Last August, while Collin Morikawa was winning the PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco, Ryan Ogle was hard at work preparing for the 2021 PGA, taking place May 20-23 at Kiawah Island Resort’s famed Ocean Course.
As the 2021 PGA Championship director, Ogle has spent more than a year living in the Charleston area – standard operating procedure for the PGA – and wasn’t on hand as Morikawa came from behind with a 6-under par closing round that included a dramatic eagle at the par-4 16th hole, enabling him to overtake third-round leader Dustin Johnson.
He also wasn’t at the Ocean Course in 2012 when Rory McIlroy claimed that year’s PGA Championship. But he’s done his research on it and knows this year’s championship will be in many ways unlike either of those tournaments.
The Pete Dye-designed Ocean Course remains the same fierce challenge for PGA TOUR players as it was nine years ago when it hosted the first men’s major championship in South Carolina. But much has changed, most notably, the tournament will be held in the spring instead of in the heat of August as it was in 2012, with attendant differences in weather and course conditions.
Also critical is this year’s limits on spectators as required by COVID-19 protocols. Rather than the 30,000 fans that attended the 2012 event each day, only 10,000 will be allowed on the course.
For those “fortunate enough to be here, it’ll be an enhanced experience,” said Roger Warren, Kiawah Island Golf Resort president. “They’ll be closer to the players, with better views.”
No grandstands will be erected on the course (corporate chalets will line certain holes), so fans are encouraged to bring collapsible chairs.
At this year’s second major (after the Masters), fans will see the strongest field in a 2021 major. Besides defending champion Morikawa and 2020 runners-up Johnson and Paul Casey, the field of 156 will include 13 players who won PGA TOUR titles in 2020, among them Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Jordan Spieth and Sergio Garcia, along with a flock of younger players who’ve earned titles in 2021.
Headlining those is newly-crowned Masters’ champion Hideki Matsuyama, the second Asian-born major winner (the first, Y.E. Yang, won the 2009 PGA). Others with 2021 wins include Si Woo Kim, Daniel Berger, Max Homa, Brandon Grace, Harris English and Matt Jones.
Those in the field will find a championship-worthy venue in the Ocean Course.
“Pete Dye’s design challenges the best players in the world,” said PGA of America president Jim Richerson. “He gives them opportunities to score, but the wind keeps them guessing. The best championship courses not only challenge players’ skills, but also makes them think. The conditions here do that.”
Morikawa, who got his first look at the Ocean Course during April 12’s PGA media day, said he expects the beachside layout – lengthened since 2012 to upward of 7,800 yards – to handle everything the world’s best can muster.
“It’s definitely a ball-striker’s course,” the 24-year-old said. “You have to be able to control your ball (and) flight different shots, work it left to right, right to left. Greens are pretty small (and) talk about that back nine: starting from hole 9 on, it’s a very good finishing stretch of golf, especially with the wind, the way it picked up.
“You’re going to be tested on every shot (and) you really can’t get lazy on any of these shots. You can’t take anything for granted because it’ll bite you in the butt for sure.”
The winds also will be different this time around. “Today (during media day) we had 75 degrees with a strong breeze," said Warren, "and we’ll be pulling for the same conditions (in May) so the course demonstrates the true challenge it is, the idea Pete Dye had for this course.”
Other seasonal factors in 2021 include over-seeded fairways, rough and greens.
“In August, our grasses are Bermuda and Paspalum,” Warren said. “This time of year, those are coming back from dormancy, but we also have the over-seed (rye). So, greens will be a bit fuller, smoother and faster, and the longer rough will be different.”
New tees at the sixth and 12th holes and an area behind the 18th are also changes.
While Richerson and Warren ponder playing conditions, Ogle focuses on making the fan experience the best possible.
Parking will be free and complimentary shuttle buses will be provided to and from the Ocean Course. Once again this year, they’ll use Freshfields’s large parking area at the entrance to Kiawah Island, offering two access points from neighboring Seabrook Island and Kiawah and Main Road. Shuttles will operate at 75 percent capacity, and load back to front and exit front to back to promote social distancing. Air filtration systems on the shuttles match those found on airliners.
Once on the golf course, spectators should have better walking routes and sightlines due to fewer people. Areas where fans can watch the action will be mowed. In addition, multiple video boards will be positioned near concessions.
The PGA Championship was already a sellout before the decision was made to trim attendance to 10,000. Those left out can watch the tournament on ESPN (all four rounds) and CBS (Saturday-Sunday) or online at pgachampionship.com. That website is also the best source for information on hotel accommodations, sights in Charleston and more.
“We can’t control the weather,” Ogle said, “but moving to May is a big change. We’re praying for sunny days and blue skies.”
Not to mention changeable winds, of course.