Return to the Ocean: 2021 PGA Championship
It’s time for the second major championship of the year and the world’s greatest players are lining up in front of the sternest of tests; the longest course in majors history.
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island has been extended by 200 yards for the 2021 PGA Championship, to a possible 7,876 yards. This makes it the longest course in majors history and a golf course that makes someone like 2020 U.S. Open champ Bryson DeChambeau giddy to get started.
“Rory [McIlroy] played really well out there [in winning the 2012 PGA Championship on the Ocean Course],” DeChambeau told us last week. “I think his game, his length, is a tremendous advantage, as well as mine hopefully will be. I’m excited for that because any time it’s a super long golf course I think it fits into my hand quite nicely.”
DeChambeau (pictured above), who won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, is the longest driver on the PGA Tour so far in 2021 and he leads the FedExCup standings, while Irishman McIlroy has just returned to winning ways, by claiming the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow two weeks ago. These two names might dominate the pre-tournament chat out on the Atlantic coast this week, although if there is one thing you can always count on with the PGA Championship, it is strength in depth in the field.
For a start, these days it is hard to imagine a major leaderboard without Xander Schauffele’s (pictured above) name on it. In 13 career major starts to his name so far, the Californian has already amassed 10 top-20 results—incredible consistency in the toughest tournaments—and he has further top-20 finishes in his last three starts, including a tie for third at the Masters. At 27 years old, Schauffele this week is about as good as each-way bets come in golf, if you are so inclined.
Spain’s Jon Rahm (pictured above) is contending with Schauffele as golf’s best player without a major title under his belt, and he tends to rise to the biggest occasions, while Jordan Spieth has returned to winning ways this year after a dramatic slump, and if he can keep pace with the bombers out there he will have a shot a completing the career grand slam at the age of 27.
Located less than 25 miles from Charleston, Kiawah Island Golf Resort is no stranger to the PGA having hosted the Championship in 2012, when McIlroy triumphed on this famous Pete & Alice Dye design.
Kiawah may be an island but is also central to a world of coastal golf. If you left Savannah in a boat and headed north toward Charleston, the distance between great golf stops would hardly give you time to take in the idyllic scenery. The Landings on Skidaway Island has five courses, there are 29 holes at Haig Point on Daufuskie Island, a whole world of options on Hilton Head and so on until, near the northernmost point of your trip, you’d back off the engines and drift into view of Kiawah.
Like the stretch of coastline between Charleston and Savannah, Kiawah’s dimensions belie its substance. Measuring only 11 square miles, its surfeit of history, beauty and golf (among other recreational activities) is astounding, not least because its natural charms remain so unspoiled after more than 350 years of habitation.
Today it is as lush and green and inviting as ever it was, an island with a river that rolls through cool lagoons, marshland and maritime forests.
Five courses are on offer at Kiawah Island Golf Resort and the Ocean Course is pre-eminent (see sidebar: The Ocean Course). The site of the 1991 Ryder Cup—the “War by the Shore”—saw American Mark Calcavecchia convulse in sobs on a beach after halving his singles match with Scotsman Colin Montgomerie—after being 4-up with four holes to play. And it was the setting for one of golf’s great images: a photograph of Germany’s Bernhard Langer, standing shocked after missing a 6-foot putt on the 18th green to hand the Cup back to the Americans, a champion athlete in utter despair as a rapturous American audience bursts into unbridled joy behind him.
More recently it saw McIlroy’s second major victory. The then-23-year-old shot a bogey-free 66 in the final round to take the tournament by eight strokes over next-closest David Lynn. It was a record margin of victory in the event, besting Nicklaus’ seven-stroke margin in 1980 (and matching McIlroy’s own eight-stroke margin of victory in his first major, the 2011 U.S. Open).
This year the PGA Championship returns to the Ocean Course for the tournament’s 103rd anniversary, and though the world has changed dramatically since 2012, Kiawah Island’s beauty remains untroubled, as it has since the island’s earliest beginnings.
It was from here in 1670 that a chieftain of the native Kiawah people led English colonists to settle at what would become Charleston, one of America’s most important founding cities. The island was taken by pirate George Raynor in 1699, served as a sanctuary for recovering American soldiers and their families during the Revolutionary War, was seized and occupied by Union troops in the Civil War, and sold for logging in the early 1950s, having spent much of its history controlled by just two or three families. By 1974 it was a resort, and under the current owners (who acquired it in 1993) it has flourished as a formidable and responsible place to enjoy some of the best of what life has to offer.
The four remaining courses at Kiawah Island are Osprey Point from Tom Fazio; Oak Point by Clyde Johnston; Turtle Point from Jack Nicklaus; and Cougar Point, by Gary Player. With each offering its own personality, together the courses make up one of America’s finest clusters of golf, complemented by an equally diverse range of accommodations and other pursuits.
Kiawah Island is a one-of-a-kind destination for families, buddies, couples, businesses or anyone looking for a coastal port of call, whether you make the journey by boat or otherwise.