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PINEHURST, N.C. -- A restoration of Pinehurst in anticipation of the U.S. Open has meant a potential rules issue for players competing in the tournament: knowing the difference between waste areas and bunkers.
With nearly all of the rough removed from the venerable No. 2 course, players will find themselves in sandy areas throughout. But the United States Golf Association has elected to make a distinction between those waste areas and bunkers -- even though it is not necessarily easy to discern the difference.
"The way we explain it to the players, and certainly our own rules officials, is that the bunkers really by definition are hollows and they contain sand," said Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA. "And that's what you have out there. And balls are almost always going to roll to the bottom.
"Where there's maybe any question about, 'Am I in a bunker or am I through the green (in a waste area)?' we will have a walking rules official with every group, just like we have since 1991 at every U.S. Open. And they will make a decision. But even if it's so close you'd say I'm not sure -- because somebody raked this further than maybe they should have -- we've told our rules officials to treat it as a hazard."
The difference is important; if you are in a hazard, which bunkers are considered to be, you cannot ground your club nor remove loose impediments. That is allowed in waste areas, which is technically considered "through the green."
This became an issue four years ago at the PGA Championship played at Whistling Straits. The PGA of America treated all sandy areas as hazards. On the 72nd hole, Dustin Johnson was in one of those sandy areas and it was well outside the spectator rope line. It was debatable whether it truly was a bunker, but the PGA considered it one. Johnson grounded his club and it led to a two-stroke penalty that cost him a spot in playoff with Bubba Watson and eventual winner Martin Kaymer.
Johnson never consulted a rules official, although there was one with his group.
Two years ago, the PGA Championship went the other way at Kiawah, declaring all sandy areas "through the green" or waste areas.
"We don't think it's going to be an issue this week," Davis said. "We don't have any bunkers outside the rope lines, so we won't have spectators walking through them. We've had that question some. We feel good about the situation."