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Home Field: Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island, SC

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Kiawah Island, located along the South Carolina coastline just south of Charleston, is a major mecca for golfers. The acclaimed Kiawah Island Golf Resort (KIGR), which covers more than a fifth of the island’s land, has been hailed as one of America’s top golf resorts

KIGR has also been praised for its long-established sustainability efforts. In the late 00s, both “Golf Digest” and “Golf Magazine” bestowed Kiawah Island with “green golf” awards, while “Golf Inc.” named KIGR as “one of the world’s most environmentally sensitive golf resorts.” 

Kiawah Island’s continued ecological commitment was recognized more recently, topping a 2022 list of the most eco-friendly golf courses. Kiawah Island can proudly boast that all five of its public courses — Turtle Point, Osprey Point, Oak Point, Cougar Point, and The Ocean Course  — have the distinction of being certified as Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries. 

Photo Courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort   

Respecting the environment was part of the resort’s initial game plan. “When Kiawah Island was first developed in 1976, a conscious effort was made to embrace the natural Lowcountry environment of this beautiful barrier island,” explained Roger Warren, KIGR’s president. “The original land plan was designed to blend into the setting rather than to dominate it.” 

Early measures, such as restricting buildings beyond certain areas of the dunes, focused on protecting the island’s ecosystem.

Preserving as much of the native vegetation as possible helps to combat the damage caused by invasive vegetation and provides natural shelter and sustenance for the local wildlife. 

Additionally, streetlights were banned on the island to prevent the local loggerhead sea turtles from straying from their beach homes. Resort guests are also asked not to use flashlights during turtles’ matching and hatching seasons in the beachfront area because lights can confuse them.  

KGIR’s showpiece, the Ocean Course, has hosted several major tournaments, including the 2021 PGA Championship, while ranking as one of the U.S.’s top eco-friendly golf courses by “Forbes.” Its design created more than 20 acres of freshwater wetlands within the course while also restoring almost 80 acres of saltwater marshlands. Furthermore, 14 miles of underground pipes and drains collect water from the greens and cart paths and recycle it for irrigation. 

Photo Courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort

The Ocean Course and the notable Osprey Point are outfitted with equipment that can filter brackish water from the pond system so it can supplement the municipal water supply. When building Osprey Point, the resort did it by repurposing land once used for agriculture, keeping as much native vegetation on site as possible. In 2014, the course renovations included installing Paspalum turfgrass

Because it requires little water and less fertilizer, Paspalum serves to cut down on water consumption and the use of chemicals. KIGR eventually put Paspalum turf on all of its courses.

The resort has implemented sustainability-oriented initiatives throughout its facilities, from placing water bottle refill stations around its grounds to having electricity-saving systems that monitor lighting and HVAC operations. Recycling programs were started for employees and resort guests. In 2012, composting began at the clubhouses, the resort’s hotel (a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary), and other locations.

Photo Courtesy Kiawah Island Golf Resort 

The resort teamed up with town officials and the Kiawah Conservancy on projects to ensure that the barrier island’s unique ecosystem, including the local habitats, fauna, and flora, is preserved and prospering. Partnerships have also been formed with local fisheries, farmers, and other purveyors to reduce its environmental footprint and support area businesses. 

KIGR’s community outreach efforts have involved beach and roadside clean-up projects and e-waste recycling events. It also developed a hands-on educational experience to share information on the natural world with students, particularly on the island. Over the decades, the resort has demonstrated that you can be a championship-level golf course and a champion of the environment, too. 

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