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Play it Smart: Kiawah Island’s Renovated Cougar Point Golf Course

by Francis X. Gallagher

Feb 2, 2023

© Francis X. Gallagher

January/February 2023

Cougar Point is one of five courses making up Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Famed South African golf professional Gary Player — many others have tried to emulate his signature walk-through swing — originally designed the course in 1976, opening as Marsh Point. In 1996 Player returned to Kiawah to redesign the course, keeping the same footprint and renaming it Cougar Point. Oak trees line the course, and the Kiawah River runs through several scenic holes. The back nine features a great deal of water protecting the greens for added difficulty.

Many in our group liked the fairness of Cougar Point, made a little more player-friendly in the redesign. I teed up with Jimmy Spratt from New York; John Ecklund from Philadelphia; and my brother, Gerry Gallagher, from Dallas

HOLE 1 | “PAR OUT THE GATE”

351 yards, par 4

Gary Player’s opening hole is thought to be an easy introduction to the 17 holes to come. We took to the tee box looking to direct our drives toward the center of the fairway, which both Jimmy and I did successfully. There are two fairway bunkers, and the left bunker is reachable; it caught Gerry off guard. John equally started with a little trouble left but was able to come back, dropping a stroke. After landing on the green in regulation, Jimmy and I carded par while Gerry and John took bogeys.

HOLE 2 | “BOGEY IS THE NEW PAR”

175 yards, par 3

Cougar Point was one of the filming locations for The Legend of Bagger Vance, and with beautiful holes like this one, you can see why. Water runs completely along the right side of the hole, and often the greenskeeper makes the hole even more challenging by placing the pin on the right side, making the water more probable. I poked my ball left, pin high but off the green; perhaps fear of the water came into play. Jimmy went for the pin but hit the green, rolling back and nearly over the bulkhead and off into the water. Gerry and John caught the large sand trap in the front of the hole, carding a double bogey, and Jimmy and I secured bogey.

Cougar Point

© Francis X. Gallagher

HOLE 9 | “THE WHEELS COME OFF”

550 yards, par 5

Hole 9 became a nemesis for me, Gerry and John, but Jimmy kept his composure and secured a closing par.

Water runs all along the right side, closer in the first 300 or so yards, and pulls away from the hole at the green. The smart play is to land right-center of the fairway, leaving a good angle to the green. Playing from the left leaves you dangerously close to trees lining the entire left side of the fairway — trees that might block out your next shot. Jimmy played a textbook approach, landing in regulation on the green in three strokes for par and leaving the rest of us looking to the back nine for recuperation.

HOLE 11 | “THE COMEBACK KID”

489 yards, par 5

After making a bogey on the previous hole, I was pleased I was coming back into the swing of things and not in a rut. Do your best to avoid the huge fairway bunker on the left and another on the right. Trying to “go for it” in two might put you in one of the five bunkers surrounding the green. This is a frequently photographed hole, featured in the opening of The Legend of Bagger Vance as Jack Lemmon hits his tee shot and walks off along the left side of the fairway toward the green.

Deciding to turn lemons into lemonade, I took to this hole like Bagger and played smart, landing on the green in regulation. Avoiding all the traps was my main goal, but I was not the only one to play like a star — both John and Jimmy joined me in carding a par for Bagger.

HOLE 17 | “BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER”
366 yards, par 4

This is considered one of the most beautiful holes on the course. If you like water, be prepared, as a large swath runs all along the right side and stops abruptly at the green. Another pond sits about 100 yards to the left of the green but stops short of it. Also beware the long fairway bunker on the right where the dogleg turns toward the green, exactly where a drive, like mine, would land if you tried to hit over the water. This cost me some shots.

It is recommended to play it safe, some even suggesting to do what Jimmy did and hit an iron and then another mid-iron to the green. He parred the hole, so maybe that is the best strategy. On the other hand, John and Gerry played it cute with a 3-wood over the trees. That worked out a little better than my strategy. In the end, however, Gerry found that little pond by hitting through the fairway and dribbling into it.

HOLE 18 | “A SAFE BET”

400 yards, par 4

The finishing hole on Cougar is a lengthy par 4 with lots of water. You can easily drive over the pond, but a more difficult stretch of water runs about 100 yards from the kidney-shaped green along the entire left side. To add insult to injury, a bunker on the right side of the green further exacerbates a bail-out opportunity away from the water. Even a safely hit shot to the right leaves a difficult pitch which could roll off to the water. The green has a bowl in the center which can play with your putts.

Gerry did not follow the course advice — a ball too far right or left will put one into “tree trouble.” He went left and then went right. This is often referred to as military golf (left, right, left, right). The boys and I remained more focused and, although we had a variety of minor bunker issues and missed hits, secured bogey on the final hole at Cougar Point. I am not sure what Jack Lemmon would have said.

 

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