Dataw Island is such a friendly community that when new people move in, "you have to learn to say 'no' or you'll be at a cocktail party every night," said Bob North, a resident and real estate agent on the island.
Off St. Helena Island about six miles east of Beaufort, Dataw (pronounced daw-taw) is an extraordinarily beautiful setting in which to make new friends. The island is surrounded on three sides by Jenkins Creek and bounded by tidal marshes; inland, it's shaded by massive live oaks. Many of the homes overlook sunsets across the marsh, fairways or the riverfront.
Amenities include a 72-slip deep water marina and two gorgeous golf courses in addition to the fitness center, tennis center, community center, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and grand clubhouse that residents of these types of communities consider de rigeur. A pair of championship croquet lawns are home to tournament play and a competitive spirit.
About 1,050 people -- 70 percent of the homes on the island -- consider Dataw their primary residence. Compared to many other gated, private club communities in the South Carolina Lowcountry, this is a lot of folks. The large number of permanent residents and the relative age of the community foment the strong neighborhood spirit that both residents and realtors call the island's best feature.
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Dataw was established as an upscale community in 1983 by Alcoa Properties. The developer has since moved on, and the property owners association, made up of residents, is in charge of the 870-acre community. About 200 homesites remain undeveloped; at build-out there will be 1,050 homes. North said there are about 120 properties for sale now on the island, including houses, villas and homesites.
Known as one of South Carolina's premier golf communities, the Dataw Island Club has two 18-hole golf courses -- Tom Fazio's Cotton Dike course and Arthur Hills' Morgan River course. Cotton Dike is under renovation and will reopen in late fall.
"Then we will immediately go to the Morgan River course, which is going to be renovated next," said David Warren, who is in charge of marketing on Dataw. About 80 percent of the residents are members of the Dataw Historic Foundation.
"They work very hard on unearthing ruins, protecting them and documenting them," Warren said. "There are artifacts everywhere -- including in the sales center and the clubhouse."
These bits of history date from pre-Colonial times up through the Civil War era. In the late 1700s, William Sams planted indigo and later sea island cotton on Dataw. The National Park Service recently added the remains of the family's tabby home to the National Register of Historic Places.
Denise Ogden is typical of residents of Dataw in that she divides her time between community groups on the island and off-island activities. A retired elementary school teacher, she coordinates the volunteers at St. Helena Elementary School and also heads an intervention program there for at-risk kindergartners.
Ogden and her husband Doug moved from Ohio and have lived on Dataw since 1998. She still remembers the first time they came to the island.
"We drove across the causeway, took a big old sniff of that pluff mud, and said 'We're home,'" she said.
On Dataw, she enjoys her book club, walking her Shiba Inu "who looks like a little red fox" and participating in two gourmet groups.
Doug Ogden has golfed on Dataw with "the same five guys for 10 years," his wife said. Off-island, he assists and interviews local applicants to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., his alma mater.