Kiawah's Ocean Course is a links pretender
The Ocean Course's reputation as the meanest, most penal resort layout in the U.S. has been tough to shake, but the reality is that architect Pete Dye has twice softened his design in the past 20 years to where it's unquestionably great, not just difficult. But with soft, rain-soaked summer conditions and little breeze, the game's best proved -- at least for one day -- that it really isn't that tough, either.
Thursday's conditions glaringly exposed Kiawah's Ocean Course for what it is: "An American-style course on links-like land," as Tom Weiskopf called it when it opened. With 10 holes skirting the Atlantic, grass -- and scrub -- topped coastal dunes and wildly sloping greens, it sure looks like the real thing. However, closer scrutiny shows Weiskopf was right. Most of the greens are so severely elevated that an aerial approach is the only practical one, unlike genuine links courses, and the use of sticky paspalum grass as the playing surface of choice further limits imaginative ground game options. Toss in the soft conditions and what you wind up with is a great course, but not a links course.
I was aghast when Ian Baker-Finch -- a former Open champion no less -- stated on Thursday's telecast how beautiful the paspalum looked, that the rains had really helped green it up. Boo! Give me a side of brown, firm and fast with my seaside golf every time. As Golf Channel analyst and Golf Magazine columnist Brandel Chamblee noted in summing up play on Thursday, "Funny things happen on a soft golf course." Indeed. I hope the wind dries out Kiawah's Ocean course this weekend. Then the shotmakers, thinkers and masters of controlling trajectory will rule. Turn off the water-brown is beautiful! Tell me I'm wrong.
(Credit: Fred Vuich/SI)