CEOs can find that a big new idea sometimes just takes getting away from it all
Ted Boylan was cruising at 13,000 feet toward an island in the Bahamas just after Christmas when his mind turned toward year-end business matters. As the founder of Admiral Building Products in Woburn, Mass., a 125-employee company that distributes Firestone roofing materials, he was thinking—as CEOs frequently do—about “how you're going to add more value to your company in the coming year, how to grow, how to keep enthusiasm among your employees, how to give them more challenges.”
And before the wheels of the private, eight-seat propeller plane touched the tropical airstrip and landed Boylan and his family at The Abaco Club's private air terminal on Abaco Island, 170 miles east of Florida, he had come up with an idea. “I decided to expand my business into the manufacturing of metal roofing panels,” Boylan recalls. Actually, Boylan only thought up the idea on the plane. He spent the next warm, sunny week at The Abaco Club playing golf, fishing, walking on the beach—and pondering the potential for making money at the new venture. By the time he returned to chilly Massachusetts, he had decided to move forward.
Sometimes, a big new idea just takes getting away from it all. And that's what membership retreats like The Abaco Club offer chief executives looking for a change of scenery without the hassle of planning a family vacation, or the ritz, glitz and hubbub of yet another high-rise resort.
The property, owned by British entrepreneur and real estate mogul Peter de Savary, is deliberately understated, even rustic, set on a two-and-a-half mile stretch of white powdery sand called Winding Bay. But it's not lacking in luxury: It has a full-service spa and fitness club, and furnished homes with ocean views that rent by the day or week with as much “concierge service” as you wish to pay for.
It also boasts a links-style golf course that has drawn such golfers as PGA pro Ernie Els and actor Sean Connery. [Club lore has it that Connery, who has a home elsewhere in the Bahamas, played the course four times in one weekend and at the end declared that the winds and spray off the Atlantic had made it play so differently each time that he signed up.] It takes an hour to walk from Busters on the Beach, the open-air, burger-and- conch-fritter lunch joint, to the end of the bay and back, and you're unlikely to see anything but sand dunes, sandpipers and sparkling turquoise ocean along the way. “Sometimes, vacations are as hectic or more hectic than being at home, so it's nice to get to a place where there just isn't a lot of stuff ,” says Boylan, one of the club's more than 160 members, many of whom are senior management. “The beach is a very relaxing place to think.”
But for those who don't want to think, there's plenty to do: horseback riding, small sailboats (Hobie Cats), and sea kayaks that allow visitors to paddle out to a small island called Sugar Cay. There's tennis on clay courts (with grass coming soon). There's the club's own fishing boat for anglers who want to try for what's known locally as a Grand Slam: a blue marlin, a white marlin and a sailfish in a single day, not to mention tuna and wahoo (which the Clubhouse staff will cook for your dinner). The boat also takes out snorkelers and scuba divers, and the northeastern edge of Abaco has the world's third-longest barrier reef and an abundance of tame reef sharks. The club also will arrange outings on its shallow-bottomed skiff for bonefish, a notoriously hard-to-catch silvery fish that darts around in one to three feet of water in the saltwater mangrove flats nearby known as The Marls. (The area is also a haven for heron, egrets and the endangered Abaco Parrot, which serves as the island's mascot.) While Bahamians used to eat the fish despite its bones, bonefish are now protected and are catch and release only.
There are also excursions to local towns where the history of Abaco is apparent in the mix of both blacks and whites among the roughly 8,000 year-round residents: The first residents in 1873, in fact, were American plantation owners, mostly from the Carolinas, who were loyal to Britain and were fleeing the newly independent United States with their slaves. For a while they grew cotton, but the land proved inhospitable so they took to luring ships into the island's shallow waters, running them aground and pillaging them. When the rest of the Bahamas became independent from Britain in 1973, the residents of Abaco petitioned to remain part of the British Empire (but failed).
De Savary has big plans for the property. In a recent link-up with Ritz-Carlton, he has started building a 40- room hotel and another 225 cottages, cabanas, apartments and other units on the club's grounds. Currently, prices range from $1,000 a night for members staying in one-room inland cabanas, to $1,800 a night for two-bed- room cedar-sided cottages perched on ocean-side cliffs and built to withstand hurricanes, to up to $3,200 a night for a four-bedroom private house with swimming pool. All residences have use of the common clubhouse, with its restaurant, eternity pool overlooking the white sands of the bay, fitness center, and spa and sauna, which uses products from the British aromatherapy brand Elemis for massages and facials.
But the biggest draw is golf, golf, golf—and more golf. The club bills its par 72 course as the world's first authentic tropical links-style course, designed by the famous Scottish golf architect Donald Steel who also did the Carnegie Links at Skibo Castle in Scotland (which de Savary once owned). Steel carved the greens,trees, bunkers and mounds out of the sand dunes and ancient coral formations that make up the island, placing 18 holes from the ocean side of Abaco Island through to the cove of Winding Bay, and landscaping it in between with a unique grass called Paspalum that thrives on salt water. Even a non-golfer can appreciate its spectacular beauty as the spray of salt water crashes over the 60-foot coral cliffs onto the edge of the fairway, but avid golfers call the experience glorious, verging on the divine.
“I've played pretty much everywhere, and to be able to play and have that type of scenery, both the Atlantic and the Bay on the same course, with the waves crashing, the sea foam, you can't beat it,” says another club member, Scott Libertore, CEO of Financial Insurance Management in Sarasota, Fla., which sells roadside assistance to drivers in 48 states. “Those breezes are blowing 20 knots, and when you love the game, it just adds another element to it. If you're not a decent golfer, it's a tougher course to play.”
Compared with joining a golf club in Florida, for example, where membership at Trump International in West Palm Beach, or the Ritz- Carlton in Jupiter, can range from $200,000 to $300,000 and have years-long waiting lists, joining the course at Abaco is a relative bargain at $80,000. “For true golfers, it's a great deal,” says Libertore.
Libertore liked the club's facilities and proximity to Florida so much that he purchased a plot of land on the club's property, known as The Point, and intends to construct a weekend home there for his family of six. “We wanted a home in the Bahamas, and this is the best we can find,” Libertore says. “I call it ‘Unwinding Bay' because it does give you a chance to think and reflect.” Just what every CEO needs.