15 Things That Will and Won't Happen at PGA at Kiawah's Ocean Course
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The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, site of the PGA Championship has history already. It was built to host The Ryder Cup in 1991.
While the course was under construction in 1989, there was a little Category 4 hurricane named Hugo that blew through South Carolina just north of Charleston. It rendered the area more than ground under repair for several weeks afterward.
Video of the area after the storm looked like someone had played pick-up sticks with trees. Electricity was out for weeks. And Kiawah didn’t take the full force of the storm. Charleston was pummeled. Despite the storm and clean-up challenges, the course was grassed a year later in the late summer of 1990. The following spring, it opened.
During the construction of the course, agronomists learned how to grow and transplant sea oats, something that had not been done before, and more than a million of the protected plants were transplanted onto the site. The course quickly vaulted into the top 100.
When complaints surface about the difficulty of the golf course remember this:
Pete Dye came in a few years after the Ryder Cup and made it easier so mere mortals could play it. Fairways were widened. Tees were elevated for better views both of landing areas and to see the water. In addition, the finishing hole was brought 50 yards closer to the ocean.
The greens, which were originally Bermuda, were later converted to Seashore Paspalum called OC03 (named for the Ocean Course according to Brad Klein of Golfweek.) The putting surface that broke the wrong way for Bernhard Langer’s six footer, no longer exists.
1. A New Course Record Will Be Established
Holes 3 and 6 -- Courtesy Kiawah Island
Despite the difficulty of the course, someone will get hot and post a low round. It might not be a 63, but a 63 is probably out there for the guy who can handle the demands of a Pete Dye design. It won’t be Greg Norman, Nick Price or Johnny Miller who sets it, but look for someone to go low.
2. The Course Won’t Play All the Way Back
16th hole -- Courtesy Kiawah Island
All the way back is 7800 yards plus. Although we’d like to see it because we are wicked spectators, they are playing it around 7600 yards. The Senior PGA was played at 7200 yards in 2007.
3. The Par 3s Will Be the Toughest Holes
Par-3 5th hole -- Courtesy Kiawah Island
Pete Dye always says he likes creating par 3s because you can determine where everybody will start the hole. He can provide equal challenges for all levels of players. In the case of the Ocean Course, it’s like equal punishment.
Look for the 17th to play the toughest followed by the 14th. That’s what happened at the Senior PGA. However, those were wind assisted rankings, and wind caused many to miss the greens. Nevertheless, golfers cannot miss the greens on the par 3s on the back nine and expect to make par.
4. The Wind Will Not Blow as Predicted
Holes 4 & 5 -- Courtesy Kiawah Island
August, along the Southeast coast, you pray for a breeze. Usually there’s none to be found unless a stray thunderstorm or hurricane is in the works. In the late afternoon, with luck, sometimes there’s a sea breeze coming inland from the ocean.
If that happens, golfers playing holes 10-13 will have the wind blowing left to right—right into the marsh, which is a southern euphemism for swamp. Holes 15-18 will have the wind right to left. If there’s a thunderstorm, find shelter. If there’s a hurricane, it will be an evacuation zone, and there may only be 15 holes left instead of 18.
5. It’s a Great Finish Where Anything Can Happen
18th hole Ocean Course -- Courtesy Kiawah Island
Just like the TPC Sawgrass, the finish is great: a par 5, par 3, par 4.
The par-5 16th is reachable with two good shots. Eagles can happen.
The par-3 17th will scare most golfers to death. Any number is possible.
The par-4 18th requires two solid shots. Unlike the TPC Sawgrass, water is not omnipresent. So in that regard, it is easier. But off-line balls could easily cost a shot or two or require miracle recoveries from soft-sand waste areas.
6. Dustin Johnson Will Not Have a Bunker Problem
Dustin Johson hits out of the infamous bunker at Whistling Straits.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Well, at least he will not get a penalty for touching a club in a bunker because all the sand / bunkers are playing as a waste areas. Clubs may be grounded. But if a ball is buried in the sand, somebody may call for the shovel club. Can you spell unplayable?
7. The 13th Will Ruin Someone’s Day
13th hole -- Courtesy Kiawah Island
The front nine is not as severe as the back nine. Sure there are some forced carries over wetlands, but those only bother amateurs and someone who hits a really, really, really awful shot.
But the 13th is almost guaranteed to wreck a few rounds every day. The hole is lined along the right by the marsh. The green is railroad tie bulk-headed, and right of it is water. Anyone who goes for the pin when there is a far right pin placement should have his head examined.
8. Skin So Soft, OFF! and Sunscreen Are Must Haves
Sun screen. A must.
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
With or without a breeze, bug repellent is the new best friend of anyone who is at the tournament. Forget it at your peril. Mosquitoes, no-see-ums and sand flies will attack anything that moves. There are no trees at the Ocean Course, so sunscreen and hats are a must.
9. Marshalls at the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th May Need Lifeguard Training
1991 Ryder Cup team hits the beach.
Simon Bruty/Getty Images
People will be so hot, they will run from the golf course into the ocean to cool off on those holes. Heck, the winning Ryder Cup team did it at the end of September, and it wasn’t even hot then.
10. We Could See Dolphins from the Blimp
Dolphins Courtesy NOAA
There may not be whales, but we are likely to see dolphins or the occasional shark from the blimp. The beach at Kiawah is a 10-mile expanse of kind of sticky sand, but there’s a lot of it at low tide.
11. Someone Will Be Unplayable in the Bunker/ Waste Area on the 14th Hole
One of the waste areas at the 14th -- Courtesy Kiawah Island
At the Senior PGA in 2007, Eduardo Romero was marching toward victory until his tee shot buried in a waste bunker area at the 14th. It was so far into the sand that only a small portion of the ball could even be seen. Romero took an unplayable. His drop was in an area that was sandy. It was only a slight improvement over the previous lie. He double-bogeyed the hole.
Meanwhile, the eventual winner Dennis Watson, Romero’s playing companion, made birdie and went on to win the tournament.
Maybe we should conjure up Isaac Newton and have him drop a golf ball from tree-top height to see how far it will bury into soft sand. There’s probably some high-school physics that can predict it.
12. Unless It's Done Like 1991, Traffic Has Potential to Be a Nightmare
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For the Ryder Cup, the road to Kiawah was made one way in for the morning and one way out in the evening, because there is just one road to get there. In 1991, they relied on a systematic choreography of bus transportation to get people into and out of the golf course every day.
Chris Cole, who was general chairman of the Ryder Cup in 1991, said at the time, “Just don’t try to go to Columbia by bus until after Sunday, because I’ve got every one in the state right here.”
13. An Armada Will Appear
Phil Walter/Getty Images
Boats and yachts will anchor off shore, honk horns, display banners, do sail bys and possibly send landing parties onto shore. It will make the flotilla at Hilton Head look insignificant. Ahoy, mate!
14. Watching the 1991 Matches Won’t Help Read the Greens
Seve Ballesteros at the 1991 Ryder Cup
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The greens have all been redone since then. But watching the 1991 Ryder Cup again would be great theater.
15. Two Guys from the 1991 Ryder Cup Will Be Back
David Feherty (L), Sam Torrance (R) at 1991 Ryder Cup
Stephen Munday/Getty Images
OK, you will think of Nick Faldo right away. He'll be in the booth with Jim Nantz. But the one you won't remember is TV commentator David Feherty, who went 1-1-1 in the 1991 matches, will be working for CBS. For trivia buffs, he won a point against Payne Stewart, lost (with Sam Torrance) against Lanny Wadkins and Hale Irwin, and halved (with Sam Torrance) against Lanny Wadkins and Mark O‘Meara.