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Pinehurst or Kiawah Island for your next golf vacation?

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Trying to choose between the Pinehurst Resort and Kiawah Island Golf Resort for an upscale golf vacation is like trying to choose between a Ferrari and a Lamborghini. Let TravelGolf.com's Tim McDonald help you figure out which world-class golf destination is the best bang for your buck.

Kiawah Island
Kiawah Island is where the lowcountry butts up against the Atlantic Ocean and is an excellent choice for a luxury golf vacation.
Kiawah IslandPinehurst No. 2

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. - The Pinehurst Resort and the Kiawah Island Golf Resort are the two best golf resorts in the U.S., at least according to readers of Travel and Leisure magazine.

If you're one of the unlucky golfers who haven't been to either, you may be wondering: Dude, I only have enough money to go to one of those in my lifetime - which one should I choose?

You're in luck. I'm one of many who have been to both and, though I'm a common man of the people, I'm here to be your Answer Man in your quest for the ultimate in golf luxury.

But first I must ask you a series of questions. Please be honest.

1) Did your family come over on the Mayflower or were your ancestors horse thieves?

2) Do you prefer to watch alligators slithering through primeval slime or old, old, white men dressed in white playing bocce ball, a game slower than the ticking of the geological clock?

3) Do you drive a Mercedes or a Lincoln Town Car? You don't have to answer this question, it doesn't really matter. However, if you drive a KIA, skip this story and go directly to our feature on budget golf in Santee, S.C..

The golf

Pinehurst is the home of American golf, or so they say. I've never really known what they meant by that. How can golf have a home? Does it have a mortgage?

Pinehurst is the home of eight superb courses, anchored, of course, by No. 2. Fair warning: If you get on No. 2, you'll be expected to salivate over its greatness. If you're underwhelmed, as I was, keep it to yourself until you're out of North Carolina, lest you be treated like you drove up in a KIA.

The Kiawah resort is home to five golf courses, anchored by the superb Ocean Course. It's a wild, raw, innovative track where the South Carolina lowcountry meets the Atlantic Ocean.

You're going to royally screw up your scorecard at both courses, so if you're basing your decision on that, forget about it. Just ask yourself: Do I prefer my double-bogeys to come at the hands of gale-force wind and Pete Dye's anarchy or the refined impossibility of Donald Ross' crowned greens?

Advantage: Pinehurst, because of the sheer variety and volume of golf. The Ocean Course is much more enjoyable than No. 2.


Neither resort is easy to get to. To get to Pinehurst, you have to drive forever through little, podunk North Carolina towns. To get to Kiawah, you have to drive only slightly less through little, podunk South Carolina towns.

Advantage: Kiawah. You can get some good 'taters at them roadside stands.

The golf setting

Pinehurst is all about golf and only golf. The courses at the resort are surrounded by dozens of other public courses, some of them excellent. Your waiter will be a golfer. The guy picking up your trash will have a single-digit handicap.

Beyond the resort, Kiawah has only two other courses on the island, and they're so exclusive you couldn't get on if you were the Queen of Sheba in a previous life. Don't even ask, you'll just embarrass yourself. Also, you can indulge in recreational pursuits here other than golf, unheard of in Pinehurst.

Advantage: Pinehurst.

Natural setting

Pinehurst has been described as "quaint" so often, there's a photo of it next to the word in the dictionary. All those quaint shops in the village. All that quaint sunlight slanting through the quaint pines in the quaint afternoons.

Kiawah looks like the setting for "The Swamp Thing," starring Adrienne Barbeau. If you could burn down all the multi-million-dollar homes, it would almost look like the place where microbes first crawled out of the mud.

The beaches are incredible, splendidly isolated except for the occasional multi-millionaire strolling on the beach with his Abercrombie & Fitch silk trousers rolled up, trying desperately to look relaxed.

Advantage: Kiawah.


Pinehurst reeks of history, leisure and refinement, but the Sanctuary resort hotel at Kiawah is my favorite resort of all time. Scarlet O'Hara would love it here.

Dark, wide-plank flooring, wide, elegant stairways, beautiful art and the kind of service kings and queens expect. All of this overlooking a wide, pristine swath of green and beyond that, the wide beaches and wild ocean. The resort also has beachfront rental homes with private docks and luxury villas.

Advantage: Kiawah.


So that brings us to our last measuring stick: ambience, or if you prefer, that certain something that can't be defined.

Pinehurst has been there since Old Tom Morris was Young Tom Morris while Kiawah is a relative newcomer. Pinehurst has that inspiring statue of Payne Stewart while the spirit hovers in the pine-scented air, while Kiawah has Great Blue Herons stalking the flats and warm, ocean breezes caressing the dunes.

Advantage: Even.


You'll need to scrape together your loose change for either resort.

Pinehurst has golf packages starting at $309 - which includes a round of golf at any of the courses except for No. 2, accommodations, dinner and breakfast - and going up to its $1,500 package, which offers three rounds, including No. 2 with a caddie, short game clinic (how to play No. 2's greens), accommodations and breakfast and dinner.

Kiawah has golf packages from $247 - including a round of golf at any of the courses other than the Ocean, accommodations and breakfast - to fall packages at $407 per person that offers lodging at the Sanctuary, three rounds of golf including the Ocean course, accommodations, breakfast and one dinner.

Advantage: Kiawah.


Obviously, you can't go wrong with either. If you had to choose only one, you'd have to look deep inside yourself to find out who you really are.

I have a fair idea of who I am, and I'd choose Kiawah if I were staying for a week or less.

If I were there for longer than a week, I'd choose Pinehurst.

Look, the Answer Man doesn't have ALL the answers.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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Dates: March 5, 2018 - May 27, 2018
Experience golf at its best on five fully renovated championship courses in pristine condition. Villa accommodations start at just $228/person/night or you can upgrade to The Sanctuary Hotel from $437/person/night.
Price range: $228