SEA ISLAND, Ga. – Offering high security with its natural moat of dense marsh and ocean, this ritzy-yet-rugged resort on the Georgia coast will host President Bush and fellow world leaders during next week's G-8 summit (search).
For the week, this haven for the rich will turn into a sealed-off fortress.
"I think this may be the safest place in the world next week," said Reg Murphy, one of Sea Island's few full-time residents. "You've got an absolute wall of people protecting you — the Secret Service, the FBI and the National Guard. And radar everywhere."
Sea Island (search), a 2-by-5 mile stretch of private beaches and Spanish moss draped oaks 80 miles south of Savannah, is also a place with sentimental ties for Bush.
His parents — former President George H.W. and Barbara Bush — honeymooned here in 1945. They also spent their 50th wedding anniversary here. Murphy has played golf with the elder Bush during return visits to the island's oceanfront fairways.
"The Bushes love Sea Island," said Bill Jones III, chairman and CEO of the Sea Island Company, the family business that has operated the island getaway since its founding 76 years ago. "And I'm sure they have shared that experience with their son."
Jones' grandfather, Alfred "Bill" Jones Sr., and a partner opened Sea Island's signature resort - the Cloister — in 1928. The Jones family has maintained the island's rugged veneer with thick stands of ancient oaks and roaming alligators while developing some of the nation's priciest real estate.
Last year, Forbes magazine ranked Sea Island as No. 3 on its list of the nation's most-expensive zip codes, between second-ranked Aspen, Colo., and Palm Beach, Fla.
Just over 600 homes dot the island ranging from single-story brick beach cottages to white-columned mansions with circular driveways — at prices from $1.5 million to $20 million.
Bush has said he wanted a relaxed, informal atmosphere for the summit with the leaders of Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Canada and Russia.
Their main meeting room at the Spanish-Mediterranean style Beach Club resembles a rustic lodge with stucco walls and exposed pine-beam ceiling, lit by wrought iron chandeliers. Mahogany-framed glass doors overlook the beach.
Although the Cloister hotel has been demolished for an upgrade (transplanted oaks and magnolias will camouflage the construction from view by G-8 leaders), the company's nearby golf resort, the Lodge, offers some of the luxuries that come with Sea Island hospitality.
For $500-per-night, guests get rooms with electric towel-warming racks and mini-bars with mini-bottles of Courvoisier. The men's locker room contains its own lunch buffet and fully stocked bar.
Even anti-globalization (search) protesters, who will be kept off Sea Island by the massive security force, say it's a perfect setting for the G-8 - because it drives home their point that the world's wealthiest nations are setting economic policy at the expense of the poor.
"There could not be a more appropriate setting," said Robert Randall, a local activist organizing demonstrations in nearby Brunswick. "It highlights exactly what the problems are with globalization - your rich people and decision makers separating themselves off from the rest of us."
During the summit Tuesday through Thursday, even the 100 homeowners who live here year-round will need special credentials to cross security checkpoints at the Sea Island causeway.
A security force of 20,000 will be in place from Sea Island to Savannah, the summit hub for 5,000 international delegates and reporters, with National Guard humvees patrolling the roads, Coast Guard gunboats plying the waters and helicopters overhead.
"Nobody's going to allow mail or packages to be delivered for a week," said Murphy. "You hear people say they can't get to the grocery store without an hour or two of delays. But most people take great pride that they were selected for a world leadership conference."