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Playing in the sand on a beach, golf getaway on Kiawah Island, S.C.

Osprey Point is one five stellar public golf courses Kiawah IslS.C. | Phocourtesy Kiawah IslGolf Resort

Osprey Point is one of five stellar public golf courses on Kiawah Island, S.C. | Photo courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort

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GETTING THERE: Several airlines fly between Chicago and Charleston, S.C., including Southwest Airlines, which started non-stop service between the two cities in March. Kiawah Island is 21 miles from Charleston, or a roughly 45-minute drive from the airport.

STAYING THERE: Kiawah Island Golf Resort includes the Sanctuary hotel as well as 600 villas and homes that can be rented for a wide range of prices; (800) 654-2924, Other companies that rent accommodations on Kiawah are Beachwalker, Resort Quest Vacations and Pam Harrington Exclusives.

WHEN TO GO: In summer, the island is a popular beach vacation spot for families. Spring and fall are prime golf season. Rates take a nose dive in January and February, but you’re rolling the dice with the weather; it could be in 70s or the 40s.


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Updated: July 7, 2011 2:16AM

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — “You’ll want your 9-iron for this one,” advised my 10-year-old stepson, putting his park district golf lessons to use.

What I really wanted was my Nikon D-40, because this Tom Fazio-designed golf course looked especially picturesque. It was magic hour, and the saltwater marshes, palmetto palms and velvety fairway took on the warm glow of South Carolina’s Lowcountry sun.

One of five public golf courses on the island, Osprey Point stretches 6,871 yards from the back tees. We, however, were playing the “family golf” version of this championship course. That meant nine holes. Shortened tees. Reduced rates. Perfect for a duffer like me and a 10-year-old in training.

It’s as close as you’ll get to miniature golf on Kiawah Island, an ideal getaway for families who are happy to forgo amusement parks, action-packed boardwalks and, well, miniature golf on their vacation.

On Kiawah, you won’t find any roller coasters, spinning tea cups and carousels. Kiawah’s rides are had in kayaks, through serene estuaries and marshes. Or on bicycles, along the island’s 30 miles of paved paths through maritime forests and 10 long miles of packed sand on an uninterrupted beach.

There’s no restaurant row or strip of hotels on this 10,000-acre patch of land — a barrier island close enough to Charleston to hear the first shots ring out in the Civil War.

Developers have used a refreshingly light hand in transforming Kiawah into one of the country’s top tennis-golf resorts and a residential community made up largely of rich folks’ second homes. (Only about 20 percent of Kiawah’s property owners live here year-round.)

The island’s sole hotel is the five-star Sanctuary, a luxurious beachfront property with three pools, a spa that wins a lot of spa awards and 255 spacious guestrooms — 90 percent of which have ocean views.

With the Sanctuary’s summertime rates hovering around $500 a night, families often find it makes more financial sense to rent one of Kiawah’s condos, cottages or homes and stock up on groceries at Piggly Wiggly on nearby Johns Island. Rental options run the gamut from $120 a night to $3,000 for an eight-bedroom pad on the beach.

Long before summer vacationers turned the island into the Hamptons of the Southeast, this was the home of the Kiawah (KEE-a-wah) Indians. These Native Americans used to smear on the island’s thick, dark “pluff mud” as sunscreen and bug repellent — a tidbit we picked up one morning on a guided family kayak trip.

Sitting in two-person kayaks, we joined a group of parents and kids on an easy paddle to a sand bar brimming with piles of oysters. Low tide allowed us to dock our boats and explore this swath of sand, where tiny fiddler crabs scuttled around our feet, a nosy egret wanted to see what we had in our fishing net and a couple of bottlenose dolphins frolicked in the salty estuary.

Many of the island’s activities — outside of golf and tennis — revolve around nature and wildlife, which is abundant. Naturalists lead birding expeditions, “gator walks” to alligator habitats and evening excursions in search of loggerhead sea turtles nesting on the beach.

The loggerheads have excellent taste in real estate. Kiawah’s beach is one of the nation’s best. To be exact, it’s the seventh best, according to Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a coastal researcher who’s put out his annual list of Top 10 beaches for the past 20 years.

Leatherman uses 50 criteria to evaluate beaches. I use two: good water and good sand. Kiawah has both.

The island runs east to west with its sprawling beach facing south, so you generally don’t have the big Atlantic Ocean swells you’ll find on other parts of the Eastern seaboard.

Instead, you have the gentle surf where my stepson and I spent hours riding on our boogie boards.

It’s as close as you’ll get to a water park on Kiawah.

Information for this article was gathered on a research trip sponsored in part by the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Kiawah Partners and Kiawah Island Golf Resort.

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