History of Golf at Kiawah


February 22, 2021

On our intimate island you can play a different championship-level golf course each day of the week — without venturing away from your coastal vacation home paradise. Courses designed by Dye, Nicklaus, Fazio (2), Johnson, Watson, and Player.

From your residence at Timbers Kiawah, you have convenient access to Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s five legendary courses (The Ocean Course, Turtle Point, Osprey Point, Cougar Point, and Oak Point) plus the option to join the private Kiawah Island Club for behind-the-gates access to its two gems (The River Course and Cassique) regulars on Golfweek’s “Top 100 Residential Courses”.

These seven courses have hosted many memorable professional tournaments over the years.

With the PGA Championship returning to The Ocean Course (May 2021), let’s take a look back at Kiawah’s golf history highlights.

The Early Years

1976

The island’s first hotel, The Kiawah Island Inn, opens its doors. Real estate sales of luxury vacation homes commence. And Gary Player’s Cougar Point golf course (then called “Marsh Point”) welcomes Kiawah’s first golfers.

1981

Turtle Point, designed by Jack Nicklaus, opens for play. With narrow fairway corridors, small greens, strategically placed water hazards and plenty of out-of-bounds, Turtle Point calls for great accuracy and intelligent strategies, rewarding those who bring their mental game.

1988

Osprey Point, designed by Tom Fazio, opens for play. A masterpiece in playability and variety, it features four large natural lakes, fingers of saltwater marsh, and dense maritime forests. It’s challenging and beautiful at the same time.

Turtle Point hosts the PGA Cup matches. (The club professionals version of the Ryder Cup.)

1989

Construction of The Ocean Course is underway when the area is interrupted by Hurricane Hugo. Pete Dye’s team picks up the pieces and soldiers on, incorporating some of Mother Nature’s remodeling into the design.

The 1990s

The Ocean Golf Course

1991

The Ocean Course opens, boasting more seaside holes than any other in North America. Alice Dye had persuaded her husband to raise the fairways, saying, “Pete, I can’t see the ocean on the back nine. I don’t just want to hear it; I want to see it.” The resulting panoramic views of The Atlantic Ocean are stunning, but expose players to unpredictable sea breezes, making the course one of the most difficult in golf.

The iconic 1991 Ryder Cup brings the brand new Ocean Course (and Kiawah Island itself) into international prominence. This nail-biting “War by The Shore” comes down to the final point of the final match of the final day — a duel between Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer. With thousands of fans crowding the final fairway and green, and millions glued to their television sets on both sides of the Atlantic, the two tee off at number 18. Langer needs to win the hole for Europe to retain the Cup. Irwin only needs to tie. Irwin bogeys. Langer has a 6-foot par putt for the win — and misses. The United States defeats Europe.

1993

The private Kiawah Island Club is established.

1995

Tom Fazio, working with Kiawah’s own Charlie Arrington, unveils his second masterpiece on the island, The River Course. Kiawah’s first private course is an instant success with Members and immediately garners critical acclaim.

1996

Marsh Point’s architect Gary Player returns to give Kiawah’s first golf course, now two decades old, a complete conversion. It is renamed Cougar Point.

The River Course is recognized on Golf Digest’s “Top Five New Private Courses in the Nation” list.

The River Course clubhouse opens. Designed by Shope Reno Wharton Associates, it overlooks the Kiawah River and Bass Pond, and is the first private clubhouse on the island.

The Ocean Course hosts a match on Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf wherein Dottie Pepper bests Annika Sörenstam. The intriguing personality contrasts between two of the world’s all-time leading women’s golfers results in Shell’s WWG’s highest rated match featuring members of the LPGA.

1997

Kiawah Island Resort purchases the Oak Point course (originally Hope Plantation Golf Club). Clyde Johnston, well regarded for courses all over the South Carolina Lowcountry, designed the front of the course in a Scottish style, and the back part “American”.

Pete Dye makes alterations to The Ocean Course to help out the average player while maintaining challenge for the pros. This is the first of four major renovations he makes to the “Dye-abolical” course.

The Ocean Course hosts the 43rd World Cup of Golf. Ireland’s Pádraig Harrington and Paul McGinley win the team title. Colin Montgomerie of Scotland wins the individual title.

Osprey Point’s stately clubhouse is completed.

1998

The River Course hosts the Carolinas PGA Section Championship.

1999

The River Course and The Ocean Course are declared “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries” by Audubon International.

GOLF magazine places The River Course on its list of “America’s Best Modern Courses”.

A New Century

2000

Kiawah Island Club opens its second members-only course, Cassique. It is the first for five-time British Open winner Tom Watson as an architect, with a classic links style inspired by traditional Irish and Scottish courses. He and Kiawah’s landscape architect Charlie Arrington oversee a million yards of dirt moved to create its dramatic moulding and rolling greens. Cassique is ranked #3 on the 10 most significant course openings of 2000 by golf writer Larry Olmstead.

The Ocean Course stars in The Legend of Bagger Vance, alongside Will Smith, Matt Damon, and Charlize Theron.

The River Course hosts the South Carolina Amateur tournament.

Osprey Point continues to host tournaments too, including the Eastern Regional PGA Club Professional Championship.

Jack Nicklaus returns to Kiawah for a renovation of Turtle Point. This same year sees the completion of Turtle Point’s stately Federal-style clubhouse.

2001

The Inaugural UBS Warburg Cup is played on The Ocean Course. The U.S. team captained by Arnold Palmer defeats (by only one point) the Rest of the World team captained by Gary Player. Legendary senior stars participate including O’Meara, Nicklaus, Irwin, Strange, Floyd, Nelson, Lehman, Watson, Calcavecchia, Torrance, Aoki, Nobilo, Faldo, Woosnam, and Langer.

The grace and grandeur of the Cassique clubhouse is first introduced to Kiawah Island Club members, its British country estate aesthetic a nod to C.F.A. Voysey for whom its formal restaurant is named.

Golf Digest chooses Cassique for its top ten list of “America’s Best New Private Courses”.

The River Course makes Golfweek magazine’s “America’s Best Modern Courses” list.

2002

Pete Dye makes more tweaks to his Ocean Course, and moves the 18th green out to the last dune by the Atlantic Ocean, creating one of the world’s most dramatic finishing holes.

Cassique hosts the Carolina PGA Section Championship.

2003

The World Cup of Golf returns to The Ocean Course. This time, South Africa duo Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini win the team competition.

The Palmer Cup is held at Cassique. This was the first Palmer Cup in which qualification was extended to the whole of Europe; and Europe wins 14 to 10. (From 1997 until 2002 the United States played Great Britain & Ireland while from 2003 to 2017 the United States played a European team.)

Oak Point receives a new clubhouse with sweeping views of Haulover Creek and the Kiawah River.

2004

UBS Cup Captain Arnold Palmer and company keep the cup in American hands for the fourth straight year, winning the annual competition over the Rest of the World team at Cassique.

Cassique hosts the South Carolina Four-Ball Championship.

Cassique ranked #7 in the “Top 50 South Carolina Golf Courses” by South Carolina Golf Today.

Major changes are made to a number of holes on Oak Point, adding a stunning par-3 hole hitting towards Haulover Creek and converting the first hole into a risk-reward par-5, to bring it to its current layout and status.

2005

The Ocean Course hosts the PGA Club Professional Championship. Mike Small, golf coach at the University of Illinois, wins the event with a score of 289. He would go on to repeat back-to-back wins in 2009 and 2010.

The River Course hosts the Fazio Cup.

2006

Turtle Point rates a near perfect score in Golf Digest’s “Best Places to Play” guidebook.

2007

Denis Watson wins his first title in twenty-three years, beating Eduardo Romero by two strokes in the 68th Senior PGA Championship at The Ocean Course. Celebrations are held at the course’s new clubhouse, showcasing classical cottage-style architecture by Robert A.M. Stern.

Cassique ranked in Golf Digest’s “100 Greatest Golf Courses, including #5 “Best in South Carolina”.

2008

The Ocean Course becomes the first course available in World Golf Tour’s online video game.

The River Course hosts SCPGA Palmetto Cup Matches.

Kiawah receives a Green Award in Golf Inc. magazine’s “Worlds Most Environmentally Sensitive Golf Resorts” feature.

Cassique ranked #15 in Golfweek magazine’s “Best Modern Courses”.

2009

The USGA Mid-Amateur Championship is held at Cassique and The River Course. Often called the Mid-Am for short, its the leading annual golf tournament in the U.S. for post-college amateur golfers. Nathan Smith, 31, of Pittsburgh wins his second Mid- Am title (of four to date).

Cassique ranked in Golf Digest’s “100 Greatest Golf Courses”.

2010

The Ocean Course is rated 25th in Golf Digest’s “100 Greatest Golf Courses in America”.

Golf World names Kiawah the “Number 1 U.S. Resort”.

A pair of fires burn The River Course clubhouse to the ground. Fortunately no one is injured and Kiawah Island Club immediately gets to work on replacing the well-loved gathering space.

The Past Decade

2011

Kiawah ranks #2 on Global Travelers’ “Best U.S. Golf Resorts” list.

The Ocean Course is again named “America’s Toughest Golf Course” by Golf Digest. (But don’t let that deter you, plenty of amateurs have had a great day on it.)

2012

Just in time for Christmas, the newly rebuilt and enhanced clubhouse for The River Course opens, welcoming back delighted Kiawah Island Club members.

The Ocean Course hosts the 94th PGA Championship, becoming only the fourth golf course in history to host each of the PGA of America’s men’s major championships. 102 of the top 103 players in the world participate. Winner Rory McIlroy is unstoppable, and his total score of 13 under set a new Championship record margin of victory.

2013

Cassique hosts the Carolina PGA Section Championship.

Kiawah named to “Top 25 Golf Resorts in the World” by Links magazine.

2014

Osprey Point undergoes a complete renovation approved by course architect Tom Fazio.

2015

Six months of improvements to Oak Point, as well as the immaculate conditions maintained by its grounds crew, lead Charleston Area Golf Course Owners Association to select it as Course of the Year. This also marks the Clyde Johnston–designed course’s 30th anniversary.

2016

Under the consultation of course designer, Jack Nicklaus, Turtle Point undergoes a top-to-bottom renovation, substantially changing the green complexes and creating more interest and playability. Property lines are cleared, making the course appear larger and more open.

2017

Following an extensive renovation in tandem with Gary Player Design, Cougar Point reopens to rave reviews, with even more dramatic marsh vistas and superior playability.

Kiawah Island Club’s state-of-the-art Golf Learning Center opens at Cassique, under Director of Instruction Carol Presinger (Golf Digest Top 50 Women’s Best Teachers, GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teacher since 2005.)

2018

The Ocean Course is crowned “Top Golf Course in South Carolina” by the South Carolina Golf Course Ratings Panel. (CassiqueThe River Course, and Turtle Point are all in the top 50.)

Forbes names The Ocean Course one of the “Top 6 Golf Courses to Travel”.

2019

Those coming to play Cougar Point are greeted by a stunning new clubhouse — part of Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s multi-year, island-wide expansion.

GOLF Magazine declares the Oyster Bar in the The River Course clubhouse men’s locker room one of the “Coolest Spots in Golf”. Its design makes members feel as though they are inside of a whiskey barrel.

Oak Point celebrates its 30th anniversary by refreshing its design and being awarded “Golf Course of the Year” by the Charleston Golf Course Owners Association, an affiliate of the NGCOA.

The Ocean Course adopts a walking-only policy, preserving the tradition of full-caddie service and paying homage to the game’s rich traditions while also honoring the vision of the course’s architects, Alice and Pete Dye.

South Carolina Golf Raters proclaims The Ocean Course the “Best Course in South Carolina”.

Golf Digest names The Ocean Course to “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses” and the “Best Courses in Every State” for South Carolina.

The magazine also names Kiawah to “Best Golf Academies” in the Southeast, and “Best Golf Resort in the Carolinas”.

2020

Golfweek puts The Ocean Course on its “Best Courses You Can Play” list.

Golf magazine lists The Ocean Course in its “Top 100 Courses in the U.S.” and “Top 100 Courses in the World”. These accolades are repeated in 2021.

Looking Ahead

2021

Golf Advisor includes three Kiawah courses in its “Golfers Choice” list for South Carolina: The Ocean Course (1st), Turtle Point (8th), and Cougar Point (19th).

In May, The PGA Championship will return to The Ocean Course.

2023

Kiawah Island Club will be the host site for the 9th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, with 128 two-person teams competing at both the River Course and Cassique.