For variety, breathtaking views and harrowing holes, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island cannot be beat.
The site of the 1991 Ryder Cup is as famous for the contentious nature of that year’s matches as it is for reducing the best players in the world into a humbled mass of shell-shocked professionals. The course sits on the Atlantic Ocean in the low country, as it is called, just outside of Charleston, S.C., and boasts more seaside holes than any other course in the Northern Hemisphere.
Ten holes run alongside the ocean, and eight are parallel to it. As they navigate the nearly 7,400 yards from the first tee to the 18th green, the players face a seemingly endless amount of things to consider.
Even though it's one of the narrowest fairways on the course, this relatively short par 4 is the easiest hole here, so the players had better take advantage early. Players must avoid the thick dune grass on the left off the tee. Those who make a miscue into the waste bunker up the right side should still be able to hit the ground-level green.
The pros must decide how much of the salt marsh they want to bite off, especially after original architect Pete Dye pushed the tees farther back and left. Wind directly in the face makes the fairway, which is lined with ancient oaks, tough to hit. The second could be a layup short of the marsh that dissects the fairway 115 yards from the green or a risky attempt to reach the narrow elevated green set between two dune ridges and guarded by two front bunkers reshaped by Dye.
An island tee in the marsh leads to the shortest par 4. The fairway is one of the widest, but it's best to find a plateau on the left for a good look at the elevated green that drops off on all sides to collection areas. An oak in the middle of the fairway near the green frames the approach.
Did You Know? Tom Kite, who played in the 2007 Senior PGA Championship, called No. 3 the best short par 4 he's ever played. Changes made to the approaches and a rough collar in 1997 greatly increased its playability for the average player.
This difficult par 4, which requires two marsh carries, is made all the more difficult if the wind is up. Three pot bunkers added in 2002 guard the right side of a wide fairway. A bailout area left of a large green will likely see lots of action.
Did You Know? This hole ranked as one of Golf Magazine’s Par 2000 “Best 500 Holes in Golf.”
This mammoth, hourglass-shaped green, which is 10,000 square feet, is really two in one separated by a hump in the middle. Dye pushed the tee back 15 yards and lengthened the sandy waste area to make the back left pin placement more challenging. There can be as much as a three-club difference depending upon the pin location.
After Dye changed the angle of the back tee, a slight draw should keep the three live oaks, waste bunker and small pond on the left out of play. The narrow, deep green accepts shots bouncing in from the front, but it funnels misses left into Dye's reshaped bunker.
Dye softened the waste bunkering that intrudes upon the fairway from the right. A sandy waste area runs up the left side and pinches the fairway near the green. The elevated green opens up in front, allowing a second shot to chase on for a chance at eagle. Contours give the green some personality.
The elevated green gets narrower the further back it goes, making the surrounding waste areas very much a concern. The back third of the green is about three feet lower than the front, creating a slick putt.
The back tee was moved for better spectator flow. The fairway slopes down from the right, flowing away from the lone pot bunker. Players can chase the ball onto the slightly elevated green, although several fingers protruding from the waste areas can grab shots on the left.
This elevated tee atop a dune stares straight into a waste bunker that gives the false impression there's no room out there (more turf was added in 1997). A straight drive sets up an approach to a green set down in the dunes, guarded by a sandy waste area in the front on the left and a steeper-faced bunker that's been reworked in back.
Dye has tinkered with this hole more than most. Several deep pot waste areas right of the bending, serpentine fairway are cause for concern. Many players will stay back along the right side to take the waste area left out of action. Three deep bunkers guard the green, which is carved from a dune ridge. Dye's most recent work dropped the left side of the putting surface six feet below to create a collection area. This gives the player a greater incentive to go for it in two.
Dye added three new fairway bunkers to bring the total to five. The course's widest fairway shrinks to a narrow, severely downhill approach, as Dye has moved the bulkhead of the canal nearer to the green within the past year. Misses left end up in dunes and thick native grasses. A new forward tee could make this a 300-yard drivable par 4.
This classic cape hole is the most difficult hole on the back nine, especially if players make the mistake of rinsing their risk-reward tee shot in the canal up the right side. Three new bunkers (and five total) on the left are in play, too. Two more deep pot bunkers snatch shots left of the green for those who steer too far away from the canal.
Dye elevated the tee box, creating the highest point on the course with arguably the best view, and lengthened an already demanding hole by 15 yards. A deep waste bunker is no-man's-land left of an exposed, table-top green, although the steep collection area is no picnic, either. The green slopes from front to back, depositing long shots into a collection area. Any breeze will affect putting.
Did You Know? During the last day of the 1991 Ryder Cup, not one player hit the green with his tee shot.
This is as straightforward a hole as Dye will allow on this wild links-like layout. Waste areas wait along the left and back right of this smallish green, which runs diagonally away from players.
A drive over a pond will find a terraced fairway that's higher on the right side. A shallow waste bunker runs up the right, with a much deeper one flanking the left side of the green perched high on a dune ridge.
This all-carry shot over water is one of the course's defining moments. The 10,000-square-foot green is narrow with two deep pot bunkers to the left. Shots pulled long and left must contend with the fickle lies found in the dunes.
Did You Know? This was where Mark Calcavecchia's meltdown at the 1991 Ryder Cup reached a boiling point. With opponent Colin Montgomerie already in the water, Calc shanked an iron into the water and later missed a short putt to lose the hole.
Dye, who considers this the course's best par 4, shifted the 18th tee back and nearer the Atlantic Ocean to prevent players from cutting the dogleg right. He made a similar move in 2002, pushing the elevated green 25 yards closer to the beach (with a larger bunker on the left side). Any shots lost right are on the beach. Most drives will end up atop the hill, leaving more than 200 yards for the approach.
Did You Know? In the climactic moment of the famed "War at the Shore," Bernhard Langer missed a 6-foot putt that would have beaten Hale Irwin and allowed Europe to retain the Ryder Cup in 1991.
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