Choose Your Indulgence

Golf and spa resorts in the Carolinas and Georgia

By Jeff Zehr

Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Repeat.

It is time to take a vacation from summer.

A blissful escape doesn’t require a passport. In fact, these four golf and spa resorts are within easy driving distance — and they all offer a unique calling and ambiance. Relax amid ocean breezes, at a lakeside retreat, a Lowcountry village or a mountain town with a decidedly European flair.

The choice is yours.

Kiawah Island Golf Resort, SC

Bill Lacey beams like a proud father as he describes the experiences that await guests at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.

Lacey, who has served as general manager of The Sanctuary since its birth in 2004, shares the details that elevate this spectacular resort getaway to the only five-diamond, five-star hotel in South Carolina.

The Sanctuary is extraordinary, quite literally from the ground up. Dirt was brought in to raise the hotel’s foundation 20 feet above sea level to guard against coastal storm surge. But the effort also provides guests an unobstructed view when they enter the expansive lobby and gaze through the back windows to the ocean beyond. The lobby’s décor reflects a relaxed and inviting Southern-mansion appeal with open-arm curved staircases that flank each side and evoke thoughts of Tara from “Gone with the Wind.”

The property doesn’t show its age largely because renovations and preventative maintenance are continuously being performed. Every year the hotel closes for five days in January. In the lobby, all of the furniture is removed, massive rugs are rolled up and cleaned, and the black walnut floors are refinished.

“One thing I’ve learned over the years is the appreciation of trying to keep the hotel in a constant high state of preparedness in terms of its presentation and upkeep and maintenance,” Lacey said. “You take anything that says it has a lifespan of 10 years, and you pretty much have to cut that in half when you put it on the ocean.”

About 85 percent of the 255 guest rooms and suites offer an ocean view and private balcony, with a wide range of suite and adjoining room combinations available to accommodate families. Four dining options at the hotel include its signature steakhouse, The Ocean Room. Club level concierge dining is also available.

If relaxation is your primary goal, look into one of the 11 guest rooms adjacent to the spa. Of the Sanctuary’s 12 spa treatment rooms, one is a couple’s suite. The steam, sauna and whirlpool facilities are separate for men and women. An indoor pool and impressive fitness facility round out the amenities for health conscious guests.

Looking for a major test of golf? Kiawah’s Ocean Course lets you tee it up where the game’s best have played. It is the fourth course in the U.S. to have hosted every major American PGA championship, including the 2012 and 2021 PGA Championship, as well as the 1991 Ryder Cup.

The Ocean Course has more seaside holes than any other course in the Northern Hemisphere. Its elevation above the dunes invites potentially tough sea breezes.

If you are unsure your game can stand up to the Ocean Course, the resort has four other championship courses available.

Greensboro, Ga.

Nestled in the towering Georgia pines about 90 miles from Atlanta, The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee, is a stunning lake resort that beckons any golfer truly serious about the game.

Five spectacular championship golf courses are tucked along the coves, streams, rolling contours and meandering shoreline surrounding Lake Oconee.

Golf is restricted to Reynolds Lake Oconee homeowners and guests of the hotel. If your game needs a little help, you can perfect your swing through on-site private instruction, group clinics or three-day schools.

After grooving your swing, maybe it’s time for new clubs. The Reynolds Kingdom of Golf fitting facility — one of only two in the country — uses a series of high-speed cameras and sensors to deliver a wide range of precise data for a custom swing analysis. TaylorMade golf clubs can be custom-built in the manufacturer’s adjacent PGA Tour trailer.

But golf is not the only draw here. Escape and relaxation calls.

Perched on a hill overlooking Lake Oconee, The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee has a tranquil lakeside lodge setting. On cool nights, visitors can linger by the fireplace in the lobby.

Plenty of hiking and biking trails encourage guests to connect with nature, along with backyard hammocks, swings, a nightly campfire to roast s’mores and gaze at the stars.

If you need a little extra help letting go, an adjacent 26,000-square-foot luxurious spa provides a long menu of massages, facials and salon treatments for men and women, as well as an indoor lap pool in the fitness facility.

The resort caters to getaways for both women and men and is popular for proposals as well as destination weddings.

Bluffton, S.C.

The long road into Palmetto Bluff dead-ends at the May River where a 21st-century development meets a storied past.

In the early 1900s, R.T. Wilson Jr., a New York banker, assembled 12 original plantations into the current 20,000-acre property — roughly the size of Manhattan. In 1913, Wilson completed an enormous mansion he named Palmetto Lodge. It burned in 1926, and a distraught Wilson sold the property.

Subsequent owners realized the need to preserve the property’s natural surroundings. In 2004, the Palmetto Bluff resort opened, and the small village of private homes, as well as the Palmetto Bluff Inn, reflected the architectural style found in Lowcountry cities such as Charleston and Savannah. In fact, at first glance, much of the development appears to be centuries old.

Natural preservation and sustainability also extend to the resort’s golf course. Extreme care was taken to ensure minimal impact on the land and waterways, resulting in certification from the National Audubon Society.

Lawn and water sports, as well as a shooting club, are available.

A new inn and spa is scheduled to open Sept. 1. Spa Montage will be a 13,000-square-foot facility with 13 treatment rooms, including a couple’s room. Exclusive to Spa Montage will be a mud treatment derived from the properties found in the pluff mud found along the May River.

Resort accommodations include a variety of cottages, guest houses and rooms at the inn.

Highlands, N.C.

If the oppressive heat of summer has worn you down, maybe it’s time to come up for air in Highlands, N.C.

Freshen your outlook at Old Edwards Inn and Spa, the cornerstone of this tiny, artsy mountain town so remote that reaching it requires a leisurely winding drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The quaint Historic Inn and subsequent additions have expanded the resort over roughly three blocks of downtown, providing a wide range of room, suite and cottage accommodations that all share a decidedly European feel.

Although located in the heart of a bustling tourist town, seclusion and a peaceful calm can be found everywhere, including the magnificent spa and the inviting lounge areas that surround it.

For a test of mountain golf, head five miles toward Cashiers to play the resort’s Old Edwards Club, an amazing Tom Jackson design that was tweaked in 2008 to make the course more playable. True to the mountain course experience, elevation changes can require a 2-to-3 club adjustment on some shots. The course is open only to the members and guests of the resort’s properties, with 15-minute tee time intervals to allow a more private golf experience.


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