All that sand, and no bunkers at Kiawah Island

All that sand, and no bunkers at Kiawah Island

Players are allowed to ground their clubs in sand areas throughout the course this week at the PGA.
Courtesy of 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.

Haigh said there were about 30 areas that looked like real bunkers because they have “reasonable areas of grass around them.''

“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.''

PLAYER OWNERS: Phil Mickelson only needs Major League Baseball approval to be a minority owner of the San Diego Padres.

Mickelson is one of the investors in the group trying to buy his hometown Padres – not a major player, but it certainly wasn't cheap. He has said his role would be to help create strong community ties in San Diego toward the Padres. In other words, he won't be pitching batting practice.

Someone asked Tiger Woods if he ever thought about investing in ownership of a sports team.

“Absolutely,'' Woods said, looking serious as ever until he finally added, “I just need a lot more money.''

Woods said his teams are the one he grew up with – the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Raiders, who have since moved back to Oakland.

THE COSTLY JUG: Ernie Els keeps the replica he got for winning the 2002 British Open at Muirfield at his home in London. He has the real thing now after winning last month at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, but he plans to get another replica for his home in Florida.

But it won't be cheap.

Els said the Royal & Ancient charges somewhere between $12,000 and $15,000 for a replica of golf's oldest trophy, which is made of silver.

“Can you believe that? I'm going to be broke after that,'' Els said, breaking into a grin when reminded that he received just over $1.4 million for winning that trophy.

He said the replica looks identical to the claret jug, although it is a fraction smaller.

CHAMPIONS DINNER: Two weeks after Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship, he ran into David Toms at The Barclays and was asked what he planned to serve for dinner. Bradley had no idea what Toms meant.

“The next week I'd have John Daly coming up to me; and then next week Phil would ask me; and then at Medalist the other day, Tiger asked me,'' Bradley said.

He figured out that the PGA Championship, similar to the Masters, has a dinner hosted by the defending champ, who is in charge of the menu.

It's not quite the same. Only Masters champions, along with club chairman Billy Payne, are at the Augusta dinner. For the PGA Championships, the players' wives are invited along with various PGA officials. And while the winner has to pick up the tab at Augusta, the PGA of America kindly pays for this one.

Bradley, who grew up in New England, was sticking to his roots. The fare was to include Maine lobster with filet, corn on the cob and ice cream sundaes.

“I think it will be good,'' he said.

DIVOTS: The practice round was suspended twice on Tuesday because of weather – for just over an hour in the morning, and 1 hour and 15 minutes early in the afternoon. … Brian Gaffney, the head pro at Rumson (N.J.) Country Club, is playing his second major this year. He qualified for the U.S. Open and missed the cut. … Phil Mickelson is playing the opening two rounds with Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III. Mickelson is No. 8 in the Ryder Cup standings, and this is the last week to earn an automatic spot on the U.S. team. Kerry Haigh, the championship director, was asked if Love asked to play with Mickelson. The PGA Championship tends to put its past champions together. “We don't take player requests for any pairings,'' Haigh said.

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