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

Twelfth hole 390 yards; Another 50 yard wide fairway greets the golfer but again, it’s best not to miss it. The approach is from a downhill lie and the ball wants to bleed to the right and into the canal that borders the green. Conversely, the humps and hollows around the green also ensure that a player who bails away from the water will face a tricky up and down. The exacting nature of this target makes it the lowest handicap hole on the side.

An ideal drive leaves this nervy 150 yard approach shot to the 12th green.

The downhill nature of the approach shot to the 12th green is evident from this view.

Thirteenth hole, 405 yards; A classic Cape hole that doglegs right along the marsh. The long green is a full 41 paces deep and narrows in the back. Brave is the man who can throw a ball to the back hole locations.Given that the green is open in front, a low runner is often worth considering. This hole can play anywhere from 350 yards to 470 yards while still preserving the angles of play and is a particular favorite of Dye’s.

This view from behind the 13th green highlights the features of this classic Cape hole.


Fourteenth hole, 160 yards; The authors’ favorite one shot hole on the east coast between the 17th at Seminole and the 17th at Merion. The saying at Rye Golf Club is applicable with this modified version of a Redan: the key shot is the second one!

The one shot 14th green complex slopes away on all sides and possesses Redan characteristics. It proved to be most vexing during the Ryder Cup matches.

Like Rye GC in England, the author’s favorite time to play the course is in the fall and winter months. The 14th remains postcard perfect on a winter’s day and a brisk breeze only adds to the fun.

Sixteenth hole, 530 yards; This hole’s elasticity captures part of the course’s appeal. One day, the author hit a driver, three wood, one iron and barely reached the green in regulation. The next day he was over the back with a driver and three wood! In either wind, the hole plays equally well and Dye deserves credit for building such flexibility into many of the holes.Such an example of the ever changing playing conditions is but one reason why courses built near the water must be considered supreme to inland courses.

The 16th fairway is massive in width but only by staying on the higher, right side will the golfer a) gain a clear view for his second shot and b) enjoy the best angle into the green should the hole be downwind. A fine example of how Dye makes a hole playable for all yet exacting for the better golfer.

The scale of the hazards sometimes dwarf the golfer, such as here at the 16th where this ten foot deep greenside bunker keeps the golfer honest in how he plays the hole. How refreshing to find a three shotter that stands up to the advances of technology.

Seventeenth hole, 190 yards; At the Battle of Ypres, Sir John French noted, ‘It slowly dawned on me that they were using heavier artillery than we were.’ Many golfers share a similar feeling when they stand on the 17th tee.While the author prefers the more original 5th and 14th holes as one shotters, there is no denying that this is the course’s most famous hole.

Though a nail biter of a forced carry especially when the wind is about, the green is on an angle to the tee. The best ‘misses’ are (of course) dry which suggests either a quick pull left or long over the green, neither of which Mark Calceveccia was able to do in 1991.

As seen above, a tee ball short left of the green leaves a straightforward up and down for par.

18th hole, 400 yards; Not many courses can claim two of Dye’s finest finishing holes!Originally, Dye was forced to stay clear of the dune line so he nestled the green forty yards inland among some manufactured dunes. This is the green site where the Langer/Irwin Ryder Cup match famously concluded. In 2002, though, working closely with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Resort and Dye gained permission to move the green site to where Dye had always wanted it: along the main dune line. Though the original green site is no more, both of these finishing holes could be considered among Dye’s best as they are/were both natural and restrained, unlike the Home holes at Whistling Straits, Crooked Stick and Firethorne.

In 2003, Pete Dye seized the opportunity to move the 18th green site thirty yards right and onto the dune line, leaving the ocean as the backdrop for the day’s final approach.

As photographed late in the day, the ideal drive avoids the nest of bunkers in the foreground, which are on the inside of this dogleg right. Carry past them and the tee ball catches the fairway slope and bounds a further 30 yards toward the green.

When one couples the challenging nature of the golf with the glorious ocean side setting, it is hard not to place this course amongst Dye’s very best. The course is chock full of first rate holes and indeed,to the authors at least, the back nine represents Dye’s finest nine holes. However, such was not always the case. In the early years,several of the greens didn’t give the golfer a chance of holding them downwind and the resulting recovery shot was equally impossible. The course probably hosted the Ryder Cup matches one year prematurely and thus, like Spyglass Hill, the public witnessed the professionals being humbled.Everyone still recalls the disintegration of Mark Calcavecchia to this day.

Supposedly the 15th is the weakest hole on the back?!

Thus, The Ocean Course earned a reputation as a brute and little more. However, since then,the new owners of Kiawah have worked hand in hand with Pete Dye to soften such over-the-top requirements and to give the thinking golfer a fighting chance. In particular, five acres of turf was brought into grass many of the recovery areas around the greens. Long gone are the days where your ball would roll off the back of the green and into a foot print. Recovery shots are both more manageable and varied to the point where some critics now consider these green complexes to be Dye’s finest.

Also, a new irrigation system was installed that provides coverage of some of the sandy areas. The Club has the capability to water such areas and prevent the sand from blowing across the fairways and greens during windy conditions. One result is that save for the tough winter of 2001, the course has never been in finer condition.

Much of Dye’s fine-tuning was accomplished between 1994 and 1997 when Kiawah hosted the International Team Championships.When the team from Scotland won the event at 31 under par, it was evident to all that the course had become more enjoyable to play than in 1991. Colin Montgomerie went so far as to say during the closing ceremonies that ‘In 1991, the course was unplayable, but now it’s grown into one of the world’s finest, if not America’s best resort.’

Nonetheless, too many people today play the course to say they have tackled ‘The Monster.’ This is ridiculous. Like every Dye course, there is a set of tees to accommodate even the modest golfer. And many of the fairways are 50% wider than on more traditional courses. Sure, in a strong wind, the course is a brute but so is Pebble Beach and no one grouses there. Dye gives the golfer plenty of room to play and only when the golfer stops thinking and starts trying to force shots will he remember those famous words from the Battle of Ypres.

The Ocean Course doesn’t reveal all her secrets after just a few rounds. However, if the golfer takes the time to know it as it exists today, one thing is for certain: you will play a round there that you will remember the rest of your life, long after all the other pretender courses are distant memories.

Is this Sand Hills GC or The Ocean Course? Though most of the dunes were manufactured by Dye after Hurricane Hugo leveled this part of the island, The Ocean Course has matured into rivaling The Golf Club as Dye’s most natural course in appearance.

The End