Bob Gillespie



The Ocean Course: Once again, America’s toughest golf course

Posted 12/5/2011 8:34:00 AM

In good conscience, I cannot swear that Kiawah Island Resort’s Ocean Course – home to the 1991 Ryder Cup, 2007 Senior PGA Championship and, this coming August, the 2012 PGA Championship, South Carolina’s first men’s major – is the toughest 18 holes in America.

That’s for others to say – and they do. All I know is: If there’s a tougher U.S. golf course, I don’t want to find out. Based on my experience during a round this past summer – scores? We gave up somewhere on the back nine, just happy to have survived the day – The Ocean Course is plenty tough enough.

So it is no surprise that, once again, Golf Digest has dubbed Pete Dye’s 20-year-old creation America’s toughest golf course. Weekend golfers can’t wait to see the PGA Tour guys – Tiger and Friends, Inc. – battle the winds, the dunes, the marshes and everything else late next summer.

It probably is no surprise that not only is the toughest course a Dye-abolical design, but in fact the three toughest as rated by’s Brandon Tucker are all from the “Marquis de Sod”: No. 3 is PGA West’s Stadium Course; No. 2, Whistling Straits, site of the 2009 PGA Championship. The Ocean Course? Still No. 1.

Says Golf Digest: “Dye has been torturing golfers for half his life, and The Ocean Course, strung along the Atlantic coastline with fairways and greens perched above sand, sea oats and sweetgrass, is perhaps his most Dye-abolical design. The Ocean has the highest combination of Slope Rating (155) and Course Rating (79.6) in America, according to the U.S. Golf Association.

“With forced carries over marshes, endless waste bunkers and roll-resistant Bermuda grasses (since replaced by saltwater-tolerant paspalum grasses), The Ocean is a rare course that can bring tears and fears even to tour pros – it was dubbed “Looney Dunes” after multiple mishaps in the 1991 Ryder Cup. For the rest of us, it kicks sand in our faces – literally when howling winds turn club covers into windsocks.”’s Tucker is only slightly less impressed/intimidated: “If the wind’s blowing its usual 20-30 mph, tabletop greens and waste areas galore make Pete Dye’s Ocean Course at Kiawah Island one of the toughest courses you’ll ever play. Brutal conditions knocked 1991 Ryder Cup golfers to their knees.”

We can’t say it any better than that. Of course, golfers of all skill levels always crave a challenge, which explains the full tee sheets for those seeking the Ocean Course experience, especially the next eight months heading into the PGA Championship.

The golf course, and those who set it up, won’t be taking pity on anyone. “It is our intent not to make any major changes to the Ocean Course,” said Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America’s managing director for championships. “The design has stood the test of time.” The only changes will be “to improve the spectator experience,” he said.

For information on special rates for PGA Championship ticket-holders and/or tournament volunteers, click here. For tee times and information, click here or call (800) 570-1570.

And don't forget to bring lots of golf balls and a dose of humility. You'll need both.