Bunker's gone but sands still hazardous

HAVEN (Wisconsin) • The notorious Dustin Johnson bunker at Whistling Straits is gone. The rule that made the bunker famous five years ago remains.

On the 72nd hole at the 2010 PGA Championship, the American was assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club twice in a sandy hollow far from the 18th fairway as he prepared to hit a shot.

It was a controversial decision that kept him from a play-off and denied him the chance to win his first Major.

An obscure rule that week declared the nearly 1,000 sandy areas at the dune-dominated Whistling Straits - even those beyond the gallery ropes where fans had been standing or sitting - to be bunkers that must be treated as hazards.

Johnson, unaware of the rule, made a triple-bogey seven on his final hole and finished fifth. He is still seeking his first Major.

This week, the PGA Championship returns to Whistling Straits, the otherworldly, links-style Pete Dye-designed golf course along the western shore of Lake Michigan.

Tournament officials have announced that the roughly 1,000 sand patches strewn about the property are again bunkers.

But one of the bunkers from 2010 will not be in play. The area that vexed Johnson is now hidden by a corporate hospitality complex.

If the world No. 8 were to hit into that place now, he would get free relief without penalty.

Five years ago, in the wake of Johnson's punishment, which was widely panned especially outside the golf community, officials insisted they had given all competitors ample notice of the rule pertaining to the bunkers all over the property.

Similar messages were distributed on Monday to arriving golfers.

Last week, Johnson conceded that he would not ground his club anywhere but the fairway at Whistling Straits. Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy surmised that everyone in the field was well versed in the rule by now.

Over the past five years, Dye has been questioned why he needed to include in his course design so many bunkers, which some critics have called decorative or cosmetic hazards.

He has said little in response. Others have defended him.

Johnson, who nearly won the US Open in June and held the lead heading into the weekend at the British Open last month, is one of the favourites this week.

On Monday, as the 31-year-old practised, fans cheered, until one voice called out: "Hey DJ, remember all the sand is a hazard out there."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2015, with the headline 'Bunker's gone but sands still hazardous'. Print Edition | Subscribe