When it comes time to restore Kiawah Island's Ocean course, my hope is that more palmettos will be planted; without them, I'll keep landing in unspeakable places. Ken Vedrinski, on the other hand, displays the kind of touch, particularly around the green, that I'd expected after experiencing the subtleties of his cooking. Oh, how Parmesan gnocchi, porcini mushrooms, pancetta and sage tickle the tongue when they explode in a single bite at his Daniel Island restaurant, Sienna, which was deemed the region's most cosmopolitan by R.W. Apple, the New York Times' incomparable gourmand. The cuisine is Italian but the ingredients are local—some of them right off the vines in the garden behind the restaurant's back door. And besides, what's polenta and sautéed shrimp by any other name?"Shrimp and grits," Vedrinski says, smiling. Originally from Ohio, Vedrinski, solidly built with tight curly hair, arrived in Charleston a decade ago to turn the dining room at the Woodlands Resort & Inn into a foodie's paradise. He is part of a small but nationally recognized generation of chefs—including Bob Waggoner at Charleston Grill, Robert Stehling at Hominy Grill and Marc Collins at Circa 1886—who've been raising Charleston's gastronomic profile over the last decade. And with New Orleans still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, that profile's grown Barrymorean. "I hate to say it," says Vedrinski, "but their misfortune has been good to us."
Actually, the chef would rather talk about golf than food. He's addicted to the game, his bag bearing tags from Carnoustie and St. Andrews. "In the kitchen, I'm always trying to find the perfect dish," he says, "and on the golf course, the perfect shot. Neither let you master them, though it is my intention to keep trying."
And it's my intention to commune somehow with the Scots who introduced golf to these shores in the late 1700s. Harleston Green, where they used to practice knocking balls around, is long gone, eaten away by centuries of residential development. The only public space left in the area is Cannon Park, the former site of the Charleston Museum, which burned down in 1980. A vestigial portico is all that remains, and it is there that I head with my pitching wedge.
I drop a ball and take my stance, eyeing the museum's still-standing columns. A quick waggle, then the shot is struck. No palmetto's required to redirect it. My missile's on course, and I admire the arc of its journey. Launched from the present, it soars effortlessly into the past.