Pete Dye first came to Kiawah Island
more than 20 years ago, surviving a run-in with Hurricane Hugo to build what has become known as the world’s toughest golf course: The Ocean Course
, site of this summer’s PGA Championship.
Since then, the internationally renowned golf course architect has seen eight of his designs play host to golf’s major championships. Most memorable was 1991, when John Daly, the ultimate long-shot, captured the 1991 PGA at Crooked Stick in Indiana, and most recently, Germany’s Martin Kaymer won the 2010 PGA at Dye’s Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis.
But The Ocean Course, perhaps his most well-known creation, was missing from the list of major-hosting sites until the PGA of America settled on Kiawah’s crown jewel for the Aug. 9-12 event. Dye laughs when reminded that in 1991, European Ryder Cup player Colin Montgomerie predicted The Ocean Course would never host a stroke-play tournament because of its difficulty.
Today, Dye finds that “too hard” notion amusing, given the ongoing crush of tourists who pay top dollar to play the Ocean Course, which might embarrass them but rarely discourages them from returning.
“When I came here (in 1989), they told me I was building this course for a Ryder Cup,” the 86-year-old said during his visit for the 2012 PGA’s recent media outing. “You go to Jacksonville (to his uber-difficult TPC at Sawgrass, home of the annual Players Championship) and other courses I’ve built, you see I try to build a variety of golf courses. But every once in a while, you get stuck with them saying they want the hardest golf course in the world, because they want a (Ryder Cup) or a major championship.
“Golfers are funny people. They’ll go all the way to Scotland to play two weeks in the rain and shoot 95 … and then they go back, and back again. So even though you’ve got a hard golf course, people keep coming here. It’s like Scotland: They want to check it off their list.”
As for Montgomerie’s long-ago prediction, which he later reversed while playing the World Cup on a somewhat “tamed” Ocean Course – Dye is equally bemused. “I think the pros say one thing depending on how they play, and something else the next time,” he said. “I played this course today” – and shot better than his age, PGA of America officials said – “and you can get around this golf course; if you play the right tees (for your game), you’ve got a fighting chance.
“The pros will get around, too. A lot of times, the biggest thing here is the wind; when there’s a good breeze, it makes a real different course out of it. But I imagine in August, there’ll be some real good scores.”
Ironically, some of Dye’s special treatments in 1991 will be used this summer, when officials will be able to set up at more than 7,667 yards, making it the longest in major-championship history. Realistically, the PGA is unlikely to make it that long all four days – but they can.
“We put in a bunch of back tees in 1991 that they never used” for the Ryder Cup, Dye said. “Kerry Haigh (the PGA of America’s specialist for course setups) says the guys are hitting it longer now, so I think it’ll be about the same (as 1991). But we’ll have to wait and see, I guess.”
Dye wouldn’t predict a winner this August, but he did say who his personal favorite would be: “Whoever says the nicest things (about the golf course); I’m for him,” he said, laughing. And he did predict future major championships for The Ocean Course, and South Carolina.
“Oh, I would think so,” Dye said. “In the first place, South Carolina is such a great state for golf. And with the turnout for daily tickets, corporate sales (for the 2012 PGA, which is sold out for Friday-Sunday and nearly sellouts for Monday-Thursday) – I’m sure they’ll want to come back here.”
Besides, Dye noted with a chuckle, by the time The Ocean Course is eligible for another major – for most courses, the usual gap is 5-10 years – there could be an entirely different crop of PGA Tour stars who’ll want to test themselves on the world’s most “Dye-abolical” course.
For sure, he said, at least one of this year’s participants will want to return: “The guy who wins.”