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A Guide to the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Are you ready for a treat?

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort is unlike any other golf venue on the planet. Not only is the resort one of the nicest and most revered vacation spots you’ll ever encounter, but the Ocean Course happens to be a championship-quality test for the best players in the world.

It’s not often that an illustrious and demanding setup like the Ocean Course is available year-round for you and me to go play. Most courses that are used to host Ryder Cups and PGA Championships are private.

Most major championship sites are exclusive and reserved specifically for their members and their guests, not the public and the average fan of the game.

Well, guess what, ladies and gentlemen?

You can book a tee time at the site of Rory McIlroy’s dominating performance at the 2012 PGA Championship whenever you desire. You can set up a vacation to the same course that hosted the 1991 “War on the Shore” as soon as you ask your boss for some time off.

The fact that the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island offers the best of both worlds elevates this place, making it stand out amongst other great tracks in the nation.

It’s the reason our golf gurus are here today to bring you an all-inclusive guide to this amazing collection of golf holes we have been raving about.

We will, of course, hit on those enormously-prestigious events that I alluded to above, as well as tell you about the next time that the PGA of America is coming to the Ocean Course. That’s right; they’ll be back in 2021 to host their most coveted Championship and crown a major champion.

But before we get to any of that, we need to properly introduce the golf course. We’ll tell you when and why the Ocean Course was added to the Kiawah Island Resort before diving into a detailed description of the 18-hole layout.

And don’t worry.

We won’t leave you hanging without giving you all the information you need for those of you who will be itching to book your next golfing vacation at the South Carolina coastal gem.

Start with the table below highlighting some key facts about the property. Then dive right into the good stuff!

Kiawah Island Golf Resort – Ocean Course – Key Facts

Location
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Year Opened
1991 (Resort established in 1974)
Owner/Operated By
CCA Financial, (Resort/Public)
Course Designer
Pete and Alice Dye
Par
72
Yardage
7,873 yards
Host To
1991 Ryder Cup, PGA Championship (2012, 2021)
Official Website
kiawahresort.com/golf/the-ocean-course/
Overview of the Ocean Course

The Beginning of the Ocean Course

The story of why the Ocean Course was built at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort is simple. Its origins date back to when famed golf designer Pete Dye was asked to construct a layout that would be suitable to host the 1991 Ryder Cup.

Their hopes were that Dye could design a course that would induce some drama and great entertainment for the fans. Not in their wildest dreams could they have imagined it would be as nerve-racking as it was, but more on that event later.

The exact location and amount of sand present on the grounds of the Ocean Course made carving out 18 holes an arduous task, even for someone as skilled and knowledgeable in the industry as Pete Dye.

Pete would enlist the help of his wife, Alice, to help create the masterful design in time for the 1991 Ryder Cup.

The Ocean Course is beautifully situated near the southeastern tip of Kiawah Island, and some of the holes protrude out towards the cliffs of the Atlantic Ocean. The beauty and extravagance of the where the course is positioned means that golfers won’t have an easy time solving this Pete Dye puzzle.

The fact that the ocean breeze pushes in off the coast means that playing this course in 25+ mph gales is not uncommon. In fact, it’s extremely rare to play this course in anything other than difficult and windy conditions.

The way the holes are laid out lends itself to the less than ideal conditions that are typically present, but don’t be confused into thinking that this place is anything but a total beast.

In fact, the Ocean Course’s mind-boggling 79.7 course rating from the back tees is the highest course rating found anywhere in the United States.

Don’t worry – we don’t plan on brushing over this ridiculously tough outline without giving it the justice it deserves. For thorough descriptions and even some flyover footage of the signature holes, just continue reading down below!

Illustrating the Brutal Layout

Before you even try to imagine how tough the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is, try and understand what it means for a course to be rated at 79.7 and have a slope of 153.

This essentially means that if you have a scratch (0) handicap and play a solid round from the back tees, you’ll be incredibly lucky just to break 80.

Forget about tournament conditions and the wind blowing, we’re just talking about the average round of golf at the Ocean Course if you were to go out and play it tomorrow.

But it’s not all about just being a really hard track.

The fact that the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is the 21st ranked golf course in America tells you how spectacular this place is. In terms of the 100 best public courses in the country, only Pebble Beach Golf Links and Pacific Dunes are rated better.

If you were to go through the list of Pete Dye’s most diabolical layouts, this one might rank at the top. If you were hoping there would be some easy holes with flat greens and not much trouble, you might want to check out a different venue.

Not only are the greens severely undulated with multiple tiers, but hazards and penal areas are looming everywhere!

When it comes to a picturesque setting and views of the ocean, you won’t find many that are better and more pristine than the Ocean Course. Thanks to the advice from his wife, Alice, Pete made sure to perch the tee boxes and putting surfaces in a way that a golfer’s viewpoints can extend well into the distance, capturing the waves and the boats in the background.

It’s hard to imagine that a course this difficult can be mixed with so much beauty and raw elegance. The fact that people enjoy playing it so much, despite shooting a lot higher than they hope for – that is the definition of an esteemed golf course.

Before we transition into the events that have helped bring the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island into the limelight, we’d like to point out the signature holes. While each of Pete Dye’s 18 creations is magnificent in their own right, there are certainly a few that stood out and will make your jaw drop.

The 13th Hole

The hardest hole during the 2012 PGA Championship was without a doubt the 13th. The hole is difficult enough from the member’s tees, but if you dare play it all the way back from the 497 yards that the participants did in 2012, all we can say is “Good luck!”

A water hazard runs down the entire length of the hole and will eat up any balls leaked out to the right. Tee balls will have to be fitted between the water and the two bunkers that protrude from the left-hand side of the fairway.

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort Hole 13

Approach shots will also have to negotiate sand traps left of the green. The fact that there is nowhere to bail out off the tee or on your way up to the green makes this hole extraordinarily difficult. Just look at the database.

At the 2012 PGA Championship, there were more double bogies (42) than birdies (35) made for the entire week.

The 17th Hole

Don’t expect to play a Pete Dye-designed golf course that doesn’t have a treacherous par 3 over water. He loves to strategically make this type of hole “#17,” and he accomplishes that and then some here at the Ocean Course.

Depending on which tees you play, this hole can play as far as 225 yards to the center of the green. When the wind is swirling, and the pin is tucked by the water, this hole almost plays like a mini par 4. Somehow, there were 32 deuces recorded on this hole during the 2012 PGA.

In comparison, there were 31 double bogeys (or worse) made and over 100 bogies. If you blink for a second while playing the 17th hole at Kiawah Island’s most prominent course, go ahead and mark yourself down for one of those dreaded double bogeys or worse!

The 18th Hole

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island wouldn’t be complete if it wasn’t equipped with a deceptive and dangerous final hole. It’s safe to say that the 500+ yard par 4 at Pete Dye’s hellish creation fits the bill.

Players must play up the left side of the fairway to avoid having their ball swallowed by the lengthy bunker that protects the right side of the fairway. Golfers will want to favor the left-hand side as they approach the green because the Atlantic Ocean is lurking just below to the right.

The problem with that method is that there is a large waste area that catches any ball too far left. Getting up and down from this precarious position isn’t impossible, but it’s going to take something special.

The #2 handicap hole at the Ocean Course was also the second-hardest hole at the 2012 PGA Championship, playing to the tune of a 4.369 stroke average for the week.

The bottom line is that the golf holes at the Ocean Course are not easy, not by any stretch of the imagination. Speaking of the imagination of designing the holes, let’s shift gears and discuss the golf tournament that was the catalyst for creating this venue in the first place.

The 1991 Ryder Cup – “War on the Shore”

To be completely fair, we could really have an entire article devoted to the unforgettable battle at the 1991 Ryder Cup.

It was the first time in history that all three days of this international competition would be televised live for the world to see. Pete Dye had recently finished his construction of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, just in time for this event to take place.

The hopes were that the American and European teams could put on a show for the countless fans that would be tuned in. However, the drama created and the amount of buildup for the final hole of this event was as pressure-packed and tense of a moment as any golf historian can recollect.

Don’t just take my word for it. Instead, watch this 90-second clip and hear about the intensity of the moment from the guys who lived it.

Now, to back up a little bit, allow me to help set the foundation for this event, as the 1991 Ryder Cup was already deemed “the War on the Shore” before the first ball was ever hit in the initial foursomes match on Friday morning.

I’ve already revealed that a famous course architect was hired to build a golf course with hosting this exact golf tournament in mind. I already brought up the fact that this was the first time that the Ryder Cup was broadcasted from start to finish for the world to see.

What I failed to mention up to this point was how much tension had been built up between the two sides leading into this event. Remember, the Euros were on the heels of winning three consecutive Ryder Cups, including one on US soil in 1987 at Muirfield Village.

Captain Dave Stockton and his 12 men vowed to make sure that the Cup would change possession and land in the hands of the Americans.

Stockton had plenty of firepower on his roster to make this a reality, including the likes of Payne Stewart, Fred Couples, and Paul Azinger, all of whom were top-10-ranked players in the world.

The problem was that Bernard Gallacher had a loaded unit of his own on the blue and yellow side. Ian Woosnam was the top dog at the time, holding the number-1 slot in the rankings at the time of the ’91 Ryder Cup.

If that wasn’t enough, José María Olazábal and Nick Faldo clocked in at 2 and 3 in the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR), and magician Seve Ballesteros was 5th.

As talented as the Americans were, they were without a doubt the overwhelming underdogs.

With that being said, the United States squad got off to a quick start, jumping out to a 3-1 lead after Friday mornings foursomes. However, by the time the team format was completed on Saturday, the two teams were knotted at 8 points apiece.

It would all come down to Sunday’s singles matches. If that wasn’t enough theater, it would actually come down to the very last putt in the very last match. You saw the clip of Bernhard Langer on the 18th green at the Ocean Course. How’s that for drama?

Imagine having a 6-foot putt whose outcome would decide whether or not your team won or lost the Ryder Cup. Forget about the pressure of trying to win a major. This was that amplified by a hundred.

You know the ending by now, and the final tally of 14 ½ – 13 ½ meant that the Americans had ended the drought. They had won the Ryder Cup thanks to the most dramatic finish in the history of the event.

The 2012 PGA Championship – Rory Blows Away the Field

The 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island is a memorable golf tournament for a variety of reasons. If you ask Rory McIlroy what he remembers most about that week, I’m sure he’d smirk when recalling how it all unfolded.

“Rors” bludgeoned the field and dismantled the golf course in a way that reminded us of Tiger at Pebble Beach back in 2000.

Some were afraid that the Ocean Course would be too challenging from the back tees due to factors like the firmness of the ground and the uncontrollable winds pushing in off the coast. Apparently, the 23-year-old Northern Irishman didn’t seem to care about any of that because he went out there and put on a show for four straight days.

McIlroy raced out of the gates on Thursday with a 67, posting a clean card with 5 birdies and no bogies. Despite struggling to a 75 on Friday, McIlroy was able to regain form and post another 67 in the third round, vaulting him into a 3-shot lead over Carl Pettersson.

It’s worth noting that a thunderstorm forced play to be suspended on Saturday, forcing more than a third of the field to conclude portions of their 3rd rounds on Sunday morning.

Rory got off to a quick start during the 4th and final round, posting birdies at numbers 2 and 3 to reach nine under par for the tournament. Pettersson made double on the first and wouldn’t even sniff Rory the rest of the day.

McIlroy would finish the day with another bogey-free round, this time notching 6 birdies for a breathtaking 66. His total of -13 was 8 shots better than runner-up David Lynn and 11 shots better than 11th-place-finisher Tiger Woods.

Rory didn’t just win the final major in 2012. He absolutely dominated it.

Check out his highlights from the week in this short video snippet, including the 30-footer for birdie he drains on the 72nd hole to cap off his triumph. It’s pretty incredible stuff.

The 2021 PGA Championship

It’s still a ways away, but the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island will be hosting the PGA Championship in May of 2021. The PGA of America President, Derek Sprague, couldn’t be more excited about the championship returning to the Pete Dye masterpiece on South Carolina’s coastline.

“From a down-to-the-last putt thriller of a Ryder Cup in 1991 to Rory McIlroy closing a record-setting performance in the 2012 PGA Championship, there has never been a shortage of thrills on The Ocean Course. We anticipate that tradition of excellence continuing in 2021 at the PGA Championship.”

If you missed Rory in 2012 or are too young to remember the 1991 Ryder Cup, perhaps you should consider snagging tickets to the 2021 PGA Championship. A chance to see the world’s top players gut it out on a setup as demanding as the Ocean Course would be awesome.

However, going to Kiawah Island Resort and playing the Ocean Course? Now, that would be epic.

Stay and Play at the South Carolina Coastal Gem

We have described the golf course. We covered the acclaimed golf tournaments that have been contested here.

Are you ready for the best part about the golf resort at Kiawah Island?

If you are salivating at the thought of seeing this course up close and personal, imagine how cool it would be to play all 18 holes. The great news is that you can!

You don’t have to be a wealthy executive of a huge company in order to set up your golf package to the Kiawah Island Resort. There are no strings attached, and there’s no hidden agenda behind who they allow to book reservations. The amazing golf resort and the 90 holes of championship golf are waiting for you right now.

Did we just say 90 holes?

Yes, we actually did.

Four Other Courses at Kiawah Island Resort

While the Ocean Course is certainly the most notable course at Kiawah Island Resort, there are 4 others that some could say are equally as stunning. Take a look.

Cougar Point

The first course that opened at Kiawah Island Golf Resort was called Marsh Point and was designed by Gary Player in 1975. The man known as the “Black Knight” returned in 1996 for a redesign, and this time, he changed the name to Cougar Point.

The course won’t be as brutally difficult as some of the others on site, but it’s not lacking in beauty. For those of you who like great golf movies, Cougar Point was used as the backdrop for The Legend of Bagger Vance¸ starring Matt Damon and Will Smith.

This brief video highlights more of the particulars about Cougar Point. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind track that should be played by any golfer who visits the area.

Turtle Point

Jack Nicklaus got involved at the Kiawah Island property when he designed Turtle Point in 1981, although the course was renovated in 2016 to meet today’s standards.

Host of the 1990 PGA Cup Matches and multiple Carolina Amateurs, this 7,061-yard test gives you a taste of the South Carolina coastline, offering one scenic view after another. The tiny greens and elevation changes make Turtle Point anything but a bargain, even for low-handicap players.

Its 74.2/141 slope rating confirms that you better bring your “A-game” if you plan on posting a good round here.

Osprey Point

So far, we’ve introduced a Gary Player and a Jack Nicklaus design to go along with Pete Dye’s Ocean Course.

Why not have legendary architect Tom Fazio throw his hat in the ring and design an 18-hole layout for the Kiawah Island Resort? Osprey Point was added to the rotation of Kiawah Island Resort golf courses when Fazio unveiled it to the public in 1988.

The course was actually intended to be a private golf course, where memberships would be sold. However, it made too much sense not to have it be part of the potential experience for a guest of the resort.

After restorations in 2014 led by Fazio’s team, Osprey Point is now a can’t-miss stop at Kiawah Island. The par-72 track that measures just under 7,000 yards from the tips can be enjoyed by golfers of all levels. As long as you have a passion for the game and appreciate the sport, you’ll fall in love with Osprey Point.

Oak Point

The final course on the docket to shed light upon is called Oak Point. Built in 1989 by Clyde Johnston, this course was acquired by the Kiawah Island Golf Resort in 1997 to round out the fivesome of golf courses on site.

The course is built on the land that was formerly used as a cotton and indigo plantation. Being that it’s so close to the Haulover Creek and the Kiawah River, the landscape of the golf course is exceptional.

It’s almost as if the course is hidden amongst a massive maritime forest, as you can smell the salt water and hear the buzz of the birds in the air.

Oak Point went through a beautification process in 2015 and now consists of entirely a Paspalum surface.

For someone looking for an enjoyable round of golf that has a charming setting but not the immense difficulty that the Ocean Course has, Oak Point will be right up your alley.

Traveling to Kiawah Island

Now that you have an idea about what the 5 courses at Kiawah Island Golf Resort have to offer, the only thing left is to set aside some time to turn your dreams into reality.

The awesome thing is that you can start your trip in Charleston, one of the cooler and more up-and-coming cities in the country. Perusing around the Historic Charleston City Market is a great way to get acquainted with what the area has to offer.

Once you grab yourself a rack of ribs with a traditional vinegar-style Carolina sauce, you’ll be ready to make the 26-mile trek down to the golf resort. The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is located south of Johns Island and literally right off the coastline that borders the Atlantic Ocean.

We suggest staying at the resort during your stay, as long as you have the means to do so. For any of you who enjoy discovering the most intriguing golf destinations, this just might be the ultimate one.

The only way to know for sure is to check it out for yourself. The cool thing is, booking your golf package to Kiawah Island Resort is just a phone call or a click away!

Lasting Thoughts

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort is unique for many reasons. The fact that the public course is so scenic and can be played by golf fans of all shapes and sizes makes it attractive from the standpoint of a golf vacation.

Add in the circumstances of the course having hosted a Ryder Cup and a PGA Championship, and we’re talking about one of the finest pieces of property in the entire country.

If you missed either of those aforementioned events, perhaps you’ll make arrangements to attend the 2021 PGA Championship when it returns to Kiawah Island.

We described the course in great detail as well as told you about the other 4 courses that are part of the splendid resort.

If you and your buddies are wondering where to schedule your next golf trip and if flying into Charleston, SC, isn’t too much of a hassle, stop wondering and start booking.

You won’t be disappointed. In fact, you’ll be thrilled and treated to memories that will last a lifetime!