The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island
South Carolina, United States of America

Green Keeper: Jeff Stone

(please note: the 45 photographs contained in this course profile have been taken throughout the four seasons at Kiawah, thus explaining the difference from time to time in the grass color.)

Beauty and strategic challenge abound at The Ocean Course – what more can a golfer ask for?

How many courses around the world does the golfer enjoy the sound of the pounding surf on every hole? The author struggles to think of few other than The Ocean Course at Kiawah and Cabot Links. Yet, despite the tremendous natural advantages of being located along the Atlantic Ocean on the extreme south eastern tip of this west-east running 10,000 acre sand barrier, golf is still the thing as golfers will eventually tire of any course where they aren’t challenged.

Fortunately, challenge was never an issue as Pete and Alice Dye were hired with the express instructions to build a course to host the 1991 Ryder Cup. They jumped at the opportunity to design such a course on this tongue of property in 1989 as they had every right to be excited – the east coast of the United States had not seen such a setting devoted solely to golf since the Golden Age. With housing not a consideration, Dye was determined to make the most of this unique opportunity and the Dyes lived nearby for much of the project.

No outside disturbances such as houses mar the golf… 

…unless of course, one ventures a bit close to one of the natives!

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 back layouts found in the United Kingdom and Dye later employed 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 same east-west direction. However, Dye tweaked the angles of each hole so that the golfer is kept guessing as to the effect of the wind on 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 the wind effects each one in a distinctly different manner.

A drawn tee ball down the length of the 6th fairway is ideal whereas…


the 7th hole bends to the right past this wide expanse of sand.

 At Alice’s insistence, Dye built up the holes away from the Atlantic Ocean by six to eight feet so that the golfer is afforded views of the Atlantic from every hole. Another benefit of moving so much land is in creating some tumbling fairways such as at the 3rd, 10th, 11th, 12th, and 16th. The graceful sweep of these rolling fairways through the dunes is an element that separates the The Ocean Course from other low-lying South Carolina courses including Harbour Town, Secession and 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 is only accomplished when the architect spends as much time on site as the Dyes did. Gone are the sharp edges of his early 1980s work and the manufactured look of PGA West or TPC at Sawgrass. Instead, the greens and the course in general enjoy a natural look that is consistent with its dunesland setting.

The 4th green is seamlessly tied into its surrounds.

 As impressive as the course is above the ground, below the ground is equally 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!)

First 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 of the round.

The 1st hole should get the round off to a smooth start, which is good as…. 

…many a golfer comes to peril somewhere on the 2nd hole! 

Second hole, 500 yards: Perhaps the hardest 500 yard hole in golf, this double dogleg can wreck a stroke play round 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 green that is defended 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 has a superb practice facility, so there is little excuse for stepping onto the tee ill-prepared.

The challenge at the 2nd starts with this diagonal tee shot. 

The brave man who carries past the steps in the middle of the picture with a draw… 

…is rewarded with the opportunity to carry this marshland area 115 yards from the green and gain the preferred angle into the long and narrow green, which is beyond the bunker pictured above. 

As seen fifty yards past the marsh crossing, the golfer now enjoys a clear view down the length of the green. 

The zigzag nature of the 2nd is evident in this view from behind the green.

Continued >>>