The Ball Marks Collection is a new blog series, or just another reason to brag about some of the golf courses I am lucky enough to play for the first time. Everyone has a pro shop item that they like to collect to commemorate their golf experience, and with my name being Ball Marks, it only seems fitting that I collect poker chip ball marks. Instead of just collecting the ball mark, I have also planned on writing a blog for every special golf experience I have, in hopes that I can motivate readers to create their own experiences on the links.
The series begins with the #SouthernSwing, which consisted of Ball Marks Sr. and I playing Kiawah Island, Pinehurst #2, and finishing up at the newly restored Golden Horseshoe. This is not your ordinary golf trip, because there was A LOT of driving involved, but we were able to get a perfect taste of each resort experience, and got to play some of the best golf this country has to offer. We start with the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, which is ranked 21st in Golf Digest’s 2017-18 Top 100 Greatest Courses.
As I alluded to, there was a lot of driving on this trip, it started with the 30 minute drive to get to the Ocean Course once you enter the Kiawah Island property. The drive through the several golf courses the resort offers, along with the vacant multi million dollar vacation homes as you make your way towards the ocean. Just when you thought you were never going to reach the course, you pull up to what just looked like another one of those million dollars houses you kept driving by, except this clubhouse had the best backyard of the bunch.
As a part of this #SouthernSwing there will be plenty of favorites and “bests”, but by far the most beautiful sight of the trip, and maybe my life, took place as I walked through the front door of the Ocean Course clubhouse. When you play the Ocean Course you expect to ya know see the ocean, but when you pull up, all you see is marshland and a modern clubhouse, but once you open those doors, you walk into heaven. With the huge window that looks out to the ocean, the 18th green, and a perfectly manicured front lawn, you begin to understand why Kiawah Island is a top golf destination.
After taking a lap outside to really take in the scenery, you walk back into the clubhouse to find some of the coolest golf memorabilia from the events that have taken place since it opened in 1991 for that years Ryder Cup. With the U.S. winning in dramatic fashion, it was the perfect storm for a golf resort that would soon become one of the most desired golf destinations in the world.
You can’t have a great golf destination without a place to drink, and the Ryder Cup Bar is one of the best. As it overlooks the ocean and the 18th green, it is just a perfect spot to have a drink either before or after a round. It did not get as rowdy as the Deuce overlooking the 18th green at Pinehurst, but it was a great spot to have a drink and watch as golfers finished up their rounds.
After lunch, it was time to try and tame the beast that is the Ocean Course, and my dumbass decided to play from the tournament tees, which tipped out at 7,356 yards. Why I thought I could play where the pros play, and where Rory played from when he won the 2012 PGA Championship is beyond me, but I was up for the challenge…kinda. Oddly enough I started with 3 straight pars, including a chip in on the Par 4 3rd hole, to where I started to think I could actually play well out here.
As we worked our way out to the furthest edge of the Ocean Course property, that is where my dreams of going low disappeared. With the South Carolina sun shining down on us as if there were a heat lamp just inches from your face, Kiawah Island began to show its teeth. Not only the heat, but the brisk coastal wind, made playing from the tournament tees that much more of a daunting task. Not to mention if you put a ball in the rough, you would be lucky to advance it 50 yards, let alone try and reach the green. I was learning first hand why there were guys shooting in the high 80’s during the 2012 PGA Championship. If you don’t find the fairway here, you might as well not even show up.
The Pete Dye design was made in beautiful fashion in my opinion, with the front 9 working its way through marshland, and the back 9 considered the “ocean” side. After bleeding strokes as we made the turn, it may have gotten more beautiful, but it did not get any easier. With some of the longest, and most difficult holes still to come, the Kiawah Island experience was only getting started. As Ball Marks Sr. and I stopped in to grab some hats, because we both vastly underestimated the SC heat. Ironically, the hat I got was fire so I was fine with getting burnt to a crisp on the front, so I had an excuse to buy my new favorite hat.
The Back 9 at Kiawah Island was a perfect balance of difficult, and beauty, to the point where it was even enjoyable when I was getting manhandled from the tournament tees. Maybe the most difficult hole I played the entire trip, which I recorded a triple bogey 7 on, came at the Par 4 13th hole. As I walked my ass all the way back to what seemed like the end of the earth, I looked out and while I could barely see any fairway, I sure as hell saw the water to my right, which I obviously flew my drive right into. As if the tee shot wasn’t hard enough, the front right pin just tucked against the right edge of the water, just begging to put your approach in the drink, and guess what….I did just that! Walking off with an ugly bogey, my caddie let me know that it was the hardest hole during the 2012 PGA Championship, yielding only 35 birdies all week, which made me feel a little better I guess.
As we made our way through the final stretch of holes headed back towards the clubhouse, you start to get the full effect of the Ocean Course. Especially with the Par 5 16th hole, you are teeing off back at the clubhouse, and even though I put my 3rd shot in the deadly bunker short left of the green, I made about a 30 footer to save par, being one of the highlights of the round. As you worked your way through 16 holes at Kiawah, the entire round had been a sight for sore eyes, but in my opinion the signature hole doesn’t come until the Par 3 17th hole. Playing about 220 yards into the wind, I launched a 5-iron over the daunting water short of the green, and walked out with par. It was the only Par 3 I played even remotely well all day, and playing from the tournament tees, those were really where I imploded the most all day.
For playing prettty bad all day, I had the chance to finish the way I started with 3 straight pars, and after an absolute BOMB off the tee on 18, I was staring down my final par chance. That was until I found maybe the worst spot on the course wedged into the canal of two bunkers, just making for an impossible up and down. One poor par putt attempt later, and the first leg of the #SouthernSwing was over.
Final Kiawah Thoughts
I would personally rank Kiawah Island up there with Bethpage Black as the toughest test of golf I have ever played. Combine the length off the tee, the blaring heat, the coastal wind, the gnarly rough, and the confusing green complexes, the Ocean Course at Kiawah is just plain old hard, especially if you decide to act like a big shot and play from the tournament tees. Even though it was hard, and hot, the Ocean Course provided some of the most scenic golf you will find along the east coast, and I would love to have another crack at it again. I’ll be coming back to Kiawah, just to get another chance to walk through the front doors and look out at this amazing view.