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Ten reasons to visit South Carolina's Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Jason Scott DeeganBy Jason Scott Deegan,
Senior Staff Writer
Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort
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The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort hosts the 2012 PGA Championship. (Courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort)

Kiawah Island is a beautiful South Carolina barrier island that is all natural. Decades of careful planning and cautious development have kept the island's treasures intact: the beautiful beaches, the surrounding salt marshes and abundant wildlife.

Headlining the resort is the famed and feared Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, host of the 2012 PGA Championship, but there is so much more to see and do on a visit to one of America's best vacation getaways.

Here are 10 good reasons to escape the real world for the luxuries of Kiawah Island Golf Resort:

Play Kiawah's Ocean Course

So you think you've got game? The Ocean Course has been many a great player's Waterloo. Just ask Mark Calcavecchia and Bernhard Langer. Both suffered through epic meltdowns at the 1991 Ryder Cup known as the "War by the Shore."

Golf Digest rated the Ocean the toughest golf course in America in 2007, due to unforgiving coastal winds, difficult greens, massive waste bunkers and water/wetland hazards at every turn. Playing from the wrong tees is considered one of the game's seven deadly sins.

With 10 seaside holes -- the most in North America -- the Ocean Course can require an eight-club change from one hole to the next depending on the strength and direction of the wind. The 2012 PGA Championship will be the club's first major for PGA Tour pros, only enhancing its legacy.

Stay at The Sanctuary Hotel

You'd be a fool to come play the Ocean Course and not stay at the 255-room Sanctuary Hotel, a five-star seaside mansion that opened in 2004 after more than a decade of planning.

The first floor was raised 20 feet to provide unobstructed ocean views, a concept golf course architect Pete Dye used in building the Ocean course as well. Two grand staircases on either side of the lobby are complemented by three-story murals of the marshes.

Most rooms, decorated with four-poster beds and ample space, offer courtyard balconies with soothing ocean breezes.

Disappear at the spa

The Sanctuary Spa tries to enhance a guest's connection to the Lowcountry surroundings. The "signature massage" mixes heated grain- and herb-filled wraps, used to relax the muscles, with traditional massage.

Be sure to arrive early (and stay late) to take advantage of the mineral hot tub inside the locker room. It's a great place to replenish your strength for another ferocious battle with the Ocean course.

Experience true Lowcountry golf

The Ocean Course is so dramatically different from Kiawah Resort's other four courses, which are more traditional Lowcountry fare. Jack Nicklaus' Turtle Point, Gary Player's Cougar Point and Tom Fazio's Osprey Point are all rated at least four stars by Golf Digest.

Osprey Point delivers some of the most picturesque holes on the island, notably the par-3 third and 11th holes and the monstrous par-4 ninth. Turtle Point climaxes with three beachfront holes wedged among the dunes. The 179-yard 16th is the strongest hole of the three, demanding a confident swing to avoid the natural scrub and a front bunker.

The resort's fifth golf course, Oak Point, was purchased in 1997 and renovated in 2004. It is the most affordable of the five.

Eat like a king

Southern hospitality comes alive inside the resort's restaurant scene. When the Ocean course's 24,000-square-foot, $22-million clubhouse opened in 2007, it gave guests more options for dinner.

The Atlantic Room inside the clubhouse feels like a night out from the resort and delivers the best sunsets. The resort's signature restaurant, the Ocean Room in the Sanctuary, is the only U.S. steakhouse to earn both Forbes four-star and AAA four-diamond ratings.

Jasmine Porch, inside the Sanctuary, is resort-casual with excellent variety on its menu. For a more casual atmosphere, try Tomasso in the clubhouse at Turtle Point, an Italian-themed eatery serving family favorites like pizza and spaghetti.

Explore nature

Even something as simple as a walk on the beach to collect seashells or a bike ride can be an educational stroll through the wonderful ecosystem of this coastal region.

The resort offers numerous ways to interact safely with the Lowcountry, including classes on birds and other wildlife, walking tours, paddling adventures, and fishing and pleasure boating charters.

Love thy caddie

One of the charms of playing the Ocean Course is the walk with the caddie, some of whom are the most well trained, experienced loopers in the country.

Caddies warn first-timers that the 8,000-yard course plays at least 10 shots harder than their home course. They'll talk you into pulling clubs you never even considered and likely save a few shots along the way.

The caddies end up being part friend, comedian and psychologist, all in a span of 18 holes.

Take a lesson at the golf school or tennis academy

The Ocean Course can be hard on any golfer's ego. Get some confidence back with a visit to Turtle Point's Tommy Cuthbert Golf Learning Center, named in honor of the man who served as the resort's director of golf for 26 years.

This facility features covered hitting bays, a V1 video swing analysis system, practice bunker and greens. The tennis academy is also an option for a breather from golf. Kiawah is ranked among the top three tennis resorts in the country by Tennis magazine.

Escape to Charleston

As charming as the resort is, don't forget to spend at least one day exploring Charleston, an engaging treasure. The slogan “history lives” rings true with the city's cobblestone streets and amazing old-world architecture.

Charleston is filled with unique restaurants and nightlife hotspots. It's a walkable, safe city with style.

Bragging rights

The best part about visiting Kiawah Island? The bragging rights afterward.

A stay at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort resides in the same rarefied air as Pebble Beach or Maui when it comes to plush accommodations, spectacular service, world-class golf, mouth-watering meals and dramatic oceanfront scenery.

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Kiawah Island Golf Resort - lobbyOcean Course at Kiawah Island - clubhouseCougar Point Course at Kiawah Island

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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