Davis Love's Wild Side
Everett lives in a cluster of reclaimed nineteenth-century buildings that he’s connected with a network of hallways — all antique wood — to form a single residence. Everett says that when he built the first part of his home, about twenty years ago, he was such a purist that he used only hand-forged nails to stitch it together. Everett could tell that Love’s interest in his work was genuine. “He asked a thousand questions,” recalls Everett. “His appreciation for reclaimed wood was clear. Part of it is preserving history — that seemed to be important to him. Green building, as some people call it, also motivated him to some extent. But I think it goes even deeper with Davis.”
That weekend, Love and Blackshear stayed in reclaimed cabins Everett had built on the Flint River, which runs through his property. They were rustic but comfortable, perfect for a hunter. In the end, Love bought the heart pine for the floors in his new home from Everett — but that was just the beginning. “I said to D., ‘We’ve got to get us a couple of cabins like these,’” Love recalls.
In the mind of Davis Love III, the seeds of the Copeland
Hall compound were planted.
Blackshear tosses another log on the fire, in the big iron pit outside at Copeland Hall, under a canopy of live oak branches. The sun is dropping fast. An eagle swoops below the treetops beyond the bass pond, then rises up and nestles among a thicket of branches. “He’s in for the night,” Blackshear says.
Blackshear knows Copeland Hall, its wildlife, history, and topography, as well as anyone. As part of a 55,000-acre parcel first owned by the Sea Island Co., the estate and the neighboring land served as a hunting and fishing retreat, mainly for wealthy Northerners, in the 1920s, when Sea Island was founded. But during World War II, Sea Island fell on hard times and sold off the land to paper companies, which harvested and replanted countless longleaf pines.
“When Bill Jones III took over as CEO of the company in 1995, he wanted to buy back the land,” Blackshear says. “It was an impossible idea, but Mr. Jones insisted it could work, and he was right. Everyone on the board, including Davis, was given a chance to buy in. So, here we are.”
Love bought three cabins from Everett, and construction began at Copeland Hall in 2002. “The plan was to make one cabin extremely rustic, one in between, and one livable,” Love says. “Well, as we went along, rustic didn’t seem too appealing. My dad was a real traditionalist, so I appreciate the whole historic mentality. But also, I like having the flat-screen TV, the wireless Internet, and all that stuff. You want the modern. The stove we have here looks like early nineteenth century, but it’ll really cook!”
The first cabin completed was originally built between 1860 and 1870, in Sandy Mush, North Carolina. Dru’s Cabin, as it is now known, is a beautiful box of weathered timber with a little front porch for sitting and looking at the bass pond. The other two cabins, even older than Dru’s, also have a rustic feel. In the main cabin, for instance, Love had antique tobacco-drying sticks installed as stair banisters, and the posts holding up the front porch are petrified cat’s-eye pine found on the property: The herringbone markings in the wood are scars from the sap harvest. Love also specified the use of rare antique pecky cypress on some of the interior walls. The wood appears furrowed by insects, but Everett explains that fungus — not bugs — creates the intricate markings. When the trees are harvested and the boards milled, the fungus dies and the imperfect beauty of the lumber comes to life.
Everett, while still a purist at heart, appreciates what Love has done with the structures at Copeland Hall, including the modern touches, like the glass-walled showers with showerheads the size of dinner plates. “He told me basically what he wanted and turned me loose out there,” Everett says. “He wanted casual family living, that’s what I’d call it, with a historic feel. He has true Appalachian log homes. The construction is a mix of old and new; the daubing between the logs, for instance, doesn’t have horse or pig hair in it — it’s got synthetic fibers. Davis wanted to walk into a cabin that felt like it was from the 1800s, but also had the trappings and the amenities of a current lifestyle. That’s what I gave him.”
Remarkably, all three cabins were finished in a matter of months, by the spring of 2003. As is his practice, Everett had methodically dismantled the structures, numbering each piece of wood like an archaeologist cataloguing dinosaur bones. At Copeland Hall, Savannah gray brick foundations were laid and the buildings quickly took shape. Blackshear worked on the project, as did Love’s brother-in-law, Jeffrey “Big Jeff” Knight, who was married to Robin’s sister, Karen. Big Jeff served as the de facto construction manager; he was also on Love’s payroll as an accountant, keeping track of the golfer’s considerable fortune. Not long after the cabins were constructed, however, Love was blindsided by a visit from Big Jeff.
It was dusk on May 11, 2003, and Love was in the main cabin with Dru. Headlights flashed in the driveway. Love immediately recognized Big Jeff’s truck.
Big Jeff was a frequent visitor and always welcome at Copeland Hall, of course. Love was looking forward to seeing him. But when Big Jeff came through the door, his face was contorted with worry. Love knew in an instant that something was terribly wrong.
Love sent Dru away and sat down at the kitchen table with his brother-in-law. “Look,” Big Jeff said, ashen-faced, “I need to spill my guts here.”
He confessed to stealing nearly one million dollars from Love. The FBI was investigating. When Love recovered from the shock, he swore to stand behind Big Jeff. “I made a promise to do whatever I could do for him and his family, that I would take care of them,” Love recalls. “He was completely baring his soul; he was in trouble — deep. But I talked him through it.”
A few days earlier, Robbie Flanders, a high-school golf teammate of Love’s, had jumped to his death from the St. Simons Island causeway bridge. The suicide was fresh on Love’s mind. “Everyone was on high alert about Jeff,” Love says. “I stressed to my friends and family, ‘We have a very, very serious situation here.’”
Five days later Big Jeff killed himself in his fishing cabin. Love found the body.
The pile of logs in the fireplace is only smoldering now, and Love is getting antsy, glancing over his shoulder frequently, waiting for Dru to arrive. They’ll head out together this afternoon to deer hunt, but both would rather be in the spring turkey woods.
“Turkey hunting is like fly fishing, in that, when you get into it, it’s the only thing you want to do,” Love says. “Don’t get me wrong, I like deer hunting. But turkey hunting is a whole other level. You’re communicating with the animal. You call the animal to you, trying to trick it. It’s fascinating. Dru summed it up one day. He had sat there with his call, making this turkey gobble all day long. We never saw it, not even a glimpse. I said, ‘I’m sorry, buddy.’ And he smiled and said, ‘It’s all worth it.’”
In an antique cabinet upstairs in the main cabin at Copeland Hall, Love has stashed some of his collection of two hundred to three hundred turkey calls. The remainder, the really valuable ones, he has locked away in a safe. “I have some neat stuff,” Love says, “but some of them I didn’t feel right just having around.”
“I’ve focused it down to collecting calls made by guys I’ve gotten to know,” Love says. “For instance, there’s this preacher from Orangeburg, South Carolina, Zach Farmer. He’s the neatest guy. He comes down here and hunts. And we like him to come because he’s a friend, but he’s a piece of history. He’s seventy years old and has been making calls for almost as long.
“He’s one of the best at what he does,” Love says. “And he appreciates what I do as a professional golfer. But mostly he likes to hunt turkey with me, so he comes up. We’re friends. It’s that simple.”
It’s early February, and Love is talking on his cell phone from California. He played in his first event at Pebble Beach, shooting four under par and finishing tied for twenty-fifth. He was pleased with the performance, his first tournament since he blew out his ankle and had surgery in September. His rigorous rehab put him in excellent physical shape, and he’s confident that despite his age — forty-three-year-olds are like fossils on the PGA Tour — he’s due for a big season.
“I made enough birdies at Pebble to feel good, to feel competitive,” Love says, fresh from the practice round for another tournament, in Los Angeles. “But right now, I’m sitting in traffic in L.A., looking at all the people on Rodeo Drive. And meanwhile, I’m thinking, ‘It would be really nice to be back at Copeland Hall.’”
Love’s voice is suddenly wistful. He says, “Copeland Hall is an important place for me, but it’s not an entirely happy place. When I’m there by myself, I walk in that kitchen and I remember my last conversation with Big Jeff,” Love says. “I remember my promise to do whatever I could do for him and his family, that I would take care of them, and I have.
“I can compare it to when my dad passed away,” Love continues. “For a long time I refused to go to the driving range where I practiced with him. It was just too hard for me. But I got to the point where I was like, I have to go back there, where Dad and I spent hours and hours. I need to go back there and turn this into a positive. I can’t run from it anymore.
“It’s the same for me at Copeland Hall. The place has a whole lot of ghosts. A lot of passion — Willis Everett’s and mine and Big Jeff’s — went into that little circle of buildings. It’s like, everything bad that could possibly happen to you, and everything good, it’s all there, and I love the place.”