Bob Gillespie



Welcome home, Dustin: Ocean Course will have no bunkers for PGA 2012

Posted 8/5/2012 8:19:00 AM

For South Carolinians and others who have followed the meteoric PGA Tour career of Columbia native and former Myrtle Beach resident Dustin Johnson, memories of the 2010 PGA Championship at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits will always be a case of “what might have been.”

Two summers ago, the former Coastal Carolina University All-American arrived at Whistling Straits’ 18th tee with a one shot lead, but pushed his drive into the gallery to his right. Finding his ball in what he believed to be a sandy, walked-through area, Johnson hit his second shot left of the green and made bogey, which he figured put him in a playoff for the title.

Just one problem: The sandy spot was considered a bunker for that PGA, and Johnson by grounding his club had incurred a two-shot penalty. Germany’s Martin Kaymer won the playoff over Bubba Watson, while Johnson learned a painful lesson about rules.

No such scenario will happen at the 2012 PGA, Aug. 6-12 at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course – ironically, like Whistling Straits a Pete Dye design – not to Johnson, or anyone else.

The PGA of America recently announced that under its “Condition of Play” for the championship, all sandy areas of the Ocean Course will be considered “through the green,” not bunkers. Had that rule been in effect at Whistling Straits, Johnson might’ve won the first major he still hopes to capture.

The decision had nothing to do with South Carolina’s homegrown star, though. The same Condition of Play was in effect for the Ocean Course in 1991 when it hosted the 29th Ryder Cup, as well as during the 2005 PGA Professional National Championship and the 2007 Senior PGA.

“With the unique topography of The Ocean Course, natural sandy areas spread throughout the entire property (and) the PGA of America rules committee has determined that all of these areas will be treated alike and played as through the green,” PGA of America president Allen Wronowski said.

“We believe that by establishing the Condition of Play for the 94th PGA Championship well in advance … it will help players and spectators prepare for” the tournament, he said.

Players will be allowed to ground clubs, as well as moving loose impediments and taking practice swings in the sandy areas. The lone exception will be if a ball is in a sandy area considered part of a water hazard. Players who believe a ball is covered by sand anywhere on the course will be able to move the sand without penalty while searching for or identifying the ball.

Why the change? Nothing to do with Dustin; PGA officials say at Whistling Straits, all areas designed and built as sand bunkers were “well defined and were completely surrounded by grass,” whereas at The Ocean Course, “the sand is natural to the surrounding terrain and in many cases there is no clear definition of where such sandy areas stop and start.”

That’s too late to help Johnson, who might argue that “well defined” description of Whistling Straits, but it should be good news for this year’s field – which includes the lanky South Carolinian.

Limited tickets for the 2012 PGA remain on sale for Monday-Tuesday ($45) and Wednesday ($60) practice rounds. Grounds tickets ($110) for Thursday’s first round, Championship Round Ticket Packages ($500) for Thursday-Sunday, and Champions Club tickets (starting at $700, with theater seating at the par-3 17th hole and full catering/open bar service) are also available.

For information, call (888) PGA-GOLF (742-4653) or go to