The world's best return to Kiawah Island

Golf News

Looks incredible doesn’t it? The world’s eyes will be back on Kiawah Island at the PGA Championship

The PGA Championship, sometimes referred to as ‘Glory’s Last Shot’, has visited some incredible venues in recent times. This year, the 94th staging of the game’s closing Major, will be no different.

It won’t surprise you to hear that Kiawah Island might play as long as 7,600 yards – it seems to be the way these days for Major courses to grow longer year by year and anything not around the 7,500 mark would now seem unthinkable.

Where it differs to the vast majority of championship courses outside the UK and Ireland is the effect that the sea breezes play. The Ocean Course supposedly has more seaside holes than any other course in the Northern Hemisphere with 10 running along the Atlantic and the other eight parallel.

Designer Pete Dye will take the plaudits (and the criticisms) throughout the week but it was his wife, and fellow designer, Alice who suggested raising the entire course to allow golfers unobstructed views of the ocean – the original design was to have it sit behind the dunes.

Furthermore the winds that will blow are never prevailing and they switch so, much like our own Open Championship, getting the right tee times on the first two days could make all the difference to what happens over the final two.

Golf Digest magazine rates it ‘America’s Toughest Resort Course’ while defending champion Keegan Bradley thinks the winning score could be over par if the wind blows but all of this is pretty much guesswork as, it might surprise you to know, this will be the first time the famed Ocean Course has held a Major which is quite a rarity these days.

Kiawah has staged two World Cups, in 1997 and 2003 won by Ireland and South Africa respectively, and a Senior PGA Championship. You might even recognise it as the backdrop to The Legend of Bagger Vance when Matt Damon, helped by Will Smith (obviously), claimed an unlikely half against Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen.

But, until the next chapter is written on the night of Sunday August 12, it will always be associated as the setting for ‘The War By The Shore’. Or, more simply, the Ryder Cup in 1991.

The match was Bernard Gallacher’s first as captain.

“It was very competitive – the Americans were very keen to win the Ryder Cup back as they hadn’t won it since 1983. The spirit was OK but Corey Pavin and Paul Azinger, and I would have to say Payne Stewart as well, were particularly desperate to win,” the Scot remembers.

 “The match was played just after the first Gulf War and there was a lot of euphoria around. Corey Pavin arrived in a fatigue-type hat which I didn’t think that was very nice.”

Europe had only once won on American soil and, had Bernhard Langer holed from six feet in the final match, they would have retained the trophy with a tie for the first time.

It probably remains the most famous putt in the history of the competition.

And it was not the length or the wind or the waste ground where the Europeans struggled, rather on the greens, according to their skipper.
Before we feel too sorry for the multi millionaires, Dye is 86 now and managed 10 pars on the media day and still shot below his age. “It is tough, long and windy. The course was built for the Ryder Cup so it was always going to be a tough test. What made it really hard was that the grass is Bermuda so although it runs off you can’t chip and run it up the bank, you have to land it on the green. Unless you hit a perfect shot, the ball would roll off like a typical seaside course.

“The course suited us quite well in terms of the weather and the wind but on the greens, which had a new grass called Tifdwarf Bermuda, they were very difficult to read. Nick Faldo in particular struggled although he putted very well in the singles against Ray Floyd. In a way that probably turned the match.”

This time around there have been a few minor changes ahead of the PGA which include a pair of bunkers on the 13th fairway, the last hole before the players head for home along the shoreline.

Dye explains: “When Mr. Goodwin (the resort owner) came here, he told all of us not to make it any easier. I don’t know if we made it any easier or any harder. We’ll find out. But the players are playing so great today, they will get around. They will find a way to get home somehow or another. I don’t think the changes make much difference, to tell you the truth.”

Two years ago the championship was almost decided by a farcical situation where Dustin Johnson was penalised for grounding his club in a fairway bunker believing it to be a waste bunker. Had he holed a putt on the 72nd green he would have thought he had won given that he was still unaware of the two-shot addition.

It is still undecided whether all the sand areas surrounding the fairways and greens will be waste areas, meaning the players can ground their club, or whether some of the closed-in natural bunkers around the greens will play as bunkers.

What has been decided, thankfully, is that, if that is the case, they will be clearly defined.
The last major tournament to be held at Kiawah was in 2007 when the Senior PGA Championship came to Charleston. Then there were issues with balls plugging in the face of bunkers.

They have now been sodded with paspalum to prevent that happening this year though it has been known to still plug.

Whatever the case, whoever does win will be good from sand.

Then again you will need to do everything well, much like any Major set-up. Fairways will need to be consistently found, the correct side of the green will then need to be located and, if either of those go wrong, you will need to be able to chip well off tight lies.

When Denis Watson won in 2007 he parred the last two holes, before that he had played those same holes in six over. However big the lead after 70 holes the tournament will still likely be very much up for grabs.

But, before we feel too sorry for the multi millionaires, Dye is 86 now and managed 10 pars on the media day and still shot below his age.

It can’t be that difficult, can it? 

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