Kiawah Island Golf Resort 

www.kiawahresort.com

It’s fitting that the number one island in North America (as ranked by Conde Naste) is home to one of the finest golf resorts in the nation. In recognition of Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s efforts to preserve and enhance the surrounding wildlife habitat and natural resources, Audubon International has certified all five of the golf courses as cooperative sanctuaries in South Carolina.

But the resort is more than a natural wonder. It’s also top notch playing turf. Designed by five legendary architects—Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Gary Player and Clyde Johnston—Kiawah Island Golf Resort features five championship golf courses, including the Ocean Course, which is one of only four greens in the U.S. to have been graced by every major PGA event in the country.

Dubbed the best golf course in South Carolina by Golf Digest, Kiawah’s Ocean Course is the piece de resistance of the resort, boasting more seaside holes than any other course in the Northern Hemisphere—10 that hug the Atlantic with the other eight running parallel to those. Although it was originally designed to sit behind the dunes, designer Pete Dye’s wife, Alice, suggested elevating the entire course to unveil an unobstructed view of the coastline from every hole. In addition to its scenic and famed layout, the Ocean Course is also a unique challenge, offering players up to an eight-club difference on certain holes depending upon the direction and strength of the wind.

Another guest favorite, the Fazio-authored Osprey Point, features four large, natural lakes, fingers of saltwater marsh and dense maritime forests of live oaks, pines, palmettos and magnolias. Into that ideal Lowcountry landscape, Fazio wove a par-72 layout that appeals to a range of golfers. Its generous landing areas and few forced carries favor high-handicappers and junior golfers while the more advanced golfers will appreciate the challenges of avoiding hazards and navigating numerous risk/reward options and doglegs.

Accommodations

Whether you seek a sunny oceanfront resort hotel, a private vacation rental home or a family villa, Kiawah Island Golf Resort has the perfect property waiting for you to come and unwind. Ranked the number one U.S. resort hotel by Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report, the Sanctuary Hotel at Kiawah Island is truly a seaside mansion, offering 255 spacious rooms and suites that are all uniquely designed with luxury, handcrafted furniture. Guests have a plethora of amenities resting right at their fingertips, including 12 restaurants and bars, state-of-the-art pool and fitness facilities, and a luxurious spa, where the treatment specialists have a Ph.D. in pampering. No matter what activities you choose at the Sanctuary, every moment will surely be infused by the spirit, elegance and charm of the grand South.

Off the Course: Kiawah Land
Based Nature Tours Adventures
 

A barrier island that’s home to a majestic maritime forest and 10 miles of sweeping beach, Kiawah beckons golfers to take a break from the greens and explore the most serene of outdoor sanctuaries. At Kiawah Island Golf Resort, onsite naturalists lead land-based tours and adventures to add a different dimension to your vacation while providing insight into a complex and fascinating habitat. Here are three excursions that we think will really engage your inner explorer:

Alligator Adventure: From tiny hatchlings to intimidating adults with some impressive smiles, there are alligators lurking in almost every pond on Kiawah. The resort’s naturalists take you to their favorite gator hot spots to observe and learn about these amazing and often misunderstood predators.

Back Island Birding: The Lowcountry of South Carolina is famous for its diversity of birds, from delicate hummingbirds and vibrant warblers to stately birds of prey. This tour takes explorers to several remote island habitats to seek dozens of bird species and learn about the natural history of the region’s avian wildlife.

Night Beach Walk: Join a naturalist on a moon-drenched beach to discover the biology of Kiawah’s native loggerhead sea turtles. Experience the nocturnal world by listening and searching for wildlife such as owls, alligators and bats.

Kiawah Land Based Nature Tours Adventures 
For more information, visit www.kiawahresort.com

Jekyll Island Golf Club

www.jekyllisland.com

Since 1898, Jekyll Island has maintained its reputation as a premiere golfing destination, attracting acclaimed course designers such as Walter Travis and Joe Lee. As Georgia’s largest public golf resort, Jekyll Island Golf Club offers 63 holes among four distinctive courses, with each featuring its own combination of dramatic vistas and technical layouts. But here guests will detect a resonance that goes beyond excellence in golf amenities. Included in the Historic Hotels of America program for its diligence in maintaining authenticity, sense of place and architectural integrity, the Jekyll Island Golf Club resort tingles with a timelessness that reminds visitors why Georgia is an ideal stage for such a refined and storied sport.

In 1926 Walter Travis, the leading golf course architect of the time, was commissioned by one famous American financier, William Rockefeller, and a few other wealthy members of the Jekyll Island Club (then private) to create the “best course money could purchase.” Travis’s vision—the Great Dunes course—did not disappoint and brought members right up to the edge of Georgia’s coastal dune system and unique coastal terrain. Still in its original condition, this nine-hole golf course highlights the alternating simplicity and difficulty that only Travis could accomplish. With ocean views and signage portraying the history of Jekyll Island golf, Great Dunes is a must golf for any island guest.

Pine Lakes is also versatile in its play and is the island’s longest golf course, meandering like a lazy summer day through ocean forests and enigmatic marshlands. Originally built in 1968 and renovated in 2002, Pine Lakes is considered the club’s most equalizing course, as designer Clyde Johnson incorporated family-friendly tee boxes to make it one of the only links in the nation that provides even playing ground for both adults and youth. This is certainly a reflection of the club’s mission to bring golf to all kinds of players, who will discover a variety of opportunities to improve their game, including one-on-one, on-course instruction with a Jekyll Island expert, video analysis of your swing and a group-rate, three-hour learning program. 

Accommodations

Architecture, history and leisure convene in grandeur at the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel. At the center of resort life and the Jekyll Island Historic District, the Clubhouse (main hotel) is quintessential American Queen Anne in architectural style with its iconic turret, verandas, bay windows, extended chimneys and asymmetrical design. Exquisite interior details include Ionic columns in the dining room, 12- and 15-foot ceilings, oak wainscoting and other fine woodwork, leaded art glass and ornately detailed fireplaces. More than 50 activities are available at the hotel for guests, including historic tours, croquet, carriage rides, airplane fly-ins, bird walks on deserted beaches, horseback riding and spellbinding walks through live oak forests.

Off the Course: Georgia Sea Turtle Center

Created and operated by the Jekyll Island Authority, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center fosters a conservation program dedicated to increasing awareness through sea turtle education, rehabilitation and research. Empowering individuals to act locally, regionally and globally to protect the environment, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center is an advanced hospital that is open to the general public. Visitors can explore an interactive exhibit gallery and rehabilitation pavilion where many sea turtle patients are regularly on view. Additionally, indoor and outdoor educational programs are available year-round for guests of all ages. Guided, behind-the-scenes tours are offered daily at 3 p.m. Guests will visit food preparation areas, animal holding areas, the treatment room and radiology and surgical suites. 

Georgia Sea Turtle Center 214 Stable Rd
Monday-Friday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
(912) 635-4444 • www.jekyllisland.com

Ponte Vedra Beach Resort

www.pontevedra.com

Forget five stars—the swank Ponte Vedra Beach Resort features an inn and club that boasts a Five-Diamond AAA rating thanks to its dazzling pedigree of quiet opulence, grace and history. Located on a slice of beachfront paradise in northeast Florida, the historic inn has offered upscale accommodations paired with fine service and an array of recreational pursuits since its opening in 1928. Undoubtedly, one of the crown jewels of the Ponte Vedra oceanfront luxury vacation experience is its emerald turf, deemed one of the nation’s classics by Golf Digest and featuring a distinguished seaside flair that accents the beauty of the game and the natural wonders of the region.  

At Ponte Vedra, curving lagoons, undulating fairways, elevated Bermuda greens protected by steep-faced bunkers and a prevailing sea breeze set the stage for every kind of challenge imaginable. Designed in 1928 by famed British architect Herbert Bertram Strong, the par-72, 6,811-yard Ocean Course represents the area’s first resort golf experience. With its 99 strategically placed sand bunkers and elevated greens that demand thoughtful and accurate approach shots, the Ocean Course is a five-time host of the U.S. Open qualifying round. As golf legend Bobby Jones remarked after he completed a match here in 1942: “It’s a course to challenge professionals.”

Ponte Vedra’s second 18-hole test can be found in the Lagoon Course, a 6,022-yard, par-70 masterpiece, with a front nine designed by Robert Trent Jones and a back nine by Joe Lee. In 2007, renowned architect Bobby Weed fully restored and enhanced the layout, adding further charm and challenge to the landscape. The restoration included new tees, narrow fairways, small and fast greens, routing changes on several holes, new turf standards, improved irrigation and drainage, and a paradise-inspired terrain. A mosaic of lakes and lagoons threaten shots on 11 holes as tall pines, cheerful palms and ancient oaks punctuate the greens in perfect harmony.

Accommodations

www.pontevedra.com

The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club (offering 250 luxurious rooms and suites) and its nearby sister property, the Lodge & Club (66 upscale oceanfront rooms and suites) comprise an oceanfront luxury vacation experience in which guests can enjoy reciprocal access to the amenities of both establishments. No matter where you decide to stay, you can dip in to any one of four heated oceanfront swimming pools, including a family pool with waterslide and an adults-only pool. The fitness center—with steam, sauna and Jacuzzi facilities—also sports a sweeping vista of the Atlantic, the perfect inspiration for you to select from one of literally 100 weekly fitness classes. After an active day in the pool, gym or paddleboarding at the beach, unwind by perusing a variety of onsite boutiques and shops before capping off the evening with dinner at the Seahorse Grille. A delight for those desiring an upscale-but-casual dining and cocktail experience, the resort’s signature restaurant features an artfully imaginative menu that will leave your palate wanting more. 

Off the Course: One Spark Festival

Now that you’ve hit the links several days in a row, it’s time to think outside the tee box. There’s a vibe downtown that’s contagious and becomes especially alive during One Spark, conceived in 2011 by three young professionals involved in Jacksonville’s startup scene. Modeled after events like ArtPrize and South by Southwest, One Spark is a unique festival where inventors, entrepreneurs and artists present their brainchildren, with attendees voting on which projects receive prize money for further development. From April 7-9, 12 blocks of downtown Jacksonville will be swelling with creative minds out to showcase their ideas in arts, culture, education, health and wellness, lifestyle, engineering and technology. Live entertainment, demonstrations, food tastings, presentations and an eclectic vibe.

One Spark Festival 
For more information, visit www.onespark.com

The Sea Pines Resort

www.seapines.com

Hilton Head Island reigns a veritable golf capital, with more than 50 championship courses located on or around the island. From personality to layout to amenities, each course certainly has something to offer, making it nearly impossible for any one to stand out. Yet somehow, from the sea of glorious greens, one manages to emerge as the premier destination. Encompassing 5,000 acres at the southern tip of Hilton Head Island, on a peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Calibogue Sound, the Sea Pines Resort has an edge with its iconic Harbour Town Golf Links, home to the highly-anticipated RBC Heritage and classified as a must-play venue in the region.

This elite golf course demands finesse, imagination and shot-making rather than strength, making it a perennial favorite among PGA players. You can take on the same challenge as the greats, including a par-4 18th hole that is considered one of the most feared in all of golf, particularly when the wind is blowing off Calibogue Sound. As of September 2015, the tee boxes, fairways and rough have been replaced with Celebration Bermuda grass, the most scientifically advanced surface used on warm season courses. Consistently ranked among top courses by Golf Digest, Golfweek and Travel & Leisure, Harbour Town Golf Links has also achieved designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, reminding golfers of this sport’s natural beauty. 

Although it hasn’t hosted a major PGA tournament like its neighboring course, Heron Point is, in its own right, another shining star at Sea Pines. Named South Carolina’s 2015 Golf Course of the Year, Heron Point was modified in 2014 by designer Pete Dye, who wanted to make the course more player friendly by softening the green surrounds and contours, enlarging several putting surfaces and adding ornamental landscape beds throughout the Lowcountry layout. A mixture of sand, mulch and limestone surfaces, as well as a variety of grasses, enhances the vivid tapestry of color. On four holes with water guarding the greens, alternating wood and grass walls create conspicuous bulkheads that try to threaten your shot, requiring golfers to engage their mental toughness and see through to the hole.

Accommodations

From the romantic ambiance of the Inn & Club at Harbour Town to luxurious homes for two to 12 guests, vacation options of every shape and size await at Sea Pines. As an added benefit, guests receive welcome discounts and charging privileges at the resort’s diverse restaurants, shopping outlets and pro shops. Those interested in renting a home or villa during the RBC Heritage should consider special RBC Heritage vacation packages that feature reduced golf rates at Heron Point and the Ocean Course, easy access to the tournament and convenient resort amenities at the new Harbour Town Clubhouse, Sea Pines Beach Club and Plantation Golf Club. At the Sea Pines Resort, you’ll discover a seaside hideaway where the rhythms of nature meet the latest in comfort and luxury. 

Off the Course: Sea Pines Forest Preserve

One of the last remaining tracts of natural land on Hilton Head Island, the Sea Pines Forest Preserve is a 605-acre enchanted landscape of old rice fields, wildflower meadows, lakes, rookeries and swamps. The area was first inhabited 4,000 years ago by nomadic Indians, who created a ceremonial shell ring that can still be seen to this day. Bridle paths, wetland boardwalks, observation decks, bridges and fishing docks have been added to improve visitor access and enjoyment. The preserve also offers guided boat, horseback, walking, fishing and wagon tours. On April 2, join the Sea Pines Forest Preserve Foundation for its annual spring fundraiser that includes a picnic-themed menu, live music and fun for the whole family. Proceeds benefit the conservation efforts and projects of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve.

Sea Fines Forest Preserve 
4:30-7:30 p.m.
(843) 671-1343 • www.seapinesforestpreserve.org

This article appears in the April 2016 issue of Augusta Magazine.