The 2012 PGA Championship represented the first time one of golf’s four major championships had been played in the state of South Carolina. And while The Ocean Course has welcomed The Ryder Cup and other championship-level events to its sun-soaked fairways and greens, playing host to one of the most renowned golf tournaments has initiated a new chapter of excellence for one of the world’s great courses.
As Kiawah Island eagerly awaits the return of the PGA Championship in 2021, it’s worth noting the sequel will have a distinctly different feel. As part of an overhaul of the FedEx Cup Playoff schedule, the PGA TOUR shuffled its broader tournament slate. That meant moving the PGA Championship, which traditionally had been played in August, to May. The thunderstorms common in the Lowcountry summer won’t be as much of a factor, but that does mean players will have to contend with a level of unpredictability they didn’t face in 2012.
As spring transitions to summer, a series of fronts tend to sweep across the region, bringing with them fluctuations in temperature and wind gusts coming from a variety of directions. Stephen Youngner, head professional at The Ocean Course, says players should expect weather similar to the 1991 Ryder Cup, which was held in late September.
“In the practice rounds for the Ryder Cup, the wind was blowing out of the southwest, and we had players at No. 17 hitting seven-irons and eight-irons into the par three,” he says. “On the first day of competitive play, however, the wind completely changed to a northeast wind, and those players were having to hit three-woods on the same hole.”
Weather aside, The Ocean Course presents enough of a test that it can host a professional golf tournament with few, if any, tweaks to the course setup. In fact, most of the planned changes to tee locations for next year have more to do with facilitating a smooth flow for the galleries than adding difficulty. As is, the course remains a formidable challenge for the game’s best players.
Those players will have to embrace a layout that has the feel of a traditional links course one might more regularly see in Northern Europe. Indeed, a quick glance at the leaderboard from 2012 suggests who could benefit the most, with six players hailing from England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, or Wales finishing in the Top 12.
Words by Johnathan McGinty | Photo by Patrick O’Brien