Haig Point is easy to define by what's missing, and how that enhances life in the Lowcountry.
Written by Bridget Williams
"If you want to really get away from it all where no one can find you, then you're heading to the right place," remarked my Uber driver as we set off from the terminal at the Savannah airport to the private embarkation dock on Hilton Head to catch one of 18 daily round-trip ferries to Daufuskie Island's Haig Point. A strict no phones policy inside the ferry boat for the duration of the 30-minute voyage helped ease me into a more chill state of mind and make my acquaintance with the first of many locals who were all quick to extol the benefits of living in the car-free development.
The architecturally unique array of homes, cottages, and townhomes within Haig Point (boasting some of the highest average home prices in South Carolina) are carefully positioned among 1,100 acres on Daufuskie Island, a mixture of waterfront, woods, and manicured golf greens that are bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Caliboque Sound, and the Cooper River. From Haig Point's 150-year-old Lighthouse, you can spy Hilton Head's red-and-whitestriped Harbour Town Lighthouse (an eight-minute boat ride away).
With a fascinating history of human habitation dating back 9,000 years, the entirety of Daufuskie Island, whose name comes from the Muscogee language, meaning "sharp feather," has been named to the National Register of Historic Places. Spain claimed the Island in 1521 and enlisted the Native American population to fight off advances by the French and Scotts. Daufuskie's "Bloody Point" is named after a trio of brutal battles between 1715-1717. Occupied by Union soldiers during the Civil War, the Gullah people (freed enslaved people) returned to work in the oyster and timber industries. The Gullah population of 2,000 dwindled to roughly 60 after the Island's economy gradually declined. Still, Daufuskie's remoteness allowed the language and customs of the Gullah people to remain well-preserved.
Since the beginning, Haig Point has been committed to the preservation of the Island's history. After purchasing the land in the 1980s, the original developers hired an archaeologist and historical architect to locate and restore sensitive sites. In conjunction with the Daufuskie Island Historical Foundation, in 2014, Haig Point, whose ownership was transferred to the members in 2001, restored a trio of former slave quarters dating back to the 1820s. Located near the ferry dock and the Strachan Mansion, a circa 1910 home barged to the site from St. Simon's Island in 1986, the ruins are a fine example of Tabby homes, a building material comprised of burned oyster shells, lime, sand, and water. Careful attention has also been given to preserving "Constitution Trees," massive two-hundred-year-old Southern Live Oaks surrounding a fountain and dwarfing the 40-foot tower of the nearby Lighthouse. The tree's graceful, outstretched branches, festooned with resurrection ferns and Spanish moss, recall Charleston's famous Angel Oak.
The Strachan Mansion is a hub of community life, with a coffee house, souvenir shop, a small grocery and meeting areas on the first floor and guest accommodations on the second floor. A large waterfront lawn with croquet and bocce areas is also a popular site for wedding receptions and special events. The Haig Point Club facilitates a strong sense of community, and homeowners are offered two levels of membership: the highest tier provides unlimited access to 29 holes of golf. Designed by Rees Jones, the 20-hole, par 72, 7,380-yard Signature Course has made Golf Magazine's list of "Top 100 in the World." For those new to the game or don't want to commit to a full day of play, the par 36 9-hole Osprey course is an ideal option.
Tennis pro Ron Gwyn provides regular clinics at the Haig Point Tennis and Pickleball Center, which has received an Outstanding Facility award from the USTA. Two of the six HarTru® courts are lighted, and the site plays host to the Daufuskie Island Adult Championships, featuring amateur play for men and women in both singles and doubles, with divisions for adults aged 35 and older.
Adjacent to the tennis center, a large fitness center overlooks a five-lane lap pool reserved for adults. The Beach Club at Calibogue Club, which overlooks the beaches of Calibogue Sound, is the site of a second family-oriented pool.
A private equestrian center with a 12-stall barn supported by an accomplished team of equestrians offers members every service from grooming and boarding to lessons and trail rides.
With no grocery store on the Island, I'd be tempted to rely on the culinary team at Haig Point's various dining options for sustenance. Sourcing locally from land and sea, the dining outlets offer everything from elevated Lowcountry fare to tried-and-true favorites to satisfy even the finickiest eater. Even though I was visiting solo, in the spirit of Southern hospitality, I never dined alone as current homeowners invited me to join them each meal. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in knowing what brought me to the Island and sharing the unique path to what drew them there.
However, even with all the human-made amenities, I quickly found that my favorites were those offered by Mother Nature. Early risers who take to traversing the one-mile-long Beach Road are rewarded with spectacular sunrises. Low tide provides DIY oyster harvesting and sand dollar gathering. Constant coastal breezes are ideal for kite flying.
Between 500-600 people live on Daufuskie Island full-time. Outside the gates of Haig Point lies a tight-knit and surprisingly rich and resourceful cultural community. Tour Daufuskie (tourdaufuskie.com) offers a guided History & Artisans tour led by an island resident, providing a historical overview and a fascinating insight into what it's like to live in a teeny, isolated town. We ogled the quirky artworks at Iron Fish Gallery & Studio (ironfishart.com), where customers pay on an “honor system” and learned how the beautiful natural indigo-dyed textiles are made at Daufuskie Blues (daufuskieblues.com), which operates out of the Maryfields School, made famous by Pat Conroy in his book, The Water is Wide.
Always keen to converse with a fellow Kentuckian, I hopped on a beachcruiser to visit Daufuskie Island Distillery (daufuskierum.com). Tony Chase, a long-time resident of the Bluegrass and a former pharmacist, perfectionist, and serial entrepreneur, retired to Haig Point with his wife Christy, only to "unretire" a few years later by opening a distillery on a 12.5- acre site in 2015. Obsessed with quality and being as hyper-local as possible, the business launched with 54 barrels of rum and has since added flavored vodkas and rums, infused simple syrups and ready-to-drink cocktails. At the time of my visit, several barrels of bourbon were aging in the warehouse, created using a mashbill recipe shared by legendary distiller Lincoln Henderson. In a nod to Kentucky's claim that there are more barrels of bourbon aging than people, Chase remarked that he'll have a far easier time reaching that mark on Daufuskie, where bourbon ages differently due to the climate. "There's no cold season to stall the aging, so a four-year aged bourbon tastes like an eight-year," Chase explained.
Hugely successful from the get-go, Chase has added a food truck, serving as many as 200 "smash burgers" on their busiest days. For the high-octane entrepreneur who has owned 61 different companies, Daufuskie's business environment is a horse of a different color. Staffing and affordable housing remain a constant struggle, so he's establishing a nonprofit dedicated to building and renting affordable housing for Island workers. "Daufuskie is black or white, which you either love or hate," Chase said. "I've definitely learned to be a little more laid back."
On my way back to the airport after my stay at Haig Point's Strachan Mansion, I shared the ferry with a group of teens heading to school on the mainland. Typically, when I come across a pack of kids this age, they all have their heads buried in their phones, but here, where it's not allowed, some chatted and laughed with youthful exuberance, others found a quiet corner to read; and, procrastinators after my own heart found a space to spread out and frantically work to finish up homework. It was a refreshing change of pace that recalled a line from Haig Point's marketing material: "It is not an escape from life, but a deeper immersion into it."
Non-members wanting to experience the Haig Point homeowner lifestyle can register for the Daufuskie Island Marathon on January 13th, 2024; the annual Haig Point Foundation Golf Tournament in the spring; or book a Discovery Visit at haigpoint.com/discovery-visits/.