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Kiawah Island golf in South Carolina awes with ocean views, unforgettable tracks

By S. Adam Cardais,
Ocean Course-Kiawah
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A view of No. 18 at the Ocean Course, Kiawah Island Golf Resort's most revered golf course and host to this year's Senior PGA Championship. (Courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort)

As a Carolina golf destination, Kiawah Island, S.C., might not get the kind of press as Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head Island. But in the hierarchy of golf in the Carolinas—especially luxury golf—it is second to none.

About a 30-minute drive from Charleston, among the tidal creeks and marshes of coastal South Carolina, Kiawah Island is home to arguably the finest high-end golf courses in the southeast, if not the country.

The Kiawah Island Golf Resort, rated one of the top 10 North American resorts by Conde Nast Traveller, has five golf courses, including the much-lauded Ocean Course, featured in the film "The Legend of Bagger Vance" with Will Smith and Matt Damon (its other four golf courses there are no slouches themselves).

The private Kiawah Island Club runs a close second.

Here's a bit more about what you can expect from the golf scene on Kiawah Island.

The Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Ocean Course: In a rare exercise of understatement, legendary golf course architect Pete Dye let the land do most of the talking when he designed the Ocean Course, creating one of the most beautiful seaside tracks in the nation.

"No golf course in the world has ever improved on nature, but this one comes closer than most, and the way Dye did that was let the location's natural beauty remain in its simplest state," National Golf Editor Tim McDonald wrote in a story for TravelGolf.com Luxury.

The Ocean Course has hosted numerous prestigious events, including the World Golf Championships World Cup in 2003. The Senior PGA Championship is coming here this year, and the PGA Championship will be played here in 2012. Among its many awards, the Ocean Course was named the eighth best public course in the nation in Golf Digest's 2005-06 rankings. The magazine also recently ranked it the toughest golf resort course in the U.S.: At more than 7,300 yards from tips, you'll need to bring your A-game.

Greens fees at the Ocean Course hover around $320 per round, but drop to $250 in the summer.

Osprey Point: Architect Tom Fazio designed this track, which features four natural lakes, fingers of saltwater marsh and forests filled with oaks, pines, palmettos and magnolias. Measuring 6,871 yards from the championship tees with a 137 slope rating, Osprey Point is known for two things, the first of which is playability. Wide landing areas make this track accessible to a range of skill levels.

Its other distinguishing feature is its wild life. Because Osprey Point is more open than other tracks on the island, the gators that inhabit many of the saltwater ponds here like to sun themselves on its grass.

Greens fees at Ospery run $215 per round.

Turtle Point: This nearly 7,000-yard Jack Nicklaus design carries a daunting 142 slope rating. A low-profile design, Turtle Point is nevertheless demanding, calling on golfers to be both long and accurate. This is the main reason the track has been selected to host many important events, including the South Carolina Amateur and the 1990 PGA Cup matches.

Greens fees at Turtle run $215 per round.

The Kiawah Island Club

Cassique: Tom Watson must have drawn inspiration from Scotland's links courses when designing this run, his first solo North American design. Cassique is one of two championship courses at this private golf club. You'll have to battle with the winds of the Atlantic here, but Watson gives duffers a small respite in that his design plays to several strategies of attack, depending on which way the wind is blowing.

Measuring 6,960 yards, the course unfolds over agricultural fields, maritime forests and marshes where the Kiawah River meets the Atlantic Ocean, making for a track that is more than a pleasure to walk.

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