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Why No Bunkers At The PGA Championship

Posted: 8/15/2012

In the battle for the PGA’s Wanamaker trophy last weekend at The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, ranked No. 1 on “Golf Digest’s Toughest Courses in America,” players didn’t have to worry about one difficulty found on most courses.

Even though there was plenty of sand to deal with, there were no bunkers on the course. All sandy areas at the Ocean Course, except those inside water hazards, were defined as through the green. “Through the green” is the term used by the Rules of Golf to refer to all of those areas on the course that are not the teeing ground of the hole being played, not the putting green of the hole being played, not water hazards and not bunkers.

In other words, through the green includes the fairway, the rough and naturally sandy areas.

Although this is the first PGA Championship that was played on a course without bunkers, this was not the first time the PGA of America has conducted a competition at the Ocean Course without bunkers.   

Mark Wilson, former chair of the PGA of America’s Rules of Golf Committee, recently told an interviewer, "You know we (the PGA of America) did not have bunkers here in 1991 during the Ryder Cup , nor at the 2005 PGA Professional National Championship nor the 2007 Senior PGA Championship. That rule is a product of architecture, not a reaction to any event that occurred previously." Thus, the decision to have a “bunker-less” championship was not made because of Dustin Johnson’s difficulty in the infamous bunker on the 18th hole at Whistling Straits during the 2010 PGA Championship.  

The differences in topography and architecture between The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island and most other courses was the reason for this decision. According to the Rules of Golf, a bunker “is a hazard consisting of a prepared area of ground, often a hollow, from which turf or soil has been removed and replaced with sand or the like.” 

Why was this not implemented during the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits?  Although there are more than 1,000 sandy areas on the Straits course, some large, some small, some containing very fluffy sand, some containing densely packed sand, all the sand was added in those areas after turf or soil has been removed. Thus all those sandy areas at the Straits Course meet the definition of a bunker in the Rules of Golf. Sand is not part of the natural terrain at the Straits Course. Also, the bunkers at Whistling Straits are clearly distinguishable as such. 

On the other hand, Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course is built on the Atlantic Coast on a barrier island made up primarily of sand. Most places on the course that aren’t grass covered are naturally sandy and many of those naturally sandy areas flow right into more sculpted sandy areas, especially near putting greens, some of which look a lot like traditional bunkers. In making the decision to treat all sandy areas outside of water hazards as through the green, the PGA of America took into consideration the difficulty they would have trying to differentiate which sandy areas could be considered bunkers and which should be considered through the green, as well as the difficulty of clearly identifying where sandy areas that were not bunkers stopped and those that could be considered bunkers started. Ultimately they came to the conclusion that such an attempt would in many areas be all but impossible and opted to treat all sandy areas alike by defining them as through the green. 

Therefore, players were allowed to ground their clubs as they were addressing the ball, take practice swings and remove loose impediments in these sandy areas, all things most golfers know aren’t allowed in bunkers but that are allowed when their ball lies through the green.


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