PGA Championship 2012: Ranking the Difficulty of All 18 Holes at Kiawah Island
The PGA Championship is typically the major whose champion is the furthest below par, but he who raises the Wanamaker Trophy next Sunday may be lucky to break par all four days.
As you'll see in this ranking of the 18 holes at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course, the wind coming off the South Carolina coast largely dictates how holes will play.
There aren't any really sharp doglegs, but designer Pete Dye mercifully felt that there didn't need to be.
Generous landing areas on tee shots are inviting, but when the winds are whipping, the ball can go anywhere. No hole is easy out there, as Golf Digest ranked the Ocean Course the toughest in America in 2010.
Here is an idea of just how daunting this 7,656-yard course is going to be.
Note: all photos in the following slides, unless otherwise indicated, are from the official Kiawah Island Golf Resort website's photo tour.
1st Hole: Par 4, 396 Yards
The first is straightaway, although it may be the most narrow tee shot on the course.
Still, even a fairway metal or even an iron off the tee should leave a short-iron or wedge onto the green for Tour players.
The best angle to hit the approach from is the left side of the fairway, but considering how short the hole is, anything in the short grass will do.
Wind also isn't much of a factor, as it's the hole furthest from the ocean.
Difficulty ranking: 18
2nd Hole: Par 5, 557 Yards
What may be viewed as another scoring opportunity actually makes for an intriguing mental test.
Players have to negotiate two separate marsh crossings, and can do it in a variety of different ways.
If there isn't a headwind, longer hitters can blast it over the first crossing and have a short approach to the green.
Otherwise, the best bet is to lay up short of the first marsh, and then either hit onto the second area of fairway or clear the second marsh with a long-iron or fairway metal.
The latter option isn't very advantageous, as the secondary layup would leave an approach of about 135 yards rather than an awkward, in-between wedge shot.
Strategy is key on this hole. Since it is the shortest par 5, it will be tempting for players to press and force it into a scoring opportunity. Sometimes, just the opposite will happen.
Difficulty ranking: 7
3rd Hole: Par 4, 390 Yards
The left side of the fairway is elevated, which is ideally where the tee shot should be hit. An approach from the right side of the fairway will be made difficult by hitting into an elevated green.
Distance control is critical. Players must understand what they're getting into off the tee, and make sure they have a comfortable short club in their hand for their second shot.
The green slopes off dramatically on all sides. Being on the short side of the pin will be especially difficult, as players aren't likely to manage getting up and down.
If a player is on through the first three holes, there are scoring opportunities to be had. The end of this stretch, however, serves as a reminder how fine the line is.
A good start can be frustratingly spoiled here with a slight misjudgment from the middle of the fairway.
Pros should be able to get it done on this hole without too much trouble, though.
Difficulty ranking: 17
4th Hole: Par 4, 458 Yards
Carding a disappointment on the third will not bode well for the fourth hole, which is among the most challenging on the Ocean Course.
Bunkers and fescue line the green to the right, so an approach shot that misses left isn't the end of the world.
The wind dictates a lot on this hole. The best angle for the second shot is the left side of the fairway, and the right side has three pot bunkers that must be avoided.
Against the wind, this hole can play as long as 500 yards. Even with the wind favoring the players, the strategy changes, since big drivers have to switch clubs or else they'll drive it through the fairway.
This hole is another mental grind, and there is not much room for error.
Difficulty ranking: 6
5th Hole: Par 3, 188 Yards
A gigantic, 10,000 square-foot green makes this hole so unique. The pin could be set up on the right side, which would only require a short-iron barring a huge headwind.
However, if it's in the back left, the tee shot becomes much longer, and a large waste bunker becomes more of a factor to negotiate.
Missing the green on the wrong side can result in a massive putt, where it won't be easy to get down in two thanks to a large slope in the middle of the hourglass-shaped green.
Most pros shouldn't have too much of a problem on this hole when the pin is on the right half of the green. If the wind starts howling and the pin is on the left, though? Different story.
Difficulty ranking: 11
6th Hole: Par 4, 480 Yards
This dogleg left is a bit of a tighter tee shot than most on the course. Playing at 480 yards, it will most likely require a driver absent a tailwind.
Flying the huge waste area to the left of the fairway shortens the hole significantly, but a mistake there can result in a disastrous ordeal.
If the pin is up front, the hole plays a little easier. There is room to land it short and potentially knock it close.
However, the further back the pin placement goes, the more severe the slope in the green is. Chasing it on becomes riskier, and the pros would be happy to take four here every day and run to the next tee.
Difficulty ranking: 5
7th Hole: Par 5, 579 Yards
A slight dog leg to the right, this hole is lengthened by 50 yards for the PGA Championship.
If the wind is hurting, it becomes a tricky, three-shot hole. Otherwise, it will be an opportunity to go at it in two.
The fairway is extremely wide, so a grip-it-and-rip-it strategy off the tee is the way to go.
This hole is about executing whatever strategy the weather dictates. Not making birdie will likely result in losing a bit of ground on the rest of the field.
Difficulty rating: 10
8th Hole: Par 3, 198 Yards
Similar to the Ocean Course's first par 3, the difficulty of the eighth hole is determined by pin placement and yes, the wind.
With the pin on the front left, players will have a shorter iron in their hands and be able to fire at the flagstick with relative ease.
If the pin placement is in the back right, there is a two-club difference without the wind, and short is better than long on this hole.
The problem occurs when it plays downwind, as it becomes difficult to stop the ball without landing it short and chasing it on.
This shouldn't be one of the more difficult holes for the pros, but like any hole at Kiawah Island, it can show its teeth when the breeze kicks up.
Difficulty rating: 16
9th Hole: Par 4, 494 Yards
The conclusion to the front side presents a dune-filled test of shot-making.
On the first shot, driver will be the club of choice since this hole plays nearly 500 yards. The real test comes on the approach.
A narrow area of fairway in front of the green is flanked by sand on both sides, and there is a lot of contour on the putting surface.
When the pin is back, which it will likely be during the weekend, this hole will be among the hardest on the course. It could make things interesting on Sunday as players look ahead to the back nine.
Difficulty rating: 4
10th Hole: Par 4, 447 Yards
The inward nine starts much like the other side—with a relatively easy, straightforward par 4.
It looks narrower than it actually is standing atop a sand dune on No. 10's elevated tee. Any drive in the fairway will result in a short-iron or wedge for the approach shot.
Unlike most of the hilly greens, putting on this one won't be quite as much of a grind. Players must hit this surface in regulation, though. There is a bunker to the right, and a waste area to the left that wraps around the green.
After a difficult ninth hole, this will be a great opportunity to get one back. This is surprisingly one of the shorter par 4s, and it will be a valuable scoring chance for those with more length.
Difficulty ranking: 8
11th Hole: Par 5, 593 Yards
Playing at nearly 600 yards with a pot bunker just before green, players will need to either skirt it or carry it all the way if they want to reach in two.
More often than not, this hole will probably be of the three-shot variety. Like many holes on the Ocean Course, the drive isn't too punishing and the fairway is more than accessible.
Missing this wide area of short grass, however, presents problems. Perilous sand dunes await a wayward drive to the right.
Overall, not many surprises here. Eagle might be a possibility for the Bubba Watsons and Dustin Johnsons of the world, but don't count on it.
Making birdie here is key, as it is the second scoring opportunity in a row.
Difficulty ranking: 12
12th Hole: Par 4, 412 Yards
One of the shorter par 4s, a right-to-left drive will set up a nice angle for the second shot. It is another forgiving fairway, but a wide miss on either side results in either a hack fest from the marsh or a water-bound golf ball.
The canal runs all along the right side of the hole, so bailing out left is a better bet.
However, missing an approach shot on that side means the player is short-sided with severe undulation to negotiate from there. Judging a short stab into the bank will be tricky.
If wind conditions allow it, longer hitters will have a shorter club to the green. No. 12 is truly a tale of two holes: Very open at the start, but the margin for error on the second shot is rather slim.
Difficulty ranking: 9
13th Hole: Par 4, 497 Yards
Just when golfers begin to clam up from the weekend pressure, they will be confronted with the second-longest par 4 in the PGA Championship.
This hole is a bear, with an intimidating canal running down the right of the fairway. The approach isn't too difficult, as there is room to run the ball up to the surface.
A miss left will be common, but there is a bunker even with the green there, and also three more long and left.
The tee shot is the most demanding part, and if Mother Nature isn't being kind, this hole will be intriguing to watch as a turning point in the tournament on Sunday.
Difficulty ranking: 3
14th Hole: Par 3, 238 Yards
Even after surviving a stern test at No. 13, the fun doesn't end there. At nearly 240 yards, the 14th is the lengthiest par 3.
The green drops off severely on all sides, and a deep, difficult waste area to the left creates a lot of stress to save par.
This is when the course turns from the west to the east, and remains along the South Carolina beach for the last five holes. Thus, this hole is open, but as a result very exposed to the elements.
Don't be shocked to see drivers being pulled when the wind is hurting the players.
Difficulty ranking: 4
15th Hole: Par 4, 444 Yards
Definitely one of the easier holes on the inward nine, a solid drive in the middle of the fairway will set up a mid-iron approach shot.
No. 15 is a birdie opportunity because it has such a flat putting surface compared to most of the other greens on the Ocean Course. The trouble is that it's not a very large landing area, and the approach is slightly downhill.
The more daunting task on this hole will be dealing with the pressure of coming down the stretch of a major more than its substantial design.
Difficulty ranking: 13
16th Hole: Par 5, 581 Yards
This will be the last chance for birdie, barring favorable conditions or a minor miracle even for the world's best golfers.
The 16th is reachable in two in a tailwind, but it does bring the waste area right off the fairway into play.
Whether players go for it or lay up doesn't make a difference when accounting for the massive bunker area short and left of the green. If players make the mistake of going in there, birdie suddenly becomes a long, pressure-packed bunker shot away.
With such dynamic conditions, this hole could vault someone a few shots out of contention to the top of the leaderboard in the blink of an eye.
Difficulty ranking: 14
17th Hole: Par 3, 223 Yards
There's no other way to put it: This hole is terrifying.
A long, narrow, 223-yard beast with water short and right. Hitting the green is the only option, too, because there are two green-side bunkers to the left.
So much positivity can be generated from 15 and 16, but it can be instantly deflated with one bad swing off of this tee box.
Johnny Miller put it well after the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island, as documented by The Telegraph's James Corrigan:
The par-three 17th was so intimidating that it could make you choke when playing a practice round by yourself.
No lead is safe no matter what the elements allow, because making par without the pressure of a major championship at stake is difficult enough.
Difficulty ranking: 2
18th Hole: Par 4, 501 Yards
Bernhard Langer misses a putt on the 18th green to hand Team USA the 1991 Ryder Cup. Multiple similar occurrences await at this year's PGA Championship.
David Cannon/Getty Images
The best for last: A par 4 listed at just over 500 yards, the Pete Dye-designed course isn't taking any prisoners.
Even new technology can't save the players here, because the approach will require at least a mid-iron for the longest players.
There's not a very big target to fire to with the second shot, which will likely be from over 200 yards away. The green falls off on both sides, and a waste bunker lines the area left of the green.
This is one of the best finishing holes in golf, and it is sure to create a dramatic stir as the championship's 72nd hole when the Wanamaker Trophy is on the line.
Difficulty ranking: 1