Editor's Note: This is part four of a five-part series that overviews The Ocean Course in advance of the 2021 PGA Championship. Andy Johnson is the Founder of The Fried Egg, a website and podcast that covers golf course architecture and professional golf.
The Ocean Course will play a little differently in 2021 than it did at the 2012 PGA Championship. Last time the event was held at Kiawah, the PGA was in August. Now, in May, the weather will bring more variable winds and temperatures, and the dry conditions over the past month should lead to a firmer test of golf than we saw nine years ago.
The biggest change, though, could be the flexibility that several new tees will give to the PGA's Chief Championships Officer Kerry Haigh. Led by Jeff Stone, Kiawah Island's maintenance crew worked with architect Scot Sherman to add new tee boxes on seven holes: Nos. 4, 5, 6, 9, 12, 15, and 18. These tees will offer Haigh many different setup options and allow the PGA to choose how it wants to challenge the world's best players.
Back in 2012, some of the Ocean Course's back tees were inaccessible because of spectator flow and the location of grandstands. Those issues have been remedied leading up to this championship. The new tees will restore some of the intentions of Pete Dye’s original design and result in an even more challenging Ocean Course.
A few holes should play drastically different than they did in 2012:
No. 4 - 490 yards (2012 yardage: 458 yards)
The opening five holes afford players with birdie opportunities they won’t find on the rest of the course. The toughest of these holes is No. 4. This long par 4 is bisected by a marsh that requires players to lay up short off the tee.
Many players hit irons off the tee in 2012, but we’re going to see more fairway woods and drivers in 2021. The new tee brings the hole to 490 yards and puts the marsh 320 yards away. It also sits at a different angle, forcing players to contend with the marsh on the right while more marsh creeps in on any bailout left of the fairway. This hole will leave players with mid- to long-iron approaches, a rare sight for tour players on par 4s.
No. 12 - 466 yards (2012: 417 yards)
One of the holes most affected by spectator flows in the 2012 PGA Championship was the 12th. The normal back tee would have made walking traffic difficult, so a new tee was constructed to the right of the 11th green. This shift makes one of the easiest par 4s on the course play as one of the toughest by adding nearly 50 yards to the 2012 yardage. The hole played under par three of the four days in 2012, but with the new tee, we’re unlikely to see any day average under par.
No. 18 - 505 yards (2012: 439 yards)
Yet another hole where the grandstands presented an issue at the 2012 PGA was the Ocean Course’s finisher. Scot Sherman and the Kiawah team moved this tee back and to the right, practically onto the beach. Now a beefy 505 yards, No. 18 will require two stellar shots to reach the green in regulation, especially if it plays into the wind. This hole now demands excellence right up to the finish and should play as Pete Dye originally intended.