Ocean Course in familiar territory

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. - It ain't easy being the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. First you get knocked around by one of the most devastating hurricanes of the century just as you are beginning to feel cozy and right. Then you are expected to open on time and in mint condition for one of the most storied golfing events in the history of the game.

Now, you are overcoming a near-fatal allergic reaction to one of those funky new strands of Bermuda grass. What's more, everyone expects you to be (once again) in tip-top shape for (once again) a major, international golf event.

Can a golf course get a break?

The Ocean Course's director of golf and PGA of America vice president Roger Warren hopes so. The 2003 edition of the World Cup, to be played at the Ocean Course in November, is just around the corner. The famed Pete Dye designed seaside links course will reopen the first part of September with new Seashore Paspalum greens.

The TifEagle Bermuda greens installed as part of a major renovation project in 2002 didn't take, so Warren and the folks at Kiawah will pin their hopes of pristine putting surfaces on a turf grass originally used to coat the floors of ships traveling between Charleston and Africa some 200 years ago.

"I'd be lying if I said we weren't worried at first," said Warren via cell phone while walking the beach alongside the course. "There have been some moments where we've looked at each other and said we are taking some risks. But we realized we had to make a decision that was going to be beneficial for the golf course long after the World Cup."

The Ocean Course is used to living on the edge - literally and figuratively. In the summer of 1989, Dye was fast-tracking the design and construction of the course for the 1991 Ryder Cup. Hurricane Hugo made landfall in Charleston that October and ravished the site. Dye and his small crew had to put in one 18-hour day after another to get the layout and the turf grass in working order for the "War by the Shore."

High maintenance? You better believe it. Such is life on this shifty, windswept island.

"You have to understand, The Ocean Course is a moving, living entity, Warren says. "It is like no other course in this country. You have to adapt to it and manage it. You can't impose your will on it, and that is part of the beauty of it."

Warren and Kiawah's owners are hoping they can impose a thick, hardy strand of the Seashore Paspalum -- dubbed "OC03" for The Ocean Course -- on the course's massive greens. However, it's really not much of an imposition considering the salt water tolerant grass is already flourishing on the tee boxes and has even begun to take hold on the fairways.

"It is fair to say that one day we'd like to see the entire course in OCO3 paspalum," Warren says.

And it is fair to say if the new OCO3 greens flourish in the think, salty air of the Atlantic, The Ocean Course will reassert itself as one of the best golf courses in North America. This fact isn't lost on Warren, who makes no bones about his pursuit of a major, professional golf event.

"The golf course has only improved since 1991 and it is much more playable now. So we think it is perfect for a major," he says.

"But there are a lot of considerations beyond the course itself. There's the economics of the region, corporate support, logistics. You have to submit a proposal and let the experts decide."

Ocean Course Notebook

The Ocean Course, which has been closed since mid June, will reopen Sept. 1 for limited play. A full tee sheet will be available by the middle of the month, according to Warren.

"The people who get a chance to play during the first two weeks will get the opportunity to play a pristine golf course," he says.

In addition to the new Seashore Paspalum greens, Warren and his staff have been able to reclaim many of the areas that were lost to dune encroachment and have re-cut some of the bunker edges. Also in the works is a new $20 million clubhouse with guest cottages and lodge.

Bump-and-run: In his book, "Bury me in a Pot Bunker," Pete Dye says the Portmarnock Golf Club outside of Dublin, Ireland, was his inspiration for The Ocean Course. As such, Dye was adamant that bump-and-run shots always be an option around the greens. He initially installed a thicker strand of Bermuda around the green surrounds to allow for the tight lies that promote successful execution of the low trajectory, high spin rate shot.

Warren says the OCO3 paspalum, should it be used around the greens, will be in keeping with Dye's original intent.

"It is a thinner grass than Bermuda, but it grows in such density you get the ball to sit up for some great lies," he says. "The developer says we can cut it down to 1/10th of an inch."

World Cup Update: The World Golf Championship World Cup will be held Nov. 10-16 at the Ocean Course, marking the second time the Kiawah Island Golf Resort has hosted the event. The 1997 edition of the Cup -- then known as the World Cup of Golf -- was also held at the Ocean Course. This time around, golfers will find minor changes to the second and fourth holes and a new green location on the 18th.

"Dye moved the green about 40 yards to the right to take advantage of the views of the ocean," Warren says.

World-Class resort hotel to open in 2004: The new $125 million Sanctuary at Kiawah Island is scheduled to open March 19, 2004. The luxury oceanfront hotel will have 255 guest rooms and suites, a full spa, three pools, two restaurants media and conference space, and retail shopping area. It will be located next to the three ocean holes of the Turtle Point golf course.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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