Scot Sherman readies Kiawah’s Ocean course for PGA Championship

  • Kiawah Resort

    Scot Sherman has completed work at the Ocean course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort

  • Kiawah Resort

    The seventeenth has seen the bulkhead replaced and its green shifted towards the bulkhead wall

  • Kiawah Resort

    A new multi-trunk oak was moved from the sixth to the third hole, to replace ‘Rory’s Tree’, which was lost to a storm

  • Kiawah Resort

    Some ‘blowout’ bunkers have been restored, resembling ones from Pete Dye’s original design

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Scot Sherman has completed work on the Ocean course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina, in preparation for it hosting the 2021 PGA Championship.

“In advance of the tournament, the resort recognised the need to perform some necessary maintenance work to the Ocean course while taking great care not to stray from Pete Dye’s original design,” said Sherman, who has previously worked with the Dye family and for long-time Dye associate Bobby Weed. “Because I had worked on another project with the resort’s owner, and have a history with the Dye family, they reached out for some assistance. My role has been to review every aspect of the course and recommend necessary maintenance, while ensuring Pete’s masterpiece was not tampered with.

“Initially, we spent much time studying older aerial photos of the course along with photographs taken during original construction and throughout the playing of the 1991 Ryder Cup,” continued Sherman. “These photos tell the story of how the course has changed slightly — rendered both by Pete and by the hand of God.

“Because the Ocean course was where I first met Pete and Alice in 1989, this was really a walk down memory lane for me, and the photos were helpful in making decisions about the work ahead of us. From there, a lengthy study of each hole ensued where all aspects of its current condition were considered and documented.”

MacCurrach Golf Construction began maintenance work in early 2019, with most completed in the summer, except for a few small items that will be finished in the coming weeks.

“The scope of the project included some work on every hole,” said Sherman. “Although for most holes the extent of the work involved laser-levelling, resizing and regressing the tee boxes. Due to its proximity to the ocean, the constant breeze, and sandy nature of the site, the course is subject to Mother Nature’s whims. Pete used to say, ‘This course walks, and you just have to walk with it’. So, some of the work involved nuanced work that carefully put things back where they originally were.

“In a few instances, some of the work considered the professionals of today and how they should be challenged during the PGA Championship. And some work was in consideration of the resort guest who enjoys the course day to day.”

Because of uneven build-up of blowing sand, all tees were laser-levelled and re-sodded with Platinum paspalum. Several holes gained additional tournament tees to increase length, and a few tournament tees were slightly shifted for improved views of the course. “Several tee shifts were made to accommodate gallery movement for the PGA Championship while still maintaining the strategy of these holes. Most notable are the new tees at the sixth where we were able to raise the tournament tee for a view to the ocean in one direction, and a view to the clubhouse in the other. Furthermore, we were able to significantly expand the tournament tee along the ocean on the eighteenth hole, so this par four will now play to its full length,” said Sherman.

“Almost all of the bridges and bulkheads were replaced — actually using the same crew [O&O Construction] who originally installed them in 1989!”

One significant improvement was a new practice facility built to replace the previously existing driving range. It now includes a new practice tee, target greens and bunkers, and some restored native areas to present more of a feel for what golfers are about to encounter on the course. This revision also allows for the future construction of four new cottages tucked next to the clubhouse and overlooking the practice facility and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

“During the early spring, several large oaks trees growing very near the course were transplanted to replace original ones that had been lost and that Pete had integrated into the course design,” said Sherman. “The most notable being the replacement of ‘Rory’s Tree’ in the middle of the third hole. Rory McIlroy famously lodged his ball in the original tree during the Saturday round of the 2012 PGA Championship — thus giving its name. The tree was lost a few years later, so after consulting with the Dye family, the resort replaced it with a new multi-trunk oak with a very similar growth pattern as the original.

“In several areas throughout the course, we were able to restore some of the native areas originally created by Pete — partly to blend some of the course back into these areas, and partly to challenge the player,” continued Sherman. “We accomplished this through simply chunking out natives from existing areas and transplanting that material in places that were formerly turfgrass. This process also restored a few sandy ‘blowouts’ in some dunes. These blowouts will ebb and flow with the winds over time to closely resemble some that Pete built in the beginning. For example, on the par-five seventh, we brought the waste area more into play on the right side, as Pete originally designed it in 1991, plus we replaced a lost tree near the green.”

Sherman did not rebuild any greens but did make a few greenside tweaks in order to challenge players. “On the fifteenth, sand from the waste area to the left of the green had blown up onto the left edge of the green. Eventually, that made the green slope away from the waste area. We removed that sand to make the green slope back towards the waste area, as Pete originally designed it,” said Sherman.

“On the seventeenth, while replacing the bulkhead along the front of the green, we were able to shift the putting surface towards that wall somewhat. The hole locations along the water will certainly be challenging. And on the eighteenth, we were able to recapture the depth of the bunkers left of this green and shift the most prominent of those towards that side of the putting surface. Perhaps a stern, Sunday hole location will be discovered there by tournament officials.”

Roger Warren, president of Kiawah Island Resort and former PGA President, led the project for the resort. Sherman received input from director of golf Brian Gerard, head professional Stephen Youngner and superintendent Jeff Stone.

“I am most excited for one of Pete’s great works to once again be on an international stage for everyone to see and enjoy,” said Sherman. “He trained and influenced so many of us in the design business that I hope all of the Dye family tree will be excited to see the course as well.”