Ocean Course at Kiawah tweaks 18th hole to force PGA stars to play it as designer Dye intended

Pete Dye

America's toughest golf course is about to get tougher.

The last hole at Kiawah Island's famed Ocean Course, a picturesque stretch of fairway that runs along the coastline, will undergo a slight design tweak to create a bigger challenge for players in the 2012 PGA Championship Tournament.

It's not as if the course -- dubbed "Looney Dunes" as Ryder Cup players in 1991 grappled with its encroaching bunkers, sudden wind bursts and roll-stopping Bermuda grasses -- needed any added difficulty. In 2007, it topped the list of Golf Digest's 50 Toughest Courses.

But golfers had found one bit of relief in the layout's closing hole, which wraps around obstacles to form a slight C-shape.

Improved golfing gear like aerodynamic balls and high-performance clubs allow some golfers to launch their tee shots beyond what course designer Pete Dye intended for the 19-year-old course.

"Where there was a specific area (for the ball) to be landing, it's now traveling 50 to 60 yards beyond that," said PGA championship director Brett Sterba.

The relatively short length of the 439-yard, par-4 hole allowed some golfers to hit the ball straight over the sandy dunes that bite into the narrow stretch of fairway.

Golfers at the 2007 Senior PGA Championship exploited the shortcut, prompting PGA officials who are preparing for next year's major championship to request shifting two tee boxes closer to the ocean. The changes won't lengthen the hole, but will force the golfers to play it from a different angle.

A Summerville environmental design firm recently filed a permit with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control's Office of Coastal Resource Management to make the proposed changes.

Moving the back two tee boxes won't give PGA competitors the option of cutting the corner. Instead, they'll have to hit the ball around the dunes, following the pattern that Dye originally intended.

Dye, 84, approved the changes on Monday, when he visited the course to go over improvements that PGA officials had suggested for the August 2012 event

"For gallery control, really all we have to do is move a couple of tees 15 to 20 feet, and the changes will not affect the shot," Dye told The State newspaper.

Most changes will help direct the flow of the roughly 27,000 spectators expected each day at the weeklong event, which one College of Charleston report said could have an $83.6 million impact on the region.

"There's not much else we need to change to make it tougher," Sterba said.

Reach Katy Stech at 937-5549 or kstech@postandcourier.com.