Kiawah Island Ocean Course Guide: PGA Championship 2021

The PGA Championship marks the second Major of the year, which Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course hosts

Kiawah Island Course Guide
The iconic 17th hole at Kiawah (Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The South Carolina course hosts its first Major since the 2012 PGA Championship

Kiawah Island Ocean Course Guide: PGA Championship 2021

The PGA Championship marks the second Major of the year, with Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course hosting for the second time.

Golf’s elite have already played The Masters this year, with Hideki Matsuyama emerging victorious to win the prestigious Green Jacket.

Aiming to retain the PGA Championship crown, however, is 2020 winner Collin Morikawa, who won the Wanamaker Trophy at California’s TPC Harding Park last year.

Following the delayed 2020 event, the PGA Championship returns to May in the golfing calendar. 

Kiawah Island Ocean Course

The fifth hole of The Ocean Course (Getty Images)

Kiawah Island is located some 100 miles north of Hilton Head island by road and is just 150 miles east of Augusta.

One of five championship courses at Kiawah Island, The Ocean Course is the most famous.

First used for the 1991 Ryder Cup, where the United States beat Europe, Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course has since hosted the World Cup of Golf in both 1997 and 2003, the 2007 Senior PGA Championship, and most recently and notably, the 2012 PGA Championship. 

Rory McIlroy comfortably won that event by eight strokes, producing two 67s, a 75 and a bogey-free 66 in the final round.

The Northern Irishman will hope to rediscover his early career form on the course he won his second Major championship.

McIlroy Kiawah Island

Rory McIlroy picked up his second Major win at the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course (Getty Images)

Pete and Alice Dye designed the course, giving players views of the Atlantic Ocean while exposing them to often-strong winds.

Boasting 'the most seaside holes in the Northern Hemisphere', The Ocean Course has ten holes directly next to the Atlantic.

The other eight run parallel to them further inland. 

Related: How to play Kiawah Island's Ocean Course

Of the 18 holes, five could prove pivotal in deciding the Championship.

Determined the most difficult hole on the outward nine, hole four is strictly a driving hole.

The long drive is then followed by a mid-to-long iron shot to reach the green from the fairway.

A par four, the hole is best played safely closer to the green, with a deep waste area collecting balls running off the green.

Kiawah Island Ocean Course Hole Four

The fourth hole at The Ocean Course is described as the hardest of the opening nine holes. (Getty Images)

Hole seven's difficulty depends entirely on the direction of the wind.

If playing into the wind, the bunker on the right of the fairway comes into play, but if in more favourable conditions, players have a legitimate chance to produce a birdie on the par five.

Kiawah Island 7th hole

Hole seven offers a long fairway towards the raised green, with a sharp drop off the back. (Getty Images)

Keeping the drive to the left on hole nine is imperative for success on the par four, otherwise the ball will roll down the right sloping fairway.

Although the putting surface is open in the front, players are better off hitting the green just short because a tricky up-and-down awaits left, right and back, from an assortment of grassy swale and deep sand areas.

Kiawah Island 9th hole

The ninth hole at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course offers an open entry to the green. (Getty Images)

Hole 14 boasts one of the most treacherous greens on the course, with the elevated, table top green leaving a large margin for error if missed.

A par three, the waste areas both left and right of the green mean a bogey is extremely likely.

The raised green and surrounding slopes means that there's little margin for error at the 14th. (Getty Images)

Finally, hole 17 is one of golf's most famous holes, and also a technical one at that.

With the tee shot playing over water, the par three contains a small bail-out area to the left of the green if players are looking to play more conservatively towards the end of the round.

Kiawah Island 17th hole

Precision is key to successfully pass the 17th hole at Kiawah Island. (Getty Images)

The unpredictable par 72 measures at 7,876 yards for the 2021 PGA Championship, making it the longest in Major Championship course in history.

The Ocean Course's 155 slope rating is the highest in the country according to the United States Golf Association.

The large slopes, numerous bunkers and challenging Bermuda grass ensure this course is one of America's toughest.

A highly regarded golf course, Golf Digest ranked The Ocean Course 24th on America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses.

“Traditional [courses] or otherwise, both are typically windy, firm and have plenty of bunkers. And one thing will always remain true: absolutely everything is about controlling the ball," Rory McIlroy said of The Ocean Course.

"Both in the air or along the ground. In essence, all facets of a golfer’s game need to be in excellent working order to excel in these conditions."

Related: History of the Wanamaker Trophy


Ryan has worked as a junior staff writer for Golf Monthly since 2021.