It’s time again for another major championship while this super-season golf schedule continues, as it’s the golf gift that keeps on giving.
This week, the TOUR heads to the Lowcountry in South Carolina. The best players in the world will tee it up at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island. It will be the first time the PGA Championship has been held at this course since the 2012 version, which turned into a runaway, eight shot victory for Rory McIlroy.
The 2012 PGA Championship was played at the longest length of any major at that time, and that will happen once again in 2021. The powers that be have set the official scorecard for the week at an enormous 7,876-yard par 72. It may play longer than that depending on the wind and setup each day, but it will undoubtedly be a difficult test. This year, they have not only added length but have also grown the rough up to three and a half inches, which makes hitting it long and also straight imperative.
This is always one of the best fields in golf as even with 20 PGA Professionals making the field this week, the rest stack up as a who’s who of professional golf. Only Matthew Wolff of the top tier of players will miss the week, meaning that players nursing ailments like Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka will be a part of this elite field. The likely headline of the week will be another attempt for Jordan Spieth to capture the career grand slam.
Let’s dive into what the players will face on the course and how we can identify the guys that may suit the track the best.
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island – Kiawah Island, SC
- 7,876 yard par 72
- Average Green Size: 6,000 Sq Ft (below average for TOUR)
- Seashore Paspalum grass tee to green and on putting surfaces
- Bermudagrass rough has been overseeded with ryegrass and grown to 3.5 inches
- 30 acres of sand which will play entirely as waste bunker/transition areas meaning no rakes, players can ground their clubs
- Six holes with water in play
Much of the talk this week will be about the aforementioned length of the Ocean Course as it is a beast of a course distance wise, but the wind is likely the factor that will steal the show. There will be wind at all times around this course perched just a few hundred yards from the Atlantic Ocean, but the amount of wind will determine just how brutally difficult it will play. Back in 2012 there was on a particular day of heavy winds that led to extremely difficult scoring conditions, and while that type of day doesn’t appear to be in the forecast this week, any winds will make this course a brute.
The 7,876 yards seems surprising when you see two of the first three holes are par 4s listed under 400 yards, but the long par 3s and the remainder of the par 4s no shorter than 447 yards make up for that quickly. The first is just 396 yards, but it’s protected by a narrow landing area off the tee with bunkering and a lake protecting the right side and plenty of rough to the left. If players can find the short grass they may have a rare chance to score to start their round, though that only comes with two really well hit shots at the first.
Hole 2 is the first of four par 5s and as you will catch is a trend around this course, it’s scorable if you hit some really good shots. The 557-yard hole is reachable in two shots, especially if you dare challenging the carry of the marsh down the left side. The more players bite off, the more they will be rewarded by a strong drive and the chance to reach this green in two. The risk of taking on this hole for a chance at birdie or better comes with plenty of danger as large waste bunkers protect the sides of the green and the marsh creeps up for any run offs over the back. This will be a key hole for players to score, but inevitably some will run into big numbers trying to be aggressive and missing their spots.
The third hole is another short par 4, listed at just 390 yards, but it can be made shorter and may be one to watch if they set it up one day for players to have a decision in trying to drive this green. Any decision of that sort is going to be a tough ask as the elevated green is difficult to hold even with a wedge from the fairway, much less with a driver from the tee. There will be plenty of excitement around this hole, mostly due to this diabolical green complex.
The length of the course really starts to show its teeth at the 484-yard par-4 fourth hole. It’s noted as the hardest hole of the opening nine, and depending on the wind direction during the round, it will be one that players are happy to walk away from with par. Then as players get away from that tough test, they approach the first par 3 at the 207 yard fifth. This hole features the largest green on the course, which will require precision to hit the correct tier in order to avoid a really tough two putt.
By the 6th hole, the course finally reaches its most outward point, and starts to come back in towards the clubhouse. This will do a 180 in changing the wind direction for players, requiring an important adjustment as they could have been playing all against the wind and now with it, or vice versa. This is part of what makes the Ocean Course so tough, as it happens on both nines, requiring peak skill, but also the cerebral aspect throughout the round.
Another scoring opportunity potentially comes at the par-5 seventh, but it really requires the right wind to take advantage. There is a chance to carry the sand areas if the wind is helping, though the safer play is left of that target to hit a wider target and play the hole in a more traditional three shots. The shortest par 3 on the course and a lengthy, but wide 514-yard par 4 close out the front nine.
The inward nine at the Ocean Course is similar to the front in that it actually goes out from the clubhouse before turning back down the home stretch. The par-5 11th and 16th will provide the most obvious scoring opportunities as they can both be reached in two, especially with some helping wind. Even with the 16th listed at 608 yards, it provides a chance for the long hitters to put themselves in position to make a move down the stretch of the weekend.
While those two holes are attackable, most others will be holes where hanging on, and avoiding a big number will be considered success. Both of the par 3s at 14 and 17 will play over 220 yards, with the 14th being the longest of the bunch. To make matters worse it is also one of the most exposed holes to the winds on the course, creating a really difficult shot to hit and hold the elevated green. Then, as the leaders come down the stretch, they will be met with the 17th which is a full carry over water, again exposed to the weather elements of the oceanside. All told, playing these par 3s at or right around even par for the week will be considered a huge success.
Each of the prior holes listed on the back nine will be a factor in deciding the champion, but the beastly par 4s will ultimately test the entire bag of the contenders in the afternoon on Sunday. None of this group of six is any shorter than 447 yards, and the longest extends out to 505 yards as the finishing hole. The 13th is likely the toughest of the bunch as it has the canal running the entire right side of the hole, which takes away an entire side of the hole on a long 497-yard test. The first shot off the tee will require a carry of that canal, with the more bitten off creating more advantage but also more risk.
The wind is one final factor at the last as it will go a long way to determining if players will have long irons or even fairways woods into the hole, or a scoring club. This is the type of thing that can change not only day to day, but often during the middle of a round at the Ocean Course. It will be an incredible test of golf, a fantastic watch, and will no doubt crown a very worthy champion of the 2021 PGA Championship.
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