All That Sand, And No Bunkers at Kiawah Island

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) – This major has 206 fewer bunkers than the last one. Even though Kiawah Island has a lot more sand.

In a decision that the PGA of America said was consistent with past tournaments on the Ocean Course, all sandy areas have been declared “through the green.” In layman terms, that means no bunkers at Kiawah Island for the final major of the year.

Several holes have what look to be sand traps that run all the way down fairways or stretch behind the greens. There are some cases where the sand areas are surrounded by grass, making them look like a regular bunker. But they won’t be considered bunkers. Players will be able to ground their clubs and even take practice swings, which would be a two-shot penalty if those areas were treated like real bunkers.

“This is exactly the same way that it was played in `91 at the Ryder Cup and at our two major champions that we played here at the Ocean Course,” said Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s managing director of championships. “We think it’s the fairest and the best way to play. It’s certainly a unique golf course, which warrants this.”

The PGA of America posted the decision in the locker room: “NOTICE TO COMPETITORS. NO BUNKERS.” Of course, now it has to make sure Dustin Johnson reads it.

Johnson is famous for having a one-shot lead on the final hole at Whistling Straits in the 2010 PGA Championship. He didn’t realize he was in one of hundreds of bunkers, perhaps because spectators could stand in part of them and children were building sand castles in them. He grounded his club, and after making bogey, was assessed a two-shot penalty that kept him out of a playoff.

Johnson, who grew up in Myrtle Beach, is familiar with Kiawah. He didn’t see the coincidence in the ruling after what he went through two years ago.

“They’ve always done it,” Johnson said. “If you look at the past, every tournament they’ve ever had here, they’ve always done it. And you kind of need to around this place, just because most of them aren’t manicured, with rakes, all the time, and there’s a lot of sand out here.”

Haigh said the sandy areas inside the ropes would be raked each morning, and rakes would be near most of those areas. The PGA is asking players to clean up after themselves as a courtesy to those who play behind them.

“But as there is so much sandy area, there is still likely to be footprints, tire tracks, etc., both inside the ropes and outside the ropes,” Haigh said.

The last major, the British Open, was held at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, which had 206 bunkers, though none nearly this big.

The decision came as a surprise to Ernie Els last week before he came down to Kiawah.
“If that’s the rule, they’re going to have to change it,” Els said. “That’s ridiculous. That would be absolutely astonishing.”

Els was thinking of some holes that have fully enclosed sand traps. If he gets in one of those, he can test the sand, take a practice swing, remove loose impediments and set his club in the sand behind the ball – all the things you can’t do in a proper bunker.

“But there’s way more than have sand that goes forever,” he said. “To try and make it fair and understandable for the players, this is certainly how we think it should be played.”

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