Kiawah Island Golf Resort - A Golfer's Paradise
Unique among the string of barrier islands that stretch like a string of pearls along the South Carolina coastline, one island strikes a perfect balance between its built and natural environments. Kiawah Island, situated on a long, narrow island roughly shaped like a comma lounging on its side, is separated from the high-octane energy of Charleston’s historic peninsula by several islands they share as neighbors. Nature bestowed Kiawah Island, which consists of roughly 10,000 acres, with a 10-mile long stretch of wide, pristine beach.
Only 21 miles of road separate Charleston from The Sanctuary, Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s 255-room and suite hotel, which has earned Five Star and Five Diamond status from Forbes Travel Guide and AAA, respectively. Hidden from view by a tunnel of moss-shrouded live oaks, the hotel reveals itself suddenly as a grand seaside mansion that has secured its place for centuries, an apparition as the hotel was only completed in 2004. Walking through the grand front entrance, the eye immediately sweeps across the antiques-filled lobby to a bank of soaring windows that usher in a view of a manicured Grand Lawn that terminates at the dunes overlooking the beach.
The Sanctuary could well be approached as a resort within a resort. Its fortunate guests could justifiably yield to the temptation to ensconce themselves in its blissfully relaxing spa (also rated Five Forbes Stars), several distinct restaurants, indoor and outdoor pools, fitness center, chic boutiques and dedicated beach boardwalk. Even lounging on the beach or by the pool, guests are spoiled with attentive service from a hospitable staff who ply them with chairs-and-umbrellas, tropical drinks and Latin Caribbean-inspired fare. Yet, while the aptly named Sanctuary presides at the island’s midway point, guests who limit themselves to the hotel would miss out on so much of the resort’s charm.
Complementing The Sanctuary, nearly 500 Resort Villas and Private Homes offer a host of accommodations. These lodging options run the gamut in size from one-bedroom attached villas to eight-bedroom mansions on estate lots that can accommodate up to 18 guests. Villa and home guests can arrange to have their larders pre-stocked with groceries, and delectable chef-catered meals can be arranged as well.
It’s no mistake that Golf constitutes one-fourth of the resort’s name. Five championship courses wind across the islands from east to west, truly a golfer’s paradise. Anchored by Pete Dye’s The Ocean Course, which earned immediate iconic status in 1991 when it hosted the Ryder Cup, each course bears the unmistakable imprint of its architect’s design philosophy. The result: in addition to The Ocean Course (which hosts the PGA Championship for the second time this May), the resort is home to four other distinctive courses by Tom Fazio (Osprey Point), Jack Nicklaus (Turtle Point), Gary Player (Cougar Point) and Clyde Johnston (Oak Point). Golfers can correct nagging aspects of their game at the Tommy Cuthbert Golf Learning Center. Slated for completion this spring, four four-bedroom cottages tucked beside The Ocean Course Clubhouse and overlooking the driving range and the beach beyond will provide golfers a fully immersive Ocean Course golf experience.
For guests who prefer swinging a racquet, the internationally acclaimed Roy Barth Tennis Center should not be missed. In addition to offering guests informal court time, the center also provides world-class tutelage and clinics for all skill levels and age groups.
Rare for when the resort was first developed in the mid-1970s, from its inception Kiawah Island has endeavored to leave a minimal footprint at this lush, richly diverse natural oasis. A good way to experience the results of this environmental stewardship is to strike out by bicycle on the 30-plus miles of paved trails linking the island from west to east. As visually alert guests pedal through maritime forest and across expansive salt marshes, they witness the island’s abundance of wildlife – majestic eagles, ghostly egrets, white-tailed deer and (with a special stroke of luck) a shy, skittering bobcat. The resort’s iconic green beach cruisers, available from multiple stations throughout the island or delivered directly to individual houses or villas, are well-adapted for riding on the hard-packed sand of the beach below the tideline.
Surveying the natural wonders of the island by land only provides a partial picture. Guests must take to the water for a full appreciation. The resort offers chartered boat excursions on the Kiawah River. Captained by one of the resort’s naturalists, the cruises open a window to the abundance of creatures that make their home in and on the river and creeks and the salt marsh that contains their banks.
For an even closer, dolphin-level view, guests may opt to take a guided kayak or stand-up paddleboard excursion. Both boating and kayak or SUP trips leave from the resort’s dock at Mingo Point, a beguiling site embraced by a gentle bend of the Kiawah River. Also serving as an outdoor event venue, Mingo Point hosts one of the resort’s enduring authentic Lowcountry traditions, a weekly (in-season) oyster roast and barbecue complete with live music, crafts, local artisans and other family-friendly entertainment.
With other age-appropriate outdoors and nature activities, guests of all ages can explore an array of pursuits from archery to art, bird-watching to gator walks. Staffed by resort naturalists, Heron Park Nature Center contains both live and preserved native specimens, providing an introduction to the island’s wildlife. It is also a great place to learn about and reserve any of the resort’s abundant recreational activities, as well as serving as HQ for the report’s robust Kamp Kiawah programs for children.
Gourmands will not feel the least bit slighted as the resort remains a culinary gem. More than a dozen restaurants take full advantage of the bounties of the island’s fisheries and fresh produce of small farms on neighboring Johns, Wadmalaw and Edisto islands. Guests will experience everything from exquisite wine-paired dinners to casual beach- or pool-side fare. As if you weren’t already deep enough in R&R mode, settling in, refreshing drink in hand, on one of the resort’s many restaurant porches and watching the sinking sun paint the broad sky vermillion and orange before a sumptuous meal will surely place you firmly in island time. And you will thank your lucky stars.