KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- The greatness of Kiawah Island Golf Resort isn't because of its famous Ocean Course. Or its elegant hotel, The Sanctuary. Or its magnificent Lowcountry setting right on the Atlantic Ocean.
Not even its proximity to Charleston, one of America's most charming cities.
The greatness of the Kiawah Island Golf Resort is found in the totality of the package. Only a handful of golf's greatest addresses -- think Pebble Beach and Pinehurst Resort and The American Club -- can throw so many five-star amenities, different courses (including a major championship venue) and natural beauty at guests who love the game.
A stay on Kiawah Island is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It's essentially why the term "bucket list" was invented.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort melds seamlessly with the sand dunes, salt marshes and colorful wildlife of Kiawah Island, a 10,000-acre barrier island 25 miles south of Charleston. The Sanctuary Hotel, a 255-room luxury hotel built in 2004 after a decade of careful planning, intertwines intimately with the beach, providing ocean views from 90 percent of its rooms and balconies.
The first floor of this seaside mansion was raised 20 feet to provide unobstructed views of the lapping surf, a concept Pete Dye used in building the Ocean Course. Two grand staircases and a wall mural of a marsh anchor its grand public spaces upon entering. Every piece of furniture and painting and curtain is a work of art. Nothing dares to look out of place.
Resort villas are just as tastefully decorated (though more casually), offering extra space and privacy if that's what your family or group of friends desire. Southern hospitality never felt so good as at the Sanctuary Spa, where the nearby natural resources inspire treatments involving seaweed and mineral-rich muds.
The Ocean Room, a high-end steakhouse in the hotel, and the Atlantic Room, offering fine dining inside the Ocean clubhouse, are the cream of the crop among the many restaurant choices. Fresh seafood is never far away from any plate.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort's Ocean Course isn't the only game in town. The four other resort courses -- designed by Jack Nicklaus (Turtle Point), Gary Player (Cougar Point), Tom Fazio (Osprey Point) and Clyde Johnston (Oak Point) -- have all been rated at least four and a half stars by Golf Digest.
Turtle Point, site of the Tommy Cuthbert Learning Center, climaxes with three gorgeous holes in the dunes along the Atlantic. Oak Point, the only course on Johns Island on the other side of the Kiawah River, was recently renovated, closing for six months in 2015 to recover all its greens, tees and fairways with Paspalum grass. Greens and tees returned to their original sizes, and subtle changes (such as adding new tees and removing bunkers and/or waste areas) made holes more enjoyable. Each nine finishes at a scenic spot on Haulover Creek near the river. Osprey Point, a resort favorite, went through a similar upgrade in 2014.
The 2012 PGA Championship won by Rory McIlroy proved the Ocean Course worthy of hosting more majors. The site of the 1991 Ryder Cup, the infamous "War by the Shore," has already secured a return date for the 2021 PGA Championship.
The Ocean Course only keeps 70 acres of turf manicured, so amateurs need to properly assess if any risk they take is worth the reward. Mandatory caddies ultimately guide golfers toward the best decisions since marshes, ponds and sprawling waste areas punish misses so harshly.
On windy days, a round on the Ocean can feel like the ultimate examination of your game's self-worth. Players who catch sunny, calm days feel like they're walking on clouds. The last five holes along the Atlantic Ocean are the East Coast's version of Bandon Dunes. Reliving every shot over a pint in the Ryder Cup Bar comes highly recommended.
The island life
The island life at Kiawah is pretty sweet year-round. Families spend the hot summers on the beach or at the pools spread throughout the property. Fall and spring are ideal weather-wise, and even winters are mild enough for sunny days and outdoor recreation, including golf.
Two tennis centers prove golf isn't the only game worshiped on the island. Guests can also spend an afternoon on a nature tour or a sea kayak, bike or boat exploring the Lowcountry that surrounds them. Fishing the marshes or ocean inlets provides an escape from reality.
The Mingo Point Oyster Roast and Bar-B-Que remains the resort's most popular and longest-running event, where families and guests gather along the Kiawah River to eat, watch the sunset and savor music under the moonlight. Guests run out of time before they run out of things to see and do.
This story was sponsored by Kiawah Island Golf Resort.