By Roger Cox, Editor
From the porch in my cottage I am looking across the May River at the distant outline of South Carolina's Hilton Head Island. As the crow—or more appropriately the snowy egret—flies, Hilton Head was only five miles east, but the inn at what is now Montage Palmetto Bluff where I'm staying has little in common with Hilton Head other than views of a marshy landscape. As I sit on the porch two dolphins surface in the river (a tidal estuary, really), startling a small flock of mergansers. Behind me, inside the cottage, a fire burns in the gas-log fireplace and Faith Hill is belting out "If you fly away" on one of several CDs and DVDs provided with a surround-sound multimedia system and 42-inch plasma television. So although I am remote from the civilization as defined by the most famous of South Carolina's barrier islands, I am nonetheless bathed in creature comforts.
The Palmetto Bluff is the newest addition to the tennis landscape in this part of South Carolina's Lowcountry. It comprises a 20,000-acre parcel of unspoiled maritime forest and marshes near Bluffton on the mainland. Unlike the barrier islands, it has no beach, but makes up for it in soul-soothing tranquility and opportunity for selfish indulgence. (Excursions by boat to the beach on Daufuskie Island, just off Hilton Head Island, are available.) At the resort core is a village green, anchored by the sections of the stone pillars that once graced the front of a 72-room mansion that stood on this spot. Bordering the green are a tiny steepled chapel, a post office, corner café/bookstore called Buffalo's, a real estate office, a carriage house (source of bicycles or golf carts for getting around), and the River House, where guests check in and later gather for cocktails or dinner in its restaurant, either inside or on one of the verandas or porches.
Pro Shop: 843-706-6635
It's a 10-minute walk or a quick bike ride from the cottages to the Wilson Lawn & Racquet Club, named for Richard Wilson, who built the 72-room mansion that has since fallen into ruins. It consists of two professional croquet courts and two bocce courts, anchored by a large pro shop and pavilion with cedar-shake shingles on its roof and siding. Arrayed around the perimeter are by eight Har-Tru tennis courts laid out singly and in pairs and sporting wooden fence poles, wooden gazebos with cedar-shake shingles, sub-surface watering, and a forest backdrop. It is an exceptionally pleasant place to play.
Tennis Staff. Tennis director Michael Sutcliffe, who played for the College of Charleston, is a familiar face in the area, having taught at South Beach Racquet Club and Wexford Plantation on Hilton Head Island as well as at Kiawah Island Golf Resort a little to the north. Here he blends programs for local members with those for guests, frequently gearing up the latter over holiday periods when more visiting tennis players are likely to be in house. So while there may be two or three adult and junior clinics a week during normal periods, those can become daily over holidays and be supplemented by Cardio session. In addition, he stages a social tennis event with food and beverage once a month, scheduling it during a holiday period if appropriate.
Courts & Fees. There are 8 outdoor clay courts outdoors, 4 with lights for night play.
Golf Courses. May River Golf Club. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, this 18-hole course winds past the May River and into the forest of moss-bearded live oaks, palmettos, and pines.
Spa & Fitness Center. Perched at the edge of a lagoon and bird rookery, the 9,500-square-foot Montage Spa looks like a Southern manor house, and its treatments draw on traditions and ingredients indigenous to the area, including cornmeal, peaches, cotton, wild rice, and red river clay. The modest Fitness Center faces the heated outdoor swimming pool adjacent to the Inn, its dozen cardio machines perched behind tall windows facing east. There's a second fitness center at the new Inn.
And ... Bike trails lace the property and canoes and kayaks are available for use on the lagoon, while guided kayak tours and nature tours more deeply explore this Lowcountry landscape.
Lodging comes in several types: Cottages, which range in size from 1,140 to 1,340 square feet, rooms in classically southern, two-story guest houses, a new (2016) 74-room inn, and and two-to-four-bedroom homes with deluxe kitchens, fireplaces, and high-speed Internet connections.
There are four main dining options on property: Buffalo's, a café and bookstore for casual fare; the May River Grill in the golf clubhouse for lunch or cocktails; the Canoe House, for Lowcountry seafood and views of the May River; the River House, the most elegant of the options and known for its Lowcountry fare, lively bar, and well-stocked wine cellar; and Fore & Aft bordering the lagoon waterway and Inn pool, for light fare during the day.
If you're looking for resorts with similar creature comforts or quiet seclusion, also check out:
Lodging ranges from Cottages and Cottage Suites to 2-, 3-, and 4-bedroom village homes with full kitchens.
Visit the website for current rates
Travel Instructions. By Air: The nearest airport is Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) in Georgia roughly 30 miles away.
General Tourist Information. Visit the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau website or contact them at 1 Chamber Dr., P.O. Box 5647, Hilton Head Island, SC 29938; 843-785-3673 or toll-free 800-523-3373.