Fripp Island, S.C. — This tiny, well-kept secret of an island offers an unusually good blend of nature and sport, at a pace as leisurely as the golf carts that rule the roads here.

After arriving at your rental, you can actually stow your sedan and solve your transportation needs with a two-seater cart, even if you don’t know a Callaway from a castaway. Scores of rental golf carts cruise abound, laden with kids and beach gear, and with the islandwide 25 mph speed limit, they can outperform a Ferrari. Carts get the prime parking spaces, too. “You’re kind of in the way with a car,’’ notes Mike Brown, who works at Fripp.

The island is two square miles of Lowcountry, an overlooked neighbor to the more renowned and developed Hilton Head. The island was settled by the Fripp family in the 18th century, but the logos of a sailing ship promote the legend of Capt. John Fripp, a privateer who, historian Page Miller points out, appears more myth than fact, though Blackbeard, a very real pirate, menaced nearby Charleston.

Nevertheless, homeowners have found clever ways to honor the island name.  Homes have names posted on mailboxes like Fripp Fropp, Frippin’ Freemans, and Long Strange Fripp. Most are owned by either permanent residents or people with second homes, such as Doyle Presley of Marietta, who also rents out his villa. Many, like Presley, live within a 6-hour drive from Fripp, though you’ll see plenty of Ohio license plates too, as well as from other distant lands.

“When you cross the bridge to Fripp, you enter a different world,’’ says Presley.

The second thing you must secure upon arrival is a club guest card, formerly called an ‘’amenity card,’’ which is your ticket to beach clubs and swimming pools, even food areas. The cards cost $50 per week, but renters can negotiate with the home and condo owners. They are passports to the fun stuff, more valuable here than your Visa.

The main beach at low tide stretches  as wide as a football field from dune to surf. Along the sand, people play volleyball, paddleball and bocce, toss a football or baseball, and hurl beanbags at wooden platforms in a horseshoes-like game. The waves won’t remind you of Waikiki, but kids will enjoy the boogie boarding.

Surf fishing can bring dinner in the form of whiting and other varieties, and serious anglers can venture offshore through charters from the island’s marina.

Speaking of sustenance, there are a few places to eat on Fripp – don’t forget those guest cards – but the best plan for a family is to stock up on groceries at a store in Beaufort before arrival.

Roaming all around Fripp are indigenous flocks of deer, which hark back to a time when the island was a hunting preserve for the rich. The deer wander into yards, munching on grass, flowers and sometimes snacking out of your hand. They are so plentiful that the island has launched a sterilization campaign of females, whose ears bear a red tag.

Less cute are the alligators that cool themselves in lagoons along the golf course. You can tell one has surfaced when tourists gather in a clump, pointing nervously and clicking photos. Golfers don’t linger too long looking for their Titleists in the murky waters. There’s no penalty for landing a ball near a toothy 8-footer and then surrendering it as unplayable.

Bird life is spectacular. Blue herons and ospreys populate the marsh areas, and great egrets nest in trees lining the golf course lagoons. Brown pelicans soar in formation over the beach and marsh.

And excursions from the marina aboard a 40-foot boat (the Fripper) provide frequent sightings of bottle-nose dolphin (like Flipper) that surface near the vessel as if performing. A shelling expedition twice a week meanders  through rivers and inlets, past a Ted Turner-owned island to Bull Point, where whelks, horseshoe crabs and various intact shells can be collected.

A comfort for parents is that with plenty of bicycles paths and little traffic, they can turn older children loose to enjoy the island. There are several swimming pools, a Camp Fripp for children, and crabbing, canoeing and kayaking. The most serious trouble for teens? Golf carts. Underage kids draw a $200 fine for driving one without a license, according to an ominous posting.

Fripp has two excellent golf courses that are as different as they are challenging. Ocean Point, designed by George Cobb, runs along lagoons and cuts through trees and along the ocean on a few holes, especially the 18th, where a duck hook can splash down in the Atlantic. The course uses a fluffy grass from the African coast that requires less water and chemicals, and gives you a pretty good lie, even in the rough.

Plenty of holes have watery landing spots, as there are on Ocean Creek, a course of wider fairways, Bermuda grass, and greens with many more contours and ridges.

It’s the first signature course designed by PGA touring pro Davis Love III, and many holes skirt wonderful expanses of marshland. The moaning you hear along the course, says golf director Char Cormier, isn’t just from errant shots. Spring and early summer is mating season for the gators, who bellow during sexual activity.

Somewhere along the fifth and sixth holes is where Vietnam scenes from Forrest Gump were filmed. Fripp’s other movie cameos include The Jungle Book (not the animated version) and The Prince of Tides, where Nick Nolte hit the beach.

Tides was written by Pat Conroy, who has a home on Fripp. Many scenes in his books feature the Lowcountry area where he grew up.

But this island  isn’t for everyone.

If your tastes run to cruising along a strip of surf shops, honkytonks, souvenir stores and miniature golf, you may want to go elsewhere. The isolation – 30 minutes from a full-service grocery store – is a lot of the charm of a Fripp trip.

That’s 30 minutes by car, not golf cart.

Andy Miller

Andy Miller

Andy Miller is an Atlanta-based freelance writer specializing in health care. He worked for the AJC for 24 years, covering health care for the last 17 years. He now writes for's WalletPop, where he has a column "Dollars & Health,"' and for WebMD. He has also written articles for Kaiser Health News, AARP's Bulletin, and Emory Magazine. He is a Duke grad.