PGA Mulls Waste Bunker Dilemma

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FLINT, Mi.--When a raging controversy ensued after Stewart Cink won the MCI Heritage last April, I wrote: 'A waste is a terrible thing to mind.' (Read Column)
 
The PGA of America, The Golf Channel has learned, is close to announcing that it agrees.
 
Quick background: Cink beat Ted Purdy in a playoff at Harbour Town after some creative but legal 'gardening' with loose impediments in a waste area to the left of the 16th hole.
 
Part of the fallout was the realization that Whistling Straits, site of next month's PGA Championship, has hundreds of waste areas. In a waste area, a player is allowed, among other things, to ground his or her club and remove loose impediments.
 
Whistling Straits - Hole 2Late Tuesday Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America's Managing Director of Tournaments, said his organization was leaning toward playing everything 'through the green' at Whistling Straits.
 
'Through the green' means players would be able to ground their clubs in sandy areas, including greenside bunkers, throughout the course. What's imperative, Haigh added, is that players know exactly what constitutes a loose impediment.
 
In other words, if the PGA of America decides on 'through the green,' it will strive to eliminate the ambiguities of Harbour Town that led to what many people thought was a preferred lie that helped Cink win the tournament.
 
The last time the PGA of America played sandy areas as 'through the green' was at the 1991 Ryder Cup matches at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina. Not coincidentally, course architect Pete Dye, designed the Ocean Course and Whistling Straits.
 
Haigh said the decision on whether to play 'through the green' at Whistling Straits could come as late as the Thursday morning of the event. He pointed out that players hitting into sand outside the ropes under 'through the green rules' will be at an obvious disadvantage because, in many cases, spectators will have walked in those areas. Sandy areas inside the ropes, he said, will be maintained.
 
But players won't have to rake bunkers. And they won't have to worry about grounding their clubs.
 
Earlier this week, defending PGA champion Shaun Micheel, who played Whistling Straits for the first time last June, told me he favored the PGA declaring all waste areas as hazards. But, he conceded, 'they'd have to put rakes everywhere. I don't know if there are that many rakes. They might have to go to Home Depot.'
 
Instead there might not be any rakes. Which is the other way to attack the potential problem.
 
Micheel and several other players praised Haigh and the PGA of America as even-handed in its course set-ups over the years. But at least one Tour player said the conditions at Whistling Straits, which, at 7,597 yards, will play as the longest course in major championship history, could produce scores in the 90s.
 
Haigh is acutely aware how severe conditions can get along Lake Michigan at Whistling Straits when the prevailing winds blow. Plus, the last thing the PGA of America wants is the kind of notoriety the USGA achieved at the U.S. Open last month at Shinnecock Hills when the course temporarily, at least, got out of control during the final round. Nor does the PGA of America want a repeat of the Cink controversy.
 
'We will make everything absolutely clear on the rules sheet (distributed to the players),' Haigh said.
 
Haigh also said his organization will, if conditions dictate, consider shortening the 618-yard par 5 11th, the 516-yard par 4 15th, and the 500-yard par 4 18th. If this happens, Haigh said, it won't be because of the lengths of the holes (the 15th is the longest listed par 4 in major championship history). It will be because of the carry distances off the tee.
 
'It's a difficult golf course with challenges unlike any other,' Haigh said of Whistling Straits.
 
And it's terrific to see the PGA of America assessing the upsides AND the downsides of those challenges with an open mind.
 
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