VOL. 24: An Evening at the River Course

written by Stephanie Hunt | photograph by Gately Williams

A long two years, eight months, and fifteen days post-fire, Kiawah Island Club Board Members and spouses fête the reopening of the River Course Clubhouse. And it was well worth the wait.

On a festive December evening, as the sunset splashed magenta and vermilion across the Kiawah River, board members and guests of the Kiawah Island Club gathered to open an early Christmas gift, wrapped with a bright red ribbon.

And this was a grand present, indeed. With the ceremonious cutting of the ribbon, the long-awaited new River Clubhouse opened its doors—doors that will always welcome families and guests to enjoy Kiawah’s most welcoming and comfortable stead, their clubhouse “home away from home.” Here, members can relax after golf, savor a burger at the bar, or shoot pool in the men’s lounge. This evening’s black tie affair was the Board’s sneak preview, an evening of elegance, excitement, and high emotion.

“I’m thrilled it’s actually finally happened,” said Jackie Bennett of the grand opening. “The old clubhouse was lovely, but, wow, the new one is simply spectacular.”

This sentiment was echoed time and again as the guests mingled and meandered through the clubhouse’s fifty thousand square feet, every square inch reflecting thoughtful planning and design. “My daughter and son-in-law were married at the first River Course Clubhouse,” said Mary Jo Murphy. “I’m not sure they’ll recognize it! It’s fabulous, as was the old one, but it has now evolved from an air of Southern gentility to an edgier sophistication.”

The new clubhouse echoes its predecessor, borrowing the shingle-style architecture and early-American and English-country influences and retaining signature elements such as the clock tower. However this iteration did not strive so much to replicate as enhance. The improvements are significant but subtle and reflect the input and suggestions of numerous board members and focus groups. “It’s like seeing a guy who has shaved off his mustache. You know something is different, but on first glance, you’re not entirely sure what that might be,” commented Buddy Darby, CEO of Kiawah Island Partners, before handing over the ribbon-cutting scissors to Charles Darby, Scott Anderson, and Bobby Tepp.

After clinks of champagne glasses and a heartfelt “hear, hear,” the guests began their progressive cocktail party tour, enjoying the first round of sumptuous hors d’oeuvres in the new Pro Shop, where Steve Kelleher, The River Course golf pro since 1999, welcomed his old friends and players. “This is well worth the last two-and-a-half years of being in a trailer,” Kelleher said, pointing to his upgraded riverfront vista. “Before, we were facing the parking lot. Now we have one
of the best views on the East Coast.”

Indeed, maximizing the view was a primary objective for all design decisions, including moving the women’s locker room to the river side and expanding the ground-level porch by eight feet, making it truly a grand and inviting outdoor living room. Likewise, the men’s shower and locker room on the second floor open up to a breathtaking balcony view of the ever-changing marshscape. The men’s lounge was the second stop of the evening’s roaming soirée, and the tour showstopper, thanks to the jaw-dropping décor of the Oyster Bar, as the whiskey barrel-inspired lounge is dubbed. Hand-turned white oak planks gracefully arc across the ceiling, and if that weren’t enough, the room is bookended by towering, hand-pointed oyster shell-in-concrete walls. Every detail whispers a handsome, well-crafted ode to this place, this blessed spot on a serene river bluff.

The reopening was especially gratifying for Bill Wert a board member who was mayor of Kiawah Island that fateful March in 2010. He was called to the scene and stood beside Buddy Darby as the first clubhouse succumbed to flames. “We’ve been members since the Club opened. My family has had every Thanksgiving meal here; my granddaughter ran the Summer Youth Program here—this has been the seat of so many family memories,” he said. “Now it’s marvelous. The new building is larger and more functional, but most importantly, the whole place gives a feeling of warmth.”

The muted palette and tasteful décor suggests an earthy eloquence fitting for Kiawah’s natural splendor. Colors hint of pluff mud and marsh grass and the mercury of sunshine glinting off the water. The shake architecture, refined interior design, and ample but not imposing scale of all the rooms all work together to create a comfortable “living room” feel; for The River Course Clubhouse has always been, and will now even more become, the more relaxed, come-and-sit-awhile, have-a-drink-on-the-backporch, cozy nook for Island Club members. The ambiance throughout is gentle, gracious, and welcoming, and the rooms meld with an ease and grace that make it perfect for large-scale entertaining or intimate conversation, evidenced by the natural flow as this evening’s guests moved from the Oyster Bar down to the main bar and ballroom for dinner and music.

“This has always been our gathering place, and we’ve missed that,” says Tina Schell, a full-time Kiawah resident for twelve years who remembers deciding she wanted to live on the Island after first watching the sunset from the old clubhouse’s terrace. “Look at it. It’s absolutely breathtaking,” she said. “I feel like I’ve come home.” — S.H.


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