COLUMBIA, S.C. – It took nearly two decades for The Ocean Course to entice the world’s top golfers back.
Organizers want to make sure it won’t take that long for the next one after the PGA Championship in 2012.
The Ocean Course was built on Kiawah Island near Charleston for the 1991 Ryder Cup matches. The course’s maddening winds and unique design famously humbled pros from both Europe and the United States.
The biggest event hosted since then was the 2007 Senior PGA Championship. But Kiawah Island Golf Resort president Roger Warren hopes big-time golf turns into a regular attraction.
Warren says there’ve been no conversations about future majors. However, it’s hard for him not to imagine The Ocean Course in those talks.
“I think the golf course is a pure U.S. Open golf course,” Warren said Friday. “I think there are other events out there that people would look at The Ocean Course as a great test for them.”
That’s for another day, said Warren, a past president of the PGA. Right now, his focus is on his event two years from now. He and 2012 PGA Championship director Brett Streba were on a regional tour reminding people that, while the pros have their sights set on the year’s final major at Whistling Straits next month, their PGA major will be here before you know it.
Streba has worked onsite since last summer and has gradually ramped up staffing levels. Even architect Pete Dye, who created the maddening layout, has returned to tweak areas well in advance of when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the game’s best are expected to tee it up two summers from now.
It wasn’t so long ago that PGA Tour pros coming back to the island about 40 minutes south of Charleston was unthinkable.
The 1991 Ryder Cup matches were as noteworthy for difficult conditions – and scorecard carnage – as for the U.S. victory.
Mark Calcavecchia shot 8-over par the last nine holes on the final day to lose a 4-up lead, then cried on the sand dunes when he figured he’d be the American goat. Two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer of Germany spared Calcavecchia that tag when he missed a 5-foot putt on the 18th hole that gave the cup to the United States.
Despite its striking design, The Ocean Course was left to the Atlantic, emerging every few years. It was site of the World Cup in 1997 and the defunct Warburg Cup in 2001. The course was also the ethereal backdrop for director Robert Redford’s telling of “The Legend of Bagger Vance” in 2000.
For most of the past decade, Warren has steadily erased The Ocean Course’s reputation as an untamable monster. The course hosted the PGA Club Professional Championship in 2005, two years before the 50-and-over-set played its major championship. The PGA Championship will mark the first time, Warren said, that one course has those four events run by The PGA of America.
Warren and Streba think the course will be more than ready for its next turn in the spotlight.
“My expectation is that we’re going to succeed, have no reason to believe that we’re not,” Warren said.
Streba said the event has already sold half its 30 luxury boxes just a few months into active selling. There’s enough parking for close to 20,000 cars either inside or just outside the gates of Kiawah Island. Streba said organizers are also talking about shuttle service from downtown Charleston.
The fairways have been seeded with heartier paspalum grass to replace the Bermuda grass that was there before. Also, some bunker facings where balls were buried – leader Eduardo Romero took a double-bogey 5 on the 14th hole when his ball plugged in soft sand – have been reshaped so as not to be so punitive, Warren said.
Former PGA champion David Toms was a recent visitor and, Warren said, he was impressed by what he and others will face two years from now.
“I think that they will get tested,” Warren said.