Kiawah Island, South Carolina (1991, Pete Dye)
South Carolina’s Kiawah Island Golf Resort has five golf courses, and four of them probably rank highly on those other women-friendly lists. We’re talking today about the fifth, which has a woman to thank for probably the most stunning golf vistas on the East Coast.
Alice Dye, wife of the signature architect, weighed in during the design phase to suggest that all of the holes offer views. That meant some of the terrain was lifted, and all of it is now vulnerable to the wind, which can blow this way or that way for a difference of as many as eight clubs from day to day.
It might be the most challenging golf course on Earth; conditions can be brutal, yet, there’s no place I would rather play my last round of golf on Earth than the Ocean Course at Kiawah. It is, like many of the courses reviewed here, an aspirational destination, for honeymooning or celebrating some special occasion…like breaking 100.
Even at 5,327 yards from the Carolina forward tees, the average woman player who plots out her shots carefully will feel the length only on the upwind holes; the better player who dares to step back faces 6,202 yards and a course rating of, gulp, 76.7. The other three tee sets are not rated for women, who are perhaps too smart to try them.
The seaside drainage means that the fairways usually roll and rarely spatter, and the course appears carved very naturally into the terrain. It is gorgeous. Mansions are visible far in the distance only on a few holes.
Fortunately, the green fee ($360 peak) includes the services of a caddie, which is a necessity. NECESSITY. (I’ve played the course twice under the guidance of one and will make sure I have one next time.) Although the ocean steals the show on every hole, the strategy is not as visible; Pete “Dye-abolical” has a well deserved reputation for caginess and one must devise a plan on every hole. A great example: the 268-yard third hole, which is reachable in two except that the domed green tends not to hold long approach shots. So the third shot becomes an uphill putt to the green. Yes, a putt – trust me on this.
There are months to avoid on the South Carolina coast. The worst are in deep summer; though generally still and calm June through September, it can also be hot, buggy and oppressively humid, and there is nowhere to hide on the Ocean Course.
At least the wonderful, 24,000-square-foot clubhouse offers a serene refuge from any elements. The ocean-facing porch has rocking chairs overlooking the 18th green and a gigantic putting green.
Kiawah Island requires players who start before noon to walk, and the caddie is included in the green fee. The resulting pace of play is surprisingly good; everyone settles into their slot and the caddies keep things moving along. With unpackaged green fees peaking at $360, and with a one-of-a-kind golf experience, this value feels like finding a high-end designer dress at Loehmann’s.
The resort amenities, personable service and scenery alone warrant a Fine rating. Then throw in the chance to play a beautiful beast of a golf course, with a caddie assisting, and Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course rates a Fab For Women.
This review first appeared in the March 2011 edition of GottaGoGolf Magazine.