Ten miles of white-sand beach punctuated by thousands of acres of sun-dappled golden-green marshland in the Lowcountry of South Carolina: This is Kiawah Island. Located about twenty-five miles south of Charleston, the erstwhile hunting and fishing grounds of the Kiawah Indians now enfold a splendid palmetto-studded playground in the form of the Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
Though Kiawah provides an idyllic beach getaway, the resort is best known for its five championship golf courses. Top among them is The Ocean Course, the windswept 7,356-yard links that weaves through the undulating dunes for nearly three miles along the Atlantic Ocean. Designed by Pete Dye, The Ocean Course opened in 1991, just in time to host that year’s Ryder Cup. The 1997 World Cup was also held here, followed by a string of other renowned golf tournaments, most notably the 2012 PGA Championship. In 2021, the Ocean Course, hailed as the third-best public course in America by Golf Digest, will again welcome the PGA Championship.
Not a golfer? No worries. There’s more than one way to play on Kiawah. “Although golf is in our name and a big part of what we are, we have something for everyone,” says Bryan Hunter, the resort’s director of public relations.
For more than four decades, pro Roy Barth ran Kiawah’s tennis program, establishing it as one of the country’s finest. Barth handed the reigns of the operation to his son Jonathon in 2018 and assumed the role of emeritus tennis director of the Roy Barth Tennis Center, which is located just steps from the resort’s luxury hotel, The Sanctuary. The eponymous tennis facility features a fully stocked pro shop, locker rooms, instructional programs, nine Har-Tru clay courts and three hard courts, with plans to soon construct ten additional Har-Tru courts as part of a resort-wide $200 million enhancement project.
Nature enthusiasts will delight in the Kiawah Island Nature Program, which garners national attention for its naturalist-led activities such as kayaking, birding, fishing, and motorboat ecotours. Bikes are available for rent for exploring the thirty miles of paved trails on your own. Along the way, keep an eye out for wildlife, including more than two hundred species of birds that inhabit the island.
Stay a week in a resort villa or a private home, or reserve a room at The Sanctuary. Though it was built in 2004, the sumptuous 255-room hotel conjures a turn-of-the-nineteenth-century seaside mansion in design and spirit. From the allée of live oak and palmetto trees leading to the entrance portico to the antique-filled morning room where floor-to-ceiling windows peer out across a green lawn to the breaking surf beyond, The Sanctuary lays out luxury at every turn.
On either side of the lobby, grand staircases climb to the floors above. Take the west staircase to reach the spa, where an Executive Renewal Massage might just do the trick. This personal indulgence features deep-tissue techniques, healing arnica, and penetrating heat to ease the muscle kinks induced by too many hours behind a desk. And while hot stones have their place, a golf ball provides the pressure on body trigger points as part of the spa’s Golf Ball Massage.
The beachside pool deck is where most guests spend their time—with good reason. Adorned with comfy lounge chairs, umbrellas, towels, ice water, a beachy bar, two saltwater pools, and even private cabanas for rent, it’s an idyllic place to spend a sunny day.
Oleander-lined paths lead down to the tranquil ocean shore, just the spot for a nap on an umbrella-shaded chaise longue, lulled to sleep by the whisper of the surf. There, too, lounge chairs and umbrellas are set up for hotel guests, and the staff provides fresh towels, cold water, and sunscreen.
Although the vibrant food scene of Charleston lies just a forty-minute drive away, there’s no need to leave the island to indulge in an exceptional culinary experience. On the third floor of The Sanctuary, the Ocean Room spotlights prime cuts of aged beef, complemented by decadent add-ons such as seared foie gras and butter-poached lobster, not to mention the one-thousand-bottle wine list.
For lighter fare in the same refined ambience, the Sushi Lounge at the Ocean Room offers a menu of nigiri, sashimi, and maki rolls at the bar. Downstairs, Jasmine Porch and its breezy patio create casual settings for Lowcountry fare. Three of the four on-island golf clubs (the fifth, Oak Point, sits outside the resort’s gates) also claim their own restaurants. The Atlantic Room, located within The Ocean Course clubhouse, nets fresh seafood, while Tomasso at Turtle Point presents classic Italian specialties. Cherrywood BBQ and Ale House dishes up tasty hardwood-smoked meats at the Osprey Point clubhouse.
No matter how active—or sedentary—you care to be, soaking in Kiawah’s singular sense of place is time well spent. “I hope guests at Kiawah Island Golf Resort leave with an abiding sense that they experienced the epitome of Southern hospitality and service at the highest level,” says Hunter, “and that we anticipated and fulfilled their every wish even before they were aware they had it.”