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The story of how the PGA awarded the 1991 Ryder Cup to Kiawah’s Ocean Course before it even existed


They mentioned it couldn’t be achieved. And “they” was just about everyone – from gamers to group captains to officers, and in a second of candor, even golf course architect Pete Dye had his doubts.

Build a Ryder Cup venue underneath the tightest of deadlines from scratch in the center of swamp and marsh? Why, sure. That’s precisely what they proposed doing. The PGA elected to transfer the 1991 rendition of the biennial competitors from Palm Springs, California, to Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Sounds outrageous? Well, it was. And that’s not even bearing in mind all the adversity the challenge confronted from environmental considerations to Hurricane Hugo pummeling the three miles of remoted seashore 25 miles southwest of Charleston.

“If you were prone to panic,” mentioned former PGA govt director Jim Awtrey, “this would’ve put you under.”

And but someway, regardless of all the forces seemingly working in opposition to it, Dye reworked The Ocean Course into one of America’s premier seaside hyperlinks programs and the 1991 Ryder Cup was an unmitigated success. Like a sports activities referee who is well known for not being concerned in the recreation’s determination, the unimaginable story of the preparation of Kiawah’s Ocean Course has been forgotten, changed by the indelible picture of Germany’s Bernhard Langer lacking the last putt in the last match on the last gap to give the Cup to the United States. “The War by the Shore” put Kiawah on the map, and its fame has proved to be lasting.

1991 Ryder Cup

1991 Ryder Cup

Mark O’Meara and Payne Stewart look on as group captain Dave Stockton pushes Corey Pavin into the water as the USA have fun on the seashore after victory in the Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island in South Carolina. (Photo by Simon Bruty/Getty Images)

The story of how The Ocean Course got here to host one of golf’s premiere occasions is stuffed with practically as a lot drama as the Cup itself. Initially, the 1991 Ryder Cup was scheduled for PGA West in La Quinta, California, as half of a broader licensing deal negotiated between the PGA of America and Landmark Development Co. When Awtrey turned the PGA’s govt director in 1987, he expressed considerations whether or not the Ryder Cup might reach the desert in September. It’s a time of 12 months when residents are nonetheless hibernating, temperatures soar to 110 levels, and programs don’t get overseeded till October.

“Add all those things up and it didn’t seem like it was going to be a successful event,” Awtrey mentioned.

Previous accounts have centered on tv’s function in the determination to transfer the event. And that’s true. Awtrey focused tv as the centerpiece of his strategic plan to develop the PGA. The 1991 Ryder Cup marked the first time the PGA acquired a tv rights payment. As a sign of its rising significance in the golf panorama, NBC signed on as broadcast accomplice for the weekend telecast with USA Network protecting Friday.

The BBC insisted the Ryder Cup was a global occasion and consideration must be given to the huge European viewers, too. A five-hour time distinction was unhealthy sufficient, however eight – if performed on the West Coast – would diminish curiosity. With the lure of 21 1/2 hours of stay protection throughout prime viewing hours, Awtrey’s board gave him permission to think about shifting the occasion to the East Coast.

Ryder Cup 1991, Kiawah Island

Ryder Cup 1991, Kiawah Island

Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros (middle) with members of Team Europe throughout the Ryder Cup matches at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, September 1991. (Photo by Simon Bruty/Getty Images)

So Awtrey visited Joe Walser, Landmark’s co-founder, and the man who gave him his first job in golf. Awtrey ticked off his listing of the reason why the occasion was higher suited to be performed in the Eastern Time Zone and requested Walser to launch the PGA from its contract.

“He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t think we can do that,’ ” Awtrey recalled.

Eventually, Walser provided an answer. Landmark had simply bought a brand new improvement in the Carolina low nation. There was some skepticism, recalled Pat Reilly, a member of the PGA board at the time, that two years didn’t permit enough time for building, however the PGA agreed to the transfer. For the first time, the Ryder Cup had been awarded to a course that didn’t exist.

Instead of an previous course they settled for an previous architect, joked Dye. Walser phoned Dye, who had designed Oak Tree CC, web site of the 1988 PGA Championship, for Landmark in August 1988. When Dye first arrived at Kiawah, he knew he had his work minimize out for him.

“I was looking at a swamp and they said, ‘We’re going to have the Ryder Cup here in two years.’ I didn’t say anything. You couldn’t walk into it. It was that bad,” Dye recalled.

Some might need referred to as it unattainable to carve a course out of these seaside dunes. But Dye additionally realized Kiawah’s potential. In one route had been unspoiled ocean views, to the different saltwater marshes. “I’m like a kid with a lollipop,” Dye mentioned at the time. “This is the best piece of land that I have worked on in the Northern Hemisphere.”

Kiawah Ocean Course

Kiawah Ocean Course

Hole No. 6 at Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s Ocean Course
Photographer: Uzzell Lambert

Before lengthy, Dye started mentioning potential holes to Awtrey.

“See Jim, it doglegs off to the right and the green’s up by that mound right there,” remembered Awtrey. “And I said, ‘Pete, I don’t see anything but sand and marsh.’ “

Dye envisioned a routing where the front nine holes would loop counterclockwise to the east and the back nine would loop counterclockwise to the west. He sketched 10 holes of this resort course right along the Atlantic Ocean. After a lengthy permitting process, they turned the first shovel of soil in July 1989. Dye and his wife, Alice, moved to Kiawah. Everything was progressing swimmingly when Hurricane Hugo hit in late September 1989. At the time, the Ryder Cup was being contested in England. From a continent away, Awtrey and his staff watched as Hugo destroyed much of Dye’s design work.

Back at Kiawah Island, evidence of Hugo’s fury was ever-present. Trees had blown down. Access roads were closed. Sand dunes were pummeled. Dye used a rowboat with an electric motor to navigate the course and get fuel and water so they could continue working.

Growing concern resurfaced that the course would never be ready to host the Ryder Cup. Despite the setback, workers patched washouts and transplanted more than a million plants. The core of engineers permitted Dye to reconstruct the dunes line. For months, a battalion of workers toiled nearly around the clock. Dye was often right alongside the laborers, steering a bulldozer, clearing brush, raking a finished green.

The PGA also moved the 1990 PGA Cup matches, a Ryder Cup-format competition for club professionals, from PGA West to Kiawah’s Quail Point in September. With a year to go until the Ryder Cup, this gave European officials a chance to preview the site. To a man, every person who visited the Ocean Course agreed it would never be in proper condition in time. European PGA executive director John Lindsey was the most vocal, informing Awtrey in a meeting that he intended to tell his side to cancel their travel plans.

“That was probably as upset as I got in the early years,” Awtrey mentioned.

It wasn’t simply the different aspect that had their doubts. After the 1991 Masters, U.S. group captain Dave Stockton invited potential group members to Kiawah. Awtrey tried to persuade him to wait. The course had simply been seeded and the greens weren’t prepared. Word might unfold that the course wasn’t both. Stockton got here anyway.

Pete Dye throughout building of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort (Bradley S. Klein)

What the gamers didn’t know was that Bermuda grass grows rapidly in the south. By September, the course was prepared. Team member Raymond Floyd referred to as The Ocean Course “a masterpiece.”

“It looked like a million dollars,” Dye mentioned.

When Awtrey attended the 1991 British Open in July, he introduced 8×10 pictures that confirmed the clubhouse facility was full and serving meals. A newly constructed four-lane street was paved a number of weeks before the Ryder Cup received underway. Under nice duress, all the things fell into place.

“Could we do it today?” Awtrey mentioned, noting how massive the Ryder Cup has since grow to be. “No way.”

But they did. Against all odds. And it made for a incredible end, in addition to the future web site of the Senior PGA Championship in 2007 and the PGA Championship in 2012 and this week’s 103rd PGA.

“Everything was going against it,” mentioned Joe Steranka, a senior director underneath Awtrey at the time of the 1991 Ryder Cup who later changed him as govt director, “and yet somehow they pulled it off and it became one of the great spectacles in all of golf.”

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