PGA Championship bunker counters owed hazard pay

While practicing Monday for the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods walks near one of the reported 967 bunkers on the Whistling Straits golf course.

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. -- At first glance, it appears Whistling Straits is as much sand as it is grass.

There are bunkers everywhere, in staggering numbers. They snake along fairways, adorn the tops of two-story mounds, hide in seas of fescue rough and cling to the sides of greens.

How many bunkers are there?

That's a question people have tried to answer ever since the course sprang from the imagination of Pete Dye and took shape on manufactured dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

After the Straits opened, Kohler Co. officials tried to count the bunkers on a blown-up aerial photo and gave up. There were just too many.

The standard answer to the question became "more than 1,000."

In the August issue of Golf Digest magazine, writer Ron Whitten seemed to have definitively answered the question.

"By actual count, there are 967 bunkers on the Straits Course at Whistling Straits," Whitten wrote. "We know, because we were the first to be crazy enough to count every one."

Whitten and a caddie, Bob Palm, spent 11 hours over two days in May at the Straits. They counted the bunkers by marking the sand in each with a contraption Whitten fashioned from a lamp globe and a hoe handle.

"The marks were invaluable when we found ourselves doubling back across a field of bunkers, unsure if we'd already been there," Whitten wrote.

Give him high marks for ingenuity and effort.

But is his number accurate? Are there 967 bunkers on the Straits?

Well, not exactly.

"It's an awfully close number," said Michael Lee, manager of golf course maintenance for Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run. "That could be the number for a period of time. But the property is so big and vast, things change."

In other words, the bunker count is a fluid number. There probably were 967 bunkers when Whitten toured the Straits in May but there could be fewer, or more, the next time he visits.

"There are depressions all over that are filled with sand but the grass has grown up in them," Lee explained. "Pete Dye will come in and say, 'Let's expose this bunker.' We take out the grass, and there's the sand."

Add another bunker to the total.

Though Whistling Straits probably can claim the title of most-bunkered course in the world, only about 100 bunkers will be raked each day during the PGA Championship.

The rest form a backdrop that introduces doubt, uncertainty and fear -- a hallmark of Dye's architectural genius -- but don't come into play for 20-handicappers, let alone the best players in the world.

"From the tee it looks like there's nowhere to hit it," Steve Stricker said. "Some of the shots are visually intimidating. But if you realize there's plenty of room out there, it's not so bad."

The bunkers at Whistling Straits range in size from depressions as small as a bathtub to a 300-yard monstrosity on the par-5 fifth hole.

According to Whitten, the eighth hole has the most bunkers (102), followed by the 18th (96). The 12th and 14th holes tie with the fewest (18).

Whitten acknowledged that he did not count "abandoned, overgrown" bunkers. But any one could be restored to bona fide bunkerdom the next time Dye visits.

So, to answer the question about the number of bunkers at Whistling Straits, we defer to Lee, who knows as much about the course as anybody.

"An accurate answer is that there are over 1,000," he said. "The most accurate answer is, 'We don't know.' "