The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island
Green Keeper: Jeff Stone
(please note: the 45 photographs contained in this course profile have been taken throughout the
four seasons at Kiawah, thus explaininga difference from time to time in the grass color)
How many coursesaround the world does the golfer enjoy the sound of the pounding surf on every hole? The author struggles to think offew other than The Ocean Course at Kiawah. Yet, despite thetremendous natural advantages of being locatedalong the Atlantic Ocean on the extreme south eastern tip ofthis west-east running10,000 acre sand barrier, golf is still the thingas golfers will eventually tire of any course where they aren’t challenged.
Fortunately, challenge was never an issue asPete and Alice Dye were hired with the express instructions to build a course to host the 1991 Ryder Cup. They jumped at the opportunity todesignsuch acourse on this tongue ofproperty in 1989 as they had every right to be excited – theeast coast of the United States had not seen such a setting devoted solely to golf since the Golden Age. With housing not aconsideration, Dye was determined to make the most of this unique opportunity and the Dyes lived nearby for much of the project.
Similar to Cruden Bay (which is one of Dye’s handful of favorite courses) and North Berwick, the routing is a loose figure ‘ 8,’ with several holes running along the dune line on each nine. Such a routing is infinitely preferable to many of the out and backlayouts found in the United Kingdom and Dye lateremployed it again at Whistling Straits.
The only draw back to such a configuration is that holes 5 through 13 at The Ocean Course run essentially in the sameeast-west direction. However, Dye tweaked the angles of each holeso thatthe golfer iskept guessingas tothe effect of the windon his next shot. For example, though the 6th and 7th holes head in the general direction of the clubhouse, the 6th hole calls for a draw off the tee while a fade is the ideal shot on the 7th. The way that these two holes bend means that thewind effects each onein a distinctly different manner.
At Alice’s insistence, Dyebuilt upthe holes away from the Atlantic Ocean by six to eight feet so that the golfer is afforded views of the Atlanticfrom every hole. Another benefit ofmoving so much land is in creating some tumbling fairwayssuch as at the 3rd, 10th, 11th, 12th, and 16th. The graceful sweep of these rollingfairways through the dunes isan element that separates the The Ocean Course from other low-lying South Carolina courses including Harbour Town, Secessionand Long Cove which have essentially flat fairways.
As for closer to the greens, the land movement is tied into the surrounding dunesland and marshland areas. Heaps and heaps of time was spent getting these green sites just right, a feat that isonly accomplished when the architect spends as much time on site as the Dyes did. Gone are the sharp edges of his early 1980s work andthe manufactured look of PGA West or TPC at Sawgrass. Instead, the greens and the coursein general enjoy a naturallook that is consistent with its dunesland setting.
As impressive as the course is above the ground, below the ground isequally so and explains why the environmentalists were kept happyduring the construction process.Dye installed fourteen miles of underground pipes to create a unique internal drainage system that recycles the water from the course back into its own irrigation system.The normal pesticides and herbicides that are used in the up-keep of any course are confined to the course; there is no runoff and thus the surrounding wetlands are fully protected.
Holes to Note
(Note: all yards are from the 6,550 yard blue markers as opposed to the gold markers as we don’t know any golfer that should play the course from the 7,300 set of tees!)
1st hole, 375 yards; Dye eases the golfer into the round with lots of room off the tee and a green with a large bail-out area to its left. Though it is the furthest away from the ocean of any of the holes, the dull roar of the surf is still heard, which provides a very pleasing noise backdrop for the rest ofthe round.
2nd hole, 500 yards:Perhaps thehardest 500 yard hole in golf,this double dogleg can wreck a stroke playround that is barely underway. Care must be taken with each shot. The tee shot and second must negotiate the wetlands while the third is to a raised greenthat isdefended by a pit on the left and more marsh on the right and beyond. A testament to its difficulty is that Seve Ballesteros won the hole with a 7 to Wayne Levi’s 8 in the singles matches in the final day of the 1991 Ryder Cup. Almost as a way to make it up to the golfer,The Ocean Course hasa superbpractice facility, so there islittle excuse for stepping onto the tee ill-prepared.