The Story About “Rory’s Tree” at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course

Ocean Course Third Hole Rory's Tree
Left: Rory McIlroy searches for his ball during the third round of the 2012 PGA Championship. Right: The new replacement tree is shown in 2019. (Credit: Getty Images)

As you get settled in to watch the 103rd PGA Championship this weekend on ESPN and CBS, you may here the commentators mentioning “Rory’s Tree.”

The backstory of the tree is as follows:

After birdieing the first two holes on day three of the 2012 PGA Championship, Rory McIlroy’s tee shot on the drivable, par-4 third hole landed in a tree branch some 8-feet off the ground and in the middle of the fairway.

McIlroy, his caddie and officials all searched for the ball, looking high and low, in tall grass and the surrounding area, but nothing turned up. TV coverage was able to determine that his ball had indeed come to rest in a hole in the branch.

After being informed of this, McIlroy looked in the tree and saw the ball. From there, McIlroy took an unplayable lie but was able to save par after a tidy pitch shot. As he walked off the green, he grinned and disposed of the uncooperative ball.

Ocean Course Third Hole Rory's Tree
The third hole of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, the host of the 103rd PGA Championship in Kiawah Island, SC. (Photo by Gary Kellner – The PGA of America via Getty Images)

The tree withstood being hit so many times by golfers and had endured strong winds and hurricanes but it was a disease that ultimately killed this tree in 2015. In 2019, the course planted a replacement oak that resembled “Rory’s tree,” which preserves the strategy and overall visual appeal of the hole.

For the next century and beyond, golfers will still be able to pass by the tree and marvel at the contrast between its bare body and the idyllic seaside ensemble it inhabits.


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