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South Carolina Style: Travel to Kiawah, an Island of Luxury

Teeuwynn has been a professional author for twenty years. She works in fantasy, modern realism, and other genres.

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, designed by Pete Dye.

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, designed by Pete Dye.

Meet Kiawah

Kiawah Island is one of a series of barrier islands off the shores of southern South Carolina. A barrier island is a flat body of land off the coast. This island holds hundreds of houses and villas and is known for its resort-style living. It also boasts over 10 miles of beachfront, much of which cannot be built upon.

Kiawah Island is located a little over half an hour southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, in the Lowcountry, an area comprised of the southeastern counties in the state. The Lowcountry is known for its tidal rivers, wetlands, palmettos, and live oaks.

The Kiawah Island Club is an exclusive golf and leisure club based in Kiawah. The club is home to championship golf courses and several clubhouses, including the River Course clubhouse, Beach Club House, and Cassique. Famed chef Tom Colicchio is the consulting chef at Cassique's restaurant.

I have visited Kiawah Island more than a dozen times and find this quiet, exclusive resort an extremely relaxing getaway.

The Sanctuary

The Sanctuary, a luxury resort hotel located on Kiawah, has over 250 rooms and perches on a lovely sand beach looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. It was named the #1 U.S. Resort Hotel by Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report. It has also received five stars from Forbes Travel Guide. The Sanctuary offers a laid back, elegant experience which includes restaurants and a spa.

The Jasmine Porch is the main restaurant at the Sanctuary. Eating there is a luxurious treat with Lowcountry food meeting more sophisticated selections, but all elevated to a five-star dining experience. When my husband and I celebrated our anniversary there, the staff treated us impeccably.

If you have children, be sure to visit the ice cream and candy bar on the ground floor. The spa is a particular indulgence, but it's only available to guests of the hotel.

The Sanctuary has pool parties with projected movies guests and other island residents can enjoy (for a fee if you are not staying at the hotel). Floating in a pool or lounging poolside while watching a movie is a unique and enjoyable experience.

The Many Golf Courses of Kiawah

There are numerous golf courses on Kiawah Island. Over the years, the golf courses on Kiawah have garnered many awards. The golf courses include:

  • The Ocean Golf Course: This course sits directly on the Atlantic Ocean and more than one golfer has marveled at its beauty while cursing the coastal winds. When it was created, the course was raised to allow golfers sweeping views of the ocean as they played. The course was designed by Pete Dye. It hosted the 2012 PGA championship. It has also hosted the World Cup and the Senior PGA championship. GOLF magazine has rated the Ocean course #3 on its “Top 100 Courses You Can Play” list.
  • Cassique Golf Course: This course was designed by Tom Watson. It harkens back to the beautiful golf courses of Scotland and Ireland. One hole was created to replicate the famed bunkers of Carnoustie and there are holes reminiscent of Ballybunion, and Cypress Point. Cassique is surrounded by wetlands and flanked by the Atlantic Ocean. Its gorgeous and expansive clubhouse was designed to evoke a 19th-century English country manor. Cassique is a private course and can only be played by members of the Kiawah Island Club or their guests.
  • Osprey Point Golf Course: This golf course was designed by Tom Fazio. He created the course to take advantage of the native scenery including lakes, maritime forests, and sweeping marshland vistas. Osprey Point has been ranked 10th by GOLF magazine in its “50 Best Golf Courses For Women.”
  • The River Course: This 7,039-yard golf course has holes running along the majestic Kiawah river as well as maritime forest, ponds, marshlands, and savannas. Designed by Tom Fazio, its greens, fairways, tees, and collars are grassed in greens-grade dwarf Bermuda.
  • Turtle Point Golf Course: This golf course was named for the loggerhead turtles that frequent the island. Three of its 18 holes were designed as buffers to protect turtles' nesting areas. It was designed by famed golfer Jack Nicklaus.
  • Cougar Point Golf Course: There is a gorgeous view of the Kiawah Island river located at the midpoint of this lovely course. It was redesigned in 1997 and is particularly well-suited for the high-handicap golfer. Cougar Point was awarded 4.5 out of 5 stars in Golf Digest's “Best Places to Play” readers poll.
  • Oak Point Golf Course: This course is technically located just off of the island, but is considered one of Kiawah's own. Oak Point was designed by Clyde Johnson and was created on the grounds of a former indigo plantation.
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The Animals of Kiawah

A variety of wildlife makes its home on Kiawah Island. Perhaps the island's most infamous residents are the many alligators who live here. Alligators can be found in many of the ponds that are scattered all over Kiawah. Most alligators on the island range from 3–8 feet in length, but they have been known to get as long as 11 feet. Alligators sunbathing is a familiar sight along many of the golf courses on the island as well.

The island hosts a stable population of bobcats. The cats can be seen all over the island. Bobcats weigh 15–20 pounds. Bobcats are exceptionally skilled hunters. They have excellent hearing and eyesight and are visual hunters. White-tailed deer are common on the island. These are the same species as found in much of the Northeast and Midwest; however, the deer on Kiawah tend to be smaller than their cousins. These southeastern deer have grown smaller in order to cope with hotter summers.

Other animals on the island include gray and red foxes, opossum, raccoons, river otters, minks, and flying squirrels. Many species of crabs live on the island. Ghost crabs come out at night to search for food and you can often see them scuttling by if you walk the beaches at night.

Bottlenose dolphins strand feeding on Kiawah Island.

Bottlenose dolphins strand feeding on Kiawah Island.

Sea Life

The tidal rivers, brackish Kiawah river, and ocean house a multitude of sea life. One of the most prominent members is the bottlenose dolphin. These mammals can weigh 500 pounds and reach 10 feet in length. They are found in both the ocean and coastal Kiawah river as well as the tidal rivers that run throughout the island.

Loggerhead marine turtles nest on Kiawah Island. They are one of only seven species of marine turtle still in existence. Loggerheads can grow to 350 pounds and live more than 50 years. The Endangered Species Act names the Loggerhead a threatened species. Turtles nest on the island from around mid-May to August.

Last summer, my kids and I had the chance to help a nest of Loggerheads hatch and then we, and other volunteers, guarded them as they headed out to the ocean. Not all of the turtles in the eggs survived, but some of them made it to the ocean and, hopefully, some of those are still out there swimming now.

These baby Loggerhead turtles have just hatched and are getting ready to be released on their journey to the ocean.

These baby Loggerhead turtles have just hatched and are getting ready to be released on their journey to the ocean.

Birds of Kiawah

Many birds flock to Kiawah Island during all four seasons of the year, including the endangered wood stork. This rare bird likes to feed on the marsh flatlands. The stork uses its bill to poke around shallow water looking for its food. The piping plover, a federally endangered species, is found on the island from May through August. They like to feed along the sand and mudflats.

Other birds on the island include the brilliantly colored painted bunting, the lanky blue heron, the soaring osprey, and several forms of egret. Kiawah is a lovely place for birdwatching and the island's nature center has a brochure highlighting the species who flock here. More than 200 species of birds live on the island.

A painted bunting on Kiawah Island.

A painted bunting on Kiawah Island.

Life on the Island

Kiawah Island is primarily a gated enclave and vacation resort. Many property owners make their homes on the island part-time or use it as a vacation getaway. It is also a popular retirement spot. The lifestyle on Kiawah is decidedly Southern with a feeling of casual elegance.

© 2014 Teeuwynn Woodruff

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