Top 30 You Can Play: Ocean Course among handful of Kiawah golf courses on SC list | Sports
In his 15 years as director of golf for Kiawah Island Resort, Brian Gerard has gotten accustomed to accepting praise for The Ocean Course, which has been acknowledged nationally, regionally and statewide as one of South Carolina’s premier designs for nearly three decades.
Indeed, from its 1991 debut as host to the Ryder Cup Matches, known as The War by the Shore, the seaside Pete Dye creation has been considered one of the state’s golfing crown jewels. Most recently, Golf Digest named The Ocean Course to its “America’s Greatest Courses” ranks in 2019-20; Golfweek has it on its 2020-21 “Best Courses You Can Play” list, and the publication’s “Top 100 Courses in the World” and “Top 100 in the U.S.” lists.
This year’s South Carolina Golf Course Ratings Panel list of the state’s “Top 30 You Can Play” is no exception to that.
A year ago, the panel – a group of 120 golf media, business insiders and players – named The Ocean Course No. 1 in its Top 50 Courses in South Carolina (private and public-access). While the biennial “Top 30” list (public-access only) doesn’t announce votes for each course, one can assume The Ocean Course is at or near the top.
But like any proud parent asked to pick his favorite child, Gerard points out that Kiawah’s other four courses should also rate attention. Now he has more ammunition for that argument: Kiawah’s Turtle Point, Osprey Point and Cougar Point courses were also named to the Top 30, accounting for four of eight Charleston-area layouts on the list.
Also named to the Top 30 from the Charleston area are Wild Dunes Resort’s Links and Harbor courses, and Seabrook Island’s Ocean Winds and Crooked Oaks courses. The Grand Strand region led the Top 30 with 13 courses, while the Lowcountry region (not including Charleston) has four selections, the Midlands three and the Upstate two.
“With all the great golf courses in our state for the panel to choose from, it’s an honor for us to have four of our courses recognized,” Gerard said. “We’ve got four unique courses, by different designers.
“The Ocean Course is obviously the draw (for players), but what people find when they come here and play the (Tom) Fazio, (Jack) Nicklaus and (Gary) Player courses, is you can come for a weeklong stay and play five courses with different challenges, looks and feels. We’re unique in that regard.”
Again like a proud parent, Gerard also is quick to praise Oak Point, designed by South Carolina native Clyde Johnston, as part of the Kiawah family. In 2019, Oak Point was named “Best Course in South Carolina” by the Charleston Golf Course Owners Association.
“Oak Point is a phenomenal test of golf, but it doesn’t get the publicity the others do,” Gerard said. “Our challenge is to get folks to try it.”
In May, there’ll be folks available to convince. Kiawah is set to return to the international golf spotlight when the PGA Championship returns to the Ocean Course after a successful 2012 performance.
While travel and crowd numbers will remain restricted by COVID-19 protocols, Gerard expects all his courses to shine – both for those who get to watch the PGA Tour’s best, and those who try the rest of Kiawah’s collection for themselves.
“The (Ocean) Course is in great shape,” Gerard said. “The ticket situation will be very different from 2012 (due to the pandemic, which will limit attendance to 10,000 spectators each day), but we’re going to get to play the event, which is a good thing. Our staff has done a good job to get ready.
“The main thing for all our courses is the great conditioning job our superintendents (led by the Ocean Course’s Jeff Stone) do on a daily basis. What they do every day to prepare the courses for players is phenomenal.”
While the Ocean Course is supremely challenging for all levels of players, Kiawah’s other layouts are more “user-friendly,” Gerard said. All underwent renovations from 2014-17, with the others installing the same saltwater-resistant paspalum grass on tees, fairways and greens that debuted at The Ocean Course.
“Osprey Point is our members’ and guests’ favorite,” Gerard said of the Fazio design. “Tom came (during the renovations) but did hardly any design changes; he took some of the mounding out of the 18th fairway, softened that, but left the rest alone. There’s not a lot of forced carries and the fairways are more generous.”
Nicklaus’ design team, on the other hand, made significant changes to the “more challenging” Turtle Point, redesigning greens complexes and fairway bunkers. Player’s team, much like Fazio’s, made minimal changes at Cougar Point beyond re-grassing and a new clubhouse. “It’s got some really picturesque holes and is one of the members’ favorites,” Gerard said. Oak Point underwent changes to bunkering and greens, making the latter “more accessible.”
In two months, visitors for the PGA Championship will get a look at Kiawah’s “other” courses. Gerard is confident Turtle, Osprey, Cougar and Oak will live up to The Ocean Course’s standards.
“We’ve made a major investment in our golf, which we’re fortunate to be able to do,” he said. “The Ocean Course is the draw, but when you get on the other four, you really see what Kiawah is all about.”
Top 30 Golf Courses You Can Play
Kiawah Island Resort – Ocean Course
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club
Sea Pines – Harbour Town Golf Links
True Blue Plantation
Kiawah Island Resort – Turtle Point Course
Orangeburg Country Club
Wild Dunes Resort – Links Course
Dunes Golf & Beach Club
TPC of Myrtle Beach
Kiawah Island Resort – Osprey Point Course
Grande Dunes Resort Club
Kiawah Island Resort – Cougar Point Course
Barefoot Resort – Dye Course
May River Golf Club
Tidewater Golf Club & Plantation
Barefoot Resort – Fazio Course
Sea Pines – Heron Point by Pete Dye
Walker Course at Clemson
Furman Golf Club
Sea Pines – Atlantic Dunes
Seabrook Island Club – Ocean Winds Course
Prestwick Country Club
Barefoot Resort – Love Course
Aiken Golf Club
Pine Lakes Country Club
Seabrook Island Club – Crooked Oaks Course
Wild Dunes Resort – Harbor Course
Country Club of South Carolina
Top courses by region
Greater Charleston (Top 10)
Kiawah Island Resort – Ocean Course; Kiawah Island Resort – Turtle Point Course; Wild Dunes Resort – Links Course; Kiawah Island Resort – Osprey Point Course; Kiawah Island Resort – Cougar Point Course; Seabrook Island Club – Ocean Winds Course; Seabrook Island Club – Crooked Oaks Course; Wild Dunes Resort – Harbor Course; RiverTowne Country Club (Mt Pleasant); Links at Stono Ferry (Hollywood)
Grand Strand (Top 20)
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club (Pawleys Island); True Blue Plantation (Pawleys Island); Dunes Golf & Beach Club; TPC of Myrtle Beach (Murrells Inlet); Pawleys Plantation (Pawleys Island); Grande Dunes Resort Club; Barefoot Resort – Dye Course; Tidewater Golf Club & Plantation (Little River); Barefoot Resort – Fazio Course; Prestwick Country Club (Myrtle Beach); Barefoot Resort – Love Course; Heritage Club (Pawleys Island); Pine Lakes Country Club (Myrtle Beach); Myrtle Beach National – Kings North; The Founders Club at Pawleys Island; The Legends – Heathland Course (Myrtle Beach); Glen Dornoch Waterway Golf Links (Little River); Wachesaw East Golf Club (Murrells Inlet); The Legends – Moorland Course (Myrtle Beach); Tradition Club (Litchfield Beach)
Lowcountry (Top 10)
Sea Pines – Harbour Town Golf Links; May River Golf Club (Palmetto Bluff); Sea Pines – Heron Point by Pete Dye; Sea Pines – Atlantic Dunes; Palmetto Dunes Resort – Robert Trent Jones Course; Palmetto Dunes Resort – Arthur Hills Course; Palmetto Dunes Resort – George Fazio Course; Fripp Island Resort – Ocean Point (Cobb); Fripp Island Resort – Ocean Creek (Love); Palmetto Hall Plantation – Arthur Hills Course
Midlands (Top 5)
Orangeburg Country Club; Aiken Golf Club; Country Club of South Carolina (Florence); Mount Vintage Golf Club (North Augusta); The River Golf Club (North Augusta)
Upstate (Top 5)
Walker Course at Clemson University; Furman Golf Club; Greenwood Country Club; Savannah Lakes – Monticello Course; (tie) Links at Stoney Point Golf Club (Greenwood) and The Preserve at Verdae (Greenville)
Bob Gillespie, former sports columnist and golf writer for The State, and Tommy Braswell, The Post and Courier’s golf writer, have released a new book titled “South Carolina Golf.” Copies are available at arcadiapublishing.com.