The Club King

Peter de Savary, 59, is the creator of The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle in Scotland, Cherokee Plantation in South Carolina, Stapleford Park in England, and Carnegie Abbey in Rhode Island, where he spent the month of August this year. Each is a private club with golf courses and other amenities—clay pigeon shooting, falconry, horseback riding, tennis—depending on what fits with the club’s local environment. A bald, dapper gentleman with a closely cropped beard, de Savary has spent the last 10 years trying to develop what he calls “unique pieces of real estate in a different way.”

His first venture into the hospitality realm was the St. James’ Clubs in the late 1970s, in Los Angeles, London, Paris and Antigua, which he sold in the late ’80s to help finance his purchase of Skibo Castle. The bulk of his 32-year business career has been spent in the shipping and oil sectors; he once owned or managed 13 shipyards around the globe. Today, he retains one shipyard in the United Kingdom, and he still has a global oil-trading and refueling business. He never went to a university, and his first business successes occurred in Nigeria through contacts he made back home in England.

It’s not always easy to read between the lines of a person’s account about key personal events. De Savary clearly had a moment, or perhaps two moments bunched closely together, that changed his life. The first was a plane crash in late December of 1986. He was departing St. Barthélemy in the Caribbean with his pilot, a nanny, his pregnant wife and his four daughters. The plane went into a stall, plunging into the Caribbean. “We should all be dead,” de Savary says. “We were in the ocean, upside down, the bloody plane was full of fuel and I couldn’t get the door open.” The pilot, who did not escape, died, but de Savary and the rest of the passengers miraculously got out, though one of his daughters had to be revived on the beach by rescuers. Two and a half years later, in June 1989, de Savary underwent a life-threatening operation and lost part of his intestines. “At that point, my philosophy on life changed a little,” de Savary says.

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