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Turtle Point Golf Course on Kiawah Island can give the Ocean Course a run for its money

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
Turtle Point Golf Course - Ocean Hole
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One of Turtle Point's "ocean holes." (Tim McDonald/GolfPublisher.com)

Turtle Point at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort might play second fiddle to the Ocean Course. But this Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course can more than hold its own in Kiawah Island golf, with its tight fairways and small, difficult greens.

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. - Don't tell anybody this, but there are golfers who will quietly tell you Turtle Point is just as hard if not harder than the more famous Ocean course at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort.

The Ocean course, of course, is world renowned, and generally acknowledged as one of the hardest resort courses in the world.

But, when the wind dies down, one of the Ocean's greatest obstacles, some say Turtle Point can be just as vexing.

"It depends on who you ask," said Turtle Point head pro Mark Schaffer. "When the wind is blowing, the Ocean course is harder by far. But, Turtle is so tight."

Turtle Point is a Jack Nicklaus design that opened in 1981. Nicklaus has often been called out for his early work, in part because he tended to lay out courses for his own game. Schaffer agrees that's the case at Turtle.

"I think this one was more in that line," he said. "It's a very tight golf course with small greens, much the way Nicklaus intended. He was a shot-maker, and a lot of these holes require high, soft fades. You have to bring it in high and soft because these greens are firm."

Nicklaus did return in 2000 to make some changes. It wasn't a serious renovation - in fact, he had planned to do very little - but ended up making some fairly significant changes.

Nicklaus changed the first green complex, added some tees to different holes and changed the 10th green. He also took out some bunkers, notably the one that ran all the way across the fairway at No. 10, and added others. He added more run-off areas, installed a waste bunker on No. 14 and revamped the 17th green.

"Funny how it works out," Schaffer said. "Originally, he was there just to re-do the grass on the greens. It turned into a lot more. He was out there a long time."

The green run-offs are significant. It's Nicklaus directing traffic.

"He's telling you, 'play it here.' " Schaffer said. "If you want to go at the pin, OK, but, if you miss it you're going to be in trouble. There's a lot of runoffs on greens so you have to pay attention to your short game. If you miss it in the wrong places, it's a struggle to get up and down."

Nicklaus, then and now, was an advocate of brain power over muscle power, and Turtle Point also reflects that.

"It depends on what tees you're playing from obviously, but you don't have to hit driver every time," Schaffer said. "If you're on the white tees, the Nicklaus tees, the longer you hit it, the more trouble you're going to get in. You have tho think your way around this golf course."

Turtle Point Golf Club: The Verdict

It's true that you don't need to use driver every hole here, but this is still one of the longer courses on the island, and you'll need some accuracy with your mid- to long-irons.

It is also true that, although Turtle is a test, it isn't overly penal. It can be a ton of fun with all the risk/reward options out there, and the holes that play along the ocean are gorgeous.

"It reminds me of some courses in a Ireland," said Steven Lapper, playing with his wife Melissa, both from New Jersey. "The second thing you notice is the conditioning. It's excellent. And the service is out of this world."

As in all of the resort's courses, the practice facilities are top-notch.

Stay and play

The Sanctuary, the resort hotel at Kiawah, is one of the most genteel settings imaginable, for anyone other than the wealthy, aristocratic gentry. The hotel itself can only be described as splendid, a five-diamond winner in 2007.

This isn't one of those mammoth, gaudy oceanfront hotels you may find in, say Myrtle Beach. It's a mansion really, with wide, elegant staircases, beautiful oak floors and, almost always, views of the Atlantic Ocean which it fronts.

The hotel has 255 rooms, with the smallest of the "King" rooms 520 square feet, all comfortably furnished with four-poster beds, and all the amenities you would expect from a resort consistently ranked one of the best in the country. There's a luxury spa, of course, as well as a variety of outdoor activities for the family.

There are also beachfront rental homes with private docks and luxury villas.

The service at Kiawah is as good or better than any golf resort where I've ever stayed.

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Turtle Point Golf Course - Jack Nicklaus DesignTurtle Point Golf Course - Alligator

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Turtle Point Course Review

    Elliot DeBear wrote on: Jul 20, 2009

    4.5 star GD rated course designed by Jack Nicklaus. Nice resort course with wide open fairways and very playable roughs. Greens were slow due to airation and damp weather as well as Nicklaus's move to TifEagle Bermuda grass. I'm used to playing the harder, faster greens of New York, so these were way too slow for my liking. The front nine was an OK layout with nothing spectacular to point out with the exception of the beautiful 364 yard par 4 sixth, with a 2nd shot over the water to a banked green. Overall, this was a very un-Nicklaus track compared to others I have played. The greens were medium sized, managable with no gigundo Jack the manaic slopes and the doglegs didn't have major obstacle trees at the turns. The back nine is, however, very nice puntuated by three holes against the Atlantic Ocean starting with a knock out 150 yard par 3 into the wind to a green framed by sand dunes with an ocean backdrop. A very playable course, but in no way to be compared to The Ocean Course that is in a different league, a different planet and is as good as it gets.


  • turtle v ocean

    mark b wrote on: Dec 14, 2008

    Maybe if you hit errant 280 yard drives Turtle is nearly as difficult as Ocean. Otherwise, there is no comparison, wind or rain or sunshine with perfect conditions. Turtle will remind you of any number of golf courses you play anywhere, Ocean is unique. An okay golfer can break 100 on Turtle, they play Ryder Cups and the PGA at Ocean.