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Kiawah: Issues, yet seductive

They waited 21 years after the Ryder Cup to host a PGA Championship at the Ocean Course.

They waited seven years after the announcement the PGA was coming for it to arrive, and if you’ve tried to make the commute from downtown Charleston to the tournament site you’ve waited one to two hours in a bus or car to get there.

Getting inside the resort gates is tough. Walking the golf course is tough. Playing it is even tougher.

But for all of the challenges of holding the PGA Championship on a slender, distant finger of beachfront property battered this week by wind and soaked by thunderstorms, it’s succeeding in many ways.

This is not just about golf. It’s about Charleston and the Lowcountry. It’s about bringing a piece of the world to a place where alligators lurk in the lagoons and storm clouds build in the distance each afternoon like nature’s skyline.

It’s about the group of old friends who spent Friday afternoon in the wind, standing on a far corner of the course, watching golfers hang their heads and shake their fists, before retiring to a nearby condominium for golf stories and a Beaufort boil dinner of shrimp, sausage, corn and potatoes.

It’s about Tiger Woods, framed by sand dunes, chasing history. It’s about cold beers in the sunshine, white caps in the distance and Rory McIlroy in the hunt.

It’s about the local bartender, working a private room this week, who brings in different artifacts from the Civil War each night, giving a little history lesson to visitors from Scotland, England and Australia while he’s pouring wine.

Standing behind the Ocean Course clubhouse earlier this week, looking across the practice putting green to the beach, a prominent person in the golf business asked why the PGA would bring its championship to a place so removed from so much. It was hot and sticky, the August air refusing to move. It was a fair question at the moment.

Two days later, when the late afternoon sun had gone behind a cloud and the breeze was just right off the ocean, the same person said, “This is pretty nice.”

Sometimes it’s important to step out of the box, to go someplace different, try something difficult, take a chance.

That’s what this PGA Championship has done.

Sure, the Kiawah Island Golf Resort is hoping thousands of golfers around the world will see the Ocean Course and imagine themselves there, standing on the par-3 14th tee, wind whipping the sea oats as they prepare to hit a shot to a tabletop green with the Atlantic behind it. They’re selling a dream, and it’s a good one.

It’s too soon to know if the PGA Championship will return to the Ocean Course. Maybe the logistics are too tough. Maybe one-and-done was always the goal.

If they can build another road into Kiawah to alleviate the traffic issue, it might become a regular in the rotation. Even better, bring another Ryder Cup to the Ocean Course.

There’s something about being out here, hearing the waves, feeling the wind, tasting the salt that has made this championship distinctive.

In “The Lords of Discipline,” Pat Conroy wrote, “I have heard it said that an inoculation to the sights and smells of the Carolina lowcountry is an almost irreversible antidote to the charms of other landscapes, other alien geographies. You can be moved profoundly by other vistas, by other oceans, by soaring mountain ranges, but you can never be seduced.

“You can even forsake the lowcountry, renounce it for other climates, but you can never completely escape the sensuous, semitropical pull of Charleston and her marshes.”

Like the thick sea air on your skin, it stays with you and, for so many, so will this PGA Championship.

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