Kiawah Island Resort: Lowcountry Luxury on the Links

Sunseet at Kiawah resort

Michael Croley

Few courses as young as the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort have as much history, but the course surged onto international stage with the 1991 Ryder Cup, and no one has pulled the curtain on it yet. Aside from its slew of famous events, most recently the 2021 PGA Championship, the Ocean Course is one of the more demanding tests of golf in the world. While most resort courses are known for wide corridors and friendly, forgiving rough, the Ocean Course has managed to thread the needle of serving both the world’s elite golfers and the guests of the posh, five-star resort.

Kiawah is a slip of an island, 25 miles southwest of Charleston, and anchored by The Sanctuary Hotel, a tasteful hotel built to impart old world charm and heritage. The resort offers guests five golf courses to play but the Ocean Course is the jewel and also happens to be a nearly 20-minute drive from the hotel. Located near the easternmost point on the island, the Ocean Course is tucked away on an island that’s tucked away and the perfect location for a string of cottages the resort built in 2021 that border the course’s driving range. This new lodging option represents one of the coolest bespoke options for golf trips in the U.S. with unlimited access to the course’s driving range and a short walk to the Ryder Cup Bar located in the clubhouse.

Kiawah master bedroom

Each 3,800 square-foot cottage features four bedrooms with king sized beds and private, en suite bathrooms as well as two large common areas. The first-floor features two large flat screen televisions, couches and lounge chairs, and a full kitchen in an open floor plan. The second floor features an area for poker and the sleeping area as well as a balcony that overlooks the driving range, and beyond that, the rolling Atlantic Ocean.

A cabin at Kiawah

Kiawah’s cottages are not standalone accommodations. They are only available as part of an immersive, highly bespoke golf experience that in addition to lodging in the cottages includes daily round of golf, unlimited range time at The Ocean Course driving range, a dedicated concierge who arranges all dining, golf, activities and special requests, including stocking the kitchen and bar. Each cottage stay also includes daily breakfast and a personalized welcome amenity. The concierge can arrange exclusive dining experiences personally catered by one of the resort chef’s so that after your round, no need to shower up and hustle back up, but simply sit back and relax in your cottage as your meal is prepared.

The resort will, of course, help arrange all tee times and preparations ahead of time to ensure a smooth and easy trip once you’re on the island. And the golf? The Ocean Course is one of the more remarkable golf experiences to enjoy. Though the course is notoriously tough, a mid-handicapper (like myself) can still get around and break 90. The fairways are generous, giving wide berth, but missing the fairway is disastrous. The rough is penal and the beyond the rough are natural areas where your ball will not be found and if found will not accede to the movement of your club. The greens of the Ocean Course are mostly flat, keeping in line with most resort golf, but what separates many of the greens are that they are propped up, with deep falls offs that require either a chip, pitch, or putt to climb fifteen feet to find the putting surface. And then there is the wind, which is the X-factor of the course.

When the wind is up, hold and hope for the best. I’ve played the Ocean Course in still weather and in a driving rainstorm and the latter is by far tougher and more fun. The golf course is meant to challenge you and why not play it when the wind is up and rain is pelting you sideways? Every round at the Ocean Course is memorable, in part, for its history but also because each round tests you and while the ocean is a great sight, it’s the topography and flora of the Lowcountry that stand out to me on my walks around the property, not to mention the gators lounging by their lagoons.

One of the best places in golf to watch sunset is on the veranda of the Ryder Cup Bar, particularly, in mid-March, where you’ll see golfers roaming in from 18th fairway, to children rolling down the hill in the golden hour as drinks and stories are passed around. When you add the resort’s luxurious spa and fantastic restaurants—don’t miss the steak at The Ocean Room at the main hotel—Kiawah Resort is the spot for the golf trip that wants to level up and relax alongside world-class golf.

If you go, I like early spring but there’s never a bad time to visit Kiawah. The rates for the cottages range from $6,362 plus tax in the winter per night, while a three-night package in peak season (spring/fall) can top out at $16,653. The resort limits stays to two nights during the week and three nights on the weekend. For each day, golf is included at any of the resort’s five courses, and the resort will happily arrange transportation to and from Johns Island Airport, twenty-five minutes away.

Pack your bags, pack your sticks, but work on your game before you fly down.