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.
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.
One of Pete Dye's best designs, built on the Ocean with great views and high winds. The sand is unique and hard--hit some practice shots before your round.
Every hole on the course is a good hole. The greens are very good and not as undulating as some other Dye courses, such as the Pete Dye Club.
It is a very tough course, but one you would enjoy playing every day if you are a single-digit handicap and not playing from the tips.
At the end of November I had the great pleasure of playing the Ocean Course for the first time. First group out at 7:30 my Scottish by way of Hong Kong playing partner and I set out to tackle the brute on a chilly but perfect fall morning. First out is the best way to go on a course like this as round times can run up to 4.5 - 5 hours waiting on 4 balls. We walked a relaxed pace in a tidy 3 hours and 15 minutes. Perfect for this course.
I will admit to having heard from many people how tough the Ocean Course is, perhaps diabolical is even a better word. I’ve been told this was due in part to the wind and challenging greens many of which were raised. My home course has 12 raised greens so Kiawah’s greens didn’t really delivery much of a surprise, challenge sure but I found recovery shots to be easier than I’m use to at home. Given the fact that the grass is cut short everywhere there are many options to play the ball on the ground. This is in my experience not always the case on Bermuda surfaces but the strain of Bermuda at Kiawah seems far more playable and less sticky than others I’ve played in the South. There are some greens that really must be approached from the right position to have a chance to hold but that can be expected from a championship course like this.
We were pretty lucky with the light wind we faced that only started picking up at the end of the round but I can imagine how fun the course would play in gale force winds.
I have to say I really enjoyed every hole on this course, it’s right up there along with The Golf Club as my favorite Pete Dye course. I found it really very playable and extremely fun. Be prepared to pull out all the stops and have to play nearly all the shots you can think of, it requires creativity and lots of it. I wouldn’t go out expecting to make a great score but who cares, play a match, it’s a wonderful matchplay course.
A must play as far as I’m concerned and certainly one of the best courses that everyone can play in the US.
Set this comment aside, but I believe this golf course is a unique masterpiece of design under pressure as the Ryder Cup had already publically committed to the course before Pete designed and built it. Believe me, in the design world that is extreme pressure to produce a design quickly based only on ones inner talent and instincts. Cockiness has nothing to do with design success under pressure. You either have what it takes or not. Pete Dye has what it takes. Failure would have been devastating given such worldwide exposure.
The Ocean Course is an aesthetic success both in terms of Pete's apparent design philosophy and our current, collective fads in golf course design. But it is also well thought out it terms of shot making. Generally very difficult but seems to consistently reward precise good shots and not impossible for below average golfers to play. Also, the artistic composition of the dunes, shaping, grasses and vegetation are just beautiful in the eyes of this beholder. Obviously, the setting in the South Carolina Atlantic Ocean dunes is exceptional, stirs human emotions and presents natural conditions that make the course even more complex and challenging.
I am not a course rater. However, I believe the fairness of the golf course when you hit good shots is very good and yet the difficulty and complexity from hole to hole of shots and strategy are exceptional.
If Kiawah plays the rating game correctly, the course definitely has the necessary attributes required to become a recognized world classic golf course eventually.
Another detail is the combination of native vegetation, turf, wild ocean grasses, etc. which are not as penal, mean and silly as the current fad courses often are now and not as "thick". So, the penalty for a bad shot for the scratch golfer is definitely there but the penalty for the masses is not always a lost ball, sprained wrist, whatever. That is to say that off the fairway the native areas are somewhat "thin", sandy and one can often find the ball (more like my encounters with Scottish heather and gorse).
The great mix and complexity of contours, shaping, holes, shot angles, types of shots required are exciting, often very difficult. Nobody could have figured all this out - all the various options to the green and to the cup. It must result from the Pete Dye's "feel" for golf, golfers and natural consequences of the site which he and Alice accentuated for great golf.
PS: He has been allowed to tweak the course since original construction. So, The Ocean Course is even better as a result. Rarely can any human really design a complex golf course perfectly the first time around.
Other factors include1) No paved cart paths; 2) Walking emphasized; 3) Caddies available and encouraged (we walked, carried and played the correct tees); 4) Excellent caddie program; 5) Historic colonial reproduction clubhouse architecture; 6) Naturally sandy ground well suited for the human biomechanics of the game.
That's my opinion.