Kiawah Island Golf Resort on course for expansion

KIAWAH ISLAND, SC—Over the next few years, Kiawah Island Golf Resort will undergo a major expansion in advance of the resort hosting the 2021 PGA Championship.

But while the tournament was a factor, it wasn’t the only reason for the property’s enhancements. “The developments are not being made specifically because of the PGA Championship, although that date is included as part of our overall strategic consideration,” said Roger Warren, president of the resort. “The current owners are marking 25 years as stewards of the resort. Over the course of the past quarter-century, the board has made significant infrastructure investments that have enhanced the guest experience. Those include opening The Sanctuary hotel, building a stunning new clubhouse at The Ocean Course, and completely renovating all five of our championship golf courses. We believe that to remain the best, which is what we strive to do, we can’t get too comfortable with our past accomplishments.”

The expansion project consists of a new 150-room luxury beachfront hotel with dining, spa, retail and ballroom; a new conference center; a new Cougar Point Clubhouse containing a full-service pro shop, a sports tavern, a bar and locker rooms; a new villa check-in; a new 150-seat chapel connected to The Sanctuary hotel; two new two-story, four-bedroom rental cottages; consolidation of all tennis programs at Roy Barth Tennis Center with 10 new Har-Tru HydroCourts and fully resurfaced existing courts, as well as the addition of locker rooms; and a completely reimagined and enhanced Night Heron Park, with a new Nature Center, Pavilion, other activities spaces and dining, including the relocation of The Town Center Market.

“We think of The Sanctuary as the grand house, and the new hotel as the still gracious but more relaxed beach house,” said Warren. “One benefit of the piece of land the hotel will occupy is that it will actually be closer to the beach than even The Sanctuary. And every room in the new hotel will be ocean view (whereas The Sanctuary has some garden-view rooms), and our guests will be able to step out of their rooms through French doors onto a deep, well-proportioned porch to lounge and relax.”

The resort property line extends into the dunes. “That has allowed us to design a wide boardwalk that will act as a promenade elevated to the height of the dunes, so guests will be able stroll outside from one end of the hotel to the next, and sit and relax and take in the ocean view, as well as the stunning architecture designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects,” he said. “But it will also be large enough to host food vendors, pop-up shops and entertainment, so it will convey the nostalgic feeling of a grand old beach resort like our grandparents grew up going to.”

The hotel will also have more of a Southern feel than The Sanctuary. “For example, where Sanctuary guestrooms open to balconies, rooms in the new hotel will open to deep, expansive porches with relaxed seating areas to catch the ocean breezes,” said Warren. “It will feature a retail corridor with space for 10 shops, a spa, a fitness center, a banquet room that will seat 200, a lobby bar and club lounge, a coffee shop and two outdoor pools.”

Warren is excited about the hotel’s two-story bar and restaurant above the dunes. “Downstairs, Indigo Restaurant will be enclosed, but with an 1,800-plus-sq.-ft. porch and will seat 128. Upstairs, Topsider Bar will be roofed but open air (with dropdown walls in case of inclement weather) and a 1,700-plus-sq.-ft. porch,” he said. “Up to 122 guests at Topsider will enjoy panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean. On the opposite wing, Sunset Porch will be a very casual poolside cantina.”

He continued, “Our stated vision has always been to set the standard of excellence by which all other golf resorts will be measured. We believe we have done that, but we can’t continue to maintain that status by resting on our accomplishments. We have to continue to find ways to improve. So these developments have been part of our plan for some time, even before we were awarded the PGA Championship’s return in 2021.”

The 2021 tournament will not be the first time the resort has hosted a PGA event. “The Ocean Course was built to host the 1991 Ryder Cup,” said Warren. “The course was also built for the day-to-day enjoyment of recreational golfers. Pete and Alice Dye designed it with events like the PGA Championship in mind. So it’s fitting that we continue to attract major events such as the Senior PGA Championship and the PGA Championship to the course. Those events befit the course’s status as one of the world’s great tests of golf.”

Hosting these types of events offers a tremendous benefit for the property. “It’s great international exposure for the resort, and it provides a great platform for people to get a glimpse of the beauty and special charm of our resort, including our 10 miles of pristine beach, our fantastic network of salt marsh and creeks, and our five-star Sanctuary hotel,” he said. “We are very excited for how the entire resort, the surrounding community and Charleston County will benefit from the championship.”

Despite the firm deadline of completing the entire project before the tournament, Warren is confident that the staff will be ready in time. “We have an aggressive schedule, but we have partnered with established, experienced architects and contractors who have the experience to meet those deadlines,” he said. It’s advantageous that we’ve been running this resort—including a five-star, five-diamond hotel—at a very high level. So we’re not building something from scratch; rather, we’re enhancing an already world-class property. We have excellent in-house training and an intensive orientation process that reinforces attributes that we recognize in new hires. We put in a lot of effort on the front end to vet and qualify employees to make sure we only hire motivated people who have a high sense of integrity and take a great sense of pride in what they do, and who have a high predisposition for being hospitable and customer-service-oriented.” HB