The Charleston area’s pine- and palmetto-strewn barrier islands have long helped protect the historic city from the full brunt of hurricanes, but sports enthusiasts appreciate them for their scenic, challenging golf courses. Kiawah Island, in particular, has become one of the most talked-about golfing resorts in North America, especially with the arrival of its stunning hotel, the Sanctuary.
The land was the domain of Kiawah Indians when Europeans began populating the region during the mid-17th century. Fast-forward to the 1970s, when eco-minded developers purchased the then-nearly deserted, 10,000-acre island and designed the elegant yet restrained residential community that has become an exemplar for coastal resort planning. It’s not unusual to see wild deer darting among the sea oats and myrtle trees or to glimpse an osprey or a bald eagle.
In addition to the Sanctuary, Kiawah Island Golf Resort manages more than 600 villas, condos and private homes on the island, but the Sanctuary is the jewel in its crown. Designed with an eye towards local history, this contemporary four-storey property recalls Greek Revival plantation architecture, with vintage building materials (wrought iron and hammered copper, wide-plank floors and weathered brick) and regal gardens. More than 200 transplanted live oaks complete a scenario that oozes Gone With the Wind, while the spa’s list of replenishing treatments includes a mint julep facial and a verbena body polish.
Of the 255 rooms and suites, even the smallest are spacious; most have French doors opening on to balconies with vistas of the esteemed Jack Nicklaus-designed Turtle Point golf course and the frothy Atlantic beyond. Golfers can choose from five different top-ranked courses at Kiawah Island resort—a tough choice. The famed Ocean Course invariably lands on top of the heap. Designed by Pete Dye, it has hosted the Ryder Cup and World Cup, and has humbled the world’s greatest golfers. Its sister course, Osprey Point, a Tom Fazio layout, runs a close second.
But Kiawah Island Resort is much more than a golfing retreat. Its sterling tennis facilities—including 23 Har-Tru and five hard courts—are highly acclaimed. Ten miles of uninterrupted beachfront are ideal for early morning walks, while bikers and hikers can get happily lost on some 30 miles of paved forest trails. With this much pristine coastline, kayaking, canoeing and boating tours and rentals are at the ready, and angling enthusiasts can alternate time on the golf course with casting a line or two for flounder, tarpon or other game fish. Dining and cocktail options are many, but the destination of choice is the Ocean Room at the Sanctuary, a romantic venue with ocean views and first-class New American fare.