The Local Rule That Caused A Major Uproar
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Championship

The PGA of America passed out copies of the local rules sheet — the same one that the players are given — in the media center after Dustin Johnson was penalized two strokes for grounding his club in one of the 967 bunkers at Whistling Straits, many of which are outside the ropes and stomped on by spectators. It was also posted in the locker room. Here’s what it says…well, I’m only going to retype that part that applies to the case of the bunkers.


Play is governed by the 2010/11 USGA Rules of Golf and its Decisions, the PGA of America Rules of Play Card, the Local Rule for this Championship regarding Pace of Play (available at the starting tees) and the following Supplementary Rules of Play which apply to this golf course.

1: Bunkers: All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers whether or not they have been raked. This will mean that many bunkers positioned outside of the ropes and some inside the ropes, close to the rope line, will likely include numerous footprints, have tire tracks during the play of the Championship. Such irregularities of surface are a part of the game.

Note 1: The sand area in front, left and behind #5 green in the lateral water hazard is NOT a bunker (do not move stones).

Note 2: Where necessary, blue dots define the margin of a bunker.

I certainly didn’t see any blue dots near Dustin’s bunker. With so many bunkers, how can they mark all of them? Especially when order wasn’t maintained properly and people were stomping all over the bunkers..

The bold part below is what makes the bunker rule even more confusing. There were tons of areas on the course that had been trampled and looked similar to the “bunker” where Johnson’s ball rested. I’d sit on patches of dirt on the sides of hills that were perfect seats.

4. Integral Parts of the Course:

a) Railroad tie supports (except where adjacent to cart paths) such as those found on holes #11 and #17

b) Natural sand or dirt pathways

c) Pathways surfaced with mulch/wood chips (individual pieces of mulch/wood are loose impediments).

d) Erosion-control mesh netting when covering or supporting rocks in or around water hazards.

How can you distinguish between what’s “natural sand” and the hundreds of pointless bunkers splattered across the course in the strangest of places, like next to a tee box?

Also, there was some question as to whether Johnson should have received even more penalty strokes because he grounded the club once in his practice swing and again when he addressed he ball. There’s a cell phone video floating around the interwebs of Johnson’s caddie, Bobby Brown, setting Johnson’s golf bag in the hazard.

While I’m still awaiting confirmation, I’m pretty sure you can only be assessed the penalty once on each shot. So if DJ grounded his club once, he might as well have grounded it five more times. As for the bag, there’s no penalty for setting a bag down in a bunker (hazard).

When the PGA Championship was last played at Whistling Straits in ’04, Stuart Appleby, who was in contention in the final round, received a four-stroke penalty for also mistaking a bunker outside the ropes as a waste area. He removed a few twigs (loose impediments) from the bunker to draw a two-stroke penalty. Then he grounded his club for another two-stroke penalty.

After what happened to Appleby, you’d think the PGA would have made adjustments to the rule the first time around. Perhaps with the loud outcry that Johnson’s fiasco has created, when the PGA Championship returns to Whistling Straits in 2015, they’ll change the local rule, so that the bunkers outside the ropes are called what they actually are — waste areas.

[Photo by Kyle Auclair/]