Next Up for Ocean Course 2012 PGA Championship

By Associated PressMay 29, 2007, 4:00 pm
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- The winds were fierce, the fairways treacherous and No. 17 proved as difficult for the 50-and-over set last week at the Senior PGA Championship as it did for the world's best at the Ryder Cup 16 years earlier.
 
About the only thing that may need to be changed at The Ocean Course before the PGA Championship in 2012 is the soft, inviting sand in dunes and bunkers that led to too many plugged balls, unplayable lies and shattered nerves.
 
'I'm concerned about some of the ways the ball has plugged in bunkers,' said Roger Warren, president of Kiawah Island Golf Resort. 'I do think it's important that on a shot like that, the penalty they're incurring right now, I think, doesn't reflect what Pete Dye had designed for. So we're going to look at what we can do to make sure those balls at least become playable.'
 
One of the most critical plugs came Sunday when leader Eduardo Romero's tee shot to the par-3 14th sank deep into the sand. Romero lifted out and made a double bogey that cost him the tournament.
 
'I really felt bad for Eduardo,' champion Denis Watson said. 'He hit a pretty bad shot, but I question how they had the face of the bunkers this week. I thought that was unfair.'
 
Hale Irwin had a similar problem on the 16th hole Thursday, leading to a triple-bogey 8.
 
On Saturday, Brad Bryant and Jay Haas both had to lift out a bunker on par-5 second hole. Bryant made double bogey and Haas bogey.
 
Warren admitted it's a problem on the to-do list in the 1,900 days or so before 2012's final major is played. Warren expects the change to make the ball hittable from where it rests, or at least the balls roll to the bottom of the trap for a shot there.
 
Other than that, Warren was pleased.
 
So was the PGA of America, according to its chief executive Joe Steranka.
 
'When we look at a place where we're going to site out championships, we look for a place that going to challenge the great players,' he said.
 
Steranka, too, had concerns about the unplayable lies in bunkers, but is satisfied the problem won't happen again in five years. 'There's not much you need to do to this golf course,' he said.
 
Warren said the fairways might be converted to the paspalum grass that is on the greens. Organizers used the grass on the practice range and the first fairway.
 
Such a conversion would close the course, which averages about 20,000 rounds a year at $320 or so each, to complete. Warren thinks it's worth it to get ready for the PGA Championship.
 
Crowds were as expected and certainly 'good enough for a major,' Steranka said.
 
He figured on about 5,000 spectators the first two rounds with about double that on the weekends.
 
There won't be a shortage of interest come 2012 when Steranka and Warren expect in excess of 40,000 people a day for the PGA, nearly 60 percent more than the crowd at the 1991 Ryder Cup matches here.
 
Steranka has met with state leaders, including Gov. Mark Sanford, about improving roadways -- possibly extending an interstate so it comes closer to Kiawah Island.
 
Warren said Kiawah Island could clear as much as 300 acres of land outside the gates to park about 30,000 vehicles.
 
A series of buses shuttled fans the five miles or so from the parking lots to the course this past week and bottlenecks and traffic jams were scarce, Warren said.
 
Expect more viewing towers like the one behind the 17th hole, which Steranka said provided spectacular views of the course and ocean. Also expect more grandstands.
 
The course's length could be another problem.
 
Senior PGA officials adjusted yardage based on conditions. But it seems unlikely they'd let Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson hit into No. 17 from 158 yards -- the hole's distance during Saturday's third round.
 
'They're going to have to be very careful as to how they set it up,' said Nick Price, who finished third at 5-under behind Watson and Romero. 'Because if you have a day where the wind blew like it did off some of those tees, I mean, there's just no bail out. That's the thing that's hard on this golf course.'
 
With driving distances seemingly always increasing, who knows how far PGA TOUR pros will be hitting it in 2012. Could The Ocean Course crack 8,000 yards?
 
'We play very long golf courses for PGA Championships,' Steranka said.
 
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