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.
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.
When we arrived, it was spitting with rain, which continued on and off for most of our round. Although the wind usually blows at Kiawah, it wasn’t much of a factor that day, and everyone said how lucky we were. But I still though the place was very hard. (The rain didn’t help my attitude, I’m sure.) The tips play more than 7,700 yards, and the course recently had been overseeded (as it is every fall with grass that grows better in the cooler winter weather), so the greens and fairways were shaggy and slow. If you have never been in a waste area or waste bunker, then by all means visit the Ocean course; there are hundreds of yards of them. I won’t tell you my score – not because I am embarrassed, but because I blocked it out of my mind long ago. But by all means, you should test your golf skills here. (By the way, this is where The Legend of Baggar Vance was filmed.) Larry Berle.
The clubhouse and changing rooms are immaculate, but at this point you can’t wait to get out and see the course. Only a few days before Christmas and the sun shining, it was easy to understand why golf in South Carolina is revered by anyone who has visited this wonderful golfing State. On the short buggy ride to the first tee, you are struck by the spectacular landscape, which although as close to the sea as can be, with in many ways a links feel, it has a landscape that is entirely different from the traditional British and Irish classics. Sandy wasteland areas, unusual trees and bushes, a variety of wildlife, all make the experience an unfamiliar one for the British visitor.
This is a unique stretch of land that has 9 holes on either side of the Club House laid out in a figure of eight, so half the holes on each 9 can be played with the wind and 9 against, with the shore line only metres away at all points on the course. All players are encouraged to take a caddy, and it makes a big difference to the enjoyment of the round, as the line off the tee is not always apparent, while the greens are quick and not easy to read. Another difference with a UK links is the presence of water, particularly on the Back 9. Whilst I hear what other reviewers have said about 17 being slightly unnatural, it didn’t feel that way to me.
This is very much a unique course, and is not trying to be similar to any other. The alligator snoozing by the edge of the 17th was a reminder that this was not your average links! There is no weak hole as such; the Back 9 is a slightly different challenge due to the water that comes in on a number of holes, but the overall experience is fantastic. The round raced by and you starting wishing you could play again the moment you arrived on the 18th tee, but playing the course is as stimulating experience as is imaginable. Importantly, the bar is excellent with a panoramic view down the coastline! Conversation will undoubtedly turn to just how good the course is and where it ranks in your top ten favorites. On a beautiful South Carolina day, you will not want to leave! It’s a must play, and a must play again!!