South Carolina, Kiawah leaders seeking another major at Ocean Course

South Carolina, Kiawah leaders seeking another major at Ocean Course

Rory McIlroy won the 2012 PGA at the Ocean Course by eight shots.
Fred Vuich / SI

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) – South Carolina just wrapped its first-ever major golf championship. Now officials are looking for more.

Roger Warren, president of the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, and a large group of supporters, including Gov. Nikki Haley, worked last week to bring another major to the state – and sooner rather than later.

It took 21 years and plenty of tweaks for the PGA Championship to play The Ocean Course after the famed Ryder Cup matches here in 1991. Warren believes the course's reputation and how it performed for a national audience will draw more of golf's biggest tournaments, although he understands that's not fully up to him.

The pros, PGA of America leaders, fans and media will all weigh in the next few weeks how things went. “If all that judgment comes back that it was a great experience, then I would expect we'd get more championships,'' he said.

South Carolina's governor arrived Thursday and was spending the weekend watching golf and visiting with corporate clients who might one day want to locate businesses in the state after a favorable experience at Kiawah Island. Haley also said she'd do what she good to make sure the PGA of America knew how delighted the state was to serve as host of the year's final major.

“I stay in contact with the PGA and let them know that we are a very friendly golf state and can handle as many tournaments as they ever want to do,'' she said. “And I will work hard to see that they do that.''

Haley was on the front lines last year when the state's regular PGA Tour event, the RBC Heritage, was without a sponsor and on its last financial legs heading into 2012. She flatly declared in April of 2011 that new backing would be found and the Heritage would remain a South Carolina tradition. Two months later, she and other state leaders helped convince RBC and Boeing to back the event and keep it on Hilton Head through 2016.

There's certainly no debate over the quality of The Ocean Course. Pete Dye's magnificent layout showed all its faces this week, teasing the world's best with a mild opening that produced 44 rounds under par on Thursday. The next day, the course struck back with wind gusts off the Atlantic Ocean approaching 40 mph that sent scores soaring to the highest average round of 78.10 since the PGA Championship went from match play to stroke play in the 1950s.

Torrential rains halted Saturday's round with the leaders still on the course. And Rory McIlroy capped the week with a runaway triumph for his second career major.

The Ocean Course held up through it all. “I like what this golf course has, and it's just a wonderful piece of property,'' Tiger Woods said.

There are other challenges to playing big-time golf here, however. The island is remote and close to an hour's ride from downtown Charleston. Most of the roads are two lanes and backed up significantly as many of the 30,000 or so fans parked in lots just off the island.

Phil Mickelson enjoyed playing here, but was concerned for the fans.

“They had to park a long ways away, they had to take a big bus ride in, and you walk this difficult course and you don't get to see much action.

“We are very appreciative of what the fans here go through because it's not the easiest venue for them to watch and observe,'' he said.

Warren and Kiawah leaders spent about a decade from preparing bid proposals to watching the plan unfold at the PGA Championship. Warren said the community was behind the process and would have to work together again to bring another major to the region.

The value of the tournament for homeowners comes in increased property values, said resort spokesman Mike Vegis. That's what happened after the Ryder Cup and should happen again in the wake of the PGA Championship.

The major ends a string of events run by the PGA of America at The Ocean Course. The layout held the PGA Club Professional Championship in 2005 and the Senior PGA two years later.

“We're very happy and very appreciative of the support from everyone in the community and the state and the county who have supported'' the events, said Kerry Haigh, managing director of championships for the PGA of America.

Warren said the resort has asked the United States Golf Association look at its facilities for tournaments, including a U.S. Open. In 2009, the USGA held its U.S. Mid-Amateur at a course just off the island's main gate, Cassique at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. The USGA “knows who we are,'' Warren said.

For now, it's a waiting game. The PGA Championship is set through 2018 while the U.S. Open has courses in place through 2019.

Warren felt this past week should help Kiawah Island's case. “It just raises the esteem of the golf course,'' he said. “The goal is to see how the golf course is, how well we were able to do as a community. I think that just bodes well for the future.''

(Related Photos: The Ocean Course at Kiawah)

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