The War On The Shore Ryder Cup At Kiawah Island 1991

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island was designed specifically for the 1991 Ryder Cup

The War On The Shore Ryder Cup
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island was designed specifically for the 1991 Ryder Cup, with USA emerging victorious over Europe in a competitive affair.

The War On The Shore Ryder Cup At Kiawah Island 1991

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island played host to the 1991 Ryder Cup, the 29th playing of the match.

Pete and Alice Dye specifically designed the course for the 1991 match, the venue for both the 2012 and 2021 PGA Championship.

The United States won the 1991 Ryder Cup in the last match of the final day, winning by 14-and-a-half points to Europe’s 13-and-a-half.

This victory reclaimed the Cup back for the United States, who last won in 1983 following Europe’s two victories in 1985 and 1987, while the 1989 Ryder Cup ended as a tie. 

1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island

Dubbed the “War on the Shore”, the 1991 Ryder Cup marked a significant shift in players’ attitude towards the tournament, with intense competitiveness and claims of gamesmanship surfacing for the first time.

Dave Stockton captained the USA team, while Bernard Gallacher captained Europe, with both teams containing some of golf’s best players - 11 of the 24 players have subsequently been included in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

However, the quality of players on display ensured the week wasn’t without controversy, even before the first tee off on Friday.

Members of the USA team were caught in a car crash on Wednesday evening, among them Steve Pate, who suffered bruised ribs which required hospital treatment.

The American sat out the first three sessions of play, before Stockton included him in the Saturday afternoon four-balls, losing to Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie. 

However, controversy ensued after the US team announced Pate couldn’t play his singles match on the Sunday, due to his injury. 

1991 Ryder Cup Kiawah Island

Both teams claimed half a point in what the European team believed was gamesmanship, with Europe confident that David Gliford would have won the match-up to secure the whole point on offer. 

Bernhard Langer also later claimed in his book that walkie-talkie conversations were intercepted, or purposely misdirected, in order to ruin Europe’s communication with one another. 

Most prominent of all controversies though involved Paul Azinger and Chip Beck on the course.

It transpired that the American pair were switching balls on the seventh hole when playing Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal in Friday’s foursomes match.

Olazabal spotted the American’s switching between either a 100-compression or 90-compression ball, with an argument breaking out on the tenth tee.

However, the referees couldn't penalise the Americans, because they didn't spot the violation at the time of the incident.

Azinger and Beck then admitted to switching balls, angering the European team further after vehemently denying the accusations.

This wasn’t the last of the controversies involving Seve though, who developed a persistent cough during Saturday’s foursome match against Raymond Floyd and Fred Couples.

Believing that the Spaniard purposely made noise while the Americans shot, Floyd approached Seve, threatening him to stop otherwise he would reciprocate with force. 

Despite the accusations of gamesmanship rife within the 1991 Ryder Cup, the golf on display ensured tensions remained high for the entirety of the tournament.

Heading into the final match of the Ryder Cup, Bernhard Langer played Hale Irwin with Europe trailing the home side 14-13.

1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island

Two down with four holes to go, Langer won the 15th and 17th holes to take the match down to the last hole in a nervy affair. 

Irwin struck a wayward drive on the 18th, before receiving a rather fortuitous bounce back into play after hitting a broadcaster. 

The American made a five in the end, while Langer narrowly missed the putt that would’ve drawn the scores level and retained the trophy for Europe once again.

Instead, Langer’s missed shot meant both players scored half a point for their respective teams, crowning America victorious.


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