Kiawah has built itself into one of the United States’ most celebrated golf resorts thanks to contributions from Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and, of course, Pete Dye. Let us not forget where it all started, however. Before Nicklaus came to town, fellow hall-of-famer Gary Player laid out the Cougar Point course on the southwest side of the island.
The architect has kept up with the course, last conducting a renovation during 2017 to improve greens and bunkers. Although other Kiawah courses are celebrated for their oceanside view, Cougar Point is a relative rarity in its views out to the Kiawah River. Players will first see the marshy expanse as they approach the green at No. 4, and they will then play along the river for the entirety of No. 5. Before turning back inland, players will tee off across the wetland to the green of No. 6, an 180-yard par three.
A new clubhouse has added more drama to the closing hole, where players will hit to a Biarritz-style green perched on the side of a pond. Guests will view from the clubhouse, creating pressure akin to the finale at the Ocean course down the island.
The previous reviews by Colin and Jeff encapsulate the essence of Cougar Point. In short, the layout is the epitome of functional golf provided at a resort. The more compelling designs on Kiawah Island can be found elsewhere,
Jeff's statement sums up matters -- a design that is "mostly devoid of any kind of strategic calculation..."
What you have is the perfunctory inclusion of holes that work is the equivalent of vanilla ice cream. Satisfies the base craving of golfers not fixated in wanting something that clearly delves deeper in terms of mystery.
The course is generally well-prepared and when you give many players above average turf conditions the overall feeling of being satisfied is likely accomplished. Those who are a bit savvier and discerning will quickly tire of predictability and seek more lasting memories elsewhere.
M. James Ward
Cougar Point is a Player design. The short first hole is welcoming. You may consider laying up as the fairway bunkers squeeze both sides of the fairway. The 2nd is a mid-length Florida par three. Large bunker in front and two back left and right. The first par five is a dogleg left with fairway bunkers on the inside and outside elbow. There is a large water hazard left to contend with on the second and third shots. Big hitters may be foolish enough to try to get home in two but it is all carry. Mortals still have a decision to make, how much to cut? The 4th is a long par four that leans left. There is a fairway bunker left. It is the number one handicap hole. The fifth has a water hazard and two fairway bunkers right. The Kiawah River parallels the hole down the left side. The sixth is a mid-length par three with carry over marsh and gunch. The 7th should be a fun hole. Short dogleg right with bunkers on the outside elbow. The fun part is water hazard short right and another left front. Foolish big hitters can try to hit a high cut to the green. Layup and you will have a flip wedge. The 8th is a short par four that is a definite birdie oppty. The 9th is a reachable par five that leans left. A water hazard runs down the entire right side and there is also OB left. Favor the right side to ensure that you are not blocked out by the left trees. Not sure why it is the number three handicap hole.
The back starts with the number two handicap hole, a long par four dogleg right. There are bunkes on the inside elbow and water all the way down the right side. Off the tee aim at the fairway bunker on the left. Take an extra cub for the uphill approach. The 11th is a short reachable par five, it really should be a 4 ½. Off the tee, if you avoid the large fairway bunker left, it is green light. Pay no attention to all those bunkers around the green. The 12th is a long par 3 with the green effectively a peninsula. Do not be embarrassed to hit driver. The 13th is a straightaway par four. The only real trouble are the fairway bunkers left. The 14th is a mid-length par three. It is rated the easiest hole on the course. The 15th is another par 5 with the green hidden behind a water hazard, this time right. Yes, the big boys can get home in two, but the rest of us need to play smart. Right of center off the tee is best, this will allow you to miss the fairway bunker left and the water hazard right. For the second shot favor the left side of the fairway to get past the trees on the right to give you a green light to the green. The 16th is a ho-hum par four, make sure you are right of the left fairway bunkers off the tee. The 17th is a short par four that leans right. There is water down the right side and an annoying tree and bunker that force you to make a decision on the tee. How hungry am I? How aggressive do I want to be? The 18th is a good finishing hole. Off the tee there is water right and on the approach there is water left. My advice is hit it straight.
An OK course that I will not play again, even if you payed.
Cougar Point is the best Gary Player-designed course I’ve played, which is a bit unfortunate. The Black Knight and his design firm have been prolific over the years, building hundreds of courses worldwide – but none really of major renown in the United States. In fact, the only other Player design I have personally played is Tapawingo National near St. Louis, which… if anyone reading this finds themselves playing there, I am sorry, for something dire has obviously occurred. It appears that half a dozen or so of Player’s American courses are listed on this site, but none are in the top 100 for the US – or particularly high on their respective state lists either. Without the likes of a Fancourt, Leopard Creek, or Thracian Cliffs nearby, we Americans probably are forced into somewhat of an uninformed opinion that Player isn’t in the top echelon of architects in the modern era.
Regardless, Cougar Point is fine. It’s a perfectly straightforward resort course mostly devoid of any kind of strategic complication, featuring the requisite pinched hole corridors surrounded by either ponds or houses with just enough water views to jack up the price to resort golf levels - in this case, the views are of the Intracoastal Waterway side of the island. It’s a bit less difficult than the other two resort courses on the island, Turtle Point and Osprey Point, so it would be my choice for a round at Kiawah where you didn’t have to work too hard to shoot a good score. (Indeed, the lowest gross scores I've had on my many visits to the island are a pair of 77s over twenty years apart at Cougar Point.) On my most recent trip, it was the site of a relaxing morning round with my wife while our son visited with his grandparents.
Most of the holes here are inoffensive enough, with a few excellent ones and a few terrible ones. I particularly liked #2, a well-bunkered par three with a wild green; #4, a long dogleg right par four with a green tucked in a corner against the marsh, #9, a par five requiring multiple shot shapes, #17, a great strategic short par four with all sorts of ways to play, and #18, a mid-length par four finisher with a unique “half-punchbowl” section of the green right in the middle against a pond to the left. There are a few holes, namely #3 and #7, which are routed so poorly that even a 3-wood would be impossible to hit off the championship tee for longer hitters and prevent going through the fairway. I suppose that’s the standard on a recreational-level resort course, but it’s frustrating. Forced layups are the worst, and unfortunately, no renovation can change a poorly routed hole corridor.
Having played this course several times since the days it was par 71 and named Marsh Point to its current state, several renovations later, I still consider it the lowest quality resort course at Kiawah, but it’s definitely grown on me and gotten better as it has aged. The newer Paspalum greens play nice and firm and the overall conditioning was excellent last summer. Had I rated it before last summer, I might have considered a two and a half-ball rating, but recency bias helps. I’d certainly be willing to play it again in a future visit to Kiawah - if only to shoot a decent score while I'm there.
Played August 27, 1993, August 1, 1997, June 29, 1999, August 21, 2006, and August 23, 2019