Ladies, try Kiawah Island and the Charleston-area for women-friendly golf courses

By Katharine Dyson, Special Contributor

With stellar golf courses such as Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, the Charleston area offers plenty of women-friendly options for the female golfer.

Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort
Kiawah Island Golf Resort knows how to do women's golf right, Katharine Dyson writes.
Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf ResortKiawah Island Golf Resort - Ocean CourseKiawah Island Golf Resort - Osprey Point G.C.RiverTowne Country ClubLinks at Stono FerryDunes West Golf Course - hole 17Ocean golf course at Kiawah Island
If you go

Let's be fair: Only about 20 percent of golfers are women, so is it any wonder that golf courses are geared to men, from the locker rooms to the tees? In some shops, you need a divining rod just to find the women's shirts.

Being "women friendly" cuts a wide swath, from the greeting you get in the pro shop to the facilities. We ladies like locker rooms bigger than a bread box, pro shops carrying a good selection of items for women - sharp and up to date, not last year's leftovers - and strategically placed rest rooms (men have options, women don't).

Important are thoughtful tee placements and having more than one forward-tee option with ratings for women. Not all women want or should play from the shortest distance.

Just because a golf course has pink soap in the bathrooms doesn't mean it should be at the top of the "Ladies Best" lists. Challenging, memorable and fair are words that come to mind more than trouble-free and undemanding, which evoke "Stepford Wives." So where to go?

Charleston, S.C. - enhanced by the ever-changing moods of the marshes and innate traditions of Southern hospitality, which go beyond hush puppies and grits - has a number of women-friendly golf courses.

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort, one of five golf courses in this affluent seaside resort area, may not be at or near the top of some women-friendly lists, but it should be, especially for better women golfers. Sure, it has struck fear in many a golfer's heart, but usually these are men who insist on playing from the back tees (close to 7,873 yards).

"The course requires you to think; you have to use the right club," said Peg Simpson, a 12-handicap player who loves Ocean. "From the forward tees (5,327 yards), it's quite playable. Just use a little brain power and be aware of the wind, and it can be one of the best golf games of your life."

If you've never played golf in Scotland, play Kiawah's Ocean Course, and you'll get a pretty good idea of what true links golf is like. Designed by Pete Dye (1991), he said when he saw the site, "I would have bent down on my knees and begged (perhaps even traded in Alice) for the opportunity to build a course on such magnificent property."

The front nine winds through wind-swept trees and marshes while the back nine plays through the dunes. All the way around, enormous, sandy "transition areas" catch off-course shots.

There is a saying here, "We don't sell balls, we rent them," said Michael Vegis, publicity director who points out that after the Ryder Cup Matches in 1991, 34,000 balls were pulled out of the lake guarding the green on No. 17.

Don't let that scare you. The distance from the forward-tee to green on this par 3 is but 122 yards with room to miss left. Caddies are required before noon and recommended.

Other Kiawah Island Golf Resort courses

Kiawah Island Golf Resort's other courses are less expensive, more traditional Lowcountry tracks. Turtle Point Golf Course, a Jack Nicklaus design, will appeal to those who can hit fairly straight and don't like hidden surprises. You get a bit of everything here: hardwood and Palmetto forests, lagoons and three magnificent holes on the ocean: 14, 15 and 16.

With facilities comparable to a private club, Osprey Point Golf Course, a Tom Fazio design, has water, water everywhere. "The only hole without water is No. 8," said Shirley Treacle, a winter resident at Kiawah. "But from the forward tees, many of the large carries over wetlands have been taken out."

"If you don't hit the ball all that far but hit it straight, you'll love Cougar (Point Golf Course)," said Henry Shepard, a local Charlestonian who said it was one of his wife's favorite golf courses. Designed by Gary Player the front tees at 4,776 yards are the shortest of the five.

On all Kiawah Island Golf Resort courses, the two forward tees are rated for women, but yardage between them varies considerably. For example, on Ocean and Cougar, there is about 800 yards between the two tees, while Osprey has two sensible tees at 5,023 yards and 5,593 yards.

the Links at Stono Ferry in Hollywood

West of Charleston, one of our favorite women-friendly golf courses, the Links at Stono Ferry was designed by Ron Garl. Set on the Intracoastal Waterway and easily walkable, plaques along the fairways cite historical facts about the Revolutionary and Civil War periods.

Stono's super friendly Assistant Professional Leigh Ann Blackman told us to look out for hole No. 13. "You'll see why when you get there."

Good local knowledge. The hole runs along the water on the right, where docks push out near historic Stono Ferry Crossing. It's a beauty.

Stono rates three sets of tees for women. Hole No. 14, a par 3, requires a long carry over the marsh, but from the front tee, it's just 74 yards. The green on Stono's final hole is surrounded by water and not so scary if you get a decent drive to leave yourself with an easy pitch in. On site is the Stono Learning Center.

Dunes West Golf Club in Mount Pleasant

Dunes West Golf Club, northeast of Charleston, an Arthur Hills design, is a straight-forward track going through tidal marshes. Jim Gund, a local freelance photographer, said, "They tend to keep the prices just above Charleston National, which I like, because it never gets jammed up. It moves."

Dunes West has friendly roll-up greens, generous landing areas and good bail-out areas. Water cuts in on some holes, and a formidable series of bunkers is angled along the right side of hole No. 15, but unless you really muff it, it's hard to lose a ball. Both forward tees, playing 5,208 yards and 5,424 yards, are rated for women.

RiverTowne Country Club in Mount Pleasant

RiverTowne Country Club, an Arnold Palmer signature design and the venue for an Annika Sorenstam LPGA event, is punctuated by live oaks, marshes, pampas grasses and wildlife, it's a pleasure to play. Thirteen holes play along the Wando River and Horlbeck Creek. Classes and clinics are taught at the Affiniti Golf Academy.

Women-friendly golf in the Lowcountry: Green fees

Expect green fees of less than $100 except for the Kiawah Island Golf Resort courses, with the Ocean Course being the most expensive ($262-$338 including caddie or cart) and Wild Dunes' Links Course ($145), popular with women for its seaside scenery and wild-open, wind-swept fairways. Charleston National Country Club, a solid Rees Jones layout graced by moss-draped live oaks, is in the mid-$50 range.

Katharine DysonKatharine Dyson, Special Contributor

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.

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