(Dataw Island, SC) - Homeowners on Dataw Island, S.C., have a lot to be grateful for, starting with a lifestyle centered on enjoyment of leisure time, fine food and great golf punctuated by the idyllic surroundings and seclusion of 870 waterfront acres.

If residents need other reminders of their good fortune, they don't have to look very far. There are plenty of examples of once-quaint but now overrun enclaves scattered up and down the state's Atlantic shoreline, of which the best known are Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head.

Tucked in an inlet of St. Helena Sound and encircled by the intracoastal waters of Morgan River and Jenkins Creek, Dataw (about 47 miles northeast of Savannah, Ga.) consists of 820 charming and gracious homes that blend naturally into the landscape of trees and coastal grasses, with only 200 more to be built. Common areas include a community center, marina and tennis courts. There are also two 18-hole golf courses and a luxurious, members-only private club.

Dataw was an indigo plantation in the Civil War era and private hunting ground until the 1970s. The residential development broke ground in 1985. Carefully conceived with sensitivity to the environment and to the array of wildlife inhabiting the island, it manages to feel far less contrived than most planned communities. Dataw is six miles and a world away from the nearest town, Beaufort. And thanks to its relatively small size and development limits, the gated enclave is far more intimate than its larger island neighbors.

Charlotte, N.C., residents Jena and Wade Abernathy fell in love with the beauty of the island on an "Experience Dataw" visit in 2005. The couple initially bought a lot, intent on building in the future, but found themselves "yearning to spend more time there" and later purchased a waterfront villa to use as a getaway before finally deciding to buy what will become their retirement home.

"Last year, with home prices declining, we took the plunge and purchased a fixer-upper two-bedroom house below market at $120,000," she said, adding that they have spent an additional $180,000 on renovations. "We feel the investment has been well worth the expense because it is beautiful and is exactly what we were seeking on the golf course with a water view."

The Abernathys stay at their second home on Dataw at least once a month for long weekends and visit for two full weeks each year.

It's not uncommon for Dataw Island to transition from an occasional haven to a full-time residence.

Sue Zankowski and her retired husband, John, who lived in New Jersey for 25 years, bought their three-bedroom, two-bathroom marsh-side house for about $375,000 in 2003. It served as a vacation property until the couple moved down permanently in 2005.

"We loved Dataw Island the minute we arrived. The golf courses were designed by well-known architects, the people are wonderful and we love the area," said Sue Zankowski. "We are both golfers and love the people we play with, the course and the pro staff. With the weather we get to play just about year-round, one of the reasons we moved down here."

While the Zankowskis consider life on Dataw to be "the best of all worlds," Jena Abernathy views spending time there as a life-changing experience.

"When we cross over the bridge and enter the island, a calmness prevails that I have never felt anywhere else," she said. "The low country grabs hold of you, and the rise and fall of the tide creates a feeling of renewal, which is what makes Dataw Island a true retreat."


  • Perks
    A picture-postcard South Carolina Lowcountry escape set among lush marshland equally suited for quiet time or an active lifestyle. Fine dining, golf, tennis, sailing, fishing, swimming, dance, aerobics, yoga and a host of cultural events and recreational activities.

  • The drawbacks
    Shopping requires an off-island trip.

  • The weather
    Mild winters; hot, humid summers; 230 days of sunshine a year.

  • The costs
    Prices start at under $200,000 and rise to the $3 million range. Most homes sell for between $300,000 and $700,000. Building lots go for as little as $75,000.

  • Getting there
    Continental, United and US Airways provide round-trip service, with stopovers, to Hilton Head Island from just under $400. From the airport, take U.S. 278 west to Okatie Highway (Route 170), then continue past Bluffton and on to Beaufort. From there, take Route 21 east and turn left on Polawana Road and continue to Dataw Island.

  • Where to stay
    The Rhett House Inn ($149 and up; 888-480-9530; rhetthouseinn.com) is an elegant antebellum mansion turned B&B in Beaufort’s historic district.

  • Must see
    Hunting Island State Park, once a layover for sailors and pirates, is a 5,000-acre public space with abundant wildlife, a camping area, historic lighthouse, fishing pier and a sandy beach considered by many to be one of the most beautiful in the state.

    For more information
    The official website of Dataw Island (dataw.org) has information about the community and its real estate.

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