1 Sanctuary Beach Drive,
South Carolina 29455,
- +1 843 768 2121
21 miles S of Charleston
Welcome book in advance
The Ocean course at Kiawah Island opened for play in 1991 only weeks before the thrilling “War by the Shore” Ryder Cup match, which saw team USA beat Europe by the narrowest of margins, 14½-13½. This particular Ryder Cup is unfortunately remembered for Bernhard Langer’s missed six-foot putt that would have tied the match, allowing Europe to retain the trophy.
Naturally, after the Ryder Cup, the Ocean course, designed by Pete Dye, leapt into the limelight and has remained there ever since. There are panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean to drink in on each hole and the course is routed in an old-fashioned way alongside the ocean. But instead of a links-like nine out and nine back, the Ocean course adopts a kind of 4½ out and 4½ back figure of eight configuration. According to Pete Dye, "There’s no other golf course in the Northern Hemisphere that has as many seaside holes". And Dye should know, because he built up the ground farthest away from the Atlantic Ocean by a few feet so that the golfer can enjoy unparalleled sea views. What a man!
Pete Dye certainly pays attention to detail and the green sites at Kiawah Island are consistently natural. With miles of underground pipes, which recycle surplus irrigation water, it’s no surprise that the Ocean course is a hit with the environmentalists as well as the golfers.
Kiawah Island hosted the 2012 US PGA Championship. Measuring a formidable 7,676 yards in its tournament livery, the Ocean course was tamed by Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy who cruised to an eight-shot victory and claimed his second major title, becoming the youngest winner of the tournament since it adopted strokeplay in 1958.
A trip to semi-tropical Kiawah Island would not be complete without a round on the best course on the island and one of the world’s finest courses. Add in a sprinkling of Charleston grace and you have the experience of a lifetime.
There are many reasons to love Kiawah Island. It is naturally blessed with an abundance of animal and bird life. Ospreys and Bald Eagles roam the skies and Bobcats and Alligators stalk the ground and water ways. The beach stretches some ten miles and is consistently voted as one of the best 10 beaches in the U.S.A. Island life is tranquil and relaxing and guests mix with residents on many of the cycle routes and beach walks that stitch their way across the island. And that is before we even come to looking at golf...
It is barely believable that a golf course could be constructed on the marsh land that the Ocean Course cuts through, but somehow Pete and Alice Dye managed to do just that. The course itself is raw and breathtaking as Dye intended it to be. The overriding feature is the raised nature of the course above the protective dunes leaving the fairways open to the elements and meaning you rarely play the course without some wind. It also means picking sight lines can be difficult off the tee and makes taking one of the course caddies around with you an absolute necessity on your first few visits. The last 5 holes hug the beach and are some of my favourite golf holes that I have played anywhere in the world.
It has detractors who things such as it is too penal, too difficult and is based too much around target golf. Dye in general can be a polarising golf course designer. For me though, golf is all about jeopardy and with jeopardy comes beauty and excitement. The course will end up winning most days but is that necessarily a bad thing? That birdie or flushed drive will feel all the more sweet on a course like the Ocean Course and I for one would love to come back and try and to get the better of it.
The Ocean Course of Kiawah typically garners very good reviews and ratings. Candidly it deserves better. The conditions are always superb. The green complexes are bewitching. There are tee boxes out there that can stretch this course to 8000 yards. When the PGA came I was surprised by how they set the course up with center pins and many tee boxes not at the tip. This course on a tame day is an absolute brute. Throw in some wind and embarrassing would be the outcome for even the PGA players. It's a resort course so scaring away the clients isn't good business.
Much has been written and said about The Ocean Course at Kiawah. I think it is a fantastic track. Dye elevating the interior holes so that the ocean was omnipresent was genius. Portions of The Legend of Bagger Vance were filmed there. The 18th hole in the movie is fictious. Part of it was on the driving range and the rest on dunes that have since eroded away. Several years ago, I had the pleasure to play golf with Bruce McGill at the Vinnie in Nashville. McGill played Walter Hagen in the movie. I asked if he had played golf prior to the movie. He said yes and back then he was a 20 handicapper. For the movie he was tutored and ultimately his handicap dropped to a 12. Imagine getting paid to improve your golf game!
The first hole is a short welcoming par four. Yes, there is a water hazard right and dunes left, but there is a lot more room than it appears. The first par five is a good risk/reward hole that is reachable if you hit a strong drive down the left side. There are two marsh carries and for those of us who cannot bomb drives or hit an average tee shot consider laying up short of the second hazard. The 3rd is a goof birdie oppty that leans left. There is a large fairway bunker left that is well over 100 yards long. There is a so a fairway bunker in the middle of the fairway starting about 70 yards out. Ideal tee shot will be on the left side to a plateau. This should leave you with an attack iron. The 4th is the number one handicap hole and deservedly so, it is tough, long with two hazard carries. There are three fairway pot bunkers on the right side, favor the left off the tee as this will provide the best angle. This is a large green and you can bounce it on from the left side the right has three bunkers. The first par three is long, but it has a long tee box and a green that is over 70 yards long. Make sure you get the yardage correct. Large waste area down the left side. The 6th leans left, off the tee aim just left of the middle oak. There is a green side bunker left and this is one of the more undulating greens. The 7th is a par five that the bravest and boldest may be able to reach. The hole bends right and there is a large dune on the inside. If you can carry that, it is green light. For the rest of us, play left of the bunker. There is another 100+ yard bunker on the left side. The mid-length 8th is pretty mundane other the back ¼ of the green is considerably lower than the front. The long left leaning ninth is a demanding hole.
The back starts with a good birdie oppty. Favor left of center off the tee. The green is depressed into the dunes and there is another long waste area on the left. The 11th is a long par five, pay attention to the tee location as the tee box is a 100 yard runway. Sand area right off the tee of a large landing area. The 2nd shot should favor the right to set up your pitch to an elevated green. The long 12th has two water hazards, one in front of and left of the tee that should not come into play and the 2nd on the right side. Wide fairway narrows significantly on this downhill approach. The 13th is a tough par 4. You cross over the river and then need to decide how big your appetite is. The more aggressive your line, the narrower the fairway. This hole is won on the tee box. The mid-length par 3 is pretty, but not easy. The green is elevated with sand waste left. If you are going to mis, best be short right. The 15th parallels the ocean and is rated one of the easiest holes on the course. Waste area all the way down the left side and the ocean right. Find the fairway and you should have mid-iron to the green. The 16th is a long par five, however, I was told when it is playing downwind good players can get home in two. Water carry and on your second shot stay left and choose your yardage carefully. There is a large unforgiving deep sand area left. The infamous 17th is a fun Florida par 3. There are myriad tee options, regardless, it is all carry. A dry ball is a happy ball. The 18th is a difficult finishing hole that leans right. There are fairway bunkers in the elbow, but favor the right side. Waste area left on your approach.
It was an exhilarating day on an exhilarating course. After finishing 18, my caddy said, “Did you know that every hole that was downwind you parred or birdied?” I had not, but I have been trying to figure out a way to make a machine that would provide the same affect.
It was a bitterly cold and brutally windy day when we rocked up to play Kiawah Island. We were late for our tee time, and yet to meet our hosts for the day. Our clubs had missed the flight to Charleston the night before, and delayed our journey to Kiawah in the morning. Bob and Kathleen were gracious hosts, so not wanting to hold them up any further we basically arrived and headed to the first tee - stiff and sore from the long flight and chilled to the bone with the brisk sea breeze...
The Ocean course is the jewel in a pretty impressive crown, though - and has now hosted a number of international events including the The Ryder Cup in 1991, and the 2012 US PGA championship. And Bagger Vance was filmed here!
It is known as a brutal test of golf. In fact with a slope rating of 153, and course rating of 79.7 (the highest in the country?), the Ocean Course can perhaps be regarded as the toughest course in the USA.
Our hosts determined that given the conditions we should play of one of the mid length tees - certainly on some holes the back pegs were a long way back...
Early holes twisted and rolled between marshland and Silky Oaks giving an entirely different type of golf experience to anything I had experienced previously.
It was most enjoyable and not unplayable despite the wind. I did however never quite get comfortable - the set up of the holes did not feel "right" to my eye. I imagine Pete Dye has done this deliberately , setting up his angles and bunkering etc to trick the punters..
One of the first things I noticed was the grass on the greens - Paspalum, I was told. A special strain developed to cope with the salt water - it looked strange, partly dormant as we were entering their winter months. Certainly this is a strain of paspalum unlike any I have seen before - and relatively fine leaved. But it putted well - which is all that mattered.
I felt the back nine was more straightforward but with the wind, water and bunkers everywhere, and the difficult beach side holes at the finish it was never going to be easy...
Notable holes inlcude:
- hole 5, a clever par 3 with a diagonal carry over a sandy wasteland
- hole 10, a beautiful short par 4, with marshland and water right- it is the start of a delightful run of hole through to hole 13
- hole 13, another short par 4 through the lowlands
- hole 16, a strong par 5 right on the beach
- hole 17, a striking par 3 over water
The Ocean Course is a tough test of golf, and a noted championship course, in a magnificent setting right on the beach. There are sea views from everywhere!
It was certainly worth coming so far to play. But it is not a course I would play over and over. The course was designed for matchplay rather than stroke play and can really beat you up in the wind
Good but perhaps not great was my assessment...
Be under no illusions this is a real test of golf and the difficulty of this course in any sort of wind will challenge even the best of golfers. The clubhouse is wonderful with lots of Ryder Cup memorabilia from "The war on the shore" and from the USPGA. The staff are extremely welcoming and the breakfast on the balcony looking out over the 18th was superb. It was then off to the range and meet-up with our caddies well worth the extra money. Prior to teeing off think about which tees you wish to play from i.e. if you are not a Pro do not play from the Black tees I guarantee you will not enjoy your round. We are all single figure golfers and played off the Dye tees 6475 which were a great test but still offered birdie chances. Overall a superb test of golf in stunning surroundings.
Played here on a fall morning, the weather was humid but not hot. We had some minor rain and overcast. The track was long a walk to say the least, but stunning. Greens and fairways well manicured and there was enough variation to test all aspects of a golfers game. Would I play here again? YES!, would I come out of my way to play here Yes! Sign me up.
The Ocean Course is probably the most difficult golf course I have ever played. I found the slightly elevated ‘tabletop’ greens absolutely impossible to hold. The closing stretch is particularly challenging especially if the wind is up. Great place to play once. Not sure I could endure that much punishment a second time.
If the best designers were all given a plot of land on which to build a Ryder Cup host, the golf world would be blessed. Not a U.S. Open, not a PGA Championship...but a Ryder Cup. Although that event may be the pinnacle of professional golf, none of the other major championships reflect the wants and needs of the passionate amateur better than a Ryder Cup course, and Pete Dye’s Ocean Course at Kiawah is the definitive proof.
Matchplay emphasizes the value of variety between holes, as well as risk-reward factors. Pete Dye is hardly an architect who needs encouragement to seek out unique hole concepts, but with a mandate from the PGA? The dog (and the actual dog who accompanied Pete on the grounds of all his projects) was off the leash.
Perhaps the best demonstration of Dye’s variety in motion is to consider at the highest level (literally, Google Maps), how similar the four Par 5s are. All are, at their core, an S-bend-style long. This claim seems absurd to those who’ve, but it’s true. The difference is more than just the course’s shifting environments, but Dye’s rearrangement of the same basic principles. On No. 7, the life-or-death question comes first (carry the dune or lay-up left?). On No. 2, it comes last (Can I carry the marsh? Can I avoid the live oak?). On No. 11, the fairway is pockmarked with pot bunkers. On No. 16, the fairway is anchored by massive waste bunkers. The shape song remains the same on each, but the strategy’s lyrics change drastically. The only thing that remains the same is that the notorious coastal wind is omnipresent...but even that’s prone to change.
What this meant for the Pros in the ‘91 Ryder Cup was a constant shift in mental direction. What this means for the amateur today is, well, the same thing, but more importantly: A course that delivers a refreshing experience on every hole. Many architectural purists may prefer the strategies of Bethpage Black or Pinehurst among public must-plays, and there’s no reason to say they’re “wrong.” But there are many mid-handicappers who simply prefer a course where every hole stands out in their memory. Dye provides.
The Ocean Course is legendary for its views, ever-changing conditions, and interesting history. It’s an incredible piece of land overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, built as the centerpiece of the Kiawah Island resort community in the early 1990s, being awarded the 1991 Ryder Cup before it even existed, yet then a major hurricane completely derailed construction with less than two years before the tournament. Dye’s crew finished the course in stunning fashion and the resultant “War by the Shore” is now legendary in (perhaps only American) golfing circles.
My favorite holes include: #3, a fun short par four whose fairway is (sadly no longer) bisected by a large tree, with a small green that falls away on all sides, #5, Dye’s par 3 homage to #17 at Pebble Beach given its style and setting, #8, another gorgeous par three with an elevated green, #13, a long, narrow, par four along an estuary featuring a long, narrow green, #14, Dye’s version of a redan that plays about as differently as any par three on Earth between upwind and downwind, #16, a long par five with deep Dye bunkers, and #17, the famed Ryder Cup climax par three.
It’s one of Pete Dye’s best, and certainly one of the most unique courses in the United States. Many words have been written on paper and the web espousing its virtues. My position is that it’s likely Dye’s best set of four par threes anywhere; all four are excellent, challenging holes, and all are extremely different, which is what makes it extra special. But in the sake of brevity, I’ll submit my six ball review and leave it at that.
Played 8 times between August 25, 1993 and August 20, 2006
The Ocean Course is the first course other than my home club that I've played since I wrote its review, so I'm adding a follow up via comment. I think if I could edit this review based on my last round I'd dock a half ball for how surprisingly slow the greens were. They were nice and firm, but a bit shaggy for some reason - slower even than some of the other resort courses on the island that we played the same week.
Played August 21, 2019
I found this course to be spectacular. The views of the ocean and the layout were great. The course is hard, no doubt, but luckily for me and my group, we did not have a windy day so it played significantly easier than normal. The clubhouse is great and the staff treated us wonderfully. My group took a bus from Pawley's Plantation (just south of Myrtle Beach) and it took roughly 2.5 hours to get to Kiawah Island's Ocean Course and it was absolutely worth it.