Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Tee box of the par-5 2nd hole.

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is one of the United States' most unique golfing experiences. Many places advertise "links golf," but Kiawah is one of the few places that can actually offer the links setting. Unfortunately, Pete Dye didn't exactly build a links course. He built a Pete Dye course, and placed it on links property.

Dye's most famous course, TPC Sawgrass, is a masterpiece where you can really appreciate each individual hole as you go through your round. But The Ocean Course is a collection of 18 good challenges that leaves a lasting impression. And just as with Sawgrass, Pete Dye had to go back and soften it up multiple times after opening and hosting the 1991 Ryder Cup.

Par-5 2nd hole from the fairway.

To this day, it's still ranked by Golf Digest as the most difficult course in America. There are few trees on the property, which allows the constant Atlantic Ocean breeze to factor into every shot. On average you'll get 15 mph all day, every day. At times it can gust into the 40 mph range. And since each nine is literally "out" and then "in," every hole will play either downwind or back into it. This creates a situation where you could hit a PW into a green, but need a 3-wood into the same green the very next day.

On a normal links course, this wouldn't be a huge issue because you can run up low approach shots as long as you avoid pot bunkers. But in typical Pete Dye fashion, he severely elevated every green and lined each fairway with deep waste bunkers and towering sand dunes. Long irons won't hold some of the plateaued putting surfaces, and you'll be left with an insane putt up a steep slope or a flop shot. There's also no OB on the course, so if you hit it on the beach you technically need to go find it and play it.

Sand dunes by the 10th green. Good luck with that.

We were lucky to play the course in two different conditions. The first day was absolutely perfect, with no wind and overcast skies. The caddies remarked on how rare it was to be so calm, and the course was a lot of fun. Wide open hitting areas off the tee led to short iron approaches, which worked well with the elevated greens. I would play The Ocean Course all the time under those conditions, since you could focus on the actual layout instead of the wind. Gary was even a little disappointed and thought the course played too "easy."

He got his wish two days later when we played in 20-30 mph sustained winds. The experience was still positive but "fun" turned into "exhausting." A slight push-slice off the tee no longer found the rough, but instead fell 15 feet down into a waste bunker covered with marsh grass. I used a 9 iron to make par on the par-3 5th hole in calm conditions, but had to use 5 iron during our second round into the wind. Needless to say everyone struggled and drastically shot higher scores.

View from the tee on the par-3 14th, with the standard elevated plateau green.

Par-3 17th from the tee box. Probably the most iconic hole on the course.

There are a handful of other courses on the island, but nothing compares to The Ocean Course. It was also my first time playing with a walking caddie, which was a wonderful experience. If you ever make a bucket list of American courses, The Ocean Course should definitely be on there.

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