Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

PGA Tournament Committee 1 –Players 0

by Mary Armstrong

Published by the Las Cruces Sun-News 8/20/10

I hope you missed “Bunkergate” this past Sunday.  No one should have to endure the torture that the PGA put us through, least of all poor Dustin Johnson.  Dustin, he of shooting 82 and hitting it all over the place on the final day of the U.S. Open, showed his “metal”, playing a strong, albeit not particularly steady, final round.  Unfortunately, his bright, smooth” metal” became unrecognizably hammered by the PGA establishment.

Dustin only needed to par the final hole to win the coveted Wanamaker Trophy and PGA Championship.  When he seemingly bogeyed the hole, he fell into a tie with two other players.  He tapped in for an apparent five only to be intercepted on his way to the scorer’s table by the PGA Official assigned to his group.  The official informed him that he may have suffered a two stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker.  The rest is history as they say and perhaps you’ve seen many different perspectives on the situation this week. 

I won’t dispute that the ruling was proper and warranted under the rules of golf and the PGA tournament committee’s management.  However, that doesn’t mean that I think it was appropriately handled or even conceived.  First of all, Pete Dye’s (the course architect) ego has overridden any weak sense of design he ever had at this course.  A simple indication of design quality is how memorable each hole is.  Whistling Straits exhibits slight variations on only a few basic hole layouts.  This makes it very difficult to create memorable holes.  The site is spectacular, but Dye failed miserably in designing a worthy golf course.  The fact that there is a discussion about how many bunkers are on the course is indicative of Dye’s need to feed his ego.  His design theme on this site was apparently to have more bunkers than anyone will ever want to design into another course.  A Guinness significance does not constitute good design.  Any first year design student knows that.  In closing a recent article, Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal wrote that when he asked the “magic question” of Course Superintendent Michael Lee he replied, “’An accurate answer is that there are over 1,000,’ he said. ‘The most accurate answer is, we don’t know.’”  By actual count of Golf Magazine writer Ron Whitten, the number is 967, but he acknowledged that he didn’t count overgrown or “abandoned” bunkers.  Dye himself was interviewed after the incident Sunday and he wanted us to believe that there are at least 1201 bunkers. 

More important than the suitability of the course for a major championship was the PGA’s poorly conceived crowd control plan or at best a poor implementation.  To permit the crowd to overrun a highly bunkered area in the driving zone on the finishing hole is pure ineptness.  Adding insult to injury is David Price’s contention that he couldn’t get through the fans in time to advise Johnson.  Given Nick Watney’s distant position in the standings, Price, the PGA walking official assigned to the pairing, should have been right on Johnson’s tail from the time Dustin picked up his tee.

Dustin and his caddie, Bobby Brown, were not without guilt as well.  Brown, Johnson’s caddie over most of his three plus years on tour took his share of the blame head on as did his boss.  “Dustin is a stand-up guy, and he showed his character”, Brown was quoted in Dustin’s hometown newspaper.  The only thing he didn’t say was “again”.  After the horrible finishing round at the U.S. Open, some speculated that it would “scar” Dustin for a long time.  Instead, he performed beautifully in the PGA.  We all respect him and his caddie for accepting “their medicine”, but I have to say that the game is headed toward disaster when the participants continually have to accept the blame.  The game of golf requires superior athletic skill, the mental toughness of a drill sergeant and increasingly, the interpretation skills of a constitutional lawyer.  There is no doubt that you must know the rules.  A recent copy of the “Rules of Golf” takes over 180 pages; but that’s just the beginning.  The book “Decisions on the Rules of Golf” has over 500 pages.  The rules need simplifying.  Perhaps that wouldn’t have helped Dustin – we can only speculate, but the future of the game depends at least in part on rules that are simple, comprehensible and backed by logic and consistency.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January.  She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.  You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: https://roadholeshorts17.wordpress.com/.

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