Georgia-Florida: Game is big part of Golden Isles history -- and economy

Garry Smits
The flags were flying on the St. Simons Island beach as thousands of Georgia students and fans gathered in 2013 for what has become an annual beach party.

The Golden Isles wasn't just crowded the week of the Georgia-Florida game back in the day.

It was hopping. Swinging.

Golf tournaments at Jekyll Island. Parties at the beach on St. Simons Island and at the Sea Island Club. Parties at private homes from Ocean Forest back across the Torres Causeway to Brunswick.

And at some point, if you didn't make it to Emmeline and Hessie, the area's biggest restaurant on the Fredrica River, you weren't cool.

"It was Super Bowl week for us," said Dale Provenzano, the Glynn County (Ga.) commissioner for District 2 (which includes St. Simons) and the chairman of the commission. "You could go to Emmeline and Hessie and the restaurant would be full, the bar full - and it was a long bar - and 500 people would be out on the deck dancing. College football is the greatest sport going and Georgia-Florida has been an important part of our history and our economy."

Georgia fans would stay for the week, board around three dozen buses for the trip to Jacksonville, and come back to either celebrate or drown their sorrows.

How important was the area to Georgia-Florida week? Well, the Isles were part of Larry Munson's famous radio call when Lindsay Scott sped 93 yards for the winning touchdown to lift Georgia over Florida in the iconic 1980 game.

"Do you know what's going to happen tonight in St. Simons and Jekyll and all those places where those Dawg people have $400 condos," Munson screamed into his mike. "Man, is there gonna be some property destroyed tonight!"

It's toned down a bit over the years. Emmeline and Hessie closed on Dec. 31, 1993. The construction of more hotels closer to Jacksonville have resulted in a migration of Georgia fans who want to stay closer to the stadium.

But the week is still important to the Golden Isles and has been estimated by the Visitors and Convention Bureau as bringing more than $1 million in economic impact.

"It's always a boost to the Isles," said Provenzano, whose business background is in hotels, restaurants and entertainment. "And it's not just partying. A lot of private business people use the week to entertain clients. It's still a big deal for us."

The center of St. Simons Island is still crowded from Thursday to the day of the game. Restaurants, bars and gift shops reap a large percentage of their annual business from Georgia-Florida.

And a link to the past can be found at the popular sports bar Brogen's - the original bar from Emmeline and Hessie.

However, some of the partying has gotten out of hand in recent years and law enforcement will be cracking down on under-aged drinking, traffic violations, disorderly conduct and driving while under the influence.

"Frat Beach," an unofficial gathering the day before the game of mostly college students at St. Simons Island, will be especially targeted. Provenzano sent a letter to Georgia, Georgia Southern, the College of Coastal Georgia and area high schools notifying those officials of the plans.

Provenzano said one of the main problems is high school students skipping school and going to Frat Beach.

"We're not going to tolerate it," he said. "As usual, it's a small minority of people ruining it for everyone else. All we're going to do is follow the law."