Once upon a time, Kiawah's popularity might've bothered Chase Wells, head golf professional the past five years at Rees Jones-designed Charleston National. Not anymore; Wells says his course - with its rolling terrain, tight fairways and a wealth of marshland beauty all around - has gone from hidden gem to poorly kept secret with both locals and tourists.
"Lately, Charleston is drawing more golfers (from outside South Carolina)," Wells, 31, says. "At one time, they all went to Myrtle Beach. Now, they're coming here."
Many come for Charleston's perennial ranking as America's friendliest city, for its even more prestigious reputation as a "foodie" destination, and for the golf. Just 10 miles from the city via the breathtaking Arthur Ravenel Bridge and US Highway 17, Charleston National lures golfers trying to cram it all in.
"About 40 percent of our traffic is from out of town," Wells says. "But we don't do much advertising; it's mostly word-of-mouth - the Northeast, Canadians, they all come here."
At 7,064 yards from the back tees, Charleston National is not for the faint-hearted. Accuracy to negotiate the marshlands and other hazards makes it a "target golf" course, and Wells tells players that, to enjoy their round, playing the correct tees is a must. "We don't even put out the champions' tees (markers) normally," he says, "because the out-of-towners all want to go back to those."
From any tee, Charleston National's difficulty is matched by its beauty. If you've come to the area to experience the Lowcountry, you'll see plenty of birds, wildlife and, of course, natural grasses and water that run throughout the course - which doesn't mean golf takes a back seat to the sights.
Jones, known worldwide as "The Open Doctor" for his work on US Open venues, came in 1989 after Hurricane Hugo had ravaged much of the area. Charleston National underwent several design and ownership changes before Jones' company returned to do reconstruction.
Wells' favorite hole is the par-5 ninth, a dogleg right that tempts better players to hit over trees in order to reach in two shots. No. 2, a short (155 yards max) par 3 over marsh, is ranked among the best in the Carolinas by the Carolinas PGA.
The par-4 15th requires two shots over marsh, the first to a cozy landing area, and the par-4 16th, while only 325 yards, demands precision off the tee and into its well-guarded elevated green. "It's real short if you go over the trees - you can drive the green - but that's not the smart shot," Wells says.
What is smart, he says, is making the short drive from downtown to Charleston National to see it yourself. For more information, go to www.charlestonnationalgolf.com or call 843.884.GOLF (4653).