Kiawah Island: A Sanctuary for the Golfing Family

By Julie Hatfield

KIAWAH ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA – There’s a reason you rarely see parents of young children playing golf together. An 18-hole round of golf takes enough time that, even if Mom and Dad have the money for babysitters, or even if they have a grandmother handy, the guilt at leaving the kids for five hours or so, and having more fun than they are, is still there.

That problem has been rectified, however, on this beautiful barrier island boasting seven golf courses, with a massive new luxury resort that is as welcoming to children as it is to adult travelers. The Sanctuary, a grand hotel opened late last year by Virginia Investment Trust, which also oversees the acclaimed Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia, and the Beaux Arts Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, encourages its smallest guests to enjoy its Kamp Kiawah for children aged 3 to 11 when they stay here with their parents.

Kamp Kiawah was organized two decades ago for visitors to the now-closed Kiawah Island Inn and for island home owners’or renters’children. When it opened last fall, The Sanctuary took charge of Kamp Kiawah, along with the five best known golf courses on the island, all part of Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Included in the children’s Kamp Kiawah supervised activities, held in nearby Night Heron Park, are “Pirate Escapades, Nature Adventure Days, Sand Sculpting” and more, all of which make use of the island’s well known natural surroundings. Kiawah, named after the Indians who lived here in the 1600’s, is committed to maintaining a balance between the resort community and its fragile natural surroundings. The island is in the heart of Lowcountry interior tidal creeks, maritime forests and ponds that are carefully maintained, and its huge variety of plant and animal life, its protected nesting site for loggerhead turtles, as well as its 220 species of birds, including ospreys, hawks and bald eagles, are all enjoyed at Kamp Kiawah. So much so that your golf game as a couple at Kiawah may represent one of those rare moments you’ll experience as parents when, returning from the links, you find your kids looking a trifle disappointed to see you back so early. Their activities begin at 8:30 a.m. and go until 4 p.m. each day.

The Sanctuary has also created a teen program that offers late night movies, photo scavenger hunts, basketball and volleyball tournaments, and dance contests. At first viewing, the gated resort community looks disarmingly quiet. Your older teens might worry upon arrival that there’s nothing going on except quiet walks by the sea and a boring dinner in the incredible Ocean Room (which serves, among other unusual specialties, American kobe beef.) Before you give them the car keys to go off to Charleston, a 30-minute drive from the resort, you might check whether there is a family Jeopardy game or family beach bash scheduled for the evening. There are also daytime family sand sculpture contests and aqua aerobics as part of the mix that caused Conde Nast Traveler’s readers to vote Kiawah Island among the top 20 islands in the world for resort activities.

Oh yes, and some teens might even like to play golf. That being the activity for which Kiawah is known, this would be the best place to start your teens with some lessons. The twosome that played ahead of us on the Ocean Course consisted of a man and his teenaged daughter.

Better still, if any of your children old enough to stand up and swing a golf club have begun to catch your enthusiasm for the sport, the whole family can play together on either the Osprey Point, Cougar Point, Turtle Point or Oak Point golf courses in a special program of The Sanctuary and the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Called “Family Tee,” starting times are between 5 and 6:30 p.m. with 15-minute start intervals, and all members are required to play from the special family tees. Adults pay $45 per round, and children under 17 play free. The Family Tee program runs from May 29 to September 5.

There’s more for kids. Now that the 225-room Sanctuary is finished, besides its state-of-the-art spa, its ultra-modern fitness center, its $10 million collection of antiques and original artwork acquired at auction over several years prior to the hotel opening, its Tara-like grand staircases three stories high and its huge guestrooms, each of which cost $450,000 to furnish, it also features The Discovery Room, a sort of family room for nature lovers and actually an extension, or branch, of the Heron Park Nature Center. The Discovery Room represents a window on this island’s special ecology. When we visited it, two little pre-school-aged girls came running in to check on the resident jackrabbit there, and the naturalist who was on duty, knowing that this rabbit does not hurt children, took him out of his box and allowed the girls to play with him. The room also had local live snakes, maps of the area, computers with interactive nature programs, a selection of DVD’s and scheduled talks by island naturalists.

The Sanctuary builds on this enjoyment of and respect for Kiawah’s natural surroundings by offering daily events for the whole family. When we visited on just one day in February, we could have taken a van tour called “Back Island Birding,” or gone kayaking in the salt marsh with our children, or gone with a guide to see alligators in their natural habitat (we had already seen one three feet away as we teed off on the Ocean Course) or canoed through some of the island’s tidal creeks to see dolphin, fish, oysters, and crabs.

The resort, which has a built-in spa in one of its huge wings, has separate family swimming pools overlooking the Atlantic as well as private access to 10 miles of unspoiled beach. Naturalists offered night beach walks, but we were more interested in day beach bike rides, it being a novelty to us as Bostonians, since our home beaches are not hard-packed enough to bike.

Cooper Carry, the Atlanta architect of The Sanctuary, and Hirsch Bedner Associates, the interior designer, planned for the Charleston brick, stone, stucco and wood hotel to look like a 19th Century seaside family mansion. As grand and as elegant as it is, since The Sanctuary is also a sort of old Southern family place, it is a warm and welcoming facility to mothers, fathers, grandparents…and children as well.

For More Information:

The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island
One Sanctuary Beach Drive
Kiawah Island, SC 29455

Rates: $275-$625 per night

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