Southern Ocean Breezes
Celebrated Coastal Golf Resorts/Kiawah

Story by: Bill Nestor

6-Kiawah_Island_Sunrise.jpgKiawah Island Resort was a brilliant host for the 2012 PGA Championship and it was a spectacular show. Anyone watching and certainly those who have played the venue understand that wind makes all the difference at the Ocean Course. Southern ocean breezes and the site produce consistently inconsistent winds that can mean the difference between a gentle day at the beach or “brutal conditions”, as echoed by many of the top PGA tour players in the world during the tournament, “It was both physically and mentally exhausting.” The 25-30 mph gusting and swirling air at times made it difficult to stand still, let alone play 18 holes of golf.

Ocean Course Clubhouse & Hole #18 Par 4 439 yards

The iconic Ocean Course sits alone at the eastern end of a South Carolina barrier beach isle. It is set apart from Kiawah Island Resort, a quintessential upscale golf vacation destination. The routing runs along the coast, parallel to and jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by an exquisite landscape of beauty and raw nature that engulfs it with wetland marshes, sand dunes, water and wind. It is a befitting location for a course of such magnificence and as a challenging field of play for the best golfers on the planet.

Pete Dye’s famed seaside design is an impressive architectural accomplishment in a glorious natural setting that has hosted a notable list of major golf events--1991 Ryder Cup, 2005 PGA Professional National Championship, 2007 Senior PGA Championship, and 2012 PGA Championship.

Dye’s redesign of bunker complexes on holes number #2, 6, 9, 11, 12 began in 2009. Tee to green salt tolerant Seashore Paspalum was introduced beginning 2008 to replace existing Bermuda grass. The Ocean Course has the look and feel of a links course with wind dried greens and windswept fairways that are often accompanied by misting salt air, but the domed or crowned greens and grass approach areas create imposing short game challenges.

Dye’s redesign of bunker complexes on #2, 6, 9, 11 and 12 holes began in 2009. Hole #17, Par 3 - 221 yards.

Previous trips to Kiawah Island had shown me what havoc the windy, exposed location interlaced with salt marsh, sand dunes, water hazards and the many sand waste areas can bring, but a recent visit was distinctive, as the absence of rain or strong winds made for a very different experience and a unique visit to the venerated place.

Teeing it up on a sunny and almost windless day at the Ocean Course with Jonathan Banta was pleasant and serene. Dining in the clubhouse, lunch at the Ryder Cup bar and dinner at Chef de Cuisine Banta’s Atlantic Room, added to a special fantasy golf, food, spa and beach trip.

Dining in the clubhouse, lunch at the Ryder Cup bar (above) and dinner at Chef de Cuisine Banta’s Atlantic Room (below), added to a special fantasy golf, food, spa and beach trip.

Chef Banta shared golf with his father at Centerton Country Club in Pittsgrove, NJ as a lad. His high school graduation gift was a golf trip together in Scotland. It solidified the relationship and shared love of the game. The videotaped conversation, filmed after tipping a few, chronicling them planning a late night trek to the road hole at Saint Andrews for some sand play is priceless.

The flawless balance of location, golf course and a near perfect day just kept on giving. Dinner in the Atlantic Room was a magical culinary journey that offered up its panoramic vista and cuisine focus of fresh regional seafood.

I savored a sampling of appetizers. Raw, sweet, fresh oysters was first up and a parade of mouth-watering others followed--Crispy Fried Shrimp on Napa cabbage, sweet chili; Scallop Saltimbocca, country ham, lemon tempura; Croissant toast lobster roll, lemon tarragon aioli. The feast continued with entrees of Blackened Redfish, Adluh grit cake and Crispy Carolina Flounder with citrus-crab salad.

Each dish was delectable and palate pleasing. I was also impressed with the artistic flare of presentation and shared this with Chef Banta who said, “After all, this is culinary art.”

Much of the food served is locally grown, raised and caught, including seafood selected at nearby docks, and brought to the table under the watchful eye of Chef Banta at the Atlantic Room.

Outside on the patio after dinner was delightful. The sound of waves gently washing ashore on the nearby beach was soothing. Shrimp boat lights stretched along the Atlantic horizon punctuating a dark night sky. Gentle ocean breezes freshened the warm, moist air as a bright orange full moon rose seemingly out of the sea. Its light began to fill the sky, illuminating the water and silhouetting the land up and down the coast. It was an ideal curtain on an astonishing day. I was at once both sated and breathless.

Kiawah’s five award winning public courses designed by some of the best known architects--Ocean Course/Pete Dye, Turtle Point/Jack Nicklaus, Osprey Point/Tom Fazio, Oak Point /Gary Player, Cougar Point/Clyde Johnston-- and two additional private layouts--Cassique/Tom Watson and The River Course/Tom Fazio—makes it a golfers paradise.

Lodging is available at the beachfront Sanctuary, a grandiose southern plantation-style luxury hotel with spa, aqua center, pools, and restaurants. Beachfront and garden villas provide additional choices for comfortable accommodations.

Ocean Course Holes #10 Par 4- 439 yards & #17 Par 3- 221 yards

Kiawah Island Resort’s outstanding dining options offer a variety of restaurants, cuisine, style, ambiance and price from elegant gourmet to regional homespun fare. Dinners at The Sanctuary’s Ocean Room specializing in local, grass-fed beef, seasonal fresh produce and regional ingredients and Jasmine Porch featuring traditional Low country dishes were also superb.

Kiawah Island has ten miles of beach, as well as protected habitat for a variety of plant and animal species, nesting habitat for sea turtles, and range of recreational activities for residents and guests.

Watching the PGA Championship brought back an Ocean Course caddie’s comment, “Its usually better to be back in the field at the end of day one. Typically, the later you go out the more the wind picks up as it moves off the land and mixes with cold ocean air.” This was certainly true during the event, particularly on day two when wind speeds increased dramatically and most of the field lost ground as the day wore on.

The final day started with almost the entire field needing to complete Saturday’s round cut short by torrential rains. The conditions during the final 18 holes with 15 mph winds blowing in from the ocean on the 7,600-yard layout had most players shaking their heads. In the end, it was an historic finish as Rory McIlroy ran away winning by a PGA Championship record eight strokes, the same margin of victory he registered at Congressional Country Club in the 2011 US Open, his first major win.

The blustery week on the shores of South Carolina appear to have ushered winds of change and defined a path for now. The 23-year old McIlroy has regained the number one position in golf while Kiawah Island has demonstrated that their position as a premier golf resort in America is well deserved.

Bill Nestor writes about global travel, golf, food, nature and lifestyle from his home in Vermont.

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(To read Part 2--Southern Ocean Breezes: Celebrated Coastal Golf Resorts/Harbour Town, Amelia Island, Hammock Beach CLICK HERE.)