Originally published in the October 2012 issue of DeSoto Magazine/Exploring the South. Photos by Tony DeSantis.
The historic King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort offers an idyllic retreat in charming St. Simons Island, Georgia.
In 1961, author Eugenia Price was driving from Chicago to Jacksonville when she decided to take a spontaneous side trip to St. Simons Island, the largest of Georgia’s Golden Isles. She and her lifelong friend Joyce Blackburn spent their first night at the King and Prince Hotel, where they were captivated by the windswept beach and the sultry Southern environment.
The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort, as it is now known, has grown tremendously since Price’s visit, but it still reflects the charm and simple elegance that inspired the author to move to the island full time in 1965. And nor was Eugenia Price the only person to be taken with St. Simons Island. In 1980, Mississippi Delta businessman Mike Sturdivant bought The King and Prince Resort and made it into one of Mississippi Management Inc.’s premier hotel properties.
“Dad was interested in finding a resort to add to his portfolio. He was familiar with Sea Island and when he saw The King and Prince, he felt it was exactly what he was looking for,” said Gaines Sturdivant about his father who passed away in May 2012. “It turned into far more than an investment for him and for our family. It is our flagship hotel and a cherished part of our company.”
Gaines, who is the president of MMI Hotels, returns every summer to the 195-room oceanfront resort with his wife and children, his five siblings and their children. “We have made staying at the hotel a family tradition,” he says. “It’s become part of our DNA.”
The Sturdivants aren’t the only family that vacations regularly at The King and Prince, which was built in 1935 as a seaside dance club and later became a hotel in 1941.
“We have guests who tell us they ‘grew up’ coming to this hotel every summer,” says Bud St. Pierre, sales director. “It’s not unusual to see three generations of a family vacationing here together.”
Many guests return to the King and Prince, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, because they want their own children to have the same kind of experiences they did as children. The resort offers many different activities and amenities, including oceanfront pools, tennis courts, a “royal treatment” spa, and a unique golf course built in and around the salt marshes on the northern edge of the island.
“Building a golf course was a risk and an opportunity,” said Gaines. “Dad felt that it was important to offer golf at the resort.”
But golf isn’t the only thing that brings the Sturdivants nearly 600 miles across three states for family vacations.
“St. Simons Island is a much different look than our Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Gaines. “The marshes bring in a lot of wildlife that you don’t see in other places. It also has great sailing and all kinds of paddle sports.”
In addition, the coastal community has a rich history that draws tourists from across the nation. The area was important to the British, who established Fort Frederica in the 1730s as a buttress against Spanish invaders from Florida. Georgia’s future as a British colony was ensured when British forces defeated the Spanish in the Battle of the Bloody Marsh in 1742. Today, the National Park Service protects the archeological remnants of Fort Frederica, which has a museum, demonstrations of settlement life, historical tours and hiking trails.
Most visitors climb the 129 circular steps of the circa-1872 St. Simons Lighthouse for a panoramic view of the island. The original structure was destroyed in 1862 by retreating Confederate forces who did not want the important navigational aid to fall into the hands of the Union Army. The operational lighthouse still casts a beam 23 miles out to sea, guiding today’s ships and freighters into the St. Simons Sound.
The island’s rich history is best explained at the Maritime Center, a Roosevelt-era Coast Guard station now operated by the Coastal Georgia Historical Society. Explained through the eyes of a “Coastie”, the center’s exhibits offer an informative and entertaining look at both the natural and maritime history of the area. Be sure to read the memorials just outside the entrance to learn about two merchant ships, the SS Oklahoma and the Esso Baton Rouge, that were sunk just off the St. Simons coast by a German submarine in 1942.
Finally, head to the less-developed northern end of the island to visit Christ Church, the site where brothers John and Charles Wesley, considered the fathers of Methodism in America, first preached to natives beneath a giant oak tree. The present structure was built in 1884 by Anson Phelps Dodge, Jr., in memory of his young wife who died during their honeymoon. Their story captured writer Eugenia Price’s imagination and her book, The Beloved Invader, was the first in her popular St. Simons Trilogy. With its beautiful stained-glass windows and heavily wooded grounds, Christ Church is one of St. Simons Island’s most treasured landmarks.
“St. Simons is truly a special place,” explained Gaines Sturdivant. “And having the King and Prince here is like owning a piece of the island’s history.”
Embracing Local Flavors
St. Simons Island has many wonderful dining options, and one of the best is The King’s Tavern, inside the King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort. Chef Jeff Kaplan buys localat the farmers’ market everyday on his way to work. His commitment to serving Georgia products and his farm-to-table philosophy has made the restaurant popular with area residents as well as guests.
Kaplan says the restaurant’s traditional Southern and low-country cuisine is appropriate because, after all, “St. Simons is in the heart of Southern hospitality.”
No dish captures the area’s flavors better than the legendary King and Prince Shrimp & Grits in Tasso Cream Sauce. The popular Southern dish started as a breakfast meal for coastal sailors and fishermen. It’s a must for anyone visiting the area but if you can’t make it to Georgia’s largest Golden Isle any time soon, here is the recipe, courtesy of Chef Jeff, to try on your own.
King and Prince Shrimp & Grits in Tasso Cream Sauce
1 cup Heavy Cream
1/3 cup Tasso Ham
1/4 cup Kernel Corn
1/4 cup diced Tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped Green Onions
1/2 cup Wild Georgia Shrimp
1 tablespoon Cajun Seasoning
1/4 cup Asiago Cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
In one saucepan, sauté the shrimp with Cajun seasoning using olive oil. In another pan, sauté Tasso ham, corn, tomatoes and green onions in olive oil. Add Asiago cheese and heavy cream then let simmer for two minutes. Add the sautéed shrimp to the mixture and serve over stone ground grits.