My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences

As I had hinted at earlier, I had some business to attend to after finishing my round, which consisted of asking my girlfriend to marry me out on the beach.  So, the Ocean Course holds a special place in our hearts!  This was the last of the major Pete Dye public courses and I had to play in the continental US.  Within the last 15 months, I had played Whistling Straits, TPC Sawgrass, Blackwolf Run, PGA West Stadium, and have played Harbour Town a few times.  They're all a little different, but there's no doubt this is an extremely unique experience and deserves its lofty ratings.  My honest opinion is that Whistling Straits is far more difficult tee-to-green, but that this course is more challenging around the greens.  Dye gave you ample room to stray the ball a bit off the tee and even around the green for the most part, but punishes you if you miss a green by giving you a difficult up-and-down and speedy and slick greens where the ball skids before checking up.  If just takes a little getting used to.  I think you can score on the Ocean Course if you're careful around the greens.  Beyond the golf course, there's a beautiful patio to enjoy a drink after your round and overlook the Ocean and sunset.  In addition, the Ryder Cup Bar is a cool spot to talk about your round with buddies and the Atlantic Room offers a fantastic dinner.  Pricey, yes, but delicious and terrific service.  Finally, a night at the Sanctuary hotel went with our package, and that is a first class facility--a five diamond hotel on the Atlantic Ocean.  Overall a great experience, and I look forward to going back sometime soon.  

#18, Par 4, 396 Yards

As you can see, the sun was getting low when we got to 18.  The drive calls for a driver down the middle to a tough finishing hole that was playing 396 into the wind.  I was left with a 4 Iron into the green and missed it a little right.  A chip to the green and 2 putt left me when a finishing bogey and a 91.  Oh if it weren't for a few bad shots on #11 and #17, this round could have been a lot different!

#17, Par 3, 182 Yards

#17 is a well-known hole that caused all kinds of crazy shots including shanks in the 1991 Ryder Cup.  It played into the wind, and called for a 5 iron to a front right pin.  Going into the wind, this is a nasty shot to pull off for an amateur as anything but a purely struck shot will be knocked off line by the wind and end up in  the water.....this shot is all carry.  I hit two less-than-perfect shots into the pond.  Afterwards, I said to my caddy "Where's the drop area?"  His response: "You're standing on it."  So, ball number 3 ended up just off the green and I get it up and down for a smooth 7.  There goes breaking 90!

#16, Par 5, 540 Yards

#16 is a fairly long par 5--even more so when it plays into the wind.  540 yards from my tee, but I hit a good drive down the middle.  I had a decision to make on the second shot....lay back with an iron, or advance it as far as I could.  I came too far to lay up!  3 wood into the bunker that fronts the green.  That left me about a 40-50 yard bunker shot, which I was able to knock onto the green and 2 putt for par.  First par since the 5th hole!

#15, Par 4, 381 Yards

After a little bit of adrenaline from making an awesome birdie on #14, I made the one mistake you can't make on #15, especially when turning into the wind, which was getting quick on my swing and hitting the ball right  and into the dunes.  After taking a drop from there and hitting off of the hard packed sand/cart path, double bogey was the result.

#14, Par 3, 161 yards

#14 is another hole to a plateau green, but this time it goes right out to the Ocean and the wind turned left to right and a little against.  Wayne convinced me to hit 5I from only 160 yards.....I thought he was nuts, but he was right on the money.  Pure 5I went to about 5 feet (the closer of the two balls on the green below) and I converted the putt for a birdie!  Another look from the back tee here.  160 yards from my tee and 240 from all the way back.  WOAH

#13, Par 4, 364 Yards
I was able to hit a good drive on #13 and only had 103 yards into the green.  I hit the green, but couldn't take advantage and 3-putted for another bogey.  Take a look at the back tee on #13.  Totally different look from back there.  If I'm not mistaken, they filmed a scene from The Legend of Bagger Vance on the 13th Tee.  Walter Hagen snap-hooked his drive onto the beach....In the movie, they made it look possible, but in real life, this would be a colossal hook that would be fairly impossible, since you'd have to cross an entire hole as well as the dunes to get there.  Oh well, hooray for Hollywood!

#12, Par 4, 412 Yards

#12 is the first of back-to-back holes with water running down the entire right side.  Playing downwind, neither was all that hard as long as you avoided hitting the ball right!  I had a PW into #12 from 130, missed another green, and made another ho-hum bogey.

#11, Par 5, 506 Yards

Oh boy, I'm still a little bitter about #11.  Big drive down the middle left me with about 240 into the green downwind.  I thought 3W might be a bit too much, and didn't want to fly the green.  Knowing what I know now about the slope of the approach to the green, this would have been the play.  However, instead, the caddy and I settled on a 5W, which was about 5 yards of carry from flying a high banked bunker short and left.  I ended up semi-plugged on the bank and got into more trouble from there.  4 chips later from spots on the course I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy and I was finally on the green and two-putting for a snowman.  Oops!

After #9, we got shuttled to the 10th tee.  When you do this, keep an eye out to a little pond on the left side, which had several alligators on the bank.

#10, Par 4, 360 Yards

The back nine is a little different from the front.  First off, no trees....unless I'm forgetting them, there weren't any.  10-13 going downwind with water along the sides of #12 and #13.  14 goes straight out to the Ocean. Then 15-18 heading back to the clubhouse, along the Ocean and into the wind.  Quite a finish!  #10 isn't too bad as long as you can carry the deep trench of sand on the right.  You can see what it looks like if you don't!  I had 102 yards in. after a good drive down the middle.  Failed to hit the green after a "December shot" and couldn't get up and down.  Bogey.

#9, Par 4, 406 Yards

The last hole on the front nine is also the longest par 4 on the outward side.  My drive ended up left in the sandy area/cart path that lines the left side of the hole.  With some tall grass right in front of my ball, I had to get my approach shot up in the air really quick and failed to get it quite high enough.  The grass took 30-40 yards off my approach shot, which ended up well short.  A few bad chips (should have listened to the caddy and putted) left my scrambling to save double bogey, and an outward nine of 43.

#8, Par 3, 166 Yards

#8 is the other par 3 on the front nine, with a green sitting up on a plateau.  I guess the green's a little bigger than it looks, but it's still a pretty small target.  I left my 7 Iron short, wedged on, and made bogey.

#7, Par 5, 493 Yards

#7 is a fairly easy par 5...even more so when it's downwind..  My drive landed in the fairway, but rolled down a slope into some tall grass.  I wedged that out about 10 yards, and had 230 yards into the green from which I hammered a 5W onto the putting surface.  However, my second straight 3-putt left me with a disappointing bogey.

#3, Par 4, 319 Yards

#3 is another short par 4, and the last breather before things start to toughen up.  I hit 3 wood off the tee, as there's really no reason to hit driver.  This left a shot of about 100 yards into the green over the infamous tree that caught Rory McIlroy's drive and forced him to take an unplayable lie when the ball hung up in the branch.  Got it on the green and two-putted for par.  Even through 3 (downhill from here!).

#4, Par 4, 401 Yards

#4 is the first test.  The landing area off the tee is bigger than it looks, but there are a "bunkers" (again, not hazards) on the right side of the fairway.  The fairway only stretches to about 275 yards before an area of junk, so I hit 3 wood off the tee just to be safe.  After that I was left with a 4 iron in, which missed the green. Chip on, two putt for bogey.  The sand area behind the green looks really cool...kind of a sand dune concept.

#5, Par 3, 177 Yards

#5 is the first par 3 on the Ocean Course.  The green is massive (50 yards deep) but is really two completely different green combined into one.  The day I played, the pin was back left and the hole played straight downwind.  I hit a great 7 Iron which was just enough to carry onto the putting surface and settle about 30 feet from the hole.  2 putt par.

#6, Par 4, 345 Yards

#6 was the first of 9 straight holes that played mostly downwind.  Only 345 yards to the hole, and again driver isn't critical.  I left myself a SW into the hole and tugged it just a little into the front pin, which ended up bounded down into one of the shaved areas.  From there, I had two sprinkler heads in my way, so I tried hitting a chip shot rather than the caddy-recommended putt.  Big mistake, and a 3 putt from there.  Double bogey from about 90 yards out in the fairway.....NOT GOOD!

#2, Par 5, 501 Yards

#2 is a dogleg left par 5.  There's a lot of room off the tee (which is much the case throughout the round I thought) but I hit a big push to the right, which made things trickier.  Dye makes you make a decision on the second shot.  As long as you hit a good drive, you can clear an area of "junk" to get your second shot within an easy chip of the green.  However, after hitting a lousy drive, I was forced to lay up.

My approach to the green ended up on the bank of a "sandy area."  My first foray into the sand at the Ocean Course.  In case you didn't hear Nick Faldo and Jim Nance during the broadcast of the 2012 PGA Championship, all sand areas on the course are not hazards and are played through the green.  Therefore, you can ground your club, take practice swings, move loose impediments, and/or play just like you would anywhere else.  If you see this shot zoomed in, there was a little stick right behind my ball.  Made for a tough chip shot, but I got it up and down for a bogey.

I played the Ocean Course for the first time 12/1/12 with my soon-to-be fiancee (more to come on that later).  We were fortunate to have a relatively warm and rain-free day in December with fairly calm winds.  Now, fairly calm winds is a relative statement at the Ocean Course.  It was probably blowing about 10-15 mph throughout the day...benign conditions for this seaside "links."  The course is indeed laid out as a seaside links with the front nine heading eastward before making the turn back to the clubhouse at the Par 3 fifth.  The inward nine goes out the opposite direction before turning back home after the Par 3 14th.  15-18 play immediately alongside the Atlantic Ocean, and the winds were noticeably as we got closer to the coast (100 yards inland makes a big difference!).

A couple tips when playing the Ocean Course, and especially in the finishing holes:
  1. If you're going to be wandering around in some areas with tall "grass" looking for your ball, beware.  During the warmer months, you're likely to encounter snakes (I'm told).  However, what we faced were endless burrs, which stuck to our pants and really sting.  They're hard to remove too!  Here's a tip our caddy gave us:  Use a divot tool to get them out.
  2. More on wandering around.  If you stray to the right on holes 15, 16, or 18, you may find areas of protected sand dunes alongside the Ocean.  These dunes are heavily protected all the way up the coast, and are typically not to be touched.  Pete Dye got some of the regulators to look the other way after Hurricane Hugo, which allowed him to build some of the priceless holes on this track.  With that said, hunting for balls in the dunes is frowned upon.  That doesn't mean you can't do it, but beware of Beach Patrol trucks driving by, which will fine you if you're caught (again, I'm told).
  3. While the routing is that of a links, the actual architecture in most cases is not.  Many greens are elevated and their surroundings are shaved, creating somewhat crowned greens resembling those of Pinehurst #2.  What's more, the greens are very slick, making chip shots from the shaved areas tricky.  Precision is a must.  Our caddy suggested putting from most of the areas around the greens and even told us to practice putting from off the greens on the practice green (The best practice green in golf).
  4. Leave plenty of time to warm up.  The practice green is right in front of the clubhouse and fronts the Atlantic Ocean.  A beautiful view, plus you're going to want to get used to the speed of these greens before you start putting "for real."  The range is also alongside the Ocean.  If you slice it enough, you might end up on the beach (it would take a massive slice though!).

So, on to the course:
First off, I played from the "Dye" tees, which are marked at 6,475 yards (72.0 / 134).  I had been wrestling on the flight down to Charleston with whether to play from the Dye's or the Ocean tees, which stretch to 6,779.  Wayne, our caddy, said the Ocean Tees would play to almost 7,000 with the winds blowing out of the east, and said "Let's just have fun today" I played the Dye's!

#1, Par 4, 365 Yards

With the wind coming out of the east, holes 1-4 played into the wind, with a little cross from left to right.  I thought the tee shot on #1 was actually the tightest and possibly the most intimidating tee shot of the day (especially being the first shot of the day).  Driver isn't critical and keeping it the short grass is far more important on a hole that is only 365 yards from my tees, and only 395 from all the way back.  This is a polite opening hole from Pete Dye, who eases you into the Ocean Course with holes 1-3.  Even though it's not required, I still hit Driver and was able to hit the fairway, and leave myself about 125 yards into the green.  From here, I hit my approach to a few feet under the hole (as seen by the 2nd picture below) and was able to make birdie.  What a way to start!

Kiawah Island Golf Resort (Ocean Course)

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Checked off the Bucket List December 1, 2012

Golf Magazine:

#43, Top 100 Courses in the World (2013)

#25, Top 100 Courses in the U.S.(2013)   

#5, Top 100 Courses You Can Play (2012)

#1, Best Public Golf Courses in South Carolina (2012)

Golf Digest:

#4, America's 100 Greatest Public Courses (2013-2014)

#20, America's 100 Greatest Courses (2015-2016)

#1, Best in the State of South Carolina (2013-2014)