If you're bound for Kiawah Island Resort to play golf, you obviously know about The Ocean Course, Pete Dye's famed design and home of the 2012 PGA Championship. If you're at Kiawah for, say, a three-day golf vacation, you'll likely end up also playing some combination of Osprey Point (designed by Tom Fazio), Turtle Point (Jack Nicklaus) and Cougar Point (Gary Player).
Should you stick around a few days longer? Then you're liable to discover Oak Point.
Scott Ammon, head professional at Oak Point, understands how that works. He understands that, for some, his Clyde Johnston-designed layout is almost an afterthought compared to its more famed sister courses.
That, he says, is visiting players' loss.
"In terms of quality vs. the others, I think we're the third-most difficult - ahead of Osprey and Cougar," Ammon says. "Aesthetically, I'd say it's the Ocean Course, Osprey and then us."
So how come more players don't know that? A number of reasons:
History - Oak Point was bought by Kiawah Island Resort in 1997; previously, it was called Hope Plantation, a low-cost alternative to the resort with a double-wide trailer for a pro shop, since replaced by a sparkling clubhouse overlooking the ninth and 18th holes.
Location - The course is not actually on Kiawah Island, but neighboring John's Island. En route on Bohicket Road (S.C. Road 10-60), you see Oak Point's 14th green and par-3 15th hole on your left about a mile before the Kiawah-Seabrook Island roundabout. A sign reading "Kiawah River Estates" (with "Oak Point Golf Course" below in smaller script) marks the entrance.
Snob appeal - Compared to the high-profile names of Dye, Fazio, Nicklaus and Player, the Hilton Head-based Johnston is a relative unknown. His well-regarded courses are all over the South Carolina Lowcountry, though, including his renovation of the nearby Parris Island Legends Golf Course.
Kiawah guests who do discover "the fifth course" find a challenging design with water on 17 holes, stands of massive oaks defining the fairways, plus a plethora of wildlife (birds, deer, even bobcats) unmatched by the other resort tracks. Of particular interest are the course's "40-60" alligators, according to Ammon, including a couple of 12-foot monsters that discourage players from pursuing errant shots.
Besides water, Oak Point's crowned fairway can send balls kicking into trouble. Also, a number of hidden hazards make local knowledge crucial for scoring well, Ammon says.
Take the aforementioned 14th, a short (345 yards from the back tees) par-4. Aggressive players may discover their big drives have traveled too far, into the water fronting the green. Even the par-5 first hole (535 yards) demands care - especially, as on the day we played, when one of those XL ‘gators was sunning near the marsh where one of our approach shots wound up (it's still there).
The ultimate "knowledge" hole - as well as the course's most scenic and strategic - is the par-4 18th, with water (Haulover Creek) all along the right side, a small pond off to the left, bunkers all down the left fairway and an elevated green guarded by wraparound bunkers and the creek/marsh. In fact, the key is to know about the inlet off the creek that cuts through the fairway - unseen from the tee, though a sign at each tee tells how far one has to drive to carry it.
For all that, Ammon says, it usually takes Kiawah visitors a while to find Oak Point. "If you're coming from the Northeast for three days, you play the Ocean Course, Turtle and Osprey," he says. "The next year, maybe you play Cougar. The year after that, probably, you come to Oak Point."
Here's a tip: Skip the first two years and go directly there. It's right on your way.