Kiawah plans to move inlet to protect Ocean Course

Erosion has cut into the driving range at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. The town plans to relocate an inlet to fix the problem.

KIAWAH ISLAND — The driving range at the world-renowned Ocean Course is losing turf to erosion at an alarming rate, prompting officials to speed up a $400,000 fix for the problem.

The cause is westward moving ocean sand that has pushed an inlet against the shoreline. The inlet channel currents have eaten away at the driving range to within 30 yards of the practice tees and putting green.

Scientists monitoring the golf course damage said it has gotten much worse lately.

“It’s eroding a lot faster,” said Steven Traynum of Coastal Science & Engineering.

The proposed solution is to build a sand dike and berm to seal the inlet channel that drains marsh visible seaward of the golf course. Another inlet will be cut thousands of feet from the current one to redirect the damaging flow away from the driving range. The work will happen at low tide on a giant slug of sand that begins at the Stono River and wraps around the east end of the island.

To be able to do the work, the town has applied to the Army Corps of Engineers for a permit that would allow two projects moving up to 100,000 cubic yards of sand each during five years. The second project could happen at least three years after the first one.

The first fix was going to begin in the fall, but the worsening situation has prompted the schedule to be accelerated so that the work can happen between May 15 and July 15.

“If we wait until September, we are going to have severe erosion of the Ocean Course,” said Mayor Charles Lipuma.

The Ocean Course has hosted a number of prestigious tournaments including the 2007 Senior PGA, the 2012 PGA Championships, the 1991 Ryder Cup Matches and the 1997 World Cup of Golf. It was featured in the 2000 movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance.”

Construction of the project is expected to take about three weeks. Officials said it is possible that more work will be needed in three to four years because of the dynamic, shifting nature of the inlet.

“There’s no way to keep that channel in its place,” Traynum said.

Erosion has cut deep into shoreline protecting the golf course, but the project is expected to create conditions that will naturally restore the damaged area. By relocating the channel, the cause of erosion is removed. That also frees up a new source of sand, which is currently located seaward of the existing inlet channel. With the channel gone, waves will push that sand up to the beach, Traynum said.

The current project is similar in design to the $3.5 million one in 2006 that moved 560,000 cubic yards of sand and relocated the inlet more than a mile toward the Stono River.

It would happen during turtle nesting season, and the potential effect on piping plover habitat is an issue. The town said it has monitoring plans to satisfactorily address those concerns.

A host of regulatory agencies have weighed in favorably on a final design for the project. They include the state office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the state Department of Natural Resources, town officials said.

But the expectation is it will be only a matter of time before there is a need for the work to be repeated.

“We fully anticipate the channel continuing to migrate after this project, which is why we incorporated multiple events in the permit application,” Traynum said.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711.