THE COURSE WITH 1 012 BUNKERS!
THE PGA RETURNS TO WHISTLING STRAITS WHERE ONE SPIT OF SAND COST DUSTIN JOHNSON. FIVE YEARS LATER, THERE ARE EVEN MORE BUNKERS
HERB KOHLER IS A HAPPY MAN. Not just because his Straits course at Whistling Straits, ranked 22nd on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Courses, is hosting its third PGA Championship in the past 11 years from August 13-16 (and will host the Ryder Cup in 2020), but because his Pete Dye-meets-Salvador Dali-meets-Pablo Picasso course design certifiably has more than 1 000 bunkers. In 2010, before that year’s PGA, we counted every bunker (a task that took 11 hours over two days), and Kohler was disappointed – make that, in disbelief – that we’d found only 967. “Maybe I’ll have Pete add a few more,” he grumbled at the time.
Dye insists he never received such a request from kohler, and though he has dinked around with some holes over the past few years, achieving a threshold bunker count was never one of his goals.Yet, when caddie Bob Palm and I repeated the process before this year’s PGA – walking down the right side of every hole one morning, the left side of each the next morning, charting every bunker and marking each to ensure we wouldn’t count any of them twice, we discovered the course now has 1 012 bunkers, an average of more than 56 per hole: 535 on the front nine, 477 on the back.The par-4 eighth has the most (109), and the par-3 12th has the fewest (18). We found big bunkers divided into smaller ones, and a few eliminated, but remaining is the infamous bunker right of the 18th fairway where, in the 2010 PGA, Dustin Johnson grounded his club in the sand and incurred a two-stroke penalty that knocked him out of a playoff and into a tie for fifth. (Martin Kaymer defeated Bubba Watson in the three-hole aggregate playoff for the title.)
Dye was sympathetic but took no responsibility for Johnson’s error. “How he didn’t figure out it was a bunker, I don’t know,” Pete says.
In Johnson’s defence, although the bunker was certainly in a depression, with a modest front lip, it contained only a shallow layer of sand, which was dotted with patches of grass and was full of footprints from a week’s worth of spectators who gave it scant notice. Indeed, in replays of Johnson’s shot, spectators can be seen standing in the bunker.
Johnson told officials he thought he was in a patch of rough trampled by the gallery. Trouble is, every patch of sand at Whistling Straits is considered a bunker. The course looks like a links in towering sand dunes along the western shoreline of Lake Michigan, but in a previous life, the site was a flat Army air base, crisscrossed by concrete roadways and runways and containing the type of bunkers in which ammunition was stored. When Dye starting transforming it, he found no pure sand on site. The soil was rocky and mostly clay – even the beach was mostly rock – so Dye had 13 126 truckloads of sand hauled in.
Again, in Johnson’s defence, photos taken before the Straits opened in 1998 show some of the faux dunes created by Dye were covered in sand, which had been dumped and spread in an ap- parent attempt to make them appear as natural sand dunes. But then tall fescue grasses overtook them, and the hillsides went from white and barren to green and wavy ( golden in autumn). But in 2010, spectators’ wear patterns might well have exposed some of that thin layer of sand.
Still, Johnson (and most definitely caddie Bobby Brown) should have known they were in a bunker: Every competitor and caddie in the 2010 PGA was given a local rules sheet that specified all sand throughout the property was to be played as a bunker. The notice even stated that some bunkers were outside the gallery ropes and would likely contain “numerous footprints, heel prints and tyre tracks.”
The local rule will be enforced again at this year’s PGA, says Kerry Haigh, chief championships officer for the PGA of America. “As in 2004 and 2010, it will be in writing, will be placed in the registration packet, attached to the rules sheets, posted on mirrors in the bathrooms as well as at the first and 10th tees,” Haigh says. “If players aren’t aware of the rule, it’s not for lack of distribution.”
The bunkers are so numerous and scattered, Haigh says, that there’s no way to keep them off-limits to spectators. “In a couple of tight areas,” he says, “the only way to circulate the gallery is to have them walk through a portion of a
bunker. But those bunkers aren’t normally in play.”
Player confusion might lie in the fact that this all-sandis- a- bunker rule isn’t universal. The opposite rule was applied at the 2012 PGA at Dye’s Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, where nothing was considered a bunker. All sand was considered a “transition area,” and players could ground their club anywhere. It also differs from the rule the USGA applied at last year’s US Open at Pinehurst No 2, where only sand having rake marks was considered a bunker. All other patches of exposed sand were treated as “through the green,” and a final determination was left with the rules official accompanying each group.
Johnson had a veteran rules official, David Price, with him during the final round of the 2010 PGA. Before Johnson took his second shot, Price asked if he needed any assistance. Johnson simply asked Price to move the gallery back ahead of him. He never asked whether his sandy lie constituted a bunker. To Johnson’s credit, after the round, when shown a television replay and told of the penalty, he accepted it without argument.
Bunkers aside, Dye has made only modest changes to the course since 2010. “Nothing most people would even notice,” he says, though the 14th can play as a drivable par 4 if desired. Dye also added a tee on the 11th that shortens the hole, making that par-5 a gambling two-shotter that brings into play – what else? – a mammoth bunker so deep that its sides are shored up by Dye’s trademark railroad ties.
What type of golfer does the course favour? The last two PGAs there were won by internationals: Kaymer from Germany five years ago and Vijay Singh of Fiji in a playoff in 2004. That trends well for defending champion Rory McIlroy, who missed making the 2010 playoff by failing to sink a 20-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole.
NO. 5 / 551 METRES
39 BUNKERS THE LONGEST PAR 5 ON THE COURSE IS PART OF A FRONT NINE THAT MEASURES 3 803 YARDS ( 3 478 METRES).