Wisconsin is in general very proud of our hosting of the yearly PGA Golf Tournament, at the Whistling Straits Golf Course, along Lake Michigan, in Kohler, Wisconsin. The sports commentators couldn't say enough about the beauty of the scene and the course and about what a magnificent achievement by Herb Kohler and Peter Dye who created this course. Some of these holes carved into the bluff and dunes along Lake Michigan look remarkably close to the posters and artwork that I have had framed for my golfing son to hang on his wall, showing tees and greens carved into cliffs and islands surrounded by open ocean.
My husband and I received two free tickets for one of the days of the tournament from American Express since we have an American Express credit card. Since my husband will generally try to take advantage of free offers and since he is a sports fan, he determined that we should attend and we signed up for the tickets. Neither of us golf and I am not a particular fan of golf tournaments on TV, but my husband, I think, appreciates the sports abilities of the fine golfers. Even as a non-golfer, I was curious about this course since it is notorious around here. Unfortunately the week of the tournament and specifically the day that we had signed up to go was one of the hottest and most humid of the very hot summer we are all enduring in Wisconsin. I was not looking forward to suffering out there in the sun. We went prepared with an umbrella, a folding cane with a seat on it, sunscreen, water, wet handkerchiefs to put around our neck and every little thing that I could think of that might keep us comfortable. We were also prepared to leave shortly after arriving if the heat was too unbearable. Well, first of all the start of the day's play was delayed by 3 hours on Thursday due to fog coming in off the lake. So initially sun exposure was not a problem. As that time wore on, we discovered that taking a seat high in the bleacher gallery allowed us to receive the benefit of a wonderful cool breeze off the lake. We moved from bleachers to bleachers until we picked a spot high in the bleachers on the 18th green, from which we could also see the tee off on Hole 10 behind us and the ending of the 9th hole to our right. The heat was really not too bad here at all. And we were able to enjoy the day pretty well. Attendance this one day allowed me to appreciate the course characteristics better and I became interested in the TV coverage of the rest of the tournament.
I was keeping track of the play on TV on Sunday as the tournament drew to a close. I was watching when Dustin Johnson combined shots to participate in the chance to win the tournament in a playoff, and then received the news that he had broken the rules, and grounded his club before hitting his 2nd to last shot. My first reaction was typical. In sympathy to this player, I thought the ruling was unfair, and that the whole handling of the situation spoke badly for Wisconsin and the local running of this tournament in our state. How could they claim this area of exposed dirt was a bunker? It was way past the tape bounding play and keeping the gallery off the play area. It was underneath a crowd of a thousand people and the photos showed it had been trampled, stomped on and even driven over as evidenced by tire tracks in the dirt. It looked like an area of sandy dirt and the golf course had been constructed on sandy dirt. Many of the hills and valleys of this course were so sandy that they would not even grow a ground cover. People in the gallery were obscuring any evidence of a lip or any other signs that this was constructed as a golf hazard. It appeared that the rules people had just come up with an obscure rule that they pulled out to maybe justify their existence. And it made the whole management of this golf tournament in our state look like a fiasco even if the course was beautiful and wonderful.
But then more facts on the other side come out. The PGA rules committee had debated exactly this possibility before the tournament and had known that such a possibility was likely to arrise on a course with over 1200 bunkers, many of them out of the main lines of play. To attempt to handle this issue, the rules committee put the number one rule on the printed rules as this rule applying to sand hazards on this course. They state that due to this nature of the course, the hazard rules which include not grounding the club would apply to even non play area sandy areas and these areas would be considered sand hazards, not "waste" areas. Some people say these waste areas out of play should not be considered hazards. But then how do you decide which 700 are constructed sand hazards and which 300 are waste areas and how do you mark them. That possible solution seems untenable to any reasonable person. So the rules committee did the best they could. Copies of these rules had not only been distributed to players and caddies, but had been mounted on the mirror in the locker room and even behind the door of the toilet stalls. Not only that, similar questions had come up in Johnson's group on the 14th and 16th holes. And earlier in the play on the 18th, Johnson had asked a rules person questions about hazards, and the rules person had been near this site asking Johnson if he needed anything in order to play this shot. Johnson merely asked the rules officials to clear the people somewhat so he could play the ball. Some people say the rules person should have reminded him that this was a sand hazard but the rules person had to respond to other players on the remainder of the hole also. It was not his responsibility to remind players of the rules. All of the amateur golfers I spoke to about after this fiasco, said the rules people had no choice but to make the ruling they made. Of course, we feel sorry for Johnson and the whole thing appears unfair and tragic. Knowing this course, there may be future such issues, but I don't know what more could have been done to prevent this problem. Except maybe as one writer about the issue said: paraphrased quote: "In the future Johnson will no doubt pay more attention to the rules and to the lie of his ball, and Whistling Straits will probably fill its thousand bunkers with neon orange sand."
There is an moral to the story somewhere, I think. Life is unfair. We must pay attention to the rules. But mostly it applies to Johnson's reaction to this devastating blow. He reacted with a calm demeanor and total class.