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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: Oak Hollow Golf Club in High Point, North Carolina

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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 posted by GolfWRX member thejuice, who submitted Oak Hollow Golf Club in High Point, North Carolina, as his hidden gem of a golf course. In his description, thejuice charts out what exactly he loves about the course, and why the Pete Dye designed track is now going to be his go-to-stop in North Carolina.

“It’s a Pete Dye design that has a lot of the unfair Dye slopes in the greens, with the normal Pete Dye risk/reward setup on several holes.  I played it with some cousins during my family reunion and thought it was fantastic.”

“We normally play Starmount Forest (I’m a ClubCorp member), Grandover, or Bryan Park (both have 36 holes, and both are fine facilities), but I think I want to make Oak Hollow my preferred course when I go to visit my NC fam.  For the price, it just can’t be beaten.  I think we paid $40 on a Saturday morning (8 am tee time) and it was definitely worth more than that with several holes on a large lake and excellent fairways and greens.”

Sounds good, right? Well according to Oak Hollow Golf Club’s website, that Saturday morning rate comes with a cart, and should you want to play during the week, an 18 hole round will set you back just $33. They have plenty of specials listed on their site too, but the one that stands out the most is the 18 hole weekday walking fee, which costs only $17.

@rcausey25

@TeamSC11

@HPCBison_Golf

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

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Hidden Gem of the Day: The Wilderness at Lake Jackson in Texas

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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 takes us to “The Lone Star State” and The Wilderness at Lake Jackson in Texas. The course was submitted by GolfWRX member pearsonified, who calls The Wilderness “the best value in Texas”. Pearsonified also believes that the course contains “perhaps the most memorable green sites” he’s ever seen as he went into full detail on why he believes The Wilderness is such a gem.

“This Jeff Brauer design is a RIDICULOUS sleeper with perhaps the most memorable green sites I’ve ever played. The par five 7th plays to a kidney-shaped green that’s nearly 70 yards long and features a few different plateaus. The long par three 16th—one of my favorite holes anywhere—is a classic Biarritz with a 5-foot-deep swale cutting right through the middle. Honorable mention goes to the short par four 11th which properly balances risk with reward and goads players to bite off as much as they can.”

According to The Wilderness at Lake Jackson’s website, a weekday round for a resident will cost $49, while for a non-resident the fee rises to $59. Although rising above the hidden gem “less than $50” rule, to play after 2 pm at the Wilderness will set you back just $44, and all of these rates include a cart fee.

@SilverStarGolf

@SilverStarGolf

@thewildernessgc

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

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Hidden Gem of the Day: Quail Hollow Golf Course in Boise, Idaho

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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 posted by GolfWRX member PixlPutterman, who submitted Quail Hollow Golf Course in Boise, Idaho as his hidden gem of a golf course. PixlPutterman calls Quail Hollow a “target golfers dream,” and judging by his description of the 18 hole course, it’s easy to see why.

“Nestled in the foothills at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains. The course is kept in country club level condition and is very challenging. Its a target golfers dream, you can play it with about six clubs and you rarely “need” a driver. Greens are in great shape, and there are some great elevation holes. Pic (below) was taken from the Champion Tee on the 18th Hole. You basically tee off over two other holes, and the view is AWESOME.”

According to Quail Hollow Golf Course’s website, a weekend round with a cart at the course nestled in the Boise foothills will cost you $48, while playing during the week is just $44. Both senior and twilight rates come in at around $39.

@Ron_White

@fnf2017

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

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