Photo Bombing the PGA in a Kayak

This past Saturday I caught some of the PGA Championship golf tournament on TV; not because I’m a fan of golf on TV, because I’m not, but because it was being held along the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan not that far from where we live. The thing that caught my eye was the managerie of boats offshore from the Whistling Straits golf course. Outboards. Cruisers. Sailboats. Jet skis. Even a few recreational kayaks. But where were the “real” kayaks; the only ones that truly belong on Lake Michigan? I saw no sea kayaks on my TV. I decided I had to represent. After checking the marine forecast for Sunday, I posted a note on the Milwaukee Sea Kayakers Facebook page to let my fellow SK’ers know I was planning to paddle to Whistling Straits the next day. No takers? Okay, this will be a solo paddle. A study of Google maps showed the closest viable launch site to Whistling Straits was a public park in tiny Cleveland, Wisconsin. Paddling distance from Cleveland to the north end of the golf course would be about 4-1/2 miles each way. When I arrived around 1 p.m. on Sunday I noticed several boats of various sizes preparing to launch, including three other sea kayaks arranged on the grass near the parking area. I asked the kayakers if they were also planning to paddle to the golf tournament and one replied, “Yup, pretty much everybody that comes here today is going.” I thought about offering to join them but they looked like they were just about ready to go and I didn’t want to hold them up. As I unloaded my kayak and readied my gear, I watched them launch into the breaking waves. By the way one of them held his paddle with his hands too close together and reached for the sides of his boat whenever a wave rocked him, it looked to be his first time ever in a kayak. Soon he was taking on water. I saw no spray skirts in use by any of them. Meanwhile the guy who I deemed to be the trip organizer was rescuing himself and his swamped kayak after being pinned at an awkward angle against the dock by the wind and waves. I was still on shore so there was not much I could do to help. Within a few minutes all three were safely back on dry land helping each other empty the swamped kayaks. At this point I was glad I didn’t offer to paddle with them. When I launched backwards from shore, waves came over the back of my cockpit before I could secure my spray skirt. I paddled out beyond the surf zone, pumped out the water and started on my way south to Whistling Straits. I looked back several times to see if the other kayakers were coming but I never saw them again. I think they made the wise choice and decided the conditions and the distance were too much for them this day.

I took this shot when I was still about three miles out from Whistling Straits. Note the MetLife blimp circling overhead.

I took this shot while about four miles out from Whistling Straits. Note the MetLife blimp circling overhead.

Five miles in the distance I could see the many white tents set up to accommodate the needs of the crowds at the golf tournament. I decided to hug the shoreline to avoid some of the oncoming wind. It took me about 75 minutes to reach the northern boundary of Whistling Straits. As I approached I wondered how close I would be allowed to the action. It looked like no perimeter was being enforced. Other boats were very close to shore. A Coast Guard patrol boat skimmed the outer edge of the flotilla, probably on the lookout for rowdy drunks more than terrorists.

Various types of boats -- and boaters -- assembled at the shoreline to get a glimpse of the PGA Championship.

Various types of boats — and boaters — assembled at the shoreline to get a glimpse of the PGA Championship.

I recognized tournament leaders Jason Day and Jordan Spieth teeing off at hole 7 so I paddled up to them as they and their entourage walked the fairway. At the green I maneuvered close to shore and aligned myself with Spieth and the TV camera behind him, figuring I had to be in the shot as he and his caddie studied his putt. I spent the next two hours paddling close to shore, watching the action and enjoying the spectacle of the golf crowds, the beautiful day and mostly just being on the water. During my return to Cleveland, instead of staying close to shore I swung out wide on the lake to take advantage of southerly waves and wind. Every few minutes another private jet roared overhead from the east, probably on its way to Outagamie County Regional Airport to whisk away millionaire golfers and corporate representatives.

Eventual tournament winner Jason Day pretends not to notice me in the background.

Eventual tournament winner Jason Day pretends not to notice me in the background.

Here I am on national TV helping Jordan Spieth line up his putt. That's me in the kayak, BTW.

Here I am on national TV helping Jordan Spieth line up his putt. That’s me in the kayak, BTW.

"Jason, it's going to fade right. And don't leave it short!"

“Jason, it’s going to fade right. And don’t leave it short!”

Crowd at PGA Championship

My return trip to the boat launch at Cleveland, Wis. was easier thanks to a tailwind and following waves.

My return trip to the boat launch at Cleveland, Wis. was easier thanks to a tailwind and following waves.

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