If you knew nothing about Whistling Straits, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the golf courses here had been shaped my Mother Nature herself and had been here for decades. The reality though is that Whistling Straits is the realisation of the dream of one man – Herb Kohler – who, having made his fortune manufacturing and selling bathroom suites throughout the United States, decided to plough considerable amounts of his more than considerable financial reserves into his true passion; golf.
The result is one of the world’s best golf resorts, boasting two breathtaking courses; The Irish and, of course, the famed Pete Dye designed Straits Course which has hosted the PGA Championship on three separate occasions, most recently in 2015 where Jason Day finished at -20, a new record for scoring in relation to par in a major championship. Having repeatedly proved itself as a bona fida tournament host, Whistling Straits will join the ranks of Ryder Cup courses when it hosts the event in 2020.
The construction of the Straits Course involved moving hundreds of tonnes of earth as the course was actually built on land formerly used as an airfield. The result is a rugged, wild and windswept course featuring distinct links accents, as if it has been air-lifted in from the UK or Ireland and placed carefully on the shores of Lake Michigan.
While it may not be a traditional links course in the Scottish and Irish sense, the Straits is rugged, open and wild, and with a seemingly endless procession of bunkers in every direction you look, avoiding the sand is a monumental challenge in its own right. Just ask Dustin Johnson who fell afoul of a ruling after grounding his club in one of the courses countless sandy areas, eventually costing himself a place in the 2010 PGA Championship playoff which was eventually won by Martin Kaymer.
Pete Dye already had a number of the world’s best golf courses in his design portfolio before his stunning creation at Whistling Straits had come to pass. The likes of the Teeth of The Dog Course at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, as well as the world famous Sawgrass Stadium Course in Florida outline his design prowess and the Straits Course certainly lived up to his mighty reputation.
With a blank canvas and a hefty design budget, Dye managed to turn a flat, uninspiring airfield into one of the world’s most beautiful courses; a pinch of Ireland here, a sprinkling of Scotland there. In fact according to Dye himself, building the Straits Course was a "once in a lifetime thing" which, when you consider the quality of his other design projects, is testament to the amazing test of golf that awaits travelling golfers in Wisconsin.
Dye's creation was most recently on display at the 2015 PGA Championship, where the Straits Course proved to be the ideal stage for the best players in golf to display their skills. After a customary fast start from Dustin Johnson and a chance to see the top two players in the world, Rory McIlroy & Jordan Spieth, in the same group for the 1st two days, Jason Day finally landed his maiden major championship after an emphatic display over all four rounds which eventually saw him finish at -20; a new record score in relation to par at a major.
|Designed by||Pete Dye|
|Opened for play||1998|
|Previously hosted||PGA Championship (2004, 2010 & 2015), Future Ryder Cup host (2020)|
|Black||7,790 yards||SSS 77.2|
|Blue||7,142 yards||SSS 74.2|
|Green||6,663 yards||SSS 71.9|
|White||6,360 yards||SSS 70.4|
|Red||5,564 yards||SSS 66.4|
Signature Hole – No17: Par 3, 249 yards (Black Tees)
The 17th is the final leg of a spectacular quartet of par 3s that the Straits Course offers. Named ‘Pinched Nerve’ – you’ll understand the sentiment when standing on the tee – this is one of Dye’s most iconic and intimidating holes. Between the tee and the front edge of the putting surface, there is nothing but rugged wasteland and signature Whistling Straits style bunkers and to the left of the green lies trouble in the form of Lake Michigan.
Throw in a hefty length of 249 yards (from the tips) and a green that sits about 20 feet below the level of the tee, and you have a hole is not for the feint-hearted. Although it will surely get the better of a great deal of golfers who play it, the rugged beauty of the hole more than makes up for that. If you walk off this green towards the 18th tee with a par on the scorecard, don’t look back!
Set just inland from Lake Michigan, The Irish Course at Whistling Straits is much more than just a “decent second” course, offering visiting golfers a different yet equally enjoyable test of golf as that of the Straits Course.
The Irish sits adjacent to the Straits Course so it does offer a handful of lake views, just not as many as its more illustrious sibling. Like the Straits Course, it’s also exposed to the wind but to a lesser degree and being another Pete Dye design, it also offers plenty of challenges!
These challenges come in the form of elevation changes and undulating fairways, a handful of meandering streams which dissect the course, as well as other individual water hazards and sandy waste areas, all of which have been cleverly placed by Dye and appear quite intimidating to the golfer.
It is suggested that higher handicappers might actually enjoy their time playing the Irish more than the Straits Course. Landing zones are more generous and in general, it offers a less demanding test than its older sibling. Like the Straits Course, there are plenty of memorable holes on the Irish so pack the camera for this one too!
|Designed by||Pete Dye|
|Opened for play||2000|
|Did you know?||Ranked 79th & 39th respectively Golf Magazine & Golf Digest's Top 100 Public Courses in USA|
|Black||7,201 yards||SSS 75.6|
|Blue||6,750 yards||SSS 73.5|
|Green||6,366 yards||SSS 72.0|
|White||5,992 yards||SSS 70.3|
|Red||5,109 yards||SSS 65.6|
Signature Hole – No13: Par 3, 183 yards (Black Tees)
The 13th on the Irish Course has been dubbed “Blind Man’s Bluff” and once on the tee, it’s easy to see why because, subject to which tees you’re playing from, and despite the extra tall flagstick, you might well face a blind tee shot to the green.
The green appears to be a fairly small target from the tee as well and that is deceptive to say the least because weighing in at 14,000 square feet, it’s actually one of the biggest on the entire course. Sitting in a bowl well below the level of the surrounding terrain, the putting surface here is well guarded by countless bunkers and mounds that create a fantastic sense of drama.
This tricky short hole forces the golfer to trust their yardages rather than their instincts!Practice Facilities
Beside the clubhouse, you’ll find the Whistling Straits Irish Barn which, with its sweeping views of the Straits Course and Lake Michigan, is an excellent venue for private functions, whether they be corporate or social in nature.
Walking and fore caddies are available at Whistling Straits and can really enhance your golfing experience, providing information on everything from yardages and the subtleties of individual holes and greens, to the history of the course and clubhouse. Tips expected.
A flock of Scottish blackface sheep was acquired for Whistling Straits when it was constructed so if you come across them on the course, don’t worry, they’re supposed to be there!
The Straits is a walking only course and the approximate walking distance for all 18 holes is 5 miles. On the Irish Course, golf buggies are available on request and restricted to use on the paved pathways.
The American Club is a Forbes Five-Star Resort Hotel and the Midwest’s only AAA Five Diamond Resort Hotel so it goes without saying that this is an outstanding accommodation option for any golfer travelling to Wisconsin to try their hand at the golfing delights that await at Whistling Straits which is just a stone’s throw away.
Every guest room at The American Club adheres to the Kohler standard of excellence so no matter whether you opt for a guestroom – of which there are four grades – or a lavish suite you will be experience comfort of the very highest order. All rooms feature furnishings of supreme quality and modern conveniences including high-speed wireless internet, minibar and direct dial telephone help to ensure a comfortable and connected stay. All guests at The American Club also receive complimentary access to Sports Core Health & Racquet Club and advance tee times at Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits while non golfer and golfers alike can also make use of guest passes to River Wildlife; a wilderness preserve where guests can sample outdoor pursuits such as salmon fishing, hiking and horse riding.
Dining options at The American Club are extensive so from fine dining to a casual bite to eat, guests can sample a great range of culinary delights. For something really special head to the fine dining restaurant – The Immigrant Restaurant – which has received the AAA Four Diamond Award for 17 consecutive years.
Those looking to take a day away from it all and simply relax could do no better than to head to the Kohler Waters Spa. Conveniently located adjacent to The American Club, this world class spa offers the perfect sanctuary where guests can spoil themselves with one off treatments or a whole day of relaxation in the sauna, steam room, whirlpool or the unique indoor/outdoor swim through pool. Those with a sporty disposition can also make use of a fully equipped fitness studio.
The Inn on Wood Lake
Alternatively you could choose to stay at the Inn on Wood Lake. Located on the shore of picturesque Wood Lake, this serene 121-room hotel boasts boutique style guest rooms, ample meeting space as well as amenities and common areas for leisure and business travellers.
Following an extensive renovation the Inn on Wood Lake continues is fine reputation as one of the premier accommodations in the Midwest. Offering five distinct rooms types including the spacious and lavish Woodlake Suite, there is something to suit all tastes and no matter which room you opt for you will find yourself in supreme levels of opulence and comfort. Each guestroom features luxurious furnishings and all the modern conveniences you would expect from a top class hotel including 42 inch plasma HD TVs; perfect for a night in with a bottle of wine and a movie.