Other than the Masters at Augusta National, every major championship brings the nuance and intrigue of a course that is seen, at most, every 5-7 years by the general golf public. St. Andrews, Pinehurst and Olympic Club are golf courses we hear a lot about, but they are not necessarily courses we see all that often. The same is true of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, which will host this week's PGA Championship.
Pete and Alice Dye's design was constructed 30 years ago, and this will be the third monumental event on its grounds. It ticks all the boxes of a top-shelf championship golf course and fits nicely into all the top-whatever lists (24th on Golf Digest's list of top 100 in North America and 14th on Golfweek's list of best modern courses in the U.S.).
With such a course and such a history comes plenty to know even before the first shots are hit at the PGA Championship this week. So let's take a gander at the beautiful behemoth that sidles up next to the Atlantic Ocean on the South Carolina coast as the fourth major of this PGA Tour season gets underway.
1. Going long: This will officially be the longest PGA Championship and major championship in terms of scorecard yardage. This is perhaps not as meaningful as it seems given the way technology has increased to match the length of courses (200 yards is probably pretty easily erased in the last nine years), but it's still worth noting that this is the longest of the 456 majors that have ever been played in the history of this sport. Here are the top five.
- Kiawah (2021 PGA) – 7,876 yards
- Erin Hills (2017 U.S. Open) – 7,741 yards
- Chambers Bay (2015 U.S. Open) – 7,695 yards
- Kiawah (2012 PGA) – 7,676 yards
- Hazeltine (2009 PGA) – 7,674 yards
2. 1991 Ryder Cup: In addition to Rory McIlroy laying waste to a great field back at the 2012 PGA Championship, this course also hosted a Ryder Cup exactly 30 years ago. In fact, it was originally built after being awarded the 1991 Ryder Cup, which went on to be probably the biggest inflection point in the storied history of that event and maybe the best Ryder Cup of all time.
3. Land worth begging for: When the Dyes built the golf course, Pete former immediately fell in love with this stretch of land along the Atlantic Ocean. And it is truly a rarity in golf in the United States that you get such natural, dramatic land right on one of the coasts. Visually, it looks like it should be a course in Kansas or Nebraska or somewhere like that, but if there was, you know, a massive ocean in Kansas or Nebraska.
"When I first walked the land, I fell in love with the site," Pete Dye said on his website. "This narrow, two-and-a-half mile beachfront had beautiful ocean views on one side and vast saltwater marshes on the other. I would have bent down on my knees and begged for the opportunity to build there."
4. A links-y Sawgrass? There are two seemingly contrasting styles going on here. The first is that the course is links-y, which it certainly looks to be with all the rolling dunes, its proximity to the ocean and its figure-eight routing. However, it plays more like a classic Dye course (think TPC Sawgrass) where you have to hit volcano-like greens. This is hard enough in normal conditions, but when wind is whipping off the Atlantic Ocean, you can forget about it. It's a very unique golf course, and it will take a lot of patience, discipline and absolutely world-class ball-striking to claim a trophy this weekend.
5. What is paspalum? The strain of grass grown at the Ocean Course is fairly different to most grasses at both other major championships as well as regular PGA Tour events. It's stickier than most, which means that sometimes fairways and greens can player slower than is preferred at major championships. It likely will not be as big of a story as, say, kikuyu grass would be, but you'll hear plenty about it this week.
"If the grass is good and healthy, it's pretty much bulletproof," said Jeff Stone, superintendent of the Ocean Course. "It likes to be mowed a lot, and it likes to be mowed low. It can handle it, and as long as your grass is healthy, it can take it. It's such a stiff blade of grass, the mower wants to sit on top of it anyway, so you can mow them down pretty tight."
Watch the 2021 PGA Championship beginning Thursday with Rounds 3-4 streaming live over the weekend on CBSSports.com, the CBS Sports App and Paramount+. Check out the updated PGA Championship schedule for how to watch the year's second major all week long.
6. The 2012 PGA Championship: I can't get over the final leaderboard from that 2012 PGA Championship. Rory rolled by eight, but the rest of the board is like a mad lib of random players from that era. I'm not sure if it's instructive, but I do think one thread here – and this is something you hear a lot of folks talk about, including Rory himself -- is that, if it's windy (and it almost certainly will be), you'll have players with elite short games (Patrick Reed, Cameron Smith etc.) play great this week. Because if nobody is hitting already-difficult-to-hit greens, short-game magicians should shine.
7. The 17th is a nightmare: All 221-yard par-3s tend to be difficult, but some of the horror stories from the 1991 Ryder Cup are tough to read. And it has not gotten easier. In a course update since the 2012 PGA Championship, a new bulkhead was built around the 17th that makes for some even nastier pin positions, according to architect Scot Sherman.
"... and so we just tweaked it a little bit and enlarged that green, so there's some hole locations all along the water now," Sherman told Geoff Shackelford in this terrific interview.