Amble along the dunes at Kiawah Island Golf Resort and suddenly the 17th hole at the Ocean Course pops into view.
So stunning. So spectacular.
Waves on the Atlantic Ocean lap ashore on one edge and a swarth of emerald grass beyond a pond attracts the eye on the other. The wind almost always is whipping.
Add the tools of golf — a club, a tee and a ball — to the equation with the mission of making par, and the leisurely walk suddenly becomes far more challenging. Frightening, even.
This beauty is a beast, the devil in disguise.
No. 17 at the Ocean Course is one of the world’s most picturesque golf holes — and also one of the most demanding, which the game’s finest players are illustrating once again this week in the 103rd PGA Championship.
At No. 17 … go for the bunker?
The 17th’s reputation, firmly established in the 1991 Ryder Cup, preceded this major championship that features 99 of the top 100 players in the world rankings among the field of 156.
But just to make sure the players understood the possibility — perhaps “probability” is a better word — of bad things happening to great golfers, the first-round yardage sheet not only listed the distance from the tee to the pin but also the distance from the drop zone to the hole.
Although the drop zone, for use after balls landed in the pond, was required only six or seven times in Thursday’s first round, No. 17 played the hardest hole on the course — at a stunning .506 shots over par.
Some tournaments offer a car or similar bounty for a hole-in-one in competition. Should Talor Gooch receive a little extra for the first birdie of the championship at 17?
For the day, the game’s greats mustered three birdies, 96 pars, 17 bogeys, 16 double-bogeys and some “others” — capped with an “8”.
Go for the green? Bunkers to the left — and away from the water — became the target of choice. And when is the last time the best golfers in the world tried to hit the sand and not the green on a par-3?
Besides, the bunkers can be no picnic. They’re “sandy areas” this week; clubs can be grounded and they may or may not be raked.
Those with long memories will recall the 1991 Ryder Cup, contested on the newly minted Ocean Course and featuring featured a posse of future hall-of-famers — Nick Faldo, Payne Stewart, Fred Couples, Raymond Floyd, Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, Hale Irwin, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Colin Montgomerie and Paul Azinger among them.
A sign of things to come: In Wednesday’s Ryder Cup practice round, the European foursome of Woosnam, David Feherty, Montgomerie and Faldo put three balls in the drink. In competition, some of the splashes bordered on the spectacular.
Mark Calcavecchia’s final-round collapse has been well-documented, but who remembers that his opponent, Montgomerie, also found the water on that fateful Sunday?
If the forecasters are correct, golfers this week will find that same in-your-face wind three of the four days, and the race to the Wanamaker Trophy will likely be decided on the 17th’s 225 or so yards.
Jon Rahm stated the obvious: “Any time you have 230 yards into the wind over water to a narrow target, it’s just not easy.”
But, he added, “It’s a beautiful hole, very challenging. It’s a wonderful hole.”
One of the game’s longest hitters and third ranked in the world, Rahm needed a 2-iron on No. 17.
Tough golf test a ‘long shot to a small target’
The hole challenges both a golfer’s physical skills and his state of mind.
“The ultimate test of nerve,” Adam Scott said. “I don’t know how holes get more difficult than that. Straight into the wind, I’m hitting 4-irons and 7-woods.”
In a practice round, Xander Schauffele, No. 4 in the world rankings, hit a 2-iron into the water, then reloaded and hit the same club to within two feet of the hole.
“If (the shot) is struck properly, it should hold its line and flight,” he said. But he agreed that’s often easier said than done.
“Absolutely brutal and there’s no bailout,” Kevin Kisner said. “You’re trying to hit a 235-yard shot (allowing for the wind) over water to an area about 13 yards wide.”
He tried his 7-wood, which he hits up to 235 yards, in a practice round and called the experiment “unsuccessful.”
If the wind direction changes, the hole will play completely differently, which architect Pete Dye took into consideration with his design.
“It’s still a long shot to a small target,” Kisner said.
But holes like the 17th decide championships.
“I hope it stay windy,” defending champion Collin Morikawa said, “because it tests your ability to hit quality shots.”
If announcer Gary McCord, whose on-course achievements include winning the Senior Tour Championship at Myrtle Beach, were to go back in time and tackle the 17th, “I’d take my double (bogey) and move on,” he said.
Incidentally, there is another way to play the hole. Ask Wyndham Clark, an alternate who got into the field after Vijay Singh withdrew.
“Wind was blowing 20-plus,” Clark told reporters in recounting his 4-iron shot in a practice round. “I hit it perfect and it was going right at the flag. … Then it lands, and started rolling and it goes in (for a hole-in-one).”
See? There is a way to play the Ocean Course’s 17th properly.
Watch: Saturday, Sunday TV schedule at PGA Championship
On Saturday and Sunday, ESPN+ has live coverage from 8-10 a.m., ESPN is live from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and CBS has the conclusions of the third and fourth rounds from 1-7 p.m. both days — along with live streaming broadcast coverage on the Paramount+ subscription service.
CBS will air additional coverage on CBS Sports Network, CBS Sports HQ and CBSSports.com.