As is always the case when a professional golf event is being contested on a Pete Dye course, it is as much as much a matter of the players versus Dye as the players against the field. You can fill in the blank yourself because the possibilities are endless as to what will come off of their lips as they head to the courtesy cars each day at this year’s PGA Championship at The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.
The PGA at Whistling Straits in 2010, The Players every year at Sawgrass, the Women’s U.S. Open at Blackwolf this year…just to mention a few…..the list goes on and on. In all cases it is more than simply a test of golf…..it is the challenge to survive and avoid personal humiliation. In Pete’s view he would have it no other way. His job is to baffle the best players in the game with big challenges, lots of strategic choices, and punitive results if they don’t pass muster.
The Ocean Course may be the sternest test of them all. When Pete and Alice built this course on the sandy shores of South Carolina it was not enough just to route the holes along the ocean between the sand dunes. They actually raised the center of the property to make sure the interior holes would have full view of the ocean and full exposure to the ocean breezes. Add to this their ingenious eye for fashioning real risk and reward holes and this event adds up to a demolition derby in Footjoys.
The course was first built to host the infamous “War By The Shore” version of the 1991 Ryder Cup which brought enmity between the sides to new heights. As you will recall it wreaked it’s share of psychological havoc on a number of highly successful professionals of the day. They could put a Memorial Wall beside the 17th green to commemorate all the rounds that been drowned over the years trying to negotiate that tee shot. Personally, I think it is a hard par from the drop area.
Pete has since been back a number times to tweak the layout in preparation for the 2007 Senior PGA and once again for this championship. It certainly has not gotten any easier as a result.
The Dye’s are the masters of deception when it comes to hiding their intent on a given hole. The Ocean Course is full of this. Fairways that are much more generous than they seem from the tee. Landing areas confined by fall offs to nastiness that you cannot discern from 220 yards away. Undulating table top greens that feed off to seas of undulation six feet below the putting surface. Add to this adjacent waste areas the size of small neighborhoods in Newark (and not a whole lot safer I might add), plenty of native grasses on sandy dunes, and a good measure of marshland from which, as the sign says, you are wise not to even consider trying to retrieve your ball.
Pete has gone so far as to introduce a mysterious new grass-Paspalum-in the green complexes that the pros have never played on. This stuff has a sticky character that will arrest the progress of a rolling ball and make using the bump and run recovery up the side banks of these platform greens a very low percentage shot. Tiger, among others, has expressed that given the number of times you get short sided on a wind blown approach managing this grass will be a significant factor in keeping your scorecard in tact.
Adam Scott in an interview early in the week gave a blunt assessment when asked his impression of the course, “The front nine is a really nice, playable golf course, and then the back nine is not.”
Typically the PGA set ups lead to a score of about 10 under plus or minus a few blows, but this year it will totally depend on the weather. The course has been softened considerably by rain almost every day. Good news is that the greens will be holding. Bad news is the course, which can be played at 7700 yards, could play very long. Besides the obvious issues of thunderstorms interrupting play, there are generally strong winds associated with these low pressure systems. The wind will be the major factor in determining whether these guys can hit the precise shots required to negotiate this house of mirrors.
The post round interviews should be very entertaining indeed.