Ocean Course Should Be Worthwhile Test for PGA

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — It has been 21 years since the Ryder Cup rose to prominence and was elevated to one of the most captivating sporting events in the world. Part of the reason was the stage on which it was played — the Ocean Course at the Kiawah Island Resort, a stunning but brutally raw layout designed by Pete Dye specifically for the matches.

The course provided so many dramatic moments and visual memories in 1991, everything from a tearful Mark Calcavecchia sitting disconsolately along the Atlantic Ocean sand dunes to Bernhard Langer missing the putt on the final hole to give the U.S. a victory, that it vaulted Dye’s creation among the most talked-about new beasts in the country.

The Ocean Course, the centerpiece of the resort that features six designer courses, returns to prominence this summer when it plays host to the PGA Championship. And defending champ Keegan Bradley got a sneak peak several weeks ago when he played the course during a media-day preview of the tournament.

“I heard it was really hard, and they were right,” Bradley said. “It’s brutal. It’s a good test. It’s very fair, which is nice, but it’s going to be tough.

“You can play as many practice rounds as you want around here, but if the wind switches around, if the wind switches to where it’s with you on the last couple of holes, it’s a different golf course. You could get a good and bad wave on the tee times. That’s just luck of the draw.”

And Bradley played when the rough was normal length and not at the 2 1/2- to 4-inch heights — and possibly longer — that will be used for the PGA Championship.

The Ocean Course can be stretched to more than 8,000 yards from the back tees, though the course has never been set up to play that long, even when it has been the host for other events such as the World Cup championships and Senior PGA Championship.

“I think that it’s as hard as they say it is,” said Bradley, one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour who drove his ball over the green at the 388-yard 12th hole during his practice round. “And I think during the tournament — I was talking about how high the rough’s going to be — there’s not much rough now. So it’s going to be a definite challenge.”

Dye said he has made a few small changes, though “modest,” to get the course ready for the PGA. Among them was adding two sand bunkers on the far side of the 13th fairway — the last hole before the links-style layout turns around and heads back toward the clubhouse along the shoreline.

“When Mr. Goodwin came here, he told all of us not to make it any easier,” Dye said, referring to resort owner William Goodwin. “I don’t know if we made it any easier or any harder. We’ll find out. But the players are playing so great today, they will get around. They will find a way to get home somehow or another. I don’t think the changes make much difference, to tell you the truth.”

One possible change still has to be determined:

All the sand areas in the fairways and around the greens at the Ocean Course are considered waste bunkers, meaning players can ground their clubs and even take practice swings hitting the sand in those areas.

For the Senior PGA Championship in 2007, all the bunkers were played as waste areas. But there has been consultation to treat some of the closed-in bunkers around the greens as sand bunkers, and all the rest as waste areas, for the PGA Championship.

It is believed that no major championship has been played with all bunkers being treated as waste areas.

That’s what cost Dustin Johnson the PGA championship two years ago when he grounded his club and struck the sand on the 18th hole at Whistling Straits. He believed the bunker was a waste area like some of the other sand areas on the course, which is similar in style to the Ocean Course.

“There has not been a determination at this point as to how all of the sand areas on the golf course are going to be played,” said Roger Warren, president of the Kiawah Island Resort and past president of the PGA of America. “But that will be determined and will be clearly defined for all the players as they go out and play during this event, which I know they will appreciate.”

Trivia
Who are the only four players to win three or more majors in the 1980s? Answer at end.

Costly triple bogey
Phil Mickelson will never be a greater champion than Tiger Woods, much the way Arnold Palmer never won as many tournaments as Jack Nicklaus.

Even if he had won the Masters and could double the number of major championships he would own, Mickelson would still be four shy of the total held by Woods, even if Tiger were to never win another major.

Consider this, too: Woods once was ranked No. 1 in the world for a record 623 weeks. Mickelson, for all his 40 PGA Tour victories, has never been ranked No. 1 in the world. Not even for a single week.

David Duval. Vijay Singh. Lee Westwood. Martin Kaymer. Rory McIlroy. Luke Donald. They have all spent time as the No. 1-ranked player in the world since 1999. Among them, only Singh (3) has won more than one major. Westwood and Donald don’t have any.

Not Mickelson.
He has four major championships, and, if not for an unlikely break on the final day at Augusta National when his tee shot hit the grandstand railing at No. 4, might have gained another to tie Byron Nelson and Seve Ballesteros on the all-time list. Only 13 players in the history of the game have won more than five majors. The only active player with as many is Woods, who has 14.

That’s why the triple-bogey 6 he made on the par-3 hole might have cost him more than a fourth green jacket — a fourth green jacket that would have given him as many as Woods and tied him with Palmer as the second greatest Masters champion in history, behind only Nicklaus.

It might have cost Lefty the recognition as the best player in the world, right here, right now.

Old American design
Justin Leonard is almost too young — and too busy — to be involved with course design. But he has already partnered with Tripp Davis to help design The Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, near Dallas.

It is Leonard’s first design collaboration and something he has been wanting to do since he was young. And the former British Open and Players champion got started designing holes in an odd way.

“It’s something I’ve been interested in,” Leonard said. “I can remember going on family vacations and going to the beach and designing holes in the sand. When you can do it on sand and really contour it, it’s really, really fun.”

Old American is a something of an anomaly because it was one of the few golf courses to open in the U.S. in 2011.

Because of a flat economy and a general overall decline in course construction, only 19 courses opened last year compared to 157 1/2 closings, according to the National Golf Foundation, “It’s not a good time to build golf courses with the economy,” Leonard said. Even in the sand.

Dissa and data
• The 14th Parkway West Rotary Charity Classic is July 16 at the Diamond Run GC. Entry is $180 and includes dinner and auction. Call 724-947-1234 or go to parkwaywestrotary.com.

• The Holy Trinity Youth Ministry Outing is April 29 at the Club at Shadow Lakes. Entry is $80 and includes dinner and auction. Call 412-787-2143, ext. 117.

Trivia answer
Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros and Larry Nelson are the only players to win at least three majors in the 1980s.

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