lost to time. Of the island’s four public courses, Great Dunes, designed in 1928 by noted golf innovator Walter Travis, is the oldest; nine of the original 18 holes remain in play. All of the courses are Audubon-certified wildlife sanctuaries.
Jekyll Island Club member William Rockefeller was such a bicycle enthusiast that he owned one of the first adult tricycles in the country, an “oil-burning motor cycle,” and several classic two-wheelers. (Pictured above: Club employees bicycle on the beach, 1901-1910.) He financed a bike path on the island in 1901; the island now offers more than 20 miles of trails spanning lush forest, open coastline, and historic sites. If you want to make like a Rockefeller, rent a trike, tandem bike, or multi-rider surrey from the Jekyll Island Bike Barn—(912) 635-2648.
Sands of Time
Jekyll beachgoers of the early 20th century loved to swim, collect seashells, and tuck into a good picnic (though errant sand was clearly a problem then as it is now, as pictured above). The area now known as Great Dunes Beach Park was and remains a popular hangout. To the south, St. Andrews Beach Park would become Georgia’s first stretch of coast open to African Americans—but not until 1955. Today, Jekyll’s beaches are best known as a haven for wildlife—threatened shorebirds and sea turtles, frolicking dolphins—and a collection of ancient driftwood. On the right day, you can have it all to yourself.
In 1887, the Jekyll Island Club Prospectus advertised tennis as a prime attraction for female guests, who would have practiced their forehand in floor-length skirts. (Inset: Florence Higginbotham and Florence Crane limber up at the Jekyll Island Club in 1929.) The Goodyear family built the first known courts on Jekyll in 1903, and by 1905 tennis was the most popular sport on the island. Today Jekyll boasts 13 Har-Tru clay courts at the Jekyll Island Tennis Center, where pros like Stewart Atkins (below) offer private lessons.
Thrill of the Hunt
The Jekyll Island Club has roots as a hunting club, with members making trophies (or meals) out of pheasants, quail, deer, alligators, wild boar, and other game. (Pictured above, inside the taxidermist shop at the Jekyll Island Club). Hunting is now illegal on the island, and shotgun-toting sportsmen have given way to binocular-wielding birders scouring for painted buntings and bald eagles, white ibises and roseate spoonbills, royal terns and piping plovers, and thousands of migratory birds on stopover. If you’re new to bird watching, reserve a guided walk with the park ranger at jekyllisland.com/rangerwalks.
Appeared In: 31·81 The Magazine of Jekyll Island Fall/Winter 2019