PGA Championship: World’s Best Golfers vs. America’s Toughest Course

KiawahBy Lance Hanlin,

The Ocean Course on Kiawah Island was always destined for greatness. Architect Pete Dye remembers meeting on a grassy dune with PGA officials on the eastern tip of the island back in the late 1980s.  

“We were all standing there and one of them says, ‘This is where we’re going to have the Ryder Cup,’” Dye recalls. “I hadn’t even broken ground yet.”

Dye held up his end of the bargain, designing a layout for the ages. After opening in 1991, the Ocean Course gained instant notoriety by hosting the dramatic “War on the Shore” Ryder Cup matches.

Competitors on both sides agreed. With 10 holes right on the Atlantic Ocean, the course was beautiful. It was also brutally tough to play.

“When we played there in 1991, it was the most difficult course I’d ever seen or played,” U.S. team captain Dave Stockton said.

In January, Golf Digest magazine ranked the course No. 1 on its list of the 75 toughest courses in the United States. It creates an interesting scenario Aug. 9-12 as the world’s best golfers come to the Ocean Course for “Glory’s Last Shot,” also known as the 94th PGA Championship.

The most talked about thing at the tournament may not be Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or Rickie Fowler. It could be the wind. 

“If the wind blows, I think the winning score could be over par,” said Keegan Bradley, who won last year’s PGA Championship on a much tamer Atlanta Athletic Club track. “I think you’re going to need to be an all-around good player. It’s going to take every ounce of your game.”

The strong winds are a by-product of the course design. With 10 holes on the ocean and the other eight running parallel to them, the course has the most seaside holes in the North America.

The original design called for some protection from the dunes but Dye’s wife, Alice, brought up a good point. Why build a golf course next to the ocean if you can’t see the water?

Pete agreed. He built up each fairway at least six feet, allowing for unobstructed ocean views on nearly every hole. The improved views opened up the course to the area’s unpredictable sea breezes.

To help combat the wind, Dye built several tee boxes on each hole, allowing for dramatic changes in length. The world’s best will play the course at a mind-numbing 7606 yards, the longest of any major championship.

The tees are so far back, they’re not even marked during normal play.

“I can’t honestly tell you what possessed me to put those tees back there,” Dye said. “I thought nobody would ever use them. They didn’t use them for the Ryder Cup. I talked to Kerry Haigh (PGA managing director of tournaments) and he said they are going to use almost all of them (for the PGA Championship).”

The tournament marks the first time one of golf’s four major tournaments has been played in South Carolina. The Ocean Course is just the fifth site in history to host each of the PGA of America’s major championships – the Ryder Cup (1991), the Senior PGA Championship (2007) and now the PGA Championship.

“We have the opportunity to be the state’s largest sporting event, ever,” said Brett Sterba, championship director for the PGA Championship. “We're hoping to put on an event where 20 years later, they’re saying, ‘Remember that PGA Championship in 2012? That blew away the Ryder Cup in 1991.’ We're looking for the chance to be that next story.”

The final major of the season has been a hot seller, one of the most sought-after tickets in PGA Championship history. Saturday ground tickets originally sold out in December of 2010 during the first ticket sale opportunity. Friday and Sunday ground tickets and weeklong Wanamaker Club passes sold out on the second opportunity in August of 2011.

The final opportunity to purchase tickets was June 18. The PGA of America is capping the number of attendees to less than 30,000 each day to ensure an enjoyable gallery experience.

The College of Charleston’s School of Business estimates the 94th PGA Championship will generate an overall economic impact of $193 million for South Carolina.

WHAT: The 94th PGA Championship golf tournament (national event)
WHEN/WHERE: Aug. 9-12, Ocean Course, Kiawah Island
TV SCHEDULE: Aug. 9-10, 1-7 p.m., TNT; Aug. 11-12, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., TNT; Aug. 11-12, 2 p.m.-7 p.m., CBS

More than 210,000 spectators are expected to attend the 94th PGA Championship, set for Aug. 9-12 on Kiawah Island. If you are one of those spectators, traffic and safety officials have asked that you use one of the following travel routes:
ORANGE ROUTE: Traffic traveling northbound or eastbound from outside the Charleston area (Savannah, Hilton Head Island, Columbia, I-95) use U.S. Highway 17. Turn onto Main Road, which becomes Bohicket Road and follow signage to PGA Public Parking.
GREEN ROUTE: Traffic traveling from all areas north of Kiawah (James Island, Charleston, Mount Pleasant) use Maybank Highway. Turn left onto River Road. Turn left onto Betsy Kerrison Parkway and follow signage to PGA Public Parking


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