The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island will host the 2021 PGA Championship, and they couldn’t have picked a better venue to repeat host. Fresh off a trip to Kiawah and our first ever visit to Pete Dye’s infamous masterpiece, we can’t wait to see it test the best again in 2021.
The Ocean Course holds a reputation for being one of the most difficult golf courses in North America. Funny, though, we came away with a very different view.
Like links courses, or at least courses set along the water, the Ocean Course relies on wind to muster up most of its difficulty. That’s not to say the course isn’t a stern test in lesser conditions, but we quickly realized that on a calm day — like the day we visited — the Ocean Course is surprisingly playable. In fact, from the correct tees, it might be the most varied, playable course we’ve played.
And when we say varied, we mean varied. Located at the tip of a sand barrier island, and pressed hard against the Atlantic Ocean, the figure 8 layout presents golfers with a master class in the use of carry angles. Each hole demands or features a preferred shot shape and many often require two different shots from the tee and into the green.
One of the most interesting features here are the tumbling fairways. Most courses in the region (including Cougar Point which we played on the same trip) feature flat fairways, but not so at the Ocean Course. At the insistence of his wife Alice, Pete decided to build up holes away from the ocean to provide as many views of the water as possible. Because of this Dye was able to shape the fairways as he pleased, but even in doing so, the course blends in magnificently with the surrounding natural sand dunes and this extends to the glorious putting complexes.
As mentioned our round featured barely a tick of wind, but the course played firm. Often times we elected to hit low running punch shots up the fronts of greens contrary to what young Rory McIlroy would have done on his way to a PGA Championship. Smart? It was to us, but Rory might think differently. That’s fine though, we wouldn’t have an issue endlessly debating the benefits of our ways if you’d like to give us a call Rory.
A play-by-play description of each noteworthy hole isn’t necessary for The Ocean Course (because that would be all 18 of them), so we’re going to settle with picking a favourite from each par. But we will say here, we love the rawness of this golf course. There are no cart paths, all sand is played as a waste bunker, and apart from the pond on 17 that is out of place, there is a definite low country feel at the OC (hopefully we don’t have to clarify that we don’t mean Orange County).
Now back to our favourite holes.
Many will pick the 17th as the standout par-3, but it’s not…it’s just the most famous because of Calcavecchia’s shenanigans at the 1991 Ryder Cup. The standout our minds is the awesome 14th. Playing to a whopping 240+ yards from the new championship tee put in for the 2012 PGA Championship, we much prefer it from the more manageable 190-yard markers ahead. Its Redan like characteristics, a setting that is unmatched and its perched green and cavernous bunker left (pictures simply don’t do it justice) makes this hole the standout of the par-3s.
When it comes to par-4s, we’re going with the 13th. Its Cape hole qualities, with a carry angle over the marsh, just strike our fancy. Moreover, the deep green makes the hole play absurdly different depending on the days pin location. We also love the adrenaline pumping moments as your ball sails towards the fairway from the tee while you try to cut off as much as you can chew or you attempt to run a low one into the green skirting by the marsh on the right.
Finally, our favourite par-5, though we’d like to pick another solely based on green location, was 16. Snaking a path along the ocean this hole is a very solid example of a rather straight hole corridor made all the more interesting by Dye’s masterful use of bunkers and angles. The fairway is as wide as it gets, but go left and you won’t be seeing the green or layup area.
The Ocean Course’s location is plainly in sight of numerous semi-abandoned, multi-million dollar vacation properties for the rich and famous (semi-abandoned as in barely used but exquisitely maintained). The course even features heavy shaping by Mr. Dye. Despite that, The Ocean Course is imminently natural, perplexingly varied and surprisingly playable. The entire experience is capped off by wonderfully knowledgeable caddies and an oceanside setting.
From its widespread reputation, you might be asking, “so is it really the toughest course in North America?” And in an attempt to make you as jealous as possible we will answer as such: we don’t know. We played the Ocean Course on what can only be described as the most perfect day ever. But we would strongly recommend you try to book a round on a very windy day and let us know.
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