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written by
Hailey Wist

Guide to the Ocean Course

photographs by
Andrew Cebulka

Volume: 34

Course Design by Pete and Alice Dye
Course Notes by Stephen Youngner

Hole #1: Contradictory to his “Dye-abolical” reputation, Pete Dye’s courses often start with an easy hole to let players get off to a decent start. This hole features a wide fairway with a large, flat green. Water to the right of the green and sand at the front poses a bit of trouble, but if you can hit a decent drive and avoid the large sand area guarding the right side of the fairway, you are left with a short-iron approach. Don’t be afraid to be aggressive! 

*Many players in the 2012 PGA Championship challenged the right side off the tee, shaving off even more yardage and leaving a very short approach to the green. This hole played as the easiest par four with a scoring average of 3.99.

Hole #2: This par five requires both a strategic approach and careful execution. It may be tempting to take an aggressive line by cutting off the dogleg left and challenging the left side to allow for a shorter second. But the safer play is to stay right and leave yourself a slightly longer layup shot. And this layup shot also offers options due to a strategically placed cross hazard at 120 yards from the green. Some players lay up short of the hazard, leaving themselves a longer third, but some risk it and lay up over the hazard, leaving a much shorter third shot. Beware laying up too close, as the green slopes away and requires a well-struck third with spin to avoid running off the back. 

*With a few exceptions, players in the 2012 PGA Championship layed up off the tee with a 3-wood and tried to stay at the center left of the fairway, avoiding a downslope and trees on the right that block the second shot. This hole was also one of the easiest during the Championship with a scoring average of 4.8.

 

Hole #3: Don’t be fooled by this huge fairway. Keep your tee shot left. A distinct ridge bisects this fairway and balls left allow for a full view, making it much easier to hold the green from this angle. This is the most severe and smallest green on the course. A natural, flat sand dune was somewhat leveled to create the putting surface, and balls that end up in the surrounding collection areas pose a very difficult up and down. If the severity of the green complex isn’t tricky enough, there is also a tree guarding the front of the green. The “Rory” tree is so named because Rory McIlroy’s tee shot in 2012 landed and stuck in one of the branches during the second round. After a drop for an unplayable lie, Rory still made a par, getting the ball up and down from the front of the green. This hole averaged just under par at a 3.99 score for the field. 

*The original tree, sadly, was removed in 2015 due to disease. In 2019 it was replaced with a new tree in the same spot. The new Rory tree is an extremely close match to the original, restoring the strategy and beauty of the original design.

 

Hole #4: This is definitely one of the most difficult holes on the course. It’s quite long but a cross hazard proves to be a great equalizer—longer players need to lay up short of the hazard. Most tee shots end up at somewhere between 160 and 200 yards from the green for all players (regardless of length off the tee or the tee played). This hole often plays more like a par four and a half. The key is to avoid the marsh on both sides of the fairway and the sand to the right. Drive the ball as close to the cross hazard as possible to shorten the second shot. The green is protected on the right side by two deep sand areas and a massive hazard at the back. The front left of the green is fairly open, so the smart play is to land your second just short and allow it to run into the front left portion of the putting surface.

*This hole played over par for the Championship at an average of 4.16 for the field. Many of the professionals used a 3-wood off the tee to ensure they hit the fairway.

 

Hole #5: The first par three on the course! We also turn back to the west here after four eastward holes. This hole features a massive green—50 yards deep from front to back. The difference in pin location can change club selection by two, three, and sometimes even four clubs. If the hole is back left, aim for the middle front and a large ridge will feed the ball towards the hole. The front right location is much easier, and a straightforward shot should produce good results. Missing right should be a fairly easy up and down, but a short shot in the sand will be very difficult. This tee boasts one of the most beautiful vistas on the Island with breathtaking 270-degree views of ocean and marsh. 

*Despite playing into the wind, the fifth was the third easiest par three for the 2012 PGA at 188 yards and a scoring average of 3.16. For the 2021 PGA Championship, the yardage is expected to increase to 207. 

 

Hole #6: A challenging and long par four awaits you at the sixth hole. You may be tempted to brave the sand guarding the left side, but there is no advantage in cutting this corner. The smart play is a tee shot aimed center right, leaving a mid-iron approach to a large green. Distance control is critical on your second shot. The green narrows in the middle and flattens towards the rear. The front portion of the green slopes towards the fairway. Due to the slope, your ball will not release if landing on the front. This makes it tough to get the ball all the way back to the hole.

*This was the seventh hardest hole in the 2012 Championship with a scoring average of 4.29. The Championship tee was extended another 10 yards in preparation for the 2021 PGA and is expected to play at 490 yards.   

 

Hole #7: The easiest par five on the course. Your tee shot line is critical here. Longer hitters can challenge a large sand area on the right side, either aiming just left of it or trying to carry it outright. If successful, the aggressive play leaves a reasonable chance to reach the green in two to make eagle or birdie. There is ample room left, however, and a draw still leaves the player an opportunity to get the ball close to the green for the third. The green is guarded by a deep collection area on the front right and sand to the left and rear. Misplay your third and you’ll likely see your ball bounding over the green. It is paramount to spin the approach to keep the ball on the putting surface. If successful, this hole is a good chance to make birdie—one of the few on The Ocean Course!

*Because of the wind, this hole played above par at 5.04 shots. The fairway was tightened in 2019, making an aggressive line more difficult. Expect to see more players hitting into the fatter left portion of the fairway during the 2021 PGA.

 

Hole #8: A fairly straightforward par three, this hole features a moderately small green that slopes away and to the right. When standing on the tee, the back right pin appears incredibly tight and narrow—but don’t be fooled! The slope of the green will feed the ball back right. No need to challenge the hole, just play to the middle back and allow the slope to take the ball towards the hole. The front pin location appears tamer but is actually much more difficult. The steep slope guarding the front of the green prevents players from bouncing the ball onto the putting surface, so stopping the ball close on the front of the green can be very difficult, especially downwind.

*The eighth was the easiest par three during the 2012 PGA, playing at 198 yards and a scoring average of 3.12.

 

Hole #9: A long and difficult par four completes the front nine. The best line of play is right to left with a center-right placement. A good aiming point is an unreachable sandy area in the middle of the fairway. Position yourself for a mid- to long-iron approach into a fairly large but well-protected green. Pin location makes a big difference in the difficulty of the approach. A right hole location is guarded by a very deep collection area, along with a deep sandy hazard back right, so an up and down from the right of the green is very difficult. A back left pin brings the left sand areas into play, and it is not uncommon for approach shots to bound off the back left of this green. Once again, the smart play is to aim for the middle of the green. Don’t challenge holes cut near the edges. Any errant shot will prove costly. The ninth provides a challenging and beautiful finish to the front nine. Time to stop at the halfway house for a breather!

*This hole played at a hearty 494 yards and into the wind during most of the 2012 PGA Championship. The hole has been lengthened for the 2021 PGA by 20 yards and is expected to play as long as 514 yards.

 

Hole #10: In stark contrast to the marsh and live oaks of the front nine, the back nine meanders through sand dunes and is much more exposed to the wind. While both nines offer great ocean views, the back plays directly along the beach and is lined with huge dunes, sea oats, and other native grasses. 

The tenth borders Willett Pond on the right, and, depending on the tee, features a somewhat blind tee shot. The most prominent feature off the tee is a massive, deep sand area guarding the right side with a vertical grass and sand wall, daring players to clear it. However, the smart play is to keep the tee shot left center, leaving a slightly longer second but not risking the treacherous right side off the tee. The green sits lower than the fairway approach, so club selection is critical. The smallish green flows from back left to front right. A back left pin location is the toughest and front right is the easiest. A fairly straightforward second shot should deliver a good result, but distance control is critical on this somewhat diagonally shaped green.

*The tenth played at 447 yards during the 2012 Championship. It was the third hardest hole with an average score of 4.35.

 

Hole #11: This hole is a dramatic, challenging par five, even for the best players in the world! A huge sand area to the right must be avoided at all costs. Again, Dye allows room off the tee if you keep the ball center left. Since the hole turns a bit right, you may be tempted to drive down the right side, but a miss to the right would be very penal. 

This green is not usually reachable in two except for the longest hitters in downwind conditions. Thus, an accurate layup is critical. Within 100 yards of the green, the fairway gets very tight. Avoid the sand on the left side and the hazard to the right. A flat, elevated green is guarded on all sides by steep runoffs. In particular, avoid the left side or your ball could roll 20 to 30 yards into a deep, tight collection area. The right side is an easier up and down, but natural areas are pretty close and can result in some tricky lies. All in all, a fair test of golf here! 

*The eleventh played to 593 yards during the 2012 Championship and was the hardest par five on the course at a scoring average of 5.06. This yardage may tempt longer hitters to try for the green in two, which will likely result in a lot of drama in 2021!

 

Hole #12: This is one of the widest fairways on the course. Sand areas left and right won’t likely come into play but provide good depth perception. The correct play is center right off the tee with a downhill approach to the green. Some players use a 3-wood off the tee to avoid a downhill lie. Plus the fairway narrows quite a bit as you get closer to the green.

This green is tucked into a canal on the right side. Play left or center center—no need to challenge the hazard to the right.

*In 2012, due to the location of the Championship tee, the hole payed forward at 412 yards. Two new tees were built in 2019 in preparation for the 2021 PGA Championship.

 

Hole #13: A classic Pete Dye design and one of the toughest holes on the course! Dye tempts you to take the aggressive line down the right side—it is protected by a canal that looks even more menacing due to the very stark edge between fairway and hazard. Players need to decide how much of the hazard they want to carry. A more aggressive line leaves a much shorter approach. A conservative line will leave a long second to a well-guarded green. This may be one of the few situations where you should take a more aggressive line off the tee and avoid the long approach. Whichever line you choose, the green is very long and narrow. It spans 42 yards from front to back and is protected by sand at the front left and Ibis Pond to the right. The best miss is middle left. Play middle yardage even with a back pin location. Hitting this green in two shots is tough, and there is not a good miss, left or right. 

*The thirteenth was the most difficult hole of the 2012 PGA Championship. It played into the wind with a scoring average of 4.38. Despite his 8-shot winning margin, Rory McIlroy bogeyed the thirteenth twice and parred it twice. It played at a meaty 497 yards and is expected to play a similar yardage in 2021.

 

Hole #14: Perhaps the most beautiful hole on the course! This stunning par three begins a five-hole stretch that plays directly along the beach. The green is severe and exposed with massive collection areas to the right and behind. A miss right will roll 30 feet below the putting surface and prove to be a very difficult up and down. Sand and a very steep slope protect the left side. The green is quite large but due to the front rear slope, only the front portion is visible. A back left pin looks very intimidating but may actually be the easiest! Play to the center of the green here and hope for the best.

*The fourteenth played at an astounding 238 yards in 2012. It was the fourth hardest hole overall and the most difficult par three.

 

Hole #15: A fairly straightforward par four, this hole borders the Atlantic Ocean on the right and features a wide fairway with natural dunes right and left. A good drive should leave a short-iron approach to a mid-size green. Avoid the sand left and you should have a good chance for birdie or par here.

*The fifteenth was one of the easier holes for the Championship in 2012 and played to a scoring average of 4.0. It was lengthened 22 yards from 444 to 466 yards for the 2021 Championship and should prove to be a good test.

 

Hole #16: The last par five on the course, the sixteenth begins a common Pete Dye pattern: a fairly easy par five, then a tough par three, followed by a very demanding par-four finishing hole. This hole has a huge fairway with little trouble, provided you avoid the dunes and the Atlantic to the right. Your layup must avoid a long sand area on the right and another, much deeper, sand area left and short of the green. Downwind this hole should provide a good chance for birdie. 

*This hole played downwind for the PGA Championship in 2012 and had a scoring average of 4.78. It was the easiest hole on the course and provided a lot of drama with eagles, birdies, and players reaching the green in two shots. It is a great hole for players to make up a little ground with an aggressive, well-executed play.

 

Hole #17: The most famous hole on the course and one of the most iconic par threes in the game.

The tee shot is all carry over water, a very demanding par three and my favorite here. There are sea oaks and big dunes behind the green, which is almost a double green with a front and back landing area. There’s a small bailout area to the left of the green with water right up to the front. The green will call for a variety of shots, depending upon the pin positions and wind. –Pete Dye

The green is technically 44-yards deep, but due to the angle of play from the tee and the overall shape of the green, you really only have about 1218 yards to land the ball. If it’s downwind, play to front or middle yardage and hope it stays on the green. Aim slightly right, as that allows for a bit more runoff. If into the wind, play to back yardage and aim towards the left portion of the green, reducing the carry distance from the tee. Either way, this is a tough shot, requiring not just skill but also mental strength to ignore the trouble and make a good swing under difficult conditions. 

*This hole played to 223 yards during the 2012 PGA Championship and had a scoring average of 3.31.

 

Hole #18: With the Atlantic on your right and the Clubhouse in the distance, this is one of the most beautiful finishing holes in golf. This slight dogleg right is guarded by deep sand areas at the turn, so the ideal tee shot is center right. Longer players may carry the crest of the hill and reach the lower level with an aggressive line off the tee. Most players will face a long second from the top of the hill to a green protected by small, deep sand areas to the left. Missing right should allow a decent chance for an up and down. A miss left is much more penal.

*On the final day of the 1991 Ryder Cup, Bernhard Langer missed a 6-foot putt during the last match, resulting in the US victory.

Although this final hole played downwind, it was still the second most difficult hole in the 2012 PGA Championship. Rory took advantage of the conditions during the final round and drove the ball to the bottom of the hill and hit a 9-iron into the 505-yard par four, making a 20-foot putt for birdie and securing the 8-shot victory with a final round of 66.

Good Luck!

 

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