Kiawah’s Golden Hour

Kiawah’s Golden Hour

March 15, 2024

Categories: Legends Magazine

Story by Katherine Barry Verano and Mike Touhill

A look back at the events that shaped the last fifty years on Kiawah Island

Milestones are almost always celebrated with one eye on the future and one on the past, a lifetime of memories woven together to create the moment that is today. This year, Kiawah Island celebrates a golden milestone. It was fifty years ago that the Island began its transformation from a private, family retreat into one of the most sought-after resort and residential destinations in the country. Like the rising and falling of the tide, Kiawah remains constant. Since 1974, generations of families have come to call Kiawah home, and a culture of community has flourished amidst its windswept dunes and dynamic saltwater marshes. Journey with us over the last half century and relive the moments that have defined the Island and its legacy.

Kuwait Investment Company Acquires Kiawah Island
The Royal family, who logged timber on the Island and built its first seaside vacation homes, sold Kiawah to Kuwait Investment Company for $17 million. The new owner, in consultation with Sea Pines Company, completed an extensive environmental inventory and created a master plan for development.

Sea Pines Company Takes Over Management of Kiawah Island

The Kiawah Island Community Association is Founded
Marsh Point Golf Course Opens
Real Estate Sales Begin
Kiawah Island Inn Opens
In May 1976, Kiawah Island Golf Resort officially opened with the Kiawah Island Inn (pictured in header). Perched atop a prominent beachside bluff, the Inn had two oceanfront swimming pools, the Charleston Gallery and Jasmine Porch restaurants, and the Topsider Lounge bar. The resort also opened a nine-court tennis complex and the Straw Market shops.

Turtle Point Golf Course Opens
Turtle Point Golf Course was designed by the renowned Jack Nicklaus and features stunning oceanfront holes in the heart of East Beach Village. Nicklaus returned to Kiawah in 2016 to oversee a full renovation of the course. 

The Town of Kiawah is Incorporated
Osprey Point Golf Course Opens
Kiawah Resort Associates Acquires Kiawah Island
In 1988, Kiawah Resort Associates (KRA) purchased the Island for $105 million from the Kuwait Investment Company. And so began the Island’s transformation into one of the top luxury communities in the U.S.

Hurricane Hugo
The “Storm of the Century” barrelled into Charleston on September 21, 1989. A Category 4 storm, Hurricane Hugo left a swath of devastation across the greater Charleston area.

KRA Sells Resort Assets to Landmark Land Co.
The First Issue of Legends Magazine is Released

The Ocean Course Opens Kiawah Island Hosts the Ryder Cup
In 1991, the biennial Ryder Cup golf matches came to the shores of legendary Pete Dye’s newest creation, The Ocean Course. What was then a brand-new golf course draped at the end of a wild barrier island is now among the top golf courses in the world. A U.S. victory was secured in dramatic fashion on the final hole, all the while introducing the world to its next great seaside destination. 

Virginia Investment Trust Acquires Resort Properties from Landmark Land Co.
In what has been described as “a dramatic scene inside a Dallas hotel ballroom,” an auction decided the fate of the resort when Bill Goodwin’s Virginia Investment Trust acquired the resort properties. 

Kiawah Island Club is Founded
The Robert A.M. Stern-designed Beach Club opened its doors on Thanksgiving Day to four hundred pioneering Members—and Kiawah Island Club was born.

River Course Opens

River Course Clubhouse Opens

Kiawah Conservancy is Founded
As Kiawah grew, so did the need to protect its greatest asset—the natural beauty. Established by Island residents in 1997, the Kiawah Conservancy is a chartered nonprofit, grassroots organization dedicated to preserving the Island’s natural habitat. Working alongside leaders across the Island, the Conservancy aims to balance the protection of Kiawah’s expansive wildlife habitat with residential living. To date, the Conservancy has worked with Kiawah Partners and other local organizations to preserve nearly 40 percent of the Island.

River Course Named Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary
Little Bear Island Preservation
The year 1999 was important for conservation. Audubon International certified River Course as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, noting the course’s vibrant bird and wildlife habitat. That same year, Kiawah’s development team placed the 250-acre Little Bear Island into conservation. This tract was one of the largest barrier island conservation areas in the Southeast. 

Cassique Golf Course Opens
Fashioned out of flat tomato fields, the links-style Cassique golf course was designed by six-time British Open champion Tom Watson, his first solo design in the U.S. Inspired by the rugged dunes of Ireland and Scotland, Cassique is a playing experience unlike any other in the area.

Cassique Clubhouse Opens

Sasanqua Spa Opens

Freshfields Village Opens
The Sanctuary Opens
Following the momentum of the Ryder Cup, Kiawah Island Golf Resort continued developing assets for beachgoers, nature lovers, and most emphatically, golfers. A collection of five championship golf courses designed by famed architects dot the Island, offering a variety of playing opportunities, each with a unique character. But the pinnacle stands alone in the five-star Sanctuary Hotel. With 255 rooms set along the Atlantic Ocean, The Sanctuary exemplifies unparalleled luxury.

The Sports Pavilion Opens

The Ocean Course Hosts the Senior PGA Championship

River Course Clubhouse Fire

The New River Course Clubhouse Opens
With a blank canvas at their disposal, architects and designers rebuilt an iconic amenity befitting a vibrant, growing Membership while preserving its history and memories. 

The Ocean Course Hosts the PGA Championship
Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s status as a world-class golf destination, one worthy of hosting the game’s greatest championships, was evident in 2012, when the PGA Championship came to the famed Ocean Course, and a rising star and future Hall-of-Famer Rory McIlroy hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy. 

South Street Partners Acquires Kiawah Partners
In 2013, South Street Partners acquired Kiawah Partners, the Island’s master developer. The purchase included Kiawah Island Club, four hundred undeveloped properties, Freshfields Village, Kiawah Island Real Estate, and Kiawah Island Utility.

“Kiawah is personal to us. Building, and improving upon, Kiawah’s original plan is the legacy we hope to leave. To see second and third generations of Members experiencing the Club and wanting to spend more time here is incredibly rewarding.” – Chris Randolph, South Street Partners

The Sporting Club Opens

Marsh House Opens
With its award-winning, open-air design and expansive marshfront deck and pool, the Marsh House opened in Ocean Park. The community’s premier gathering spot and marketplace influenced much of Ocean Park’s contemporary residential design. 

Golf Learning Center Opens at Cassique
Kiawah Conservancy Recognized as Accredited Land Trust

The Beach Club Renovations are Complete and B-Liner Opens

The PGA Championship Returns to Kiawah Island
Phil Mickelson turned back the hands of time, clenched the Wanamaker Trophy, and became the oldest major championship winner in golf history. 

2024 and Beyond
MUSC Health Sea Islands Medical Pavilion
Two Meeting Street Inn
Seafields at Kiawah Island
The Cape Club
Orange Hill Golf Course
Building upon a continued commitment to smart, sustainable growth, Kiawah Partners has a healthy roster of upcoming projects, including The Cape Club in West Beach and Orange Hill, a new 18-hole golf course and residential offering on Johns Island. Seafields at Kiawah Island will be a first-of-its-kind, luxury life plan community for Kiawah and Seabrook. Lastly, MUSC Health’s new state-of-the-art medical facility, located near Freshfields Village, will provide emergency care services and convenient access to primary care and outpatient treatment. 

50 Years of Kiawah
Marshal Mize
Island Explorer 1969–Present
Kiawah Island Club Member 1993–Present

My introduction to Kiawah was in the early days of my flight training. It was the spring of 1969, and I was a twenty-four-year-old Lieutenant in the Air Force. My flight instructor was a bit of a thrill seeker and liked to land in unusual places. One of those unusual places was on Kiawah’s beach at low tide. 

My first visit to Kiawah was July 4 of that same year when I was invited to attend a get-together at the home of then-Governor John C. West. There were maybe twenty houses on the Island at that time. A mutual friend from Camden invited me to come out to the gathering, and boy, what a special day that was! We rode dune buggies through the sand, and I enjoyed seeing a different side of Kiawah. Prior to that day, I had only seen the Island during landing and takeoff. It was love at first sight. During the next four years, we spent many fun days on the Island’s northern beach at the mouth of the Stono River. 

After leaving the Air Force in July of 1972, my thoughts turned to Kiawah and how I could return. Fortunately, there was a home for rent on Eugenia Avenue. I’d visit every chance I could for a week or a weekend. 

One of my most memorable times on Kiawah was when, for five days, my dog and I were the only ones on the Island. That dog was my soulmate, a German Shepherd named Kiawah. During this time, Kiawah and I were walking the beach when I noticed this large silver thing up in the sky.  It got closer and closer, and much to my surprise, it was the Goodyear Blimp! They were flying right up the coastline. I waved to the pilots, and they waved back to me. 

I roamed all over the Island back then in an old jeep that I’d bring down. One year, I also had a motorcycle down there that provided more fun in the dunes, on the old logging trails, and of course on the beach. Back then, you’d turn off the beach at the present-day allée of oaks, and as soon as you cleared the dunes, you would see the old Vanderhorst Mansion. Mr. Royal’s sawdust pile was located near where Kiawah Island Community Association (KICA) headquarters is today, and they had pens to catch feral hogs out there too. Hunting on the Island was one of my favorite things to do, along with catching all the oysters, clams, and shrimp we could eat. Every holiday, every vacation, every free day was spent on Kiawah. 

We continued to land airplanes on the beach until the Inn opened. At one time, there were five airplanes on the beach at the same time—one of them was a twin-engine Piper Apache! It was a great runway at low tide. We’d fly low along the beach, looking for soft spots in the sand before landing. It was a really neat experience. 

I knew I wanted to own something at Kiawah the first time I set foot on the Island. It was just a matter of convincing someone to sell me a piece of land. I happened to be on Kiawah when they started surveying, and I watched them survey lots one through six. I inquired about the lots, and they told me they would be listed at $40,000. I immediately called my dad and said, “Let’s buy three, sell two, and build a house.” My dad laughed and said, “Son, where are we going to get $40,000, much less $120,000?” 

I’ve always wanted to be here. Kiawah was it for me. My wife, Donna, and I celebrated New Year’s Eve on Kiawah in 1976. It was her first visit to the Island, and much like me, she couldn’t wait to come back. 

With development comes change, and while a lot of it is positive, I do miss the old days and feel very lucky to have had my experiences on Kiawah. Even with development, the natural beach remains our favorite. I think it is important to cherish the past and to anticipate the future, and Kiawah will always be a part of our lives. There’s just nowhere else like it.