Fall at Kiawah Island, S.C.
Leaving the world-class accommodations at Kiawah Island, S.C., after five rounds of golf, stellar food, and service with a smile that required no finger lifting whatsoever, the thought occurred to me as the exit gate was closing that vacating the womb as an adult male had its merits and its downsides. While operating a motor vehicle and hunting for food came quickly to me once again, detachment anxiety set in a whole lot sooner than the first time the cord was cut. The arrival at the Sanctuary four days earlier was something straight out of “Gulliver’s Travels”: the mammoth-columned entryway doors leading to a multi-storied lobby, full of murals and memorabilia. I immediately felt the genuine warmth of the staff when checking in and barely had time to change clothes before my uncle and I were scheduled to tee off at Jack Nicklaus-designed Turtle Point.
Turtle Point has my vote for the Kiawah golf course that most leaves you wanting to golf more. The first nine holes of somewhat narrow tree-lined fairways are set back from the ocean and reward straight shots with good scores. Holes 14-16 were spectacularly fun, windy, beautiful and challenging golf holes along the beach that rewarded straight shots with pathetic scores, but left me smiling. Two picturesque par fours end the feast, but leave you maybe wanting to ask for the menu back.
We had dinner outside at the Sanctuary’s Jasmine Porch, where we safely watched lightning bolts and heat charges sashay across the island during an evening rain shower. The food and service were exemplary. The quality of service at Kiawah was of a special variety to me that felt extremely personal yet not invasive. It left me feeling somewhat like Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show,” where behind every door were people that wanted to see me do well.
The Ocean Course and Osprey Point were scheduled for the next day, and it was sub-par service that allowed us to just wander out from the Sanctuary and see our clubs waiting for us and shuttle ready to go. The famous Dye-designed Ocean Course lived up to its name and then some, and I was glad I walked it. It gave me a chance to have the Ryder Cup and PGA tested grounds all to myself at times in a way that just doesn’t happen from a cart. I got a chance to scratch my head and wonder how Rory’s ball got caught in a leafless tree that looks more like driftwood harpooned into the ground, and I took the time to walk up to the pro tees and survey the view from hole 14. The very serene round had a pleasant sense of surrealness to it that felt like a mix of meditation and connect the dots, inside of a watercolor painting. Lunch at the Ryder Cup Bar, overlooking the eighteenth green, was a great way to spend time.
If the Ocean Course was the runaway classic, then Osprey Point had the most comfortable interior and got the best gas mileage. Birds were everywhere, alligators rampant along the lakeshores and good scores followed us around the player-friendly Fazio layout. Five sets of tees on every course makes even wagering with your uncle possible, and lets you decide how masochistic you want to be. Whichever you choose, playing this course after the Ocean was a welcome massage in a good environment. Dinner at the Ocean Room at one of the few steakhouses to have a Forbes four star and AAA four diamond rating prompted me to try an aged Wagyu steak with a marble rating exceeding 10. When asked how it was I honestly answered, “Wonderful,” but what was really going through my head and would have flown was the old George Carlin line “I never had a ten, but one night I had five twos.” (Okay, okay, sorry.) The epic atmosphere present in the restaurant spawned a conversation between my uncle and I, where I learned multiple things about my mother and grandparents that I never knew. Kiawah is just that kind of place. I saw it in the pediatric dentist, celebrating an anniversary with his wife and newborn, staying next to us. I saw it in the apartment broker there to represent his firm in the First Tee charity event that Friday on the Ocean Course. I even saw it in the price of my yogurt parfait the next morning at Beaches and Cream before we set out for one more day of golf, and it still tasted great. Oak Point is the only Kiawah course that is actually outside of the resort gates, and as I was exiting the morning shuttle I have to say I felt vulnerable. The feeling that I had stepped off the safari train only deepened when we were visited at the driving range by a bobcat still on the prowl from the night before. It was way cool. We also saw a heron stab a fish out of the water, decide not to eat it, and carry it around like a stuffed animal for as long as we watched. The par three 15th hole along the road was a signature hole for me, and the par five 17th hole was one of my favorites of the trip.
The last round, Cougar Point, was my solid second-place choice of the five courses we played. A Gary Player design, I thought it was a great example of what a landscaped golf course should look like. In that sense, it was the opposite of a natural layout like the Ocean Course, and so, for that, I vote it best car in its class. Some of the expansive marshland views were so Serengeti that I almost started humming tunes from “The Lion King.”
I came to Kiawah Island to play golf, and golf was there for the taking in splendor fashion, but I left with a lot more than that. I left as a more experienced traveler, diner, bobcat watcher, nephew and critic.