KIAWAH ISAND, S.C. – Kiawah Island’s “sandy areas” – specifically the PGA of America’s decision not to play them as a hazard at this week’s PGA Championship – have received much attention in these pre-PGA days. The course is located next to one large sand belt, the Atlantic Coast, and that makes for another challenge: extreme weather. We saw that Tuesday, as Kiawah Island was pelted sporadically by hard rain and high winds.
“I think that is the great dynamic of this golf course,” said Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America’s managing director of championships and business development. “The mystique of it is you never know what you’re going to get.”
It seems certain that players will face soft conditions when the PGA Championship begins Thursday. Scattered thunderstorms are forecast every day this week. The conditions and Kiawah’s length – it plays to an official yardage of 7,676 – could make for “a big ballpark,” Tiger Woods said.
“I don’t think (the PGA) is going to play it brutally the first couple days, just because we’re going to have thunder storms and it’s going to be hard to get everyone around,” Woods said. “I’m sure come the weekend it’ll be a little different story.”
The weather likely will make players’ lives easier; Kiawah Island’s inconsistent weather makes Haigh’s job more difficult, though.
He said the weathermen will be his best friends this week. Weather is such an integral part of day-to-day course setup. “The wind changes constantly, not only from day-to-day but during the day,” Haigh said. “So much is dictated by the wind strength and the wind direction.”
And then there’s the rain, which arrives fast and hits hard, but also leaves quickly. This could make for frustrating stop-start scenarios once play starts. Weather forced practice rounds to be halted multiple times Tuesday.
Rain gear may be more popular than sunscreen for this week on the beach. Sand is prevalent, though, which is why the PGA isn’t playing it as a hazard this week. It’s too difficult to determine where some sandy areas end. “We think it’s the fairest and best way to play,” Haigh said.
There may be no bunkers at the PGA Championship, but that doesn’t mean caddies have a week off from raking. Though not required, players and caddies have been asked to rake Kiawah Island’s sandy areas as a courtesy to fellow players.
Because the sand is not a hazard, players can ground their club, take practice swings and remove loose impediments. The sandy areas inside the ropes also will be prepared each morning to give players a fresh surface. Players won’t be guaranteed a perfect lie should they enter one of these sandy areas, though. They’ve been asked to rake the sandy areas if they cause “severe damage,” Haigh said, “but as there is so much sandy area, there is still likely to be footprints, tire tracks, etc., both inside the ropes and outside the ropes.”