By: Tim Baines
When you’re putting together that bucket-list of golf courses and you’ve scribbled down iconic layouts like Pebble Beach, Augusta and The Old Course at St. Andrews, there’s one down in South Carolina that has to be in there.
Imagine this: Ten holes directly alongside the Atlantic Ocean, more than any other course in the Northern Hemisphere. Kiawah Island, The Ocean Course. Yep, the course is to Dye for. Thanks, Pete.
Located just outside Charleston, that wonderful southern city so full of history, architecture, charm and beauty, Kiawah Island is legendary. Play The Ocean Course and you’ll understand why it belongs with the best. You might also recognize it – it was featured in the movie, The Legend of Bagger Vance. In this case, if you want to play the best, you pay for it – while you can find off-season deals, it could cost you upwards of $350 for a round. But for the magnificence – it’s worth every penny. Golfers who stay at The Sanctuary or the resort-operated villas get preferred tee times and have access to golf specials at the resort’s five courses.
It’s also just gotten a bit more accessible. Awesome news for golfers in the Toronto area, Porter Airlines has just started offering seasonal non-stop weekly flights from Billy Bishop Airport on the Toronto Islands (Saturdays, until May 2) to Charleston; you can hop on a plane and experience golf nirvana on the same day. The Porter flights start at $238 taxes in. There are also connecting flight options. Porter has an affiliation with JetBlue so you can hop on a plane to Boston and get a direct flight to Charleston any day of the week.
“Golf at Kiawah is as good as it gets,” said Perrin Lawson, deputy director of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Charleston is different than Myrtle Beach, Pinehurst or Hilton Head. 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.”
Kiawah, a small island about 35 miles from downtown Charleston, 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. The Ocean Course is a real-life postcard, a host of the 2012 PGA Championship and battleground for the Ryder Cup War on the Shore (decided on the last putt of Sunday’s matches) in 1991.
“Hosting the Ryder Cup and PGA Championship has been hugely beneficial for Kiawah and for the entire area,” said Lawson. “In fact, people still come to play The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island specifically because of the Ryder Cup. The drama surrounding the ’91 Cup is largely responsible for the current popularity of the Ryder Cup and its format.”
Although The Island Course was originally designed to sit behind the dunes, designer Pete Dye’s wife, Alice, suggested raising the entire course to allow players unobstructed views of Kiawah’s beautiful Atlantic coastline from every hole. This improved view, however, made the course substantially more demanding as it also exposed it to the area’s brisk and unpredictable sea breezes.
Charleston isn’t a one-trick pony when it comes to golf (with designs from guys like Arnold Palmer, Rees Jones, Gary Player, Arthur Hills, Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus and Robert Trent Jones Sr., along with Dye). There’s Wild Dunes and its two courses – The Harbor and The Links – 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. The Isles of Palms (Wild Dunes Resort) was ranked the No. 28 island in the world (Conde Nast labelled Kiawah No. 2).
You can find a golf package (with room) for as little as $120 a night, check out www.charlestongolfguide.com. You can get a package called Beers and Birdies for $154 a night and there are other amazing packages, including some that offer Kiawah – the Kiawah Friendship Cup in early March was priced at $1,409 with three nights’ accommodations and rounds at Kiawah’s Turtle Point and Ocean Course.
While elegant and sophisticated, Charleston might also be the friendliest city in North America, at least that’s what a few reader polls have declared. Conde Nast Traveler magazine named Charleston its top city in the United States and fifth in the world. Charleston is also known for its restaurant and vibrant bar scene, with beautiful beaches as well. You will want to walk around the city and soak up the historic atmosphere and magnificent architecture.
On the Conde Nast 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. On your to-do list, visit the Historic Charleston City Market – established in 1807.
“It’s a city that has a young vibe to it,” said Shannon Odom, GM of Charleston and Resort Islands Golf. “There’s a great restaurant scene and a lot you can do off the course that make it a complete destination. It’s unique. There are things you can do here that you can’t do in other golf destinations.”
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