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Inside Hook

The Preserve

March 8, 2021

The outside of of Hilltop Lodge.

If you ever find yourself off in Rhode Island, there is a .5% chance you’re on the property of The Preserve Club & Residences. That’s mathematically speaking, of course, as the 3,500-acre property accounts for about .5% of the area of Rhode Island.

Rhode Island is not a large state. In fact it is a small state — the smallest in the Union. That is all relative, though, and .5% of its landmass is still a very large space to have at your disposal. It would take you a very long time to explore 3,500 acres, and take advantage of the bounty they offer. That’s kind of the idea, you’ll find, once you set foot on the Preserve’s sprawling grounds 20 minutes north of the Block Island Sound.

The Preserve is a rather unique offering that fits somewhere in the center of a Venn diagram consisting of bubbles that read: Sporting Club, Luxury Residences and Expansive Countryside Resort. The property was originally much smaller, serving as the golf course for Foxwoods Casino. When Foxwoods built a new course closer to their property, the course was more or less abandoned for the better part of a decade before real-estate magnate Paul Mihailides acquired it, as well as surrounding properties. A lifelong marksman and sport shooter with a professional background in golf-course development, he wanted to build an all-seasons sporting club that appealed to a much broader range of members when he broke ground on The Preserve in 2017. Eventually, he realized the potential of the place as a resort destination, and decided to create residences and rental properties to go along with the world class sporting facilities on offer.

There Will Be Guns

The biggest draw for many is The Preserve’s commitment to the various sports that involve shooting things with firearms. But this isn’t some place for members to go out back to a field and blow shit up. The Preserve has America’s longest indoor shooting range (more than 150 yards long), an underground affair that features automated retrieval and 24 stations. They also offer a whole host of classes taught by expert instructors from the Navy and special forces. On top of that (literally — it’s on the second floor), they have a Firearms Training Simulation (FATS®) system where you can learn how to properly use a handgun in tactical situations without using live ammo. It’s kind of like a golf simulator, which by the way, they also have up there.

Two people in shooting gear, standing under a shelter.

Just to set the record straight, I am not a gun person. I do not go out shooting for fun. I do not particularly enjoy the feeling of having a handgun in my possession (I’ve been to a shooting range once, and it was not my cup of tea), and my trip to The Preserve didn’t change my mind as far as those things go. It did however, very much change my mind about another gun-related pursuit: sporting clays, which The Preserve has in spades.

If you’re unfamiliar, sporting clays are the shooting sport where you yell “pull” and a clay disc is hurled across your field of vision, where you (ideally) blow it out of the sky. I had never done this before, but apprehensively decided to try it out after Mihailides explained to me, “You’re at one of the best sporting clay courses in the country, how the hell are you not going to do it?”

So I did it. And was very glad I did. I played the game of English sporting clays (similar but different from skeet shooting), which generally consists of a course made up of various stations — not dissimilar to the “holes” on a golf course — that shoot clays at different distances, angles and trajectories. You use a shotgun that discharges birdshot — basically hundreds of tiny BBs that scatter as you shoot them. This makes shooting the discs a whole lot easier than you would think. It also didn’t hurt that the instructor taking me out knew his shit and showed me some very simple but essential techniques to help with aiming true (e.g., Did you know you have a dominant eye that sees straighter than the other?).

My gun apprehension faded almost immediately after my safety course, and in its place, my competitive nature flared up. This was basically golf with a shotgun. You are competing against yourself and your own muscle memory and physical limitations. You’re not training to combat a home intruder or prepare for civil unrest; you’re simply trying to hit a thing flying through the air more accurately than you did the last time. And the fact that you’re probably not going to kill someone with the birdshot (though you can definitely make them have a bad day) eases that feeling in the pit of your stomach that might attend holding real gun with deadly ammunition.

The sporting clays are a huge draw. Not many clubs have a full 19-station course like The Preserve does, and fewer have ones as well regarded in the shooting community. It’s a high-end experience with an emphasis on safety and fun, and certainly one that I — a gun-averse person — would happily engage in again.

On top of the everyday opportunities at the range and with the sporting clays, The Preserve also offer periodic hunts across the grounds for various bird species, and if you’re a firearm collector, they have a rare-guns room in their sporting shop that sells pieces for upwards of $200,000.

So Much Room for (Other) Activities

If you’d rather not participate in any firearm-related happenings, that’s understandable, and there is still plenty more on offer to meet your needs. There is an 18-hole par 3 golf course, red clay and grass tennis courts, a rock-climbing wall, zip-lining, kayaking and canoeing, hiking, ATVing, fly-fishing areas and in the winter, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. There’s also a swimming pool, multiple dining establishments and a spa. Guests and members alike get varying degrees of access for free or additional charges depending on membership levels; the activities are split into two tiers.

A shooting range at the Preserve.

Front of House inclusions: Clubhouse, Double Barrel Kitchen, Lawn & Racquet Club, outdoor pool, indoor range, 19-station clays course and soon to come, the White Birch Cafe and OH! Spa and fitness center.

A woman in a green jacket skiing on a path surrounded by trees.

Back of House: Golf, zipline, rock-climbing wall, fishing ponds, hiking trails and a lot of the winter activities, like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

How to Get Access to the Preserve

As mentioned earlier, The Preserve has a rather unique ownership and rental model, and you can gain access to the property in a variety of ways. There are four different membership levels: Preserve membership is the crème de la crème and will run an initiation fee in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but you’ll pretty much get free reign of the place and access to high-end sister properties in the Ocean House and Weekapaug Inn, along with event invites. The membership is also sellable or transferable.

Next is the Ram membership — less than Preserve but still pricey. This is a pared-down version with less access (no back-house amenities like hiking, golf, fishing) but you still have access to the range, clays, tennis courts, fitness and dining, plus you can enjoy Preserve benefits (access to those back house activities) 12 days throughout the year. You also get access to Ocean House and The Weekapaug Inn and event invites. A Clays membership is significantly cheaper than a Ram membership, and gets you front of house access without upgrade days or access to other properties and events. Finally, you can get a Spa, Dining and Range membership, which tells you exactly what you get access to. This one is by far the least expensive.

It should be noted that all of these memberships require an initiation fee and then yearly dues. Those original initiation fees can be put towards an upgrade if you ever feel inclined to get more of The Preserve in your life.

But You Can Also Buy or Rent

Of course, there’s one more way to get into The Preserve — literally everything is for sale, including the man condos, cabins and townhouses that are scattered about the property. The resort’s various accommodations operate on an ownership model that allows you to purchase a piece of fully furnished property and then rent it to guests of the resort when you’re not staying there yourself. Prices vary, but most properties will run you in the six-figure range. Perks include club membership and a full staff to service your property for guests. The revenue from rentals is split between the resort and the owner of the property, with The Preserve telling us that quite a few owners make their money back within a decade.

A living room and kitchen area with gray and white color scheme.

The property I stayed in was spacious and immaculately appointed, with high-lofted ceilings and handsome, robust decor befitting a luxury hunting lodge. The bed was supremely comfortable, and there was even a full game room in the basement with a card table. It would be a great rental for a weekend couples getaway, boys trip, corporate retreat, client outing or (extremely) high-end bachelor party.

The Verdict

If you’re into guns and wealthy, this place is pretty much a no brainer. I’m never ever going to be someone who goes to a gun range for fun, but I could very much see myself enjoying a weekend retreat every now and then to do some clay shooting for the sport of it all. But you also don’t have to be interested in guns to make it worthwhile. There are plenty of other amenities at the property (along with the prospect of serious passive income if you can afford to buy) to make a trip there a very worthwhile experience. But, just like I did, if you’re going to go, give the clays a shot. It’ll be fun.