The road to the Kiawah Island Golf Resort is everything you would expect from the South. Spanish moss draped trees line the 2-lane highway, creating a shaded canopy under which you drive down the road. The traffic is very light in the off-season making the journey even more enjoyable. We first visited in 2002 when our daughter, Jill, was working at the Kiawah Island Resort. Jill and I played golf on the island at a much easier course. This trip would prove to be much more challenging. The Ocean course is ranked 25th on Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses in the USA; it ranks at 4th place on their Best Public Course List.
The Ocean course at Kiawah Island will host the 2012 PGA Championships during the 2nd week of August, making it only the 4th course to host each of the PGA's major championships in America. The Ocean course has more seaside holes than any other course in the Northern Hemisphere - 10 right along the Atlantic with the other 8 running parallel to those. Probably no other golf course in the world outside of the United Kingdom and Ireland is affected as much by the wind. From one round to the next, a player can experience up to an 8-club difference on holes depending upon the direction and strength of the wind.
Built in 1991 by Pete Dye, there are no prevailing winds on the course. Dye took this into account when designing the course. In fact, he designed two courses into one – one for an easterly wind and one for a westerly wind. Although it was originally designed to sit behind the dunes, Dye's wife, Alice, suggested raising the entire course to allow players unobstructed views of the beautiful Atlantic coastline from every hole. This improved view made the course substantially more demanding as it also exposed it to the area’s brisk and unpredictable sea breezes.
The Ocean Course clubhouse
Location: Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #1
Date: 20 Apr, tee off at 12:20 PM
Conditions: sunny, 15 MPH wind, 72 degrees
Lost balls: 5
Lost balls: 5
Score: 92 on a par 72
The Ocean course is a walking only course. I was paired up with a group from Los Angeles, California along with two caddies who carried the bags and provided guidance on our shots. A good caddy’s advice is very helpful - and we had top notch caddies who knew the course extremely well. However, the player who must still execute the shot; that part of the game does not always fall into place. We began our round playing into a stiff wind. My tee shots were pulling left - - - while straight was the only direction where one could avoid problems. I oftentimes landed in the “waste” bunkers with long shots to the green over occasional obstructions. Several balls could not be found making my score even that much higher. (Note: waste bunkers are sandy areas that are left natural. They may have the rough or fairway grass bordering them, but not completely around the perimeter.)
185-yard par 3 hole #5
415-yard par 4 hole #9
View of waste trap along hole #10 fairway
View of waste traps along hole #11 fairway
View of waste traps in front of hole #11 green
View of waste traps along hole #18 fairway
The threesome I was grouped with included Walter (father), Kevin (son), and Rob (son-in-law). Walter was a former trauma surgeon who retired at the age of 44. After several years of playing Mr. Mom and lots of golf, he started up a fitness and sports performance center. Kevin works in the business; Rob worked in the real estate and fitness businesses. Some of their clients include professional athletes. Walter’s family had rented a house on the island not far from the Ocean course. The men had been playing golf almost every day while the women entertained themselves. I suspect some of their entertainment involved playing with and holding Rob’s 1-year old daughter.
Caddy Amory, Rob, Walter, Kevin, Caddy Joe
375-yard par 4 hole #1
528-yard par 5 hole #2
367-yard par 4 hole #3
My game eventually improved during the round. I carded 5-pars after leaving two birdie putts short of the hole. It is difficult to post a low score with two triple bogeys and three double bogeys on the card. I found playing into the wind on the front 9 very hazardous, I began to play much better after we turned to begin playing downwind. We did turn back into the wind to complete the round. Caddy Joe was quite surprised when I hit the greens in regulation on the last three holes, but 3-putted all of them for bogeys.
170-yard par 3 hole #8
521-yard par 5 hole #11
371-yard par 4 hole #13
171-yard par 3 hole #14
197-yard par 3 hole #17
The front nine holes play away from the clubhouse with nothing but the ocean and natural shoreline within view. Several large homes were visible along the back nine, separated from the course by swamp land. Caddy Joe helped define “large” when he pointed out one home that contained 10,000 square feet of living space with another 2,500 square foot enclosed swimming pool. After learning I retired from John Deere, Joe also pointed out a house that has been under construction for the past two years. It is being built for Sam Allen, a gentleman I worked alongside at the JD Davenport Works 24-years ago. Sam is the current Chairman of the Board of Directors for John Deere. I just play golf!
View of homes from hole #10 fairway (house on the right has 10,000 square feet)
View of the neighborhood from hole #10 green
There was more than one reason my round of golf did not start out very well. My scheduled 1:50 PM tee time was at risk of being rained on according to the morning weather forecast. After calling the pro shop, I learned the only other available time slot was a 12:20 tee time. I departed the North Charleston hotel in a hurry, expecting to arrive at the course within 45-minutes. Unfortunately, the address listed for the golf course was the hotel’s address. The extra time required to reach the course caused me to arrive at 12:10 PM. I rushed through the check-in and joined three other players as they were leaving the practice range.
A visitor catching some sun along the hole #17 pond
The earlier tee time would allow me to miss the threatening weather. It also would provide Julie & I with the time required to dine at Jestine’s Kitchen in downtown Charleston that evening. The daughter of a Native American and a black slave, Jestine Matthews was employed as a housekeeper by the Aleck Ellison family in 1928. The small restaurant was named in her honor by Aleck’s granddaughter and restaurant owner, Shera Berlin. The restaurant strives to provide the same style of home cooking and warm atmosphere Jestine provided to the Ellison family for several generations. While they excel at meeting those goals, the real reason to visit Jestine’s is the warm Coca-Cola cake with a whipped cream topping. Before ordering dinner I asked the waiter to reserve my dessert. I did think of eating my dessert first, but held off until after the dinner plates were cleared from the table.