When you take ownership of a Rolls-Royce you have an obligation. Not to the car, your chauffeur or even your children, the favorite of whom will no doubt inherit your Rolls some day. No, you have an obligation to us, those who don’t live in the economic and cultural stratosphere you occupy. Your obligation is to live up to the standards set by your ownership of this legendary marque.
You see, Rolls-Royce is one of those rare brands that does more than define a category. It doesn’t just set the bar by which all other ultra-premium luxury cars must be judged, Rolls-Royce is also a lodestar for its owners’ lives.
Slip behind the wheel of a Rolls and all of a sudden the drive-thru is off limits. You can no longer wear clothes from Old Navy. And when you hit the road for vacation you should drive right past the Jersey Shore. If you’re driving a car with the Spirit of Ecstasy on the hood, you must do better. You have to live every minute of your life as I was able to for two magnificent days, thanks to an invitation I received from Rolls-Royce to experience their cars and the five-star accommodations at the Sea Island Resort on Georgia’s Atlantic coast.
The experience began as I took possession of a 2015 Rolls-Royce Phantom at the Savannah airport and drove the 85 miles to Sea Island. Pulling the rolling executive lounge out from its parking spot, I was instantly made aware of every one of Phantom’s 19 feet of length and 5644 pounds. If it’s possible, this car feels bigger and more imposing than it actually is, which is just as it should be. Phantom is not about driving, but riding, even if you’re behind the wheel. This car was designed to eat up imperfections in the road surface, providing its passengers with the smoothest, quietest, most comfortable and effortless ride possible. And it succeeds spectacularly.
Rolls-Royce says Phantom is capable of going 0-60 in just 5.7 seconds thanks to the massive 6.7 liter V12 engine. Acceleration and speed are irrelevant, however, because you’re so isolated from the world at large that it simply ceases to exist after you shut the massive steel doors. Even though Phantom has a handsome and, dare I say, athletic exterior appearance, like our favorite people it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Phantom’s interior is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The leather surfaces are almost otherworldly soft and smooth, having been made from hand-selected hides of alpine bulls raised in open meadows where there are no thorns or barbed wire. This results in far fewer marks and imperfections. Each of Phantom’s 450 leather pieces are laser cut and hand-sewn by master artisans in the Rolls-Royce workshop in Goodwood.
The wood used on the dash and other surfaces is stunningly rich, deep and intricate. Depending on specifications, a Phantom may have up to up to 43 wooden parts, each constructed from up to 28 layers of wood. Multiple layers are pressed, bent and hand-finished before craftsmen cut and apply matched veneers, which are then detailed, lacquered, hand polished and highlighted. All veneers come from one log and are laid from the center of the dashboard outward, so that the grain detailing is mirrored from one side of the car to the other.
Underfoot you’ll find one-inch thick lambswool carpeting that begs you to remove your shoes as you recline in the back seat. Overhead, you can opt for the starlight headliner which features over 1,500 fiber optic lights that can be arranged in any pattern you desire. For example, some have chosen to replicate the night sky as it was on the date of their birth. More customization is both possible and encouraged. Rolls-Royce Bespoke designers are masters of the impossible. From custom exterior colors and leather options, to hand stitched and painted details, to installed options like an in-car humidor, champagne chiller or even a full picnic set in the trunk, if you can imagine it, Rolls-Royce can create it. The only exceptions being if those customizations compromise either the safety or performance of the vehicle.
After an hour and a half in the stunning silver Phantom, I arrived at The Lodge at Sea Island both excited and refreshed. It’s hard not to be impressed by the entrance to the resort, pulling down the long, tree-lined lane up to the cobblestone paved valet area. From the architecture to the interior design, to the construction and landscaping, every detail is absolutely perfect. I arrived a few minutes earlier than expected so my room was not quite ready, but waiting in the Lodge’s central atrium was no burden. And once in my room I was able to relax for a bit, throwing open the doors to my balcony and enjoy a stunning view of the Atlantic just past the lush green fairway.
Later that afternoon, after a short rest and shower, I opened my laptop to check my email only to hear the strains of a single bagpipe playing in the distance. I walked out on my balcony to witness a tradition at the Lodge at Sea Island, a piper who plays each evening serenading the guests and bidding farewell to the setting sun. It’s just one of the many touches that make a stay at Sea Island unforgettable.
Once I had dressed for dinner – this was a Rolls-Royce trip so anything less than a jacket and tie was unacceptable – I met my hosts and a few other guests on the patio for drinks and appetizers that included a rich and spicy pork stew, hand-picked vegetables and fresh local oysters. We then retired to the dining room for a welcome dinner and conversation about the day ahead.
Our hosts had planned several activities for us: a drive over to Jekyll Island, shooting at the resort’s acclaimed gun club, fishing in the Atlantic for blacknose sharks and a golf lesson with the instructors who coach many PGA tour professionals throughout the year.
Wanting something a little more sporty for the drive, I chose a beautiful deep red Wraith. I had previously driven a Wraith at the model’s launch in Arizona a year earlier, but it was enlightening to experience it in its more natural environment. The power comes on effortlessly, and the handling is much more sporting than that of Phantom. It is a joy to drive and to be seen driving thanks to the gorgeous bodywork.
Wraith is built to the same exacting standards as Phantom with some touches that make it feel a little less formal. If Phantom is hand-sewn brogues with wingtips, Wraith is a pair of fine leather tassel loafers. The quality is impeccable, but the feeling just a little more casual. This is due to the rakish look of the exterior and touches like the open pore wood on the doors. In Wraith, you’re more likely to tune the satellite radio to a rock or jazz station, while in Phantom the mood is strictly classical.
After our drive it was off the the shooting school to try our hand at skeet and sporting clays. Having been a shooter since my father taught me at the age of 12 on an old bolt action .410, I was happy to get some pointers from the excellent instructors at Sea Island. The shooting school is one of the oldest standing buildings on Sea Island and one of the first skeet clubs in the country. For 60 years the school was run by Fred Missildine, who was a 30-time World Champion. Today, the Shooting School’s instructors have over 60 years of teaching experience between them, and they did a great job helping both the beginners in our group and experienced shooters like me.
After we had broken our clays and put away our guns, we headed to the docks and a fishing adventure. Our guide welcomed us aboard his center console, open bowed fishing boat and we were soon on our way out to sea. After about 15 minutes cruising through the channels to our outlet, he hit the throttle and we sped quickly in the direction of the shrimp boats on the horizon. Not surprisingly the sharks are drawn to the boats as they drag their nets, gathering the day’s shrimp harvest, and just minutes after casting our lines in the water, my rod bent hard and the fight was on.
Under the captain’s watchful eye, I worked my tackle allowing the powerful shark to take the line when he had a burst of energy, and pulling him ever closer to the boat as he rested. Finally after a 10-minute battle we had him at the boat, where we netted him, removed the hook and released the four-foot shark back to the briny waters.
Our dinner that evening was with Eric Shepherd, President of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars North America and several of Sea Island’s all-star sports instructors, including Murphy Jensen the resort’s Director of Tennis. Murphy along with his brother Luke had a long successful touring professional tennis career, winning a grand slam at the French Open in 1993 becoming the number one ranked doubles team in the world. As Murphy and I talked, we realized that we grew up a few years apart in Northern Michigan, shared tennis coaches and played in several of the same tournaments as kids. My greatest disappointment on this trip – that was otherwise one continuous highlight – was that I did not get to spend time on the club’s clay courts with Murphy.
The following morning found our group on the putting green with Mike Shannon, the man who has helped Matt Kuchar become one of the top putters on the PGA tour. Mike invented the Laser Optics Putting Improvement System that is currently used by more than 100 tour players and he regularly appears as a putting expert on golf programming. The system is incredibly effective and after a quick analysis of my stance and stroke, Mike was able to help me make simple adjustments that had my ball finding the bottom of the cup on a much more regular basis from distances that just moments before I would have been happy just to get close.
From there we went to the driving range and working with Director of Instruction, Todd Anderson and Director of Fitness, Randy Myers I quickly straightened out my long irons and added dozens of yards to my distance. Their ability to analyze my swing while making minor changes to my grip and stance have given me hope that I might be able to break 90 some time this year.
But alas, all good things must come to an end, and after two hours of instruction at the golf performance center, I was handed the keys to a Wraith and was back behind the wheel headed north to Savannah where I would catch my flight to Madison. From the moment I landed in Georgia until the the wheels were up on my return flight, I was living the Rolls-Royce lifestyle and savoring every second of it. That’s why I say to anyone who has one of these magnificent machines from Goodwood in their garage, you do have an obligation to live well and enjoy the journey as much as I enjoyed my weekend.