The Insider: The PGA Championship with Golf Digest

1 course

1,012 bunkers

That is the immense challenge that faces the players in this year’s PGA Championship. The Insider reached out to our good friends at one of the world’s most premier golf magazines, Golf Digest South Africa, for an expert scoop by Ron Whitten, Golf Digest Architecture Editor, on Whistling Straits, a course that has dashed so many players’ dreams of greatness.

Whistling Straits 6

Here’s the shortest par-4 on a course that will measure 7,501 yards (6,859 meters), par-72 for the PGA. Photo by Stephen Szurlej.

The PGA returns to Whistling Straits, where one spit of sand cost Dustin Johnson his shot at the championship. Five years later, there are even more bunkers and a new star is chasing history on this infamous course, Jordan Spieth.

The final major of the year could of course carried so much more intrigue had Jordan Spieth not come one shot short of making the three-way playoff at St Andrews, ultimately won by compatriot Zach Johnson. The 21-year-old was chasing a calendar year grand slam, but will arrive in Wisconsin for the 97th PGA Championship (August  13-16) attempting to join Tiger Woods (2000) and Ben Hogan (1953) as the only players to win three majors in a year in the modern era.

Herb Kohler is a happy man. Not just because the billionaire’s Straits course at Whistling Straits, ranked 22nd on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Courses, is hosting its third PGA Championship in the past 11 years (and will host the Ryder Cup in 2020), but because his Pete Dye-meets-Salvador Dali-meets-Pablo Picasso course design certifiably has more than 1,000 bunkers. In 2010, before that year’s PGA, we counted every bunker (a task that took 11 hours over two days), and Kohler was disappointed – make that, in disbelief – that we’d found only 967. “Maybe I’ll have Pete add a few more,” he grumbled at the time.

Dye insists he never received such a request from Kohler, and though he has dinked around with some holes over the past few years, achieving a threshold bunker count was never one of his goals. Yet, when caddie Bob Palm and I repeated the process before this year’s PGA – walking down the right side of every hole one morning, the left side of each the next morning, charting every bunker and marking each to ensure we wouldn’t count any of them twice, we discovered the course now has 1,012 bunkers, an average of more than 56 per hole: 535 on the front nine, 477 on the back. The par-4 eighth has the most (109), and the par-3 12th has the fewest (18).

The longest par-5 on the course is part of a front nine that measures 3 803 yards (3 478 metres).

The longest par-5 on the course is part of a front nine that measures 3,803 yards (3,478 meters). Photo by Stephen Szurlej.

We found big bunkers divided into smaller ones, and a few eliminated, but remaining is the infamous bunker right of the 18th fairway where, in the 2010 PGA, Dustin Johnson grounded his club in the sand and incurred a two-stroke penalty that knocked him out of a playoff and into a tie for fifth.

Excited for this year’s final tournament? Download the latest edition of Golf Digest South Africa on PressReader!

If you’ve missed any edition of The Insider, check out past features here, including Gear Testing with Backpacking MagazineThe Editor of The Hockey NewsBaking with Martha StewartEditor of House and LeisureEditor of O MagazineSustainable Luxury for the Modern TravelerEditor of T3 and author Lisa Jey Davis. Sign up for our blog below for more exciting editions of The Insider coming soon!