The Kiawah Island Club should not be confused with Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Kiawah Island Club is an exclusive private members club for Kiawah Island property owners, so you’ll need to befriend one or perhaps buy a property here as part of the deal!
The Kiawah Island Club boasts two courses with the clubhouses separated in distance by a couple of miles – the River course designed by Tom Fazio, and the Cassique course. The Cassique was the first North American architectural ensemble of five-time British Open champion Tom Watson and it’s actually an impressive debut design.
Named after the Kiawah Indian chief who once hunted this land, the Cassique course opened for play in 2000 and it’s thoughtfully routed through maritime forests and along the salt marshes where the Kiawah River meets the mighty Atlantic.
Watson has fashioned an intriguing course and the Cassique has many links-like attributes, not least because it’s a course to walk rather than ride. Some holes will provide a reminder of links golf while others will tempt you into thinking you’re playing on a heathland track somewhere to the west of London. Now, do you fancy buying a slice of that Kiawah Island Club real estate?
Cassique is actually the first Tom Watson designed course I’ve ever played. I’m told that most of the holes were modeled after or influence by holes that Mr. Watson likes from the UK though I had a hard time personally drawing comparisons. This course is of course built in the flat country swamp land here so all the features were man made and literally million of cubic tons of dirt was moved and shaped to create this course. Nothing wrong with that of course if budgets allow. They utilized all the dirt to make some very dramatic features and a fair bit of what I’d call containment mounding to frame holes at least on the front 9. The course receives a major plus for me for being a very easily walkable routing, greens and tees relatively close to each other. I enjoyed the holes even though as mentioned the shaping is dramatic and looks anything but natural to my eye.
The front 9 has an interesting feature revolving around the 4th and 5th holes as there are basically two completely different routings. You can play either a par 4 to an elevated green to the right or a par 4 along the course boundary to the left. When the course is set up to play the option to the right the following hole is a great drop shot par 3 to a heavily bunkered green. Play the left option and the following par 3 plays to the same elevated green as the par 4 from the right option only comes at it from a totally different angle which results in the tee shot coming in to a long narrow green that drops off severely to the right and in front.
This variation also greatly changes the par 4 8th as you either tee off from an elevated tee to the right or from a tee transforming the hole into a severe dogleg from the left that is much lower. I have to admit that I think this is creative but from a maintenance perspective only serves to run up member costs. I also even though I didn’t play the hole to the left would say I much prefer the set up we played on the day. My host pointed everything out and explained the set up thoroughly. He also preferred the set-up we played.
The back 9 starts in the forest but then transitions for the last few holes into a typical South Carolina course with lovely open vistas of alligator infested land. Cassique is an excellent members club and a fun course to play. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area and are invited by a member.