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A Battle with The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island

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“The hardest golf course in the United States.”

Easily the most intimidating group of words ever assembled. As subjective as the honor might be, when the folks at Golf Digest awarded The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island with this dubious distinction, it wasn’t without cause. One needs to look no further than the second round of the 2012 PGA Championship and its average score of 78 — including 13 rounds of 85 or worse — as proof of Pete Dye’s ultimate gift to the masochistic golfer.

What fate could that possibly hold for a devoted patron of the local muni with a 6 handicap? I was scared to find out.

The history of The Ocean Course was close to mind as the resort shuttle meandered through the marshes of Kiawah Island. “The War by the Shore.” Calc’s shank. Langer’s putt. Rory’s pre-toothache dominance. The opportunity to walk alongside this history was a treat of the bucket list variety. The only question was whether at the end of the day I’d have two things in common with Mark Calcavecchia: A love of the Florida Gators and nightmares from Kiawah Island.

The greeting from The Ocean Course caught me a little by surprise. The gentle breeze I had observed back at The Sanctuary hotel was now a 20 to 30 mph onslaught, striking an even greater fear of Dye’s notorious monster. In addition, a nearly empty golf course meant that I would take on this beast alone; just me, my caddie, and four hours of forced conversation amongst strangers. The upside, I assumed, would be just a single witness to the carnage that was about to take place.

And then I birdied No. 1.

Two straightforward pars were to follow, and brought with them that inevitable voice in every golfer’s head. Maybe, just maybe, today was my day. A day where David would take down Goliath and declare victory for weekend warriors everywhere.

And then I tripled No. 4.

The Ocean Course was just toying with me, opening with a serving of downwind kindness, before turning into the teeth of the wind for nine straight holes of battle. Breaking putts stayed straight, balls wobbled on greens, flagsticks bent in unnatural states, and easy 7’s became hard 4’s. By the 14th tee, where we finally turned for home, I was a worn down shell of a man.

The scorecard told a slightly different story. Like the opening holes, the round had mixed flashes of brilliance — draining a 50-foot birdie on No.8 — with equal doses of harsh reality –- another triple on No. 13. Yet I had somehow managed to keep clear of the sand dunes and wire grass, and the voice in my head returned to kindly point out the chance of a score starting with “7” rather than “8.” A result that seemed impossible back on the first tee, but that was still five long holes away.

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island

The wind may have been in my favor now, but The Ocean Course and my brain were both plotting against me. The former sought to use the crashing waves of the Atlantic to distract me, while the latter constantly displayed a one-man leaderboard. When my 7 iron found the green on No. 18, the call from Ben Wright rang out:

“He’s got a chance. He’s got a very good chance for a 79 on the hardest golf course in America.”

And then I three-putted for an 81.

At the start of the day, I had predicted a score of 92. The end result should have been a reason to pop a bottle of champagne like the 1991 Ryder Cup team, but instead I felt utterly defeated. The Ocean Course had taken everything out of me, using the wind, natural beauty, and an incredible layout to lull me into a state of vulnerability. In a way she’s like the girl in history class that you help cheat on tests. She let’s you believe you’ve got a chance, but in the end, you never really do.

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D.J. Jones is a lifelong golfer and plays to a 6 handicap when he’s not too busy pursuing his other great passion – travel. Tag along with his golf and travel adventures on his blog, The World of Deej.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. JR

    Apr 29, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    Nice read…played it in feb and had a similar experience. I made the turn at 38, Then the in your face 25mph winds and rain came. 10-14 Bogie, double, double, bogie, bogie beat me down. In the picture you used of #12 (or 11), I was in all 3 of those bunkers that day.

  2. rulle35

    Apr 25, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    HA! Good article. I enjoyed reading it and I was pulling for you after reading about the start, my heart sank for you on no.4. 🙁

    I love personal stories of golf triumph. Better luck next time!

  3. Michael

    Apr 19, 2013 at 8:52 am

    I’ve been able to play the Ocean Course a few times and it’s still the most visually intimidating/confusing course I’ve played. Like you, I managed to birdie #1 and #2 a few times and had visions of even par in my head. The back 9 brought all of that back to earth…very tough course but very fun. 81 in those conditions is a pretty darn good score. Great writeup!

  4. David

    Apr 19, 2013 at 5:03 am

    I played The Island course back in March 2013, I agree with you it was one of the hardest courses I have played. Our green conditions were 13 on the meter and 20 mph wind, I felt like you ,beat down when I got through shot a 86 that felt like a 68. Very good test of human body and golf.

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Hidden Gem of the Day: Fresh Pond Golf Course in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member runningdog, who takes us to Fresh Pond Golf Course in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The nine-hole track is a Donald Ross design, and runningdog states in his description that, should you visit the course, then you need to walk it.

“It’s where I played my first golf when I picked it up years ago, and every time I’m back I go and play.  It can be a long round, but it’s a great walk (don’t ever ride this course). 9 Hole track that can be played twice.”

According to Fresh Pond Golf Course’s website, 18 holes will set you back $36 during the week and $41 on weekends.

@VEPO64

@bostoncross

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Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Hidden Gem of the Day: FarmLinks at Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, Alabama

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Hidden Gem of the Day_ FarmLinks at Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, Alabama

These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member TK3, who takes us to FarmLinks at Pursell Farms in  Sylacauga, Alabama. In TK3’s description of the course, he focuses on the enjoyment of a day out at FarmLinks.

“It is not part of the RTJ Trail, but only about 45 minutes from the Judge, Senator + Legislator Courses.  Fantastic track, one fee all you can play and eat and the staff are great.

FarmLinks started off as a way to promote the Company’s fertilizer business, so you can only imagine the course conditioning.  Played there about a half dozen times and it never fails to impress me over and over again.  Definitely worth the trip.”

According to FarmLinks at Pursell Farms’ website, 18 holes during the week or weekend will set you back $59.

@BryanTweed16

@BryanTweed16

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Hidden Gem of the Day: George Dunne National in Oak Forest, Illinois

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member DeeBee30, who takes us to George Dunne National in Oak Forest, Illinois. The course is a part of the Illinois Forest Preserve golf system, and in DeeBee30’s description of the course, the challenge provided is underlined as just one of the highlights of the course.

“Really fun tree-lined parkland layout with some interesting holes that cover rolling terrain that you don’t find in many Chicago-area golf courses.  Coming in at 7262 yards and 75.4/142 from the tips, Dunne offers four sets of tees that will provide a good test for most golfers.  The course gets a lot of play, but it’s always in great condition.”

According to George Dunne National’s website, 18 holes during the week will cost in the region of $40, while the rate rises to $75 should you want to play on the weekend.

@ThomasRWitt1963

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