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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


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