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Haunting natural beauty, great golf near CharlestonHaunting natural beauty, great golf near Charleston

Edisto and Kiawah Islands, South Carolina Edisto and Kiawah Islands, South Carolina 

I can’t plan a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, without adding a day to explore beautiful Edisto Island. And if you love golf, you can easily spend an entire vacation on Kiawah Island, home to five championship golf courses and a luxury resort appropriately named The Sanctuary.

  • Take a step back in time on Edisto Island, just 45 minutes southwest of Charleston. The 4,600-acre Botany Bay Heritage Preserve includes almost three miles of pristine beachfront, frequented by sea turtles and rare least terns. Erosion on Botany Bay Beach has left a “boneyard” of dead oak trees along the sand. Photo by Alistair Nicol.
  • Silvery Spanish moss hangs from towering live oak trees on Botany Bay Plantation Road. Travel down this road and you feel almost like you’re going back to the 19th century. Photo by Brandon Hixson.
  • Shells litter the sand at Edisto Island Beach State Park. Photo by Danie Becknell.
  • Peel-and-eat shrimp, fried shrimp, and a Moo Cobb Salad at the SeaCow Eatery. Other favorites include flounder, oysters, scallops, and, of course, Martha’s must-have pies, fudge brownies, and Cow Patty Cookies. Photo courtesy SeaCow Eatery.
  • Seven brown pelicans overfly a row of homes on beautiful Edisto Island. Photo by Meredith Harris.
  • Sunset on Edisto Island, where nearly half the land has been protected in its natural state. Photo by Kent via Flickr.
  • Aerial view of The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Photo courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
  • Inside the lobby at The Sanctuary. Photo courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
  • The Kiawah Sanctuary Spa whirlpool. Photo courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
  • One of two large swimming pools at The Sanctuary. Photo courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
  • The Ocean View golf course and clubhouse on Kiawah Island. Probably no other golf course in the world outside of the United Kingdom and Ireland is affected as much by the wind. From one round to the next, a player can experience up to an 8-club difference on holes depending upon the direction and strength of the wind. The Ocean Course has more seaside holes than any other course in the Northern Hemisphere. Golf Digest named The Ocean Course “#3 Public Golf Course in U.S.,” #20 among “America’s Greatest Courses” and “America’s Toughest Resort Course.” Photo courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
  • Located at the Osprey Point Clubhouse, the Cherrywood BBQ & Alehouse features genuine Southern BBQ smoked over local hardwoods and complemented by chefs’ signature sauces. Look below the patio, and you might spot a few hefty alligators lazing in the sun. Photo courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
  • Aerial view of some of the resort tennis courts. Kiawah has been rated the #1 Tennis Resort in the World and #1 Best Tennis Instruction and Programming by Photo courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
  • A tricolored heron takes off from a marsh on Kiawah Island. Photo courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
  • Kids frolic in the Night Heron Kid’s Pool at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Photo courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort.

Edisto Island is less than an hour from Charleston down Highway 174, a National Scenic Byway. Giant live oaks coated in silvery Spanish moss line the road. From the early 1700s to mid-1800s, Edisto Island was characterized by large plantations where slaves grew and harvested rice in the wetlands. The rice culture declined after the Civil War, and many of the plantations were purchased by wealthy sportsmen for use as hunting retreats. Undeveloped and unpolluted, the habitat remains diverse and filled with wildlife.

Today, nearly half of Edisto is protected natural land. Case in point: the Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge, which protects the largest undeveloped estuary along the Atlantic Coast. (ACE Basin stands for the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers, which form the estuary and parts of the refuge boundary.) The refuge office, a former rice plantation house built in 1828, is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Activities include hunting, fishing, birding, photography, and touring the plantation.

Nicholas shares a book with Emily Grace, the friendly resident feline at the Edisto Bookstore. Photo courtesy Edisto Bookstore.

I like to continue down the highway to the Edisto Bookstore for maps and Lowcountry books. Say hi to Emily Grace (exquisite feline) and give her a kiss from me. This is the kind of bookstore I could lose myself in for a few days. Continuing on, the highway ends at the ocean; turn right and meander across endless beaches littered with seashells. Rent bikes or kayaks at Island Bikes, across from the SeaCow Eatery and their must-have pies (OK, have the local shrimp, crab cakes, or flounder and smoked sausage first). Thus fueled, hike or bike the beautifully marked and maintained trails in the 1,200-acre Edisto Beach State Park. You can overnight in one of the two campgrounds or seven furnished cabins. In the 4,600-acre Botany Bay Plantation, you’ll find the remnants of two grand houses, Seabrook and Bleak Hall. A perfectly preserved 1840s ice house boasts interior walls made of “tabby”—lime, sand, water, and oyster shells. Botany Bay Beach, reached only on foot or by bike, is littered with blackened skeletal remains of live oaks uprooted during hurricanes. On the jungle side of the state park, a trail leads to a pile of bones and shells—Indian Mound, left by Edistow Indians over 4,000 years ago. You can also book a hunting or inshore or offshore fishing excursion with Single Shot Guide Services. More luxurious accommodations are available at the Wyndham Ocean Ridge.

Kiawah Island is just 30 minutes from downtown Charleston, and its resort offers golf and luxury on a grand scale. You can stay at The Sanctuary Hotel, the resort’s 255-room luxury retreat, one of 500 resort villas, or a private home rental. The Sanctuary is the epicenter of the resort, with a spa, prime steakhouse and sushi lounge, Lowcountry cuisine restaurant, and tropical oceanfront café.  

Bobcats abound on Kiawah Island. You’ll see them most often along the golf courses. Photo by Linda Tanner.

Choose from five championship courses, or play them all! The Pete Dye-designed Ocean Course has hosted the PGA Championship and other tournaments. The wind here can play havoc with the best golfer's game, but its popularity proves that good golfers relish a challenge. The front nine features scenic marshes that are popular with herons and other water birds. Marshes give way to sand dunes on the back nine. The other courses are Gary Player's Cougar Point, Tom Fazio's Osprey Point, Turtle Point by Jack Nicklaus, and Oak Point by Clyde Johnston. Kiawah is one of the world’s top-rated tennis resorts, too. The resort’s two tennis complexes feature 19 Har-Tru courts and five hard courts. Adult and junior programs, camps, and private instruction are available.

The resort offers a Nature Center so you can get a close look at the native wildlife. They also offer walking tours or kayaking or paddle boarding tours to see Kiawah's birds and animals on their home turf. Comprehensive kids' and teens' programs feature archery, art, and even surfing lessons. Complimentary resort shuttles allow family members to pursue individual interests, if desired. Add a trip to Edisto or Kiawah next time you fly to Charleston Executive Airport!

The Kiawah Island Golf Resort offers guided kayak tours for teens and adults, or you can rent a kayak and paddle on your own. Photo courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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