The Ocean Course has the distinction of being ranked as Americas most difficult golf course by Golf Digest, edging renowned brutes No. 2 Pine Valley and No. 3 Oakmont, in part because of its 77.2 course rating.
When Pete Dye designed the Ocean Course, given the rare opportunity to use unspoiled beachfront land at the eastern end of Kiawah Island, the wind was a primary consideration in his layout. Calm days are rare at the Ocean Course and the strength of the wind directly impacts the scoring and playability of the layout.
With 10 holes bordering the Atlantic Ocean and eight more essentially paralleling the seaside holes, half the course is laid out to play into the prevailing southwest wind with the other nine riding the wind. With lagoons and sand dunes bordering virtually every fairway and green, its a severely penalizing golf course expected to play at a record-setting 7,676 yards.
Heres a look at six holes that are likely to play a major role in determining the PGA champion:
No. 3, 390 yards, par 4
The shortest par-4 on the course is also one of the most dangerous. Dye perched the green atop a sand dune beside a marsh. Though players will be hitting short irons and wedges in, missing the elevated green is a ticket to trouble. It typically plays downwind which makes holding the green even more difficult.
"In some college events weve hosted, this hole has always had one of the highest scoring averages," Ocean Course head pro Steven Younger said.
No. 5, 188 yards, par 3
After playing four holes in one direction, the course changes direction and so, too, does the wind. Its a big green but it has distinctive sections in the putting surface with a hump dividing the front and back of the green. When the hole is in the back left, birdies will be extremely rare.
No. 9, 494 yards, par 4
Even if the wind is helping, its a big par-4. Players will be tempted to sling a right-to-left shot off the tee, counting on roll to give them a shorter approach. Missing the wide fairway will likely lead to a bogey or worse.
No. 12, 412 yards, par 4
The plan is to play this hole as a drivable par-4, around 300 yards, once or twice during the championship. Its guarded tee to green by water on the right side and Dye tightened the landing area when he reworked the course in recent months. When the tees are up, it will be interesting to see how bold players are with so much danger lurking.
No. 14, 238 yards, par 3
This is where the grueling march home begins, starting with a spectacular ocean view from the tee as the course turns back toward the east.
"Its one of the best par-3s in the world," Younger said. "If we get wind, it could be a 3-wood or hybrid off the tee."
The green is elevated and surrounded by natural sand dunes and collection areas. Adding to the challenge is players must adjust to dealing with a different wind direction than theyve played in the previous nine holes.
No. 17, 223 yards, par-3
This monster made its reputation in the 1991 Ryder Cup matches and its no softer now. Its all over water which hugs the right side of the green and theres precious little bail-out area on the left.
"Its one of those holes where you either hit the green or youre looking at bogey or worse," Younger said.
"The champion could be determined by this hole. All the players will have it in the back of their minds as they going around, especially on Sunday."