Low Country Luxury on Kiawah Island
Kiawah Island serves up pristine beaches, world-class golf, and high-end real estate
Photos by Patrick J. O'Brien
“You’re on your way to the clubhouse?” The Kiawah Island resident posed the question with the quiet exhilaration that comes with the first lustrous days of spring. “Be sure to get a whiff of the gardenias.”
Later that night, my new friends at the elegant River Room bar advised that if I did nothing else, I had to experience the short rib sandwich at Voysey’s, the pub in the Cassique Clubhouse.
Then there was this impeccable tip from Elliot Hillock, Kiawah Island Club boat captain, as we cruised down the Kiawah River: “Keep your eye out for the dolphins!” Sure enough, a few leapt through the water alongside Hillock’s sleek 28-foot cruiser, following the young captain like old friends.
But no one told me what to do if I saw an alligator on my way to lunch.
There it was, the day after I had escaped the blustery cold of New England, sunning on the flower-dotted lawn behind my Kiawah Island cottage. I watched as the beast gently lumbered away, toward the “Watch for Gators” sign posted next to an inlet.
All these experiences and more, bolstered by wise advice from homeowners, rippled through my sojourn to Kiawah Island, whose collection of residential communities represents a quiet pool of luxury wrapped in the natural beauty of South Carolina’s Lowcountry.
Most visitors to Kiawah Island own a home here, and it’s almost always their second. Some residents and guests use home base as a launching pad for a quick getaway to sample the island’s amenities and natural pleasures, while others settle in for long, lazy stays. Having a home on Kiawah means creating your own setting, agenda, and timeline at the time of year you love the most.
Often it means meeting friends for golf on an oceanside PGA course; spending a day swimming, kayaking, or river cruising with family; or just unwinding on the gracious loggia of an architectural gem of a home for a couple hours. (The spacious loggia on my Cassique neighborhood cottage—a two-story, light-filled home that is part of the private Kiawah Island Club—is perfect for a quiet respite with a glass of chilled wine.)
Each of Kiawah’s many neighborhoods offers its own particular beauty and unique identity. Homeowners get a membership to the Kiawah Island Club and access to facilities for activities like boating and tennis. Other types of memberships cater to special activities, such as golf. With seven golf courses (including five open to the public), Kiawah naturally draws passionate devotees of the game.
One home in a new Kiawah enclave, Ocean Park, has a sweeping vista of the Atlantic beyond the fairways of The Ocean Course, home of the 1991 Ryder Cup and 2012 PGA Championship, described by PGA champion Rory McIlroy as “by far my favorite Pete Dye course.” Another homeowner recalls Phil Mickelson’s 122-yard wedge shot landing in her hot tub. For golf lovers, things are about to get even better, with The Ocean Course queuing up to host the 2021 PGA Championship.
Much of Ocean Park’s natural beauty is rooted in its generous open space: 90 acres of preserved, prime real estate in a spectacular setting. The number of houses is limited, giving homeowners even more privacy and a pastiche of views that includes ocean, marsh, rivers, creeks, ponds, and the golf course’s rolling greens.
With award-winning architects at the helm, each of Kiawah Island’s neighborhoods is a study in classic design and local artisanship, cloistered in the beauty of a natural wonderland. While home prices here can rise above $20 million, the average is $1.5 million; villas are priced $500,000 to $1 million.
The food in the club’s several restaurants reflects the locavore trend, with much of the fish and crabs caught in local waters. These are not your usual menus; consider that celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, co-founder of Gramercy Tavern in New York City, is the consulting chef at Voysey’s pub.
While they relax, diners can also feast on their surroundings, including the pristine architecture of the clubhouses, restaurants, and Sasanqua Spa. Settled into a cozy chair for dinner one night at the Kiawah Beach Club, I didn’t look once at my phone or the magazine I’d stashed in my purse; I was too caught up in the interior of the room and the fresh crab salad in front of me. Designed by renowned architect Robert A.M. Stern, the Kiawah Beach Club’s interior—with architectural detailing and a must-see raftered ceiling—is like sculptural artwork.
There are many ways to get a taste of Kiawah’s natural charm, and one of the best is exploring the island’s 10 miles of coastline, marshes, and rivers with Hillock on the Kiawah Island Resort’s 28-foot Scout Dorado, made in nearby Summerville, S.C.
Cruising the Kiawah River with the captain one exquisite afternoon, we saw nature at its wildest best. Under mild sunshine peeking through layered clouds, I watched Kiawah Island float by as we headed toward the marsh. The colors, shapes, and muffled sounds draped over me, nudging me to forget about time for awhile and simply float, taking it all in.
Hillock has sailed the river many times, and each time it’s always a different experience. As he mused on that afternoon cruise, “It never gets old.”