PGA: Strange Course, 'Suits' Tarnished Final Major
Give Pete Dye a couple of hundred acres of flat beach land, a few big earth moving machines plus an unlimited budget and he is capable of producing a pretty good golf course.
Or, he could come up with another Whistling Straits.
That Lake Michigan beachfront of sculpted golfing torture in Kohler, Wisc., is where the PGA Championship came to a shabby ending last Sunday. PGA of America officials in charge of the tournament were largely responsible for the calamity. They permitted spectators to swarm over bunkers like thousands of kindergarten children enjoying their playful recess period. These folks left their empty water bottles, other trash and deep footprints in the traps where rakes belonged to signify bunkers.
The combination of a sharp-edged Dye course with too many bunkers, hazards, silly pits, railroad ties and hidden corners plus poor crowd control was a sure recipe for the major fiasco that will forever stigmatize the 2010 PGA Championship.
Yes, Dustin Johnson should have checked to see if it was a bunker where he was grounding his 4-iron. After all, he, like all of the competitors, had been given a sheet of local rules explaining the bunkers. Yes, he was in the end responsible for his careless grounding of the club. Ergo, the 2-shot penalty that cost him a chance to win.
The Pilot’s distinguished golf writer, Howard Ward, explains the grounding and its consequences in his column today.
Germany’s 25-year-old Martin Kaymer beat America’s “other lefty,” Bubba Watson, in a two-man, three-hole playoff for the title. The playoff could have consisted of three men. Johnson took a bogey 5 at the 18th to finish in a tie with those other two players before he was notified that he was assessed the 2-shot penalty for grounding his club.
Had the officials in charge of this bungled event come up with proper crowd control, and had Pete Dye built bunkers so one could clearly distinguish between bunker and trampled sandy areas, maybe Johnson would have made it into the playoff for the Wanamaker Trophy.
First of all, the PGA of America and its brass or stuffed shirt officials are, in my opinion, mostly at fault. How can tournament officials permit thousands and thousands of people to trample all over areas of the course that are sure to be places where balls land and where players make strokes?
These geniuses had the ropes strung around the rather impossible Whistling Straits golf course with many of the hundreds and hundreds of small and large bunkers outside those ropes or in areas where the public was permitted to walk. It was reported that a child was building a sand castle in the bunker where Dustin Johnson’s ball landed above and to the right of the 18th fairway.
The PGA Championship is the fourth and final major championship each year following the Masters, United States Open and British Open. It is an important golf tournament and should be treated as such.
Can you imagine a child making sand castles in one of the two huge bunkers left of the 18th fairway at Augusta National as the final group of golfers play up that hill to the 18th green on Sunday afternoon? Or can you imagine any Augusta National bunker being outside the ropes where thousands of people could trample through the sand?
The result at Whistling Straits was that the little corner of that infamous bunker appeared to all, including a very vocal group of television announcers, to be simply a bit of trampled, sandy soil like a path or worn area where once grass had grown. People were crowded so tightly around Johnson when he arrived at the point in question that he could not see the ground six feet from his ball. How could he judge bunker or no bunker? No marshals or officials made a move to get the crowd to back off.
Maybe the PGA “suits” will wise up and keep the bunkers inside the ropes in 2015 when the PGA Championship returns to Whistling Straits and in 2020 when the Ryder Cup is played there.
Whistling Straits is simply a case of Dye at his worst — or best if you are one of those who like that course. After all, it has been rated rather highly in some of the popular golf course rankings. But those are often rankings of what is most expensive, most difficult, designed by “the right” architects and prettiest to the aerial photographer.
There is no way that Whistling Straits is a links course as was so loudly touted during the PGA Championship last week. There is no way the average golfer (15 to 20 handicap) can be very comfortable struggling around that sharp-edged pile of grass and tall fescue with more bunkers than you find in a corner of the Sahara. Whistling Straits is a good example of the misconceptions of modern golf architecture. Give me a course built by A. W. Tillinghast or Donald Ross any day.
A true links course like those I relish so much in Ireland are creations of Mother Nature, not of an army of bulldozers. Links greens are mere extensions of the fairways. Irish course dunes were placed there by the Atlantic Ocean or the Irish Sea and not by machinery cutting sharp drop-offs from fairways, greens and waste areas. Links land holds where it has been for eons, while Dye uses millions of old railroad ties to support his constructions that might otherwise wash away without being shored up by old Erie, Norfolk and Western or Missouri Pacific wood.
By definition links land, which gives its name to links courses, is that bit of earth that was once under ocean water and is now a true link between ocean bottom and dry land where we humans abide. Whistling Straits is not on links land.
Whistling Straits is an arena of “target golf” where one strives to get from green oasis to green oasis while having difficulty walking the terrain from shot to shot.
The world’s best pros who played there in the PGA Championship manage to get around such courses. But the average golfer is not going to enjoy it very much, particularly when you consider he or she must pay the exorbitant greens fee of $400 or more, including caddy.
Pete Dye has built some wonderful courses that I enjoy. I particularly like his course at The Golf Club in New Albany, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, and the Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island, S.C.
But sometimes Dye gets carried away as he did when he constructed the TPC Sawgrass Course at Ponte Vedra, Fla., where the PGA Tour holds The Players Championship each year. That TPC course with its famous 17th hole island green was roundly criticized by the tour golfers when it opened in 1982 and for a few years thereafter.
Following a round on the TPC Sawgrass Course in 1984, Tom Weiskopf referred to what he had just gone through as “Donkey Kong Golf”.
J.C.Snead said, “They ruined a good swamp when they built that course”.
Whistling Straits has just too many sharp edges and too many modern, artificially contrived holes such as the 18th.
As Gary Player said, “You don’t put difficulty upon difficulty upon difficulty when building a course.”
That 18th hole had a bushel of snake pits, rivers, split fairways and kids with sand castles, plus thousands of roaming pedestrians who should be walking down Broadway and not through bunkers. A strange Whistling Straits with PGA “suits” making vital decisions and rampant spectators subject to poor crowd control tarnished a major championship.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story