Whistling Straits a long, hard test

PGA Championship site has about 1,400 bunkers


August 12, 2004|By Thomas Bonk | Thomas Bonk,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HAVEN, Wis. -- Before this week is over, people could be singing a different tune about Whistling Straits.

What is there not to like about this place?

There's the 260-yard carry over sand dunes, bunkers and tall grass to reach the 18th fairway. And it usually plays into the wind, too.

Or it might be that huge, sandy mound that introduces the 17th green, the one that Stuart Appleby called a "huge zit."

It may be that the bunkers outnumber the players by about a 10-1 ratio.

The PGA Championship, the year's last major tournament, begins today on the longest, strangest, newest and possibly one of the most difficult layouts in major championship history.

English golfer Lee Westwood called the course tougher than it looks, almost too difficult, because of its length.

So Whistling Straits is sure to be a huge topic this week, all 7,514 yards of it. Here is what everyone knows for sure, doesn't know at all, should know or wishes they knew about Whistling Straits, which opened for play five years ago.

Everyone talks about the number of bunkers, an estimated 1,400, but only about 100 are in play. And after careful consideration, the PGA of America has agreed with designer Pete Dye and ruled that each one will be played as a hazard. That means any player grounding his club in a bunker or removing anything bigger than a pebble will get a penalty.

A bunker at the sixth hole is about 8 feet deep and 10 feet wide. Its steep face is made of layers of sod. An acre of sod fills out the bunker's face.

The closing holes, the par-3 17th and the par-4 18th, are called "Pinched Nerve" and "Dyeabolical," and they have earned their nicknames.

The 17th is 223 yards long with the green on a shelf about 20 feet above Lake Michigan. There is no place to bail out, with the lake on the left and that huge mound on the right.

The 18th is 500 yards, and you've got to knock the ball about 260 yards to find the landing area on the fairway, then carry a stream and more bunkers with a second shot to get to the 18,000-square-foot green, which is shaped like a four-leafed clover.

Dye went to great lengths to rebut players' opinions that the course was too hard, then took a slightly different tack when asked how Whistling Straits compared to his other designs in degree of difficulty.

He called it "popcorn." Yes, popcorn. "You can interpret that any way you want," Dye said. "Sometimes people choke on popcorn."

Tiger Woods said Whistling Straits is the first course he had seen in which double bogey is possible on every hole.

Woods also said he wouldn't want to play Whistling Straits as an 18-handicapper.

Herb Kohler, who financed the place and helped Dye with some design ideas, says Whistling Straits isn't as tough as the players are saying -- and he's an 18-handicapper.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

PGA Championship

Site: Whistling Straits, Haven, Wis.

When: Today-Sunday

Purse: $6 million (winner's share $1,080,000)

Defending champion: Shaun Micheel

TV: Today, 2 p.m., TNT; tomorrow, 2 p.m., TNT; Saturday, 11 a.m., TNT; 2 p.m., chs. 13, 9; Sunday, 11 a.m., TNT; 2 p.m., chs. 13, 9

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