Courses & TravelMarch 3, 2010

Kiawah's Ocean Course Causes Rough Waters

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I walked in with confidence in my golf game, left looking into bowling lessons. My partner and I, also about an eight handicap, finished with a net best-ball score of 84. (We finished middle of the pack.) Not only is it too hard for a chop like me, but it's also expensive (now through May 31, it's $338 for walk ups, which includes a cart or a caddie, but not gratuity).

I also don't love the layout. Specifically holes two through four make no sense, not that early in the round. The second hole is a par 5 that goes out, left and then right--going for it in 2, even with the longest of drives, is a round-wrecking proposition. Fact is, you have to have the accuracy of a tour player to hit the green in 4.

The third hole, par 4, with an elevated slab of short grass commonly referred to as a green, is like trying to land a ball on the top of a backyard trampoline. Your approach shot plays downwind and unless you have brand new square grooves on your gap wedge, your ball is rolling into a penal collection area. If it was later in round, playing into the wind, I might say I like it.

The fourth hole frustrates me. A 400-yard par 4, listed as the hardest hole on the course, and due to a swampy thing running through the middle of the fairway, you can't hit driver off the tee. I don't know about you, but if I'm trying to slay the biggest dragon in the land, I'd like to at least be wielding my biggest sword.

So you're 6 over through four holes, and it's time to turn into the wind. Having fun yet? Better get used to it--you play into the prevailing wind until the 14th hole. In the conditions I enjoyed, you'd have an easier time trying to paddle a canoe up a raging river of acid. By the 10th hole I believe I grumbled, "I can't even pretend to have fun anymore." Standing in the middle of the 13th fairway with 150 yards into a green, flanked by bunkers and a wind blowing directly into the greenside body of water, I pulled 5-wood and tried to hit a modified stinger along the ground. I still rinsed it and made a 7.

In fairness, I've only played the Ocean Course in bad weather. So I polled the office for some more opinions. Senior Editor for Golf World Bill Fields said, "I haven't played it, but I've seen the pros play it--that's enough for me."

Senior Editor of Golf Digest Craig Bestrom said, "It's a pleasant walk with some gorgeous views. It's a lot easier to walk than say, Bethpage, that's for sure."

Senior Writer at Digest Guy Yocom made a good point. He said, "The course is a lot harder than TPC Sawgrass, but it's the best match play course in the country, the best Ryder Cup venue ever. Water, sand, wind and it's so exposed--the very things that make it a nightmare for us--are the things we like to see the pros deal with."

Here's a link to a recent review of the Ocean Course by the Editor of Golf World, Geoff Russell. He writes: "With all due respect to TPC Sawgrass, Whistling Straits and Harbour Town, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is probably Pete Dye's best and most famous design."

As much as I respect him, I'll continue to curse Pete Dye, and I'll say the best part about the Ocean Course is the clubhouse. After a few minutes by the fire, heating your hiney, try the Bloody Mary and the blue-cheese bacon burger for lunch.

Without a doubt, the highlight of my trip was my stay at the five-star Sanctuary, one of my top 5 golf hotels in the country. This is a layout that makes sense to me. The service is spectacular and by being a resort guest, you get a discount on the dilemma that is the Ocean Course (now through the end of the March, stay and play $280 per night, per person, based on double occupancy. April through the end of May, the same deal is $359 per person per night).

For more on the Sanctuary, the rest of my top 5 golf hotels in the country and their best stay-and-play packages for the next few months, check back tomorrow.*

--Matty G.***

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