Kiawah Island – South Carolina

For years, people have flocked to popular golf destinations in South Carolina including Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach. Most people don’t realize that there are more than 380 golf courses in South Carolina, which is often called the “Golf Capitol of the South.” Now, a new destination is emerging and it might just be South Carolina’s best-kept secret of them all.

The 10,000-acre Kiawah Island, is located just 20 miles (approximately 35 minutes) outside of Charleston. The small, but affluent community encompasses not only beautiful oceanfront scenery and natural wildlife, but also a terrific golf atmosphere.

Serious development on Kiawah (pronounced KEY-o-wah) Island began in the mid-1970s when a Kuwait-based development company purchased the island from a local family for just over $17 million. By the late 1980s, the Kuwaitis had grown inpatient with the slow progress on the island and sold their investment. Today the Kiawah Development Associates (KDP) controls most of the island’s development and unsold plots.

“The original overriding premise for the area’s development was to protect the Island’s spectacular natural wonders, while creating an upscale residential and resort community.” With the help of many strong planners, scientists, historians and some environmentally minded people, plans were put into place for this residential-resort community.

On a recent visit to the island, I was amazed to see how an area could be so well developed, yet maintaining so much of the natural beauty preserved.

With its extensive wildlife, many believe the Island’s habitat looks much the same today as it did centuries ago. There are more than 200 species of birds and waterfowl inhabiting the island. One of Kiawah’s most prolific wildlife animals is the loggerhead turtle, and one can also find many deer, bobcats, alligators, raccoons, foxes and much more.

The area made its first big splash on the golf scene when it hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup matches on the Pete-Dye designed, Ocean Course. Since than, the course has undergone over $5 million in renovations, including architectural chances to seven holes, new irrigation, and converting all the greens to a blend of salt-tolerant (obviously important for a course which hugs the Atlantic Ocean) Paspalum grass. The Course is currently in the process of building a new 24,000-foot clubhouse, which will open in Spring, 2007, before the Senior PGA Championship is played there. It will be situated only 150 feet from the 18th green, facing the Atlantic Ocean. The Ocean Course has also already been selected to host the 2012 PGA Championship.

The Ocean Course consistently ranks in the top courses by Golf Digest (#8 among Public Courses in 2005-2006) and #3 on GOLF magazine’s 2006 list of the Top 100 You Can Play. It is open daily for public play.

While much of the golf attention on Kiawah Island is directed at the Ocean Course, the Island also has six additional golf courses – of which five are open to the public – Cougar Point (Gary Player design), Turtle Point (Jack Nicklaus design), Osprey Point (Tom Fazio design), Oak Point (Clyde Johnston design), and the two private courses – The River Course (Tom Fazio design) and Cassique (Tom Watson design).

Complementing the golf in Kiawah Island is a full array of other recreational activities. Besides a 10-mile beachfront, there are more than thirty miles of biking and hiking trails throughout the community. There is a large children’s playground and pool complex with basketball and volleyball. Tennis is another big attraction on the island.

Perhaps the centerpiece of the Kiawah Island’s growth was the opening in 2004 of the $125 million award-winning ultra-luxury oceanfront hotel and spa, The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island. The five-star hotel features outstanding resort amenities, upscale restaurants and shopping, and miles of beautiful beachfront. The hotel’s entrance is filled with two beautiful gardens where dozens of butterflies can be found flying through the colorful plant life.

The hotel hosts many corporate meetings and conventions, including the recent annual meeting of the PGA of America.

In late March, they will host the annual Golf For Women Weekend Retreat. A perfect weekend event for golfers of all playing abilities, will feature golf on the Ocean Course and Turtle Point Golf Courses, clinics and accommodations at The Sanctuary. Join LPGA professional Carol Preisinger for daily clinics and instruction. Preisinger, who is a top 100 ranked teacher by Golf Magazine and a former LPGA Teacher of the Year. Anyone interested in further information can contact the Special Events department at the Sanctuary Hotel (877-683-1234).

Just one word of advice to those visiting the area–bring your credit card along. This is an upscale community and the lodging, food and golf costs can run on the high-end. But don’t let this deter you, Kiawah Island is a wonderful place for the golfer (and non-golfer) to play and relax.