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Check Out The Ocean Course’s Iconic Oak and Other Famous PGA Championship Trees

If fairways and greens are the man-made lifeblood of golf, trees are their natural counterparts — co-conspirators that beat life into the course. Rounding out the month of March, our newsletter climbs an unexplored ladder and researches the living trees that make PGA Championship courses so unique. We start with this year’s host, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island ⬇️

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The State

Kiawah Island Golf Resort Ocean Course: The oak tree on the third hole

Kiawah Island is famous for their Angel Oak tree emblazoned on their logo, but did you know there’s another tree that has made a name for itself at The Ocean Course? Perhaps not as well-known, a withered live oak centrally resides on the 390-yard third hole, adding to the rigor of the course early in the round. The lowcountry native tree stood patiently for years, waiting for Pete Dye to arrive and incorporate it into his legendary course. From the moment the course opened, it remained a lightning rod for both man and nature. The unwavering spectator was no match for wayward approach shots paired with powerful Atlantic-coast hurricanes which aged the tree over the course of a century. Yet while it survived the most extreme storms, a disease ultimately killed this tree in 2015. It was a sad, slow death for a singular beacon that reached notoriety during the 2012 PGA Championship after taking a direct hit from Rory McIlroy’s ball (which got stuck on one of the tree's lower limbs).

In 2019, the course planted a replacement oak that resembled “Rory’s tree,” which preserves the strategy and overall visual appeal of the hole. For the next century and beyond, golfers will still be able to pass by the tree and marvel at the contrast between its bare body and the idyllic seaside ensemble it inhabits.

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Darren Carroll/PGA of America

TPC Harding Park: the Monterey cypress trees

As if golf wasn’t already challenging enough, the aura of command is amplified by the Monterey Cypress trees that border the fairways at TPC Harding Park. The discernable masses prey upon its challengers, eager to turn a well-struck golf shot into a stroke-and-distance penalty. Losing a golf ball in Harding Park’s thick rough is maddening enough, but accepting a stroke that results from a tree swallowing your golf ball is a tough break to deal with. Though climbing into a tree to take a whack at your ball and save par proves a solution at some courses, these Monterey cypress don’t give you that luxury.

TPC Harding Park remains the shortest course to have hosted the PGA Championship since Oak Hill Country Club in 2013, but its canopies of thick cypress trees quickly humble the longer hitters as early as the first hole. At last year’s PGA Championship, Haotong Li had the lead going into his thirteenth hole … until he found trouble in the tops of the trees. Not only did he lose his golf ball in an attempt to cut the corner with his tee shot, but he also lost his lead after an unfortunate double-bogey. But it’s not just the branches to look out for: you’re just as likely to incur a penalty stroke if you find your ball stymied against the wide base of a Cypress.

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Paul Mounce - Corbis

Riviera Country Club: Bogey’s Tree

While Riviera Country Club has welcomed prestige and personality to its private château for nearly a century, the modest sycamore tree that inhabits the twelfth hole has attracted its own celebrity following with much more ease. Dubbed “Bogey’s Tree,” its corkscrew limbs and muscular trunk makes it one of the more dramatic pieces of timber the course has on display. The iconic tree was named after American actor Humphrey Bogart, who could be found perched underneath the shade of the sycamore with a bottle of Bourbon tucked under his arm, watching golfers attempt aggressive shots into the par-4’s narrow green. While Bogart knew Jim Beam very well, he knew the game of golf even better. Bogart was a good player himself, but he preferred to watch Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson play, perhaps hoping to learn a trick or two from true masters of the game. Similar to the gates that keep trespassers out of Riviera, the tree stands guard at the front of the green in a similar fashion, only letting a handful of golf shots pass by its impenetrable base.

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Rick Stewart

Oak Hill Country Club: the “Hill of Fame”

At Oak Hill Country Club, history is etched in brass plaques and bolted to oak trees, where the past intersects with the present and takes the shape of a breathtaking memorial. A collective of oak trees parallels the thirteenth hole where you will find the names of Donald Ross, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus, reminding the amateur of the hallowed grounds on which they play. Given the nickname “The Hill of Fame,” the walk up to the green embraces a perfectly understated testimonial which nods to some of the game’s greatest contributors. The act of bestowing a tree is one of the more prestigious recognitions in the game of golf that only 35 individuals have been entitled to thus far. One of the plaques even recognizes the 1995 European Ryder Cup team, who went on to defeat the United States when Philip Walton’s two-putt secured the win for the European side. As the sport continues to welcome new players and trailblazers alike, more oak trees will be branded in honour of those with unyielding devotion to the game.