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The Ocean Course at Kiawah - Like a 10 Round Fight




A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have my wife tell me to go ahead and book a trip to Kiawah Island to play in a Golfweek Amateur Tour event there.  Her only stipulation was that I needed to rend a 2 bedroom villa on the resort so her and the kids could come with me and enjoy some time at the beach.  


I booked the trip only 9 days before the tournament, so I spent the next 9 days doing nothing but thinking about it all.  I did my homework on the courses we were going to be playing (Osprey Point and The Ocean Course).  I played countless rounds on The Ocean Course via the WGT Golf app on my phone.  I cleaned my clubs... then cleaned them again.  I cleaned out my bag and made sure it was organized.  I sent numerous text messages to my golf buddies who would also be attending.  I set aside the shirts I'd be wearing for that weekend and made sure they were clean and wrinkle free.  I cleaned off my spikes and marked my golf balls... and then I still had 8 days to wait.  

The anticipation was excruciating yet exhilarating.  I bored my wife to tears with details about the courses that she couldn't have cared less about.  I went to sleep each night thinking about the shots I wanted to play and the holes I was most looking forward to.  I dreamed of birdies and had nightmares about triple bogeys.  

When Friday finally rolled around, I tried to sleep a little later.  I was off that day, but my wife had to work until 2pm.  I woke up and made sure everything was packed... and then I watched the clock.  It seemed to take forever.  Finally, I got the text message from my wife that she was leaving work.  I told the kids to get ready.  I made sure they had used the bathroom, had on their sandals and then I told them to sit on the steps by the front door waiting.  When my wife walked in, we were already walking out!

Friday night at the resort was beautiful.  We headed over to the Sanctuary Hotel for a buffet dinner at the Loggerhead Grill.  Afterwards, we walked on the beach for a bit and then when my golf buddies started to arrive, we left and met one of them for drinks.  We killed time talking about how excited we were and then, realized it was getting late and we had an early start.  

I know I don't need to tell you golfers this, but... trying to sleep that night was more difficult than trying to sleep as a kid on Christmas Eve.  Even after taking some Aleve PM pills to try and help with getting to sleep, it was a restless night.  I had set my alarm for 6:15 the following morning, but I was up by 5:15.  I got ready, ate breakfast and then waited to be picked up.  

When we arrived at Osprey Point, it was beautiful.  We walked past the practice green towards the range and I had commented on how perfect the practice green looked.  It was nicer than any green on any course I had played before.  The range was pristine.  The clubhouse was the type of clubhouse I had always dreamed of seeing with a huge patio on the back overlooking the 10th hole and the practice range.  There were gators of varying sizes in the pond beneath the patio.  I loved every bit of what I was seeing.  

When we started at 9am... I had aspirations of playing well enough to be in contention.  We played 6 holes prior to play being halted by some pretty nasty lightning and heavy rain.  Through those 6 holes, I was already +8... and that included a birdie.  We sat around in the clubhouse for 2.5 hours waiting for the weather to clear.  We enjoyed some really good lunch at the Cherrywood BBQ & Ale House at the course while we waited, and eventually... it was time to head back out.  

The sun came back out and was burning off the rain, which made it extra humid.  Again, we got about 6 holes played before we were called off the course for more dangerous weather.  I had managed to play those 6 holes in another +8... so I was sitting at +16 while the leader, at that point, was hovering around +4.  I knew I was going to have to do something crazy-special to have any shot.  I figured I wanted to be somewhere around 7 shots from the lead heading into the final round if I was going to make a comeback.  During this delay, which lasted another 2 hours, there was a lot of talk about the round ending and having to finish where we stood.  A lot of guy didn't want that to happen, including myself.  Luckily, we were able to get back out on the course around 6:15pm.  

For the final 6 holes, I actually played fairly well.  I played those holes in +3 to finish at +19.  Going into the round, my goal was a 90.  I finished at 91.  The leader, at that point, had shot an 80, so I was 11 strokes off the lead.  Relieved that we had finally finished the round, we met up with our wives and headed to dinner that night.  We actually ended up at the same spot we went the night before, King Street Grill.  We enjoyed our time out and then headed back to try and sleep before the REAL course the next day.  

Again... sleep was difficult to come by.  I woke up that morning and woke my son who wanted to walk the course as a spectator while we played.  We got ready, packed up the car so my wife wouldn't have to do it when she woke up (because we were leaving right after the round) and headed outside to wait for our ride to the course.  

Once we arrived, everything from the moment we pulled up to the bag drop until the moment we left the course was absolutely outstanding.  We turned the corner from around the clubhouse and were greeted by the sight of the Atlantic Ocean's waves rolling in towards the range and the practice green.

After some warming up, my son and I walked over to the clubhouse and sat on some of the chairs there for a few minutes to just relax and take in the views.  When it was finally time to go and make our way out to the course, we headed over to our carts where we were introduced to our forecaddie, Robbie.  My son walked along the beach to get to the 15th tee, where we would be starting.  When we arrived... it all became real.  I recognized the hole from playing it so many times on my phone.  

Over the course of the next 5+ hours, I was repeatedly punched in the gut by this course.  Shots that I thought were going to be nearly perfect found their way into valleys short of the greens.  Putts that I hit exactly where I wanted missed.  The wind was unlike anything I had played in before.  Holes 15 through 4 played with the wind at our backs.  It meant taking less club and trying to land just on the front of greens.  Holes 5 through 13 played directly into the wind.  When I say wind, I don't mean a 5 MPH wind.  I'm talking about a steady 15 MPH, sometimes with gusts to 25 MPH wind.  Drives that I had hit on the screws into the wind didn't clear 215.  The longest drive I hit on those holes was 221 yards.  It was a ball that, from experience, I know on a flat course with no wind would have gone 270.  The sun didn't hide all day, and it was a 93 degree day with a ton of humidity.  I did my best to keep cool with cold towels from my cooler and drinking a bottle of water every 2 holes.  

Still... by the time we got to the 14th hole, our final of the day (and the hole which I was least looking forward to)... I was exhausted.  I stood on that par 3 tee needing a 5 to break 100 (which was my goal heading into the day).  All day, I had played a fade.  The forecaddie told me to aim at the right side of the green and play my fade and the wind would hold it there.  I knew that left was death because of the huge (and that's an understatement) trap to the left of the green.  I hit a solid 7 iron that started on my line and then got carried by the wind directly into the grass face of that trap.  When we got to it, I had trouble finding it and then playing it was just as difficult.  I did my best, but the ball hit the lip and rolled down to the bottom, just shy of the actual sand.  From there, I hit a shot up onto the green, but it carried a bit too far and trundled down over the back.  My pitch back up ran to the edge of the green and I needed to make that from about 20 feet to shoot 99.  My putt died and dropped left at the hole, staying out by less than an inch.  I tapped in for a 6 to shoot and even 100.  

This course tops most lists as the toughest course in the world.  I played it from the 'Kiawah' tees rated 70.9 / 132 and playing at 6202 yards.  On the scorecard, the 'Tournament' tees are rated 77.3 / 144 and play at 7356 yards.  From the plates at the back of the course where the 2012 PGA Championship was played from, it's rated 79.2 / 155 and play at 7873 yards.

I'm in no way someone that would call myself a 'good' golfer.  My current handicap index is 16.0 and I usually post scores in the 91 - 93 range.  I can dip into the mid-80 range from time-to-time... but I'm also capable of putting up a triple-digit score when my game is off.  My game wasn't off on Sunday... it just wasn't on.  I hit 10 of 14 fairways, which is FAR above average for me.  My bigger problem was playing off the Seashore Paspalum grass from around the greens.  The wind had a consistent effect on my approach shots which meant I was playing a lot of shots from around the greens and I simply didn't play them well.  

When the round was all over and we arrived back at the clubhouse, my wife and daughters were waiting for me.  I checked in with a couple of my buddies (they shot 98 and 99) and my wife made the comment that we all looked like we just got beat up.  I felt like it, too.  I don't know how the professionals do it for 4 straight days and from 1600 yards further back.  It was an extremely humbling experience, and one that I'm hoping makes me better down the road.  I'm already making plans to go back again next year if the tour returns.  

Despite the cost (it was easily a $2000 weekend between the golf, lodging, food and gas)... I will tell anybody that asks that it was worth every single penny.  If you're a golfer and you're looking for a bucket-list course... this is it.  The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort is the real deal!

Until next time...




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Great write up man! Glad you enjoyed it.

"I booked the trip only 9 days before the tournament, so I spent the next 9 days doing nothing but thinking about it all.  I did my homework on the courses we were going to be playing (Osprey Point and The Ocean Course).  I played countless rounds on The Ocean Course via the WGT Golf app on my phone.  I cleaned my clubs... then cleaned them again.  I cleaned out my bag and made sure it was organized.  I sent numerous text messages to my golf buddies who would also be attending.  I set aside the shirts I'd be wearing for that weekend and made sure they were clean and wrinkle free.  I cleaned off my spikes and marked my golf balls... and then I still had 8 days to wait."  

That made me laugh..:-D

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Awesome.  I only remember shooting over 100 twice in my life.  One of those was a smooth 106 at Kiawah, in '97 or so, when I was probably a 12 or 13. Wind was brutal and this was before I knew how to handle it.  One of my most memorable rounds though, thanks for allowing me to relive it and congrats on the 100!  Not too shabby around there.

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That was a good read @Fairway_CY

The wife and i looked at taking a trip to SC this past Spring. After visiting some websites and setting up an itinerary, I received an email from a Charleston Golf and Tourism organization asking if there was any additional information they could provide. I replied by asking if the memory of playing this Kiawah was worth the $225 green fee and let him know I was a poor player.

His response:


In regards to the Kiawah courses; they all offer an extremely memorable golfing experience. However, this comes at a price as they are all expensive places to play. For someone that is not an advanced golfer, the courses might be too tough, which has a chance to take away from the experience. I would recommend playing the courses that you have selected! 

Your description of the course makes it sound like his reply was spot on. 

In the end, we opted for a trip to Florida instead. But South Carolina is a state I'd consider retiring to - even if I never play Kiawah.

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Really fine write-up and thanks for sharing.  As a fellow 16'er, I'd have fun playing in your group of high-90s guys.  Nice to see you played the course from 6200.  Too many people play the 'way-back' tees to experience what the tour pros get during tournament rounds.  And at 6200, you still felt like you got beat up by the course.  I would have as well.

The only regular PGA tour course I've played more than once is Firestone South course here in Akron.  Three tries from the members tees (around 6500) and didn't break the triple-digit barrier.  A 16 handicapper knows when he's plain old overmatched!


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