The Ocean Course
Kiawah Island, S.C. USA
7,188 yards / Par 72*
Kiawah Island Golf Resort
There's an old Scottish expression, "If there's nae wind, it's nae golf." Those playing The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resorts can expect plenty of both.
Probably no other golf course in the world outside of the United Kingdom and Ireland is affected as much by the wind. From one round to the next, a player can experience up to an 8-club difference on holes depending upon the direction and strength of the wind a fact that became readily apparent at the famed 1991 Ryder Cup held at The Ocean Course. During the relatively benign practice rounds, players hit 7 and 8-irons into the treacherous par-3 17th hole. By Sunday, with a stiff wind in their face, players were hitting everything from 3-irons to 3-woods.
Located on the eastern-most end of Kiawah Island, The Ocean Course has more seaside holes than any other course in the Northern Hemisphere -- 10 right along the Atlantic with the other eight running parallel to those. Course architect, Pete Dye, used the natural beauty of Kiawah's seaside environment to develop an old links look reminiscent of the celebrated seaside courses of Great Britain and Ireland.
Although it was originally designed to sit behind the dunes, Dye's wife, Alice, suggested raising the entire course to allow players unobstructed views of Kiawah's beautiful Atlantic coastline from every hole. This improved view, however, made the course substantially more demanding as it also exposed it to the area's brisk and unpredictable sea breezes.
Kiawah Island is a long, relatively thin island that runs east to west with The Ocean Course sitting along its southern coastline. Because of this happenstance of geography, there are no prevailing winds on the course. Dye took this into account when designing the course. In fact, he designed two courses in one one for an easterly wind and one for a westerly wind.
He built as many as 6 tee boxes on each hole to allow flexibility in setting hole lengths with and against the wind. He set up separate landing areas and obstacles to challenge players regardless of the wind direction. He also designed large greens taking into account that a player may be hitting a long approach shot one day and a short approach shot on the next. Front-to-back distances measure between forty and fifty yards so that both highly lofted shots or lower-trajectory shots could hold the green. With or against the wind, however, every hole demands a high level of both accuracy and finesse, especially off the tees.
Playing in the shifting winds at The Ocean Course requires a tremendous amount of ingenuity, imagination and adaptation in shot making. Players need to adjust their game to the conditions around them more so than on any other course in the U.S. They also need to be capable of hitting every club in the bag. All too often, typical resort courses offer little more than a driver, 8-iron on par 4s and driver, 3-wood, wedge on par 5s. At Kiawah, the art of long-iron play is reinstituted.
In his design, Dye made a point to be fair. Everything is out in front of the player. There are very few blind shots. Players can see the hazards and targets. Landing areas are expansive with few surprises. But it is also a course where strategically attacking each hole is imperative. From the back tees, players have to work (and think) their way around the golf course. A player must pick the best approach angles. With the shifting winds, decisions have to be made on whether to play the ball up into the wind or hit a knockdown shot, loft a wedge or hit a bump-and-run. The ability to shape shots is also very important. Additionally, players need to know where they can miss the ball around the greens and know where they can't. And, they'll need to be able to scramble if they expect to post a good score.
1997 & 2002-03 Changes
Pete Dye returned to The Ocean Course in 1997 to make numerous, yet subtle, changes to the course aimed at both increasing the pace of play for the average resort player and adding additional challenges for the more accomplished player. This summer, he returned to further fine-tune his creation.
In 1997, the first change he made was replacing the turf on the approaches to each of the greens. For the Ryder Cup, the approaches were Tifdwarf Bermuda, the same grass that was on the greens. With Tifdwarf, if a player missed the green, their ball often ran off into the dunes or marshes. Even if the ball stayed in play, it left a difficult shot since most resort players don't have a tight-lie flop shot. He changed the approaches to 419 Bermuda, the same type of grass that is on the fairways which is more roll-resistant and sets the ball up. This makes it easier for the average player to hold the green while, at the same time, makes it more difficult for the better player who would often bump and run chips (or even putt) up the slopes of the green collars. Forced to use a lob wedge, up-and-downs became much more difficult.
He also added collection areas around many of the greens, greatly increasing the playability for the average resort player but, again, challenging the better player with uneven stances.
In the summer of 2002, he expanded the tee-shot landing area on No. 2 and bulkheaded its second marsh crossing making it more visible. He added fairway to the left side of the tee-shot landing area on No. 4 and three pot bunkers to the right (turning the hole more left to right giving players a better angle into the green). He has also raised the tees and shifted them to the left as well as shaved down the fairway giving players a view of the marsh crossing on the far side of the landing area. On No. 18, he shifted the entire green complex out to the last dune near the Atlantic Ocean making one of the most dramatic finishing holes in golf. No. 3 & 6
In addition to these architectural changes, new tees have been created on seven holes and a number of the existing tees have been enlarged.
From a visual standpoint, other than the 4th fairway and the 18th green, most players wouldn't know these changes were made. From a playability standpoint, however, these subtle changes make a big difference.
In the summer of 2003, he resurfaced every green with a unique strain of Paspalum turfgrass specifically designed for The Ocean course's seaside environment. In fact, it is named for The Ocean course OC03. In addition to a blade size comparable to Tifdwarf, it can be mowed to the length of 1/10 of an inch providing the necessary green speeds demanded by today's professional tournament venues. Plus, unlike Bermuda grasses, there is virtually no grain and the grass comes in thick to give the greens a sense of maturity even when the greens are relatively new.
Additionally, he substantially altered the fairway bunkering on No. 9, No. 11, No. 13, No, 16 and No. 18, reclaiming the course's original bunker lines that changed over the years with the sifting dunes. These changes both make the holes more playable for the average resort player and tempt the better player to take additional risks.
Pete Dye has not altered the nature of the course. He has just fine-tuned it to make it better. While it's eminently playable to the average resort guest, it remains extremely challenging to even the most seasoned pro. For tournaments, it can be ratcheted up even further by shrinking the fairways, hardening and speeding up the greens and lengthening it to its tips (an agonizing, mind-numbing, 7,937 yards). The Ocean Course can handle all the spring-effect and multi-layer solid core balls modern technology can throw at it.