TOM WATSON: Fashions Kiawah Original
By Bascom Gaillard
Tom Watson is definitely on the roll of his life. His work on Kiawah's latest crown jewel, Cassique, likely the most stunning layout from Kiawah Island to Ballybunion, Ireland, is very high on Watson's list of personal favorites. Cassique, then, is a blend of some of the greatest holes in the British Isles, including prized selections from the time-honored Irish and Scottish influences.
What is equally intriguing about the masterpiece that Watson has fashioned is the story behind how Watson was awarded the prized contract, his first solo work ever on American soil. Billy Hough, a longtime friend of Kiawah developer Buddy Darby, was relaxing with Darby and other friends a few years ago following an afternoon round of golf. Puffing on cigars, the group turned their attention to a new project that was deigned to be special. They threw some names against the wall. Arnie's name was one. Several more names emerged. Billy Hough, president and owner of Lan-Yair Country Club in Spartanburg, SC, interceded.
"Tom Watson is going to do the design," Hough declared. "It took two years from that day to put it all together. That's how it started. There were several tracts of land that had to be bought, and even that project worked out very well." Hough's selling effectively brought the principal group together. The principal parties embraced Watson right from the start. Hough says, "After Tom was in place they really were sold on him. They liked his image. They knew he was high profile. The property fit perfectly in the plans for a links-type course. That's the way it went, and everybody was thrilled."
Hough's relationship with Watson began in the mid-70s, when Watson's caddie, Bruce Edwards and Hough came to know one another. By the early '80s, Watson and Hough were close friends, and the relationship has endured, all the way to Watson's wedding to Hillary Watson on September 4, which is also Watson's birthday.
It is safe to say that Cassique is still generating tremendous enthusiasm in its infancy. Watson's artful blending of several traditional disciplines has excited even the occasional skeptic. Darby himself spent six-to-eight months talking over the direction of Cassique with Watson. "We talked golf and strategy and played a little golf as well," Darby says. "Tom has shown over several decades that he plays the game with daring, preparation and style."
Inspired by his love for the simplicity and rhythm of those faraway precious gems of golf, Watson landed his first solo design in the United States, Cassique, unique in a special Tom Watson blend of the disciplines. Having finished Cassique, Tom Watson has taken that Huckleberry Finn image and gap-toothed smile and headed toward the lagging PGA Senior Tour just in time to help prop up its sagging ratings. That tour needs an energized boost, and, odds are, Watson will give that tour a healthy jumpstart. He told Golf Digest that he was "looking forward to playing new courses. In recent years, I accused myself at times of putting it on remote control and not thinking out the risk factors of shots. I was so familiar with the courses." Watson also says that not having to worry about a cut on the Senior circuit pleased him. As he was winding up his PGA Tour career, Watson said he found himself thinking most about making the 36-hole cut and playing four rounds. "That's the same mind-set I had when I joined the tour in '71. Back then there was no senior tour. There was no talk of a senior tour."
A five-time champion of the British Open, Watson has as good, or better, grasp on classic and linkstyle layouts that form such a masterful layout than virtually any one. On this design, he has also thought to blend the Lowcounty mystic in combination with the British and Scottish influences.
So magical the effect Watson brought to Cassique, a lone figure standing on the first tee on an early misty morning, might actually hear plaintive sounds of a bagpipe wailing though a soft driven wind.
"We've tried to create a wonderful variety of shots that you must play here," says Watson. "Given any type of windy conditions, you're challenged to play golf as you would have to play golf on the links courses in Scotland." Cassique features some of the most impressive elevations in the coastal Carolinas. The fairways are Bermuda, while much of the rough is planted with Bahia grass.
Kiawah's newest and brightest star opened in 2000. Cassique is Kiawah Island's newest golfing gem. It is a private, member-only club. The 18-hole course measures 6,960 yards from the tournament tees. Martin Shorter, head professional for Cassique, has praised Watson's work on the course design. Jim Musci is the golf course superintendent.