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The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island


Waste Bunker at The Ocean Course

There are 30 acres of waste areas/waste bunkers at The Ocean Course, many of them presenting interesting challenges.

Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images
The Ocean Course is one of five golf courses that are part of the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, located on Kiawah Island, a South Carolina barrier island that abuts the Atlantic Ocean. The resort is approximately 30 miles southwest of Charleston, S.C.

The Ocean Course, according to the resort, has more holes along the seaside (10) than any other golf course in the Northern Hemisphere. The Atlantic coastline is visible from every hole.

The Ocean Course is ranked by various publications as one of the best golf courses in the USA, but also as one of the toughest. In ranking the course the "Toughest in America," Golf Digest noted its distinction for having the highest combination of USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating in America. What makes it so tough? Strong winds that blow in no prevailing direction; forced carries over marshes and waste areas; long waste areas; and length.

The resort's website states that golfers can experience up to an eight-club difference on holes depending on wind direction and speed.

• Address: Kiawah Island Golf Resort, One Sanctuary Beach Drive, Kiawah Island, South Carolina 29455
• Phone: (800) 654-2924
• Website: kiawahresort.com

Can I Play The Ocean Course?

Yes, The Ocean Course is open to the public. Since it is part of a resort, golfers can book stay-and-play packages. Or you can call and request a single tee time. Note that this course is walking-only (no riding carts) before noon each day.

The Ocean Course Origins and Architect

Kiawah Resort has been around since 1976. It already had two golf courses when it hired famed architect Pete Dye to design The Ocean Course. The Ocean Course opened for play in 1991, and Dye headed a renovation in 2011 after previously tweaking the layout in 1997, 2002 and 2003. As with some of Dye's other well-known courses, his design of The Ocean Course included input from his wife, Alice, herself a golf course architect.

According to the Kiawah Island website, Dye originally intended The Ocean Course to sit down and amongst the large sand dunes of the island. Alice, however, suggested something different: "... raising the entire course to allow players unobstructed views of Kiawah's beautiful Atlantic coastline from every hole." That's what Pete wound up doing.

That change, however, left the course completely exposed to the strong oceanside winds, winds that don't blow in a prevailing pattern. Because there is no prevailing wind, Dye designed the holes to play into various wind directions, with deep teeing grounds to allow shortening of some holes and lengthening of others in response to daily wind conditions.

The sand-and-lagoon nature of a barrier island is well-represented around the course - it has more acres of waste area (30) than of fairway (27).

Ocean Course at Kiawah Island - hole with water

Yes, there is plenty of water here, as you'd expect from a course called The Ocean Course.

Courtesy of Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Ocean Course Pars/Yardages

The pars and yards of each hole on The Ocean Course, from the Tournament tees:

No. 1 - Par 4 - 395 yards
No. 2 - Par 5 - 543 yards
No. 3 - Par 4 - 390 yards
No. 4 - Par 4 - 453 yards
No. 5 - Par 3 - 207 yards
No. 6 - Par 4 - 455 yards
No. 7 - Par 5 - 527 yards
No. 8 - Par 3 - 197 yards
No. 9 - Par 4 - 464 yards
Out - Par 36 - 3631 yards
No. 10 - Par 4 - 439 yards
No. 11 - Par 5 - 562 yards
No. 12 - Par 4 - 466 yards
No. 13 - Par 4 - 404 yards
No. 14 - Par 3 - 194 yards
No. 15 - Par 4 - 421 yards
No. 16 - Par 5 - 579 yards
No. 17 - Par 3 - 221 yards
No. 18 - Par 4 - 439 yards
In - Par 36 - 3725 yards
Total - Par 72 - 7356 yards

The Tournament tees carry a USGA Course Rating of 77.3 and Slope Rating of 144. However, the Tournament tees can be stretched all the way to 7,937 yards, at which length they have ratings of 79.2 and 153. At the 2012 PGA Championship, the course played at 7,676 yards.

There are four other sets of tees at The Ocean Course (all par-72):
• Ocean Tees: 6,779 yards, 73.6/138
• Dye Tees: 6,475 yards, 72.0/134
• Kiawah Tees: 6,202 yards, 70.9/132 (men) and 76.7/132 (women)
• Carolina Tees: 5,327 yards, 72.7/124

The main hazard - and it's a big hazard - at The Ocean Course is the wind. But as far as bunkers and water: There are 30 acres of waste areas around the course, and five water hazards (those water hazards are large and run through many parts of the course in the forms of lakes, lagoons and marshes). The average green size is 6,000 square feet.

The fairways use Sea Spray paspalum turfgrass, and the greens are Sea Isle Supreme paspalum and poa annua. The rough is bermudagrass.

Other Courses at Kiawah Resort

In addition to The Ocean Course, Kiawah Resort includes four other golf courses. The Ocean Course's sister courses are:

• Turtle Point Golf Course: par-72, 7,061 yards from the back tees; designed by Jack Nicklaus.
• Osprey Point Golf Course: par-72, 6,932 yards from the back tees; designed by Tom Fazio.
• Oak Point Golf Course: par-72, 6,701 yards from the back tees; designed by Clyde B. Johnston.
• Cougar Point Golf Course: par-72, 6,875 yards from the back tees; designed by Gary Player.

Information about these courses is available at kiawahresort.com.

Significant Tournaments at The Ocean Course

Important events played at The Ocean Course, and their winners:

1991 Ryder Cup: United States
• 1997 World Cup: Ireland (Padraig Harrington/Paul McGinley)
• 2003 World Cup: South Africa (Trevor Immelman/Rory Sabbatini)
• 2007 Senior PGA Championship - Denis Watson
2012 PGA Championship: Rory McIlroy

More Ocean Course History and Trivia

• The Ocean Course hosted the Ryder Cup in the same year it opened for play, 1991. That Ryder Cup became known as the "War by the Shore" for the tough conditions and contentious atmosphere. The United States defeated Europe when Bernhard Langer missed a 6-foot putt on the tournament's final stroke that would have tied it and retained the Cup for Europe.

• In 1991, Orlando Sentinel columnist Larry Guest played the course ahead of the Ryder Cup and wrote a scathing review of it. In his column, Guest called the course "Looney Dunes" and "Masochist Marsh." He also called it "the most ridiculous creation to date by Pete Dye," and said, "I'd sooner play through an Iraqi minefield." Guest's harsh reaction was shared by many of the Ryder Cup players. So it's safe to say The Ocean Course was not that popular when it first opened.

• An illustration of the problems posed by the wind: At the 1991 Ryder Cup, the PGA of America states, players used 7- and 8-irons during practice rounds at the par-3 17th hole. By the time of Sunday singles, because of changes in the wind, they were hitting 3-irons to 3-woods.

• The Ocean Course was featured in the 2000 movie The Legend of Bagger Vance, costarring Will Smith and Matt Damon.

• At one time, The Ocean Course had the highest USGA Course Rating (79.6 from its longest set-up) on record. It's since been surpassed, but as noted above, still has the highest combination of course/slope ratings. That means it's hard from the longest tees.

• When The Ocean Course hosted the 2012 PGA Championship, it became just the fourth golf course to be used for all three of the PGA of America's major championships (PGA Championship, Senior PGA Championship, Ryder Cup). Valhalla, Oak Hill and PGA National preceded The Ocean Course in earning that distinction.

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