Golf Course Review - Kiawah Island Golf Resort Ocean Course


HISTORY: How does a course get picked to host the Ryder Cup when it's not even built? Well, you'll have to ask the PGA of America, but that was the case when in 1988, the Ocean Course was selected as host of the 29th Ryder Cup Matches in 1991.
Kiawah Island
The second shot at two is either to an 80-yard long strip of fairway or going for the green or attempting to reach the third landing zone, short of the putting surface.
With legendary architect Pete Dye in tow and permits finally granted, work begun in the summer of 1989. Dye, as most are aware, has designed some of the most famous and infamous courses in the world, such as the TPC at Sawgrass, Whistling Straits, Blackwolf Run, Harbour Town and Casa de Campo.
Dye had his work cutout for him with just two years to craft an amazing layout to test the world's best players. Just a few months after the routing began, Hurricane Hugo put everything on hold. But to his credit and all of the workers on the project, everyone pitched in to complete this course, as even PGA officials believed it would not be finished.
Dye's wife Alice played an important part in the design process, as she suggested that people who play the course should be able to see the Atlantic Ocean. With that in mind, eight of the inland holes were elevated six feet and all of the holes bordering the ocean, so that you could enjoy the beautiful coastline.
Within one year, the course was ready for seeding, but the naysayers continued to throw doubt, as even Lanny Wadkins was quoted as saying, 'No way will this course be ready for the Ryder Cup.' He of course, was wrong.
Kiawah Island
As you begin your trek home, the 14th offers an outstanding view of the Atlantic Ocean.
The 1991 Ryder Cup was everything Pete Dye had intended. The wind blew and the players battled to an epic conclusion. Deemed, 'The War at the Shore,' the 29th Ryder Cup was an incredible competition. Dave Stockton was the captain of the United States squad, while the European team was led by Bernard Gallacher. The Americans opened up a 3-1 advantage after the morning foursomes led by veterans Wadkins and Hale Irwin, as they crushed Colin Montgomerie and David Gilford, 4 & 2. Ryder Cup stalwarts Steve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal claimed the only morning point for the Euros. The afternoon four-balls brought the Europeans within one point, as they captured 2 1/2 points. Once again, Ballesteros and Olazabal won their match to spearhead the charge. Fred Couples and Ray Floyd, a captains pick, won for the second time on day one, as they defeated Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam, 5 & 3. Day two saw the Americans take a commanding morning lead winning three of the four matches, as Wadkins and Irwin won, 4 & 2 over David Feherty and Sam Torrance. Ballesteros and Olazabal continued their winning ways, capturing the only point for the Euros over Couples and Floyd.
The afternoon four-balls went the way of the Euros, as they evened the matches at 8-8. Couples and Payne Stewart were the only saving grace for the U.S., as they halved Ballesteros and Olazabal. After dropping two early matches to David Feherty and Nick Faldo, the American squad got a boost from Mark Calcavecchia, or so they thought. Leading 5-up after nine and 4-up with just four holes to play against Montgomerie, Calcavecchia played the final four holes in eight-over par, including dumping a pair of balls into the water on 17 to gain a half with Monty. Corey Pavin, Paul Azinger and Chip Beck followed with wins for the U.S., but Ballesteros and Paul Broadhurst earned points for the Europeans, who led 13-12 with just three matches remaining. The Europeans just needed a tie to retain the cup, as they were victorious in 1987 and tied in 1989. Couples and Wadkins came through in the clutch, as both players posted 3 & 2 wins over future Ryder Cup captains, Torrance and Mark James respectively. It came down to Irwin vs. Bernhard Langer in the final match.
Dominating most of the match, Irwin led 2-up with just four to play. After winning the 15th hole, Langer closed to within one and made a great up and down from the sand on 16 to remain 1-down. On the famous 17th, Irwin three-jacked from 40-feet, while Langer sank a crucial five-footer to square the match. Both players missed the green in two on the last. Irwin, playing first, chipped poorly to 30-feet while Langer, putting from the edge, got within four-feet of the hole. Irwin, who played the final nine holes in 41, missed his par putt and was conceded bogey from three feet. Langer, needing to make to retain the Cup, missed right and the American's reclaimed the trophy. Ballesteros, consoling his fallen compatriot, 'No golfer in the world could have made that putt.'
Shell's Wonderful World of Golf made its only appearance at the Ocean Course, as Annika Sorenstam battled Dottie Pepper in 1996. Pepper came away with the win despite a triple-bogey on 18 for a round of 75, compared to Sorenstam's 77.
Dye returned to the Ocean Course in 1997 to make some subtle changes to the course. Most notably, replacing the turf on the approaches to each of the greens and adding collection areas around the putting surfaces. All of the changes were made to challenge the best players and to increase the pace of play.
Players from around the globe returned to Kiawah Island for the World Cup in 1997, as the duo of Irish duo of Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley claimed a five-shot win. Competitors who had criticized the Ocean Course in 1991, were quite complimentary this time around. Colin Montgomerie, who called the course unplayable during the Ryder Cup commented, 'The course has improved over the last six years. It's grown into a popular, well-respected golf course, one of the world's finest, if not America's best resort.' Montgomerie, who edged Germany's Alex Cejka for the individual title, teamed with Raymond Russell for a second-place finish for Scotland. Montgomerie shot rounds of 68-66-66-66, two clear of Cejka, who shot the course record of 63 in round one. The American team of Davis Love III and Justin Leonard finished third.
Even Hollywood came calling in 2000, as Robert Redford and company filmed the movie, 'The Legend of Bagger Vance' at the Ocean Course. Will Smith, as the lead character, helps a down-and-out golfer, Matt Damon, defeat legendary golfers Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones in an exhibition match. A special hole was built near the practice range for the movie by Tom Simpson, who was the shaper for Kiawah's greens for Pete Dye.
The Ocean Course played host to the inaugural UBS Warburg Cup in 2001, an event featuring players 40 and over in a Ryder Cup-style format. Arnold Palmer captained the United States squad, while Gary Player led the Rest of the World team. The U.S. squad edged the Rest of the World, 12 1/2 to 11 1/2. Trailing 7-5 after the first two days, the Americans rallied to captured 7 1/2 points out of the 12 singles matches for the win. Palmer opened the final day with a 2 & 1 win over Player, but it was the final two matches that decided the outcome, as Mark Calcavecchia defeated Ian Woosnam, 1-up and Larry Nelson knocked off Frank Nobilo, 3 & 2. Player regarded the Ocean Course as 'One of the top-10 courses I've ever played.'
More changes came in 2002 and '03, as Dye returned to revamp the course. Adjustments to the second and fourth holes and moving the 18th green closer to the Atlantic highlighted the alterations. Dye also created new tees on seven holes and resurfaced each green in 2003.
The World Cup returned for the 49th staging of the team event, as South Africans, Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini cruised to a four-shot win over Paul Casey and Justin Rose of England. The U.S. squad paired Justin Leonard with Jim Furyk, but the Americans finished tied for fifth. The South African duo held a seven-shot cushion heading into the final round and despite a one- over 73, they were able to win the fifth World Cup title for their country.
In 2005, the PGA Club Professional Championship came to Kiawah Island and the Ocean Course held its own, as no player finished 72 holes under par. When all was said and done, Mike Small, the University of Illinois golf coach, defeated Travis Long by three shots for the title. Small opened with rounds of 73-76 and stood five shots off the lead, but a third-round best of 71, the only round of the day under par, vaulted Small to within two of the lead. On Sunday, Small was one of just four players to break 70, as he shot 69 for a one-over-par total of 289, the highest winning score in the history of the event. To say the course played difficult would be an understatement, as the field averaged 77.214 for the week and a whopping three shots over par on the back nine alone. Seven of the holes on the final nine ranked in the top-10 as the hardest for the week.
REVIEW: One of only two par fours on the course under 400 yards, albeit just five yards short of that figure, the first hole is a dandy opener. Playing fairly straight, the key is avoiding the sandy waste area down the entire right side, which boasts several tall trees. Left of the landing area is no bargain either, so three-metal off the tee is your best play. Just a short iron remains to a fairly simple green, guarded short and right by sand and water. Approach the left side of the putting surface to set up your best shot at birdie, as the green is only 27 paces deep.
Although just 543 yards from the tips, the second hole is a very demanding par five. There are three distinct landing areas. First, the tee shot on this dogleg left must find the wide fairway. Cutting the corner can set up a play to go for the green, but this is extremely risky. The second shot is either to an 80-yard long strip of fairway or going for the green or attempting to reach the third landing zone, short of the putting surface. All three zones are surrounded by sand, waste area and marsh, so pinpoint accuracy is key. The green is long, but very narrow as it sits above the fairway. Any shot just offline will roll back down into a collection area. As you can read, not a simple par five.
The last par four under 400 yards, the third is a dogleg left with a 190-yard carry over marsh from the back buttons. The fairway is quite wide, so avoid the sand and scrub left, as you will be blocked by trees towards the green. Just a wedge should remain to an elevated green devoid of sand. The putting surface is just 26 yards wide and very narrow with the wet stuff long and left. Club selection is critical in your efforts to make birdie.
One of the most difficult driving holes on the course, the fourth is a rugged 453-yard par four with three devilish pot bunkers down the right side of the landing area. The fairway runs out at 295 yards, so the big hitters must use three-metal off the tee. The entire hole is surrounded by marsh, so any ball off line is gone. A long iron or fairway metal will remain to a green with subtle undulations. The putting surface is guarded by two traps right, so err left if you have any doubts. Making par here is a great score.
The first par three, the fifth features the longest green on the course at 49 yards deep. To complicate things, the putting surface is divided by a huge ridge, so depending upon pin placement and wind, the correct club off the tee must be chosen. Sand down the entire left side can spell doom for an errant shot, especially with a back-left flag.
If you haven't gotten the message after the first five holes, the sixth will surely clue you in. At this hole is when you decide whether you have picked the right tees to play from. Stretching to as much as 479 yards and usually into a breeze, the sixth requires a mighty blast off the tee just to reach the fairway. Even with a successful shot, a long iron or fairway metal will remain to a long, undulating putting surface. As with all the holes on the Ocean Course, a sandy waste area surrounds the entire hole, so club yourself wisely.
The par five seventh is reachable if you're able to cut the corner of the dogleg right. Having written that, you must avoid the sandy waste area down the right to have any shot, as it sticks out like a sore thumb into the fairway. The hole then narrows all the way to the green, with sand dunes left and gnarly scrub right. The putting surface is pretty easy and should yield a birdie or two.
It might not seem like a break, but the par-three eighth could be construed as such because the green is accessible and fairly wide, accepting most shots easily. The putting surface does slope from the center to the back and the green is surrounded by waste area, front, right and behind, so be careful. The more I think about it, you better pay attention to this one or you'll make double-bogey in a heartbeat.
Despite its length, the ninth is one of the easier driving holes on the course. A wide fairway on this dogleg left should be a simple task. The difficulty remains with the length, at a whopping 494 yards from the back marker. A long iron or fairway metal might be needed to attack the green, however, any shot left will end up in the sand while approaches right will feed away from the putting surface. The back-to-front sloping green is quite slick and requires a deft touch. What a ride, and you're only at the midpoint.
A long walk or modest cart ride is needed to reach the 10th tee after completing the front nine. The 10th is an intimidating hole, however, don't be fearful, as the landing area off the tee is open to the left. The key is not to miss your tee shot to the right, as a long waste area will gobble up any and all miss-hits. The huge wall will force you to layup well short of the green. A good drive will set up a short iron to a putting surface that is long and narrow. Deep of the green is jail, so play towards the center of the green, especially when the pin is back and left.
Yet another three-shot par five, the 11th winds left, right and left, like a snake in the grass. Missing the fairway to the right off the tee will, just like No. 10, spell trouble and force a premature layup. The proper play is left fairway off the tee, medium or long iron for your second shot and wedge to the green. This will set up a birdie chance and take all the danger out of the mix. The elevated putting surface has severe drops, but it will hold your approach. Look for birdie, but par is just fine.
Probably the widest fairway on the course, the 12th can be had, but only if you land in the short grass. Danger lurks right, as a canal runs the gambit through the green. You certainly won't fare better missing left, as sand dunes and scrub await. Your approach to the green plays slightly downhill to a putting surface that runs away towards the rear. Let your second shot run to the flag, otherwise bogey or worse could ruin your round.
One of the most picturesque and difficult holes on the course, the 13th is a great par four. Water crosses in front of the tee box and then wanders down the entire right side of the fairway past the green. A solid tee shot must favor the left side of the landing area to set up any realistic chance of getting home, however, stay clear of the two pot bunkers. A long iron or hybrid could be the call for your second shot, but beware because the green is long with bunkers and dunes left and water right.
As you begin your trek home, the 14th offers an outstanding view of the Atlantic Ocean. Another par three over 200 yards, this gem features an elevated green with a diabolical sandy waste area to the right (trust me on this) and severe dropoffs right and deep. The green is very large and undulating, making a two-putt extremely difficult. Missing the putting surface will certainly test your short game, and your mind.
With the wind at your back, hopefully, and the ocean to the right, the 15th requires a 200-yard carry over the dunes to just reach the fairway. Left- center is the call off the tee, however any shot missing the short grass will be deep in sand and difficult to recover from. A mid-iron should remain to a fairly small green, just 30 paces deep. The putting surface is not to tricky, so any shot near the center could result in birdie.
Another shot at birdie, the 16th is a strong par five, stretching 579 yards from the back tee. Water to the left of the tee box necessitates a big blast if you play down the left, however the smart shot is right-fairway to take advantage of the slope that traverses down towards the hole. Sling a fairway metal down the right for your second and you'll get home in two. The difficulty here is the dunes right and the massive trap left. The putting surface is miniscule at 29 paces and is slightly elevated from the fairway. This hole can be had, but only with pinpoint accuracy.
Kiawah Island
The par three 17th is very intimidating off the tee, especially from all the way back.
One of the greatest par threes in golf, although Mark Calcavecchia might disagree, the 17th is all about carry and club selection. Very intimidating off the tee, especially from all the way back. Water encompasses the entire right side of the hole, so bail out left if you must and try to make par the old fashioned way. Two deep traps guard the left side and the green is a massive 46 steps deep (that's 10,000 square feet). Depending upon the weather, you could hit five iron or five wood on this great hole. During the 2005 PGA Club Professional Championship, the 17th played as the most difficult hole during the event with a scoring average of 3.586.
Your final hole on the Ocean Course completes a back nine that measures 3,903 yards! At 470 yards from the tips, this awesome par four needs a tee shot to favor the right side to set up the best angle to the green. In 2002, Pete Dye moved the green complex 25 yards to the right and closer to the Atlantic Ocean. The second handicap hole on the course just got harder. A myriad of deep bunkers guard the landing zone, so accuracy and strength are needed here. The second shot will require a long iron or hybrid to reach the undulating putting surface. Any shot left will be trapped and any shot right, well, the Ocean calls.
OVERALL: Not only does the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island make you scratch your head in wonder and anxiety, but it also makes you want to come back and tackle the beast again. This course is, by far, the hardest resort course in the United States, but it's also one of the greatest.
The Ocean Course requires every club in your bag, not to mention great imagination. It reminds me of Pine Valley, where if you miss the fairway you're doomed, but if you find safe haven in the short grass, you're rewarded. Variety is what makes this course great. Doglegs right and left, straight holes, bail out rights and lefts, and flat, undulating and heavily contoured greens.
Let's start off with the amenities. A $20 million, 24,000-square foot clubhouse is expected to be finished in the spring of 2007, complete with all the trimmings and situated above the 18th green. It will included a locker room big enough to accommodate 164 players, a 1,700-square foot pro shop and a restaurant.
The practice facility is one of the largest I've ever seen with enough range balls to make Vijay Singh's hands bleed and plenty of space to work on every aspect of your game.
Next up is the staff. The personnel at the Ocean Course is a perfect example of Southern hospitality. From the shuttle bus drivers to the bag handlers to the staff in the pro shop and to the marvelous caddies, the people at Kiawah Island take a back seat to no one.
Finally, the course. It comes as no surprise that the Ocean Course is ranked in the top 100 in the United States and has been called America's Toughest Resort Course by Golf Digest. This is golf the way it was meant to be played, against the elements and nature. The conditioning of the fairways and greens are amazing while the look and lines of the course are brilliant.
Since day one, Pete Dye and the people at Kiawah Island have spared no expense to make this one of the greatest courses in the world and they have succeeded.
With its length, most people would consider the Ocean Course as a single-digit player's dream, however all golfers can play this course -- made evident by the five different sets of tees and the course ranging from as little as 5,327 yards.
Although there is plenty of sand on the course, there are only six bunkers, with the remaining sand part of 'transition areas.' Feel free to ground your club and take plenty of practice swings, you'll need them.
The course is a tale of two different, but equally challenging, nines. Winding through marsh and environmentally-sensitive areas, the opening nine is laid out on the eastern-most tip of Kiawah Island. The closing nine moves through sand dunes, sea oats and wire grasses with the final five holes running along side the Atlantic Ocean.
A course like this comes along once in a lifetime, each hole unique. If you haven't been to Ireland and Scotland, this is the next best thing...or better. The Ocean Course is a supreme test of skill and courage. Pick the right set of tees, grab a caddie, listen to his advice and enjoy the time of your life.
Phil Sokol writes for the Sports Network, and periodically contributes to Send your thoughts on this article to Phil Sokol at