2010 PGA Championship

The Straits Course at Whistling Straits

967. That's the number of bunkers at Whistling Straits. But for Pete Dye, it's not enough trouble for the pros in the PGA Championship

August 2010

By actual count, there are 967 bunkers on the Straits Course at Whistling Straits, north of Sheboygan, Wis. We know, because we were the first to be crazy enough to count every one.

For the 2010 PGA Championship Aug. 12-15, only a hundred or so bunkers will be raked before play every day, and probably half that many will be of any concern for the caliber of players in the PGA. The rest are merely eye candy, distant targets installed to help transform a once-flat Army air base on the Wisconsin shoreline into a dunes landscape worthy of Ballybunion.

The Straits' bunkers come in all shapes and sizes, from smaller than a hand rake to bigger than a cattle truck. Some sit right in front of the 17th tee boxes. Some are a hundred yards right of the 15th fairway. The newest one takes a bite out of the sixth green, turning it into a horseshoe of bent grass.

"We built this from clay," course designer Pete Dye says on a visit to Whistling Straits last fall. "Had to haul in all the sand. Drained each bunker, too. We've got more money in drainage pipe than we do in sand."

Dye didn't design every bunker. Just waved his arms, told construction crews to build some over here, add a few more over there, make this one long and skinny and that one steep and deep.

That's how Pete Dye has always designed, without detailed blueprints, without a net. He didn't set out to build a course with 967 bunkers. In fact, he didn't know how many it had. You would think all those bunkers and acres of tall native grasses; firm, fast fescue fairways; big, slick greens and strong winds off Lake Michigan would present sufficient challenge for today's top pros. But you're not Pete Dye, who last fall was already noodling ideas to toughen the course for its next PGA (2015) and its first Ryder Cup (2020).

the Straits Course at Whistling Strait

Site visits with Dye are entertaining, with Pete providing commentary in his usual twisted syntax, punctuated by the occasional cuss word. A couple of times he sounds like Yogi Berra, as when he describes the gorse-like juniper bushes planted throughout the course after the 2004 PGA: "They're mostly out of play, unless you hit into them." Later, Dye verbally remodels the 10th green, then talks himself out of it.

"This's got plenty of green for a short shot. I should cut off the back over there... But you can't do that, 'cause it drops off too much... But I could take a little off the back over here. . . . No, I would never do that on this hole--I don't think...The pros have enough trouble with this hole already. They don't know why. I guess it's because it's semi-blind... You don't want every hole to kill 'em."

The walk-through is also enlightening, proof that Pete Dye still has game. He's 84, but Dye's imagination continues to push the game in new directions. In the case of Whistling Straits, he focuses not on the sweeping landforms but the minutiae.

The first item of business is the putting surfaces. Dye shakes his head at how flawless they are. Too perfect.

"When I built these things," he says, "I made sure to keep them big enough and flat enough that they could get them to 11 [on a Stimpmeter] and a ball wouldn't roll off the green. Crazy, isn't it? Now they'll probably want to take them to 12, and the bleepin' things will roll off the green anyway."

His solution, should it come to that, is to raise the lowest portions of a green from one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch, either by repeatedly top-dressing a section with sand and letting the grass grow up through it, or by picking up the sod, spreading sand beneath it, and laying it back down. A quarter-inch! The man who built a 300-yard-long bunker on the fifth hole is now fixed upon adjusting a green contour by one-quarter of an inch.

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