By: Tim Baines
If you ever get a chance to go to Charleston, S.C., and you really should make it happen, you’ll be struck not only by the city’s beauty, but you’ll be overwhelmed by the warmth of the people.
It might be the friendliest city in North America, at least that’s what a few reader polls have declared. Couple that ‘Y’all have a great day now’ with some of the best golfing on the planet and you’ve got a destination worthy of being on any bucket list.
Highly respected Conde Nast Traveller magazine named Charleston its top city in the United States and fifth in the world.
“It was interesting to see the feedback from Conde Nast,” said Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau deputy director Perrin Lawson. “They do a lot of research. They were able to break it down. Places like Chicago and San Francisco ranked very high as well. There were some things they were a little higher on and there were some things we were a little higher on. But the one thing we were a whole lot higher on was the friendliness factor. They said that was the thing that put us over the top.”
Handshakes and hugs are nice, but golfers still want quality when it comes to finding pristine pastures to whack a ball around on. Charleston has plenty of great golf.
It starts with Kiawah Island, a small island about 35 miles from downtown Charleston. It is home to at least a half dozen public courses and a number of private ones as well. The Ocean Course at Kiawah was ranked fourth-best American course by Golf Digest and has often ranked in the top 50 in the world. A Golf World Readers Choice poll called it the top golf destination for the U.S. and Europe. It’s not only magnificent, it’s a handful and about as big a challenge as you can get. With 10 holes alongside the ocean, The Ocean Course is a real-life postcard and a recent host of the PGA Championship and battleground for the Ryder Cup War on the Shore in 1991.
The great news is that Charleston isn’t a one-trick pony when it comes to golf. There’s Wild Dunes and its two courses – The Harbor and The Links, both Tom Fazio creations; there’s Charleston National, RiverTowne, The Links at Stono Ferry, Coosaw Creek, Dunes West, Seabrook Island (Ocean Winds and Crooked Oaks), Legend Oaks, Wescott Plantation and many others that should be on your wish list, all within half an hour or so of each other.
“Really, we’ve got something for everybody,” said Lawson.
You can find a golf package (with room) for as little as $95 a night (check out www.charlestongolfguide.com ), but if you’re looking for something cheap, cheap, cheap, this might not be the right destination. Keep in mind, there’s plenty of sizzle in this steak. You can get a package called the Beers and Birdies package for $154 a night and there are other amazing packages, including some that offer Kiawah.
TIP: Keep an eye on the weather in December you might just get the best bang for the buck ever.
“The way we’ve been pitching it is Charleston is different than Myrtle Beach, Pinehurst or Hilton Head,” said Lawson. “If you’re looking for the least expensive golf, we’re not the option you’re looking for. We’re not competing on price, but we do have affordable quotes. When you stay outside the downtown historic area, there’s plenty of nice accommodation in both areas and the price point is significantly lower. We’ve got all the great resorts, beaches and the great history, with golf on top of it.”
On the Conde Nast Traveller Top 10 list for the past 15 years, Charleston has also been a top-ranked destination by Travel + Leisure. The awards don’t stop there. Charleston has been near the top of the list on Best Girls Trip, Most Romantic Destination and America’s Best Beer Cities. And it’s been in Top 10 Places to Visit Before I Die.
Again, for golfers, it comes back to the golf. And, as it turns out, it’s an awesome place for couples to share some time together.
“The golfers we have coming here are a little more serious about the golf they’re playing,” said Lawson. “They’re the kind of guys that want to go out for a nice meal after their round.
“Couples golf is small, but it’s growing. If you bring your wife, if she’s playing golf, that’s great, but if she’s not, it’s not like she’s sitting around wondering when you’re going to be done. She’s out antiquing, boutique shopping, checking out any one of myriad tours, going to a plantation or going to a beach. There’s a lot to do when you’re not playing golf.
“A lot of times you will typically find the husband will golf and the wife will go off and do her own thing. Then they get together, have a nice dinner and everybody is happy. If a guy wants to take a golf vacation and make sure his wife is happy, this is the place. Basically, you’re talking about a 300-year-old city. There are European and African influences. The food and art are constants through all of it.”
No surprise, but Shannon Odom, GM of Charleston and Resort Islands Golf, also happens to be a big fan of the city.
“This was built so long ago, before there were automobiles. The downtown is so compact,” he said. “It’s a city that has a young vibe to it. There’s a lot of energy going on right now. We have courses here you can play for $35-$45 in the off-season. You could come here and get a room for $89-$99.”
So what is about the Charleston golf that makes the area so appealing?
“I would say it’s the variety of the courses, the nice scenic landscapes they’re situated on, the ocean … those are the things we talk about,” said Odom. “Then there’s the people, the friendliness and the sense of hospitality. Plus there’s ease in getting around. We have year-round playing conditions, we don’t really go through a bad season. You can get a day that’s in the mid 40s (F) in the winter, but it could be sunny and in the upper 50s the next day. The courses are typically green year round.
“Places like Florida, Scottsdale, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and Pinehurst … with 20 golf courses here, we can hold our own with any of those golf courses.
“We receive our share of Canadians. We get a lot of visitors from Ontario, right into Quebec. We see those addresses pop up.”
Our own Traveling Golfer will tell you that, as far as he is concerned, Charleston is the prettiest city in North America! So what are you waiting for?