KIAWAH ISLAND — It took 118 years and 281 occurrences of professional golf major championships in the United States before one was played in South Carolina.
How long will it be before the Palmetto State hosts its second?
That might all depend on how well this week’s 94th PGA Championship at Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s Ocean Course holds up to scrutiny.
The operators of Kiawah Island Resort want another PGA Championship or a U.S. Open, and the vaunted course is the plausible venue in the state for the next major, if there is another.
“We were honored that we were named for this event, and past this I think it’s our role to make sure we earn another one,” said Roger Warren, president of Kiawah Island Golf Resort and general chairman of the 2012 PGA Championship.
“At the end of it, based on all the fan experience, player experience, media experience, I think there will be a judgment passed on the quality of the event that was held here. If all that judgment comes back and people say this was a great experience, then I would expect that we will get another championship. … I do believe we will have another championship. I don’t know when, but hopefully sooner than later.”
The Ocean Course has the pedigree. The Pete Dye design that has been dubbed the most difficult course in America by Golf Digest previously hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup shortly it opened, the 1997 and 2003 World Cup of Golf events, the 2005 PGA national club pro championship and the 2007 Senior PGA Championship.
All of those events but the World Cup are run by the PGA of America, which will do its homework once the PGA Championship concludes.
“Just like at many of our other championship sites, we hope that if it goes well and everyone’s happy we will certainly talk and see if there’s an interest to return,” said Kerry Haigh, PGA of America managing director of championships and business development. “[We’ll return] if there’s a good fit, if everybody seems to think it’s a success.”
The quality and challenge of the Ocean Course layout isn’t the issue. The PGA and players were all complimentary of the test of golf it presents, and saw both spectrums of it in the first two rounds, with favorable scoring conditions Thursday, and windy and difficult conditions Friday.
“I like what this golf course has,” Tiger Woods said, “and it’s just a wonderful piece of property.”
Warren is a past PGA of America president and played a key role in attracting the tournament to the five-course island. He’ll try to bring it back, and was impressed with how much support and assistance he received from governments, businesses and organizations throughout the state.
But there may be some hurdles to overcome.
The traffic entering Kiawah Island this week on a two- and then four-lane road that offers only one way in and out, the time-consuming difficulty fans encountered getting to the tournament, and the non-spectator-friendly dunes terrain were considered the primary shortcomings for the event, and will still likely be considered detriments to attracting another major.
Commutes to the remote course from Charleston surpassed 21/2 hours at some peak times and drew criticism on social media sites from both media and spectators. “We worked very hard to create a plan that would account for that and we’ll just have to measure how well the plan worked,” Warren said.
The plan may have to be altered for future events, possibly having spectators take shuttles from farther away to improve traffic flow entering the island.
Securing the support of Kiawah’s wealthy homeowners for another major is also important. They were supportive of this week’s event, and Kiawah Island Golf Resort director of public relations Mike Vegis believes they’ll be behind a future major.
“Generally they are very supportive of this because they understand that when we have an event like this we get an uptick in the price of property,” Vegis said. “They understand it’s money in their back pocket. If their property values go up then everyone’s happy. … We saw [increased property values] in spades with the Ryder Cup. TV just loves the Ocean Course.”
Resort operators have some liberties regarding tournaments as well. “The resort has certain stipulations that we can do, and this is one of them,” Vegis said.
The resort itself isn’t necessarily trying to make money on the tournament. “Financially we’re looking to break even on this and what we’re going to be getting is the exposure to the world of what we have to offer,” Vegis said.
Warren believes the Ocean Course being open to the public – albeit for a hefty green fee – increases its chances of hosting another major. “Particularly for the PGA of America, with their efforts to grow participation in the game of golf, it is a very strong message for them to have their major championship at a public golf course. I think that gives us maybe a bigger leg up for a future one, and I do not believe it will be another 20 years before we get another major championship. I believe it will be much, much sooner than that.”
The USGA is familiar with the property because it held the 2010 U.S. Mid-Amateur at the bordering and affiliated Cassique and River Club courses, and Warren said the resort has expressed interest in a U.S. Open. “They’re aware of us and we let them know if there were a certain date they were looking to fill in June we would be happy to entertain options,” Vegis said.
The quickest return to a venue from one PGA Championship to the next occurred at Whistling Straits, which hosted its first PGA in 2004, hosted its second in 2010 and is scheduled to host its third in 2015. It has also been awarded the 2020 Ryder Cup.
The PGA Championship is booked through 2018, and will be held at nearby Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., in 2017. The U.S. Open is booked through 2019, and will be played in Pinehurst, N.C., in 2014.
Haigh said he hasn’t been approached by any other South Carolina courses to host a PGA. There is generally a graduation process necessary to host a PGA Championship, anyway. Courses customarily have to host the PGA’s national club pro championship, and/or another event such as the Senior PGA Championship first as a test run. No other S.C. courses have hosted either event.
“We have not been approached by any that have expressed strong interest and we only go to sites that come to us and say they want to host it because it is such a huge undertaking to take it on,” Haigh said. “If there are clubs we would certainly be very interested to hear from them and would love to talk and visit them. The support has been outstanding and the community and state have been wonderful.”
Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, another Dye design with help from Jack Nicklaus, has hosted a PGA Tour event every year since 1969, and held the Tour Championship in 1989, when Tom Kite defeated Payne Stewart in a playoff. But course operators appear content with their PGA Tour event for now.
The Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach is one of the few courses in the state that has hosted significant national events. Those were through the PGA Tour or USGA.
The Dunes Club hosted the 1962 U.S. Women’s Open, 1973 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, 1997 U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur, and Senior Tour Championship from 1994-99. “It’s all building your club resume,” Dunes Club head pro Dennis Nicholl said. “We have a pretty strong history already here at The Dunes and that does play into the equation when they determine if your club is ready to host a major championship.”
The Dunes Club would need to work its way up to a major with some other significant events, and Nicholl said it is planning to become more active hosting regional and national tournaments in the coming years.
Could The Dunes Club ever host a major championship? Myrtle Beach certainly has the hotel rooms, restaurants and nighttime activities for spectators, and would need an abundance of regional and national sponsors, as Kiawah and Pinehurst also do.
“You never say never,” Nicholl said. “There’s always an outside chance. The quality of the course from a length standpoint would hold up. We have some extra yardage we could add in places. If the timing was right and the moons lined up it could happen.”
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.