How Billionaire Phil Anschutz Is Preserving Two National Treasures
Philip Anschutz may be the least known, most influential billionaire in the United States. Among other things, he owns sports teams, concert festivals, arenas and real estate—lots of real estate; in 2017, Town & Country reported that Anschutz was the 22nd largest landowner in the United States. Anschutz is a complicated man. He avoids the media almost entirely—the last interview I’ve seen him give was to Town & Country—while giving millions of dollars to a range of conservative organizations that promote everything from supply-side economics to intelligent design to climate change denial. At the same time, Anschutz has within the past few years bought two of the country’s most beautiful and environmentally dependent resorts, Sea Island, in Georgia, and the Broadmoor, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Both places revolve around outdoor activities. Golf is big, as you might expect, but there are more organic activities as well. At the Broadmoor, hiking and fishing in the nearby wilderness is a central part of the resort’s identity. Sea Island goes further; it offers an eco tour, a marsh tour, birding, fishing, sea turtle education, falconry… It even has a nature center, featuring animals from the local habitat and offering classes for kids. Sea Island takes this stuff seriously, and it would be hard for a visitor to come away from the resort without absorbing a sense of what a fragile treasure nature is. (That said, local environmental groups have for several years been fighting a plan by Sea Island to build luxury homes on a small spit of environmentally sensitive land; Sea Island claims its plan would have no significant environmental impact.)
Embedded in their environments, Broadmoor and Sea Island have hosted generations of families and repeat visitors. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that they are national treasures. Anschutz certainly seems to feel that way. He has placed both properties in a 100-year trust, which prohibits them from being sold and ensures their stability. Anschutz told Town & Country that the act was motivated by “thinking of yourself as a steward rather than an investor.” Environmental preservation is clearly a central element of that stewardship. How you reconcile supporting climate change denial with that commitment to two nature-dependent resorts, I’m not sure. But for visitors, the benefits of the trust are already tangible—and perhaps seeing the impact of climate change on these two properties will prompt Anschutz to reorient that aspect of his philanthropy.
The Broadmoor turned 100 in 2018, and Anschutz has been investing in renovations such as a new lobby, as well as spiffed-up rooms and suites. Part of the renovation includes increased efforts to make the resort greener—reducing energy consumption, using less water, boosting recycling, cutting down on the use of plastic water bottles, growing vegetables and herbs on property, making the golf courses certified Audubon Sanctuaries. In 2014, Anschutz opened two adjacent facilities, Cloud Camp, a lodge with cabins on top of nearby Cheyenne Mountain, and the Ranch at Emerald Valley, another lodge with cabins. In 2015, Anschutz also bought Seven Falls, a local attraction, and added a restaurant and zip-lining. The same year, he opened the Fly-Fishing Camp, a lodge and cabins (and, obviously, fishing) about 75 minutes west of Broadmoor. All of the experiences at these new additions will be affected by climate change.
At Sea Island, which opened in 1928, Anschutz has made a move that should delight many of the resort’s traditional guests: He’s doubled down on golf. The most visible consequence of that is Sea Island’s new Golf Performance Center, a 17,000-square-foot facility which includes swing-improving technology, a putting studio, oceanfront hitting and club fitting bays. There’s also a fitness center, retail and an event space. “There’s nothing like it in the world,” Brannen Veal, director of golf at Sea Island, told me. I can’t vouch for that, but it’s certainly a plausible argument, as Sea Island has long been known as one of the world’s foremost golf resorts and this brand-new facility is extremely impressive. (It’s also a sign of the kind of long-term investment you can make when your property is contained within a 100-year trust.)
Veal emphasizes that golf at Sea Island isn’t just targeted at wealthy white men of a certain age; Sea Island aims to make golf less intimidating, more inclusive, for people who either don’t play or play only a little. “We’re trying to grow the game,” he explains. “We’re just trying to get people to have fun.” One move in that direction: The golf program has eliminated outdated gender-specific tees, instead placing tees at various distances from greens and identifying them by colors including orange, silver, gold, white, green and blue. Another addition to the golf experience is six new cottages, all within walking distance of the golf facilities and facing the water—sort of the equivalent of ski-on condos for skiers. They’re beautifully done, and a perfect place to stay if you’re a golfer or traveling with one. They’re also about a 30-second walk from the Lodge, which houses several restaurants, the best of which is an excellent steakhouse, Colt & Allison.
I’m impressed by the Broadmoor and Sea Island, and optimistic about their futures within this century-long trust. Both resorts were already excellent, but Philip Anschutz seems intent on making them even better. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did something similar for him.