Ahead of the 2010 PGA Championship, Golf Digest’s Ron Whitten fashioned a curious device out of a lamp and the handle of a garden hoe. No, he hadn’t gone insane. Alongside caddie Bob Palm, Whitten used the contraption to count the bunkers Pete Dye had built at Whistling Straits.
Host of three PGA Championships in the 21st century, the Straits Course is as visually intimidating as golf gets. The player is overwhelmed by mounds, fescue, a lake that looks like an ocean, and probably a few bottles of Spotted Cow. Scariest of all, though, are the bunkers.
In 2010, Whitten and Palm, with their homemade machine, counted 967 bunkers at the Straits Course. Most of these will be out of play at this week’s Ryder Cup, functioning mainly as hazards for clumsy spectators. But a handful could have a real impact on the action.
Top 10 (most influential) bunkers at Whistling Straits
10. Pimple on No. 2 – The size of an inflatable kiddie pool, this bunker is less an actual threat than a psychological one. The par-5 2nd hole is just long enough so that layups and semi-layups are common, and this teensy bunker haunts those shots.
The 2nd hole at Whistling Straits. Photo: Andy Johnson
9. Turkey on No. 11 – Over 600 yards from the back tee, the 11th hole is going to play 100 yards shorter this week to allow for spectator traffic. The change takes one of the course’s best bunkers—another layup-zone treat—out of play but makes the greenside bunker more important. Most Ryder Cuppers will be hitting long-iron approaches, and any misses to the right will get gobbled up. (Get it?)
The 11th hole at Whistling Straits. Photo: Andy Johnson
8. Wasteland left of No. 18 – It may be cheating to consider this a single bunker, but guess what, I make the rules here. Whenever a match reaches the final hole, the players will face what appears to be a never-ending sea of bunkers left of the 18th fairway. Pro golfers are typically very good at an anti-left swing, and they’ll need one here.
The 18th hole at Whistling Straits. Photo: Andy Johnson
7. “Ack!” on No. 8 – You know when you try a daring shot and your brain just doesn’t let you commit, leading to a bailout? I refer to this as an “ack!” moment. Well, the par-4 8th at Whistling Straits has an “ack!” bunker, placed exactly where players might bail out on their second shots.
The 8th hole at Whistling Straits. Photo: Andy Johnson
6. Pucker on No. 10 – Assuming the back tee won’t be used, this week’s competitors will easily clear the big bunker in the center of the 10th fairway. More relevant will be the smaller, equally dangerous bunker 60 yards from the green. In PG-rated terms, this shot makes you pucker.
The 10th hole at Whistling Straits. Photo: Andy Johnson
5. Big guy on No. 5 – In 1998, Pete Dye intended this bunker to prevent the Large Golfers from cutting the corner on the par-5 5th. So much for that! Still, if the tee shot plays into the wind, shorter hitters may not be able to make the carry, and bombers could gain 100+ yards on their opponents.
The 5th hole at Whistling Straits. Photo: Andy Johnson
4. Fairway elbow on No. 14 – This short par 4 in the middle of the back nine should be a hub of excitement at the Ryder Cup. From the back tee, the bunker at the bend of the 14th fairway is roughly a 300-yard carry. If someone (Bryson) decides to go straight at the green, he’ll need to hit it about 325 yards in the air. Wind direction and tee set-up will be key here.
The 14th hole at Whistling Straits. Photo: Andy Johnson
3. Trough in front of No. 12 – Just short of the wild, memorable 12th green is a small but important bunker. When the pin is in the right corner, this bunker—like the one on 12 at Augusta—dares you to aim right of it and go directly at the pin.
The 12th hole at Whistling Straits. Photo: Andy Johnson
2. Giant short right of No. 17 – The most intimidating par 3 at Whistling Straits has plenty of terrifying bunkers, but the beauty of this elevated one just short of the green is that it’s in play for every pin. Right pins will be concealed by its high lip, and left pins are tough to convince yourself to attack, and the bailout is toward the bunker. No one wants to be in there with the Ryder Cup on the line.
The 17th hole at Whistling Straits. Photo: Andy Johnson
1. Nose on No. 6 – In the latest edition of The Fried Egg Podcast, Andy Johnson compared the 6th green to a pair of glasses. That would make the central bunker the nose. Not much bigger than a clawfoot tub, this bunker separates two distinct sections of the putting surface. While the hole is potentially drivable, anyone who ends up in the bunker could face an impossible up-and-down. We’ll probably witness an eagle 2 at some point on the 6th, but we could also see a player concede the hole from off the green. Shout-out Phil Mickelson.
The 6th hole at Whistling Straits. Photo: Andy Johnson
Let’s get sandy.