Nice Shot!

Autumn buzzes with great golf at South Carolina’s Kiawah Island Golf Resort.

By Bob Gillespie

When it comes to autumn golf, South Carolina is an ideal destination with balmy mid-day temperatures and crisp late-afternoon finishes. If you want one place with an amazing variety of golf experiences, Kiawah Island Golf Resort can keep you occupied for a week or more.

Every golfer knows The Ocean Course: host to the 1991 Ryder Cup (“The War by the Shore”) plus the 2007 Senior PGA and the 2012 PGA Championship – South Carolina’s first men’s major. But Kiawah also is home to four other exceptional courses, ranging from scratch-players-only to everyman golf, all rating 4 or 4 1/2 stars (out of five) from Golf Digest. Here’s one man’s overview of the five-some.

The Ocean Course
The Ocean Course is, well, not for the faint of heart. Golf Digest ranks it “America’s Toughest Course” (and number 4 public course in the U.S.), and Pete Eye’s creation lives up to its reputation. Wide swaths of sand and marsh, rolling fairways and capricious winds from all directions make this beast challenging to the best players – and often mean a memorable butt-kicking for the weekend golfer.

But why would you come to Kiawah and not play The Ocean Course? The seaside views of the Atlantic from 10 of its holes – courtesy of Dye’s wife Alice, who urged Pete to raise the fairways to enhance sightlines – are worth the price of admission alone. And you know you want to go home and tell your buddies how you made par at the infamous, water-guarded par-3 17th hole, right? You can leave out those “other” scores.

Turtle Point
Having checked The Ocean Course off your bucket list, don’t sigh with relief just yet. Not until you’ve played Turtle Point, an early Jack Nicklaus design that showcases the finest traditions of classic golf course architecture. It’s not The Ocean Course, but it’s no pushover, either.

Nicklaus designed Turtle Point during his early “penal” years – and it shows. The Golden Bear’s goal was to “make the player use his mind…to really think through his options.” Translation: This golf course is tough, physically and mentally.

Turtle Point is meant for better players, with narrow fairway corridors, out-of-bounds everywhere, small greens and strategic water hazards. Besides being long, it also demands high shots to hold those small greens, plus the ability to shape shots. That’s Nicklaus’ vision of a great course.

Osprey Point
Assuming you survive those first two, Osprey Point will come as a welcome respite. Tom Fazio designed it as a members’ course, playable for the average golfer but still challenging. It features four lakes, saltwater marshes and forests of live oaks, pines and magnolias – but also generous landing areas and few forced carries. Its playability shows in Osprey Point’s ranking of 11th on Golf for Women magazine’s “50 Best Courses for Women.”

The resort recently announced that Osprey Point will undergo a major renovation, beginning in May 2014, under the direction of course architect Tom Fazio. All of the greens, tees and fairways will be converted to Paspalum, the salt-tolerant strain of grass that is currently on The Ocean Course. Additionally, all of the bunkering on the course will be reworked as part of the renovation. The proposed changes will enhance the aesthetics as well as the playing conditions of the course. Osprey Point is scheduled to reopen in late September 2014.

Cougar Point
If not the toughest Kiawah golf course, Cougar Point might be the prettiest – and the most tweaked. Originally Marsh Point, it was redesigned in 1996 by Gary Player, with wide landing areas and open-front greens that permit run-up shots to its longer holes. Its shorter par 4s require placement to negotiate approaches to the greens.

Oak Point
Finally, there’s Oak Point, the only Kiawah resort course not located on Kiawah Island. Designed by Clyde Johnston and just outside the resort gates on the site of an old cotton and indigo plantation, it was purchased by the resort in 1997 and renovated in 2004. Oak Point harkens back to 1920s designs, emphasizing accuracy over length. The golf course winds through dense forests before emerging alongside the Kiawah River on its finishing holes. A real breath-taker.

Play all five golf courses, or pick and choose. The Ocean Course is a must, but temper its challenges against its sisters’ enjoyment, and you have a South Carolina golf vacation full of variety and memories.

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