Bob Gillespie



Thursday at The Ocean Course: Books celebrate Ryder Cup, Kiawah

Posted 8/9/2012 5:39:00 PM

The last time Curt Sampson spent this much time in the Charleston was in the late 1970s, when he worked as an assistant professional at Snee Farm Country Club in Mount Pleasant. That was more than a decade before the rest of the golf world discovered the Port City, courtesy of the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.

This week, Sampson – author of 14 golf-related books, including New York Times best-sellers on Ben Hogan and the Masters – is at The Ocean Course to promote his newest book, “War By The Shore: The Incomparable Drama of the 1991 Ryder Cup,” which is set for general release Sept. 1.

The timing is obviously good, with attention focused on Kiawah as it hosts this week’s 94th PGA Championship. In fact, Sampson says, the plan also was to coincide with this fall’s Ryder Cup at the Medinah Club near Chicago, and eight of the 12 U.S. team members will be determined at the end of Sunday’s play.

It was that 1991 Ryder Cup, Sampson says, that helped fuel the frenzy that now surrounds the biennial competition between the top professionals golfers from the U.S. and Europe. That year, the Europeans – after decades of losing – were on a win streak that had begun in 1985, and American fans were riding their own wave of nationalism following the successful Gulf War campaign.

“I was talking with Julius Mason (media director for the PGA of America), and we were so surprised at the level of nostalgia about (1991), and how much people remembered that dramatic tournament, the flag-waving – and the golf course, which was tougher than Chinese algebra.”

Sampson recaptures the emotions of that week in his book, which opens with a dramatic memory: the arrival of the European team via supersonic Concorde, which buzzed the Ocean Course while American players were practicing. Once a genial little golf gathering, the Ryder Cup that year would produce animosities between the sides that would take years to soften – and, in some cases, remain sore points for the participants.

“There was this feeling of insult that the U.S. was no longer winning the Ryder Cup,” Sampson says. “People were wondering about the American players, if they really wanted to win. So there was terrific drama, down to the last putt.”

That putt, a six-foot miss by Germany’s Bernhard Langer, returned the Cup to the U.S., but Europe has continued to dominate the series since. That, and the PGA’s presence this week, made it an easy decision for Sampson to be here.

“This is the first big splash (for The Ocean Course) since 1991,” he says. “I sensed people would want to remember that time.”

Sampson’s isn’t the only book coming out in conjunction with the PGA Championship. “Kiawah Golf: The Game’s Elegant Island” by Savannah-based author Joel Zuckerman is also making the rounds this week, though the coffee-table volume has nothing to do with the Ryder Cup.

Zuckerman, who has done books about the Lowcountry, Charleston and Ocean Course architect Pete Dye, uses beautiful photos of Kiawah’s and other area courses as the book’s backbone, filling in with reviews of The Ocean Course and the other six island courses, plus the nearby Golf Club at Briar’s Creek.

He intersperses those with profiles on such Charleston-area figures as LPGA Hall of Famer Beth Daniel, Kiawah Island Resort president and former PGA of America president Roger Warren (who was instrumental in bringing the PGA here), former Kiawah president Pat McKinney and the Fords, South Carolina’s first family of golf. There’s also a brief history of the PGA Championship.

Both books are available via such on-line distributors as and “Kiawah Golf” (is also out in area bookstores, while “War By The Shore” will be distributed early next month. For golf fans engrossed in this week’s competition, both will offer insights on the course and its history.