My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences

I've read some reviews from people who don't like Whistling Straits.  However, I liked it.  Don't get me wrong, it's really demanding and really hard, but it's a course that's so unique that you just have to play it at least once in your life to experience it.  It was worth the trip and worth the money.  Once you finish, sit on the patio and enjoy a Spotted Cow Ale, a Wisconsin favorite!

#18, "Dyeabolical,", Par 4, 424 Yards

Unless this is playing downwind, your target is down the right side, at the fat part of the fairway. You'll then be left with a long and downhill shot to a huge green, with slopes and sand everywhere, and a creek to carry as well if you leave it too short.  Site of Dustin Johnson's infamous penalty stroke for grounding his club in a, "bunker."  Quite a finishing hole!

#12, "Pop Up," Par 3, 118 Yards

This isn't a long hole, but an undulating green makes up for it.  What's more, if you get lucky enough to see the Sunday pin on back right, and we did, it will blow your mind.  It makes a 118 yard shot into more of a 140 yard shot and feel like you're hitting to a target the size of a phone booth.
#13, "Cliff Hanger," Par 4, 364 Yards

Lots of similarities to #8.  Again, the back tee is sunken below the others and makes the drive scarier looking.  If you want to see where the back tees are, keep and eye out for the gold plaques with the PGA Championship logo on them.  This is as far back as they can get. Dye did an amazing job of making the visual intimidation far worse from the back tees throughout this course through mounding and shaping. This hole is a great example.

#14, "Widow's Watch,", Par 4, 346 Yards

Another relatively short hole, though it played into the wind for us.  You want a drive of about 250 yards down the middle, which will leave you with a short wedge to an uphill green that sits up on a perch (hence the Widow's Watch name).

#15, "Grand Strand," Par 4, 429 Yards

Hold on tight, the last four holes are pretty nasty, with #16 being a little bit of a breather.  15 is all right in front of you.  Long and tight, and for us, into a stiff wind.  The back tee sure looked like a par five to me!

#16, "Endless Bite," Par 5, 535 Yards

As I mentioned earlier, if you are a straight hitter, #16 might be a bit of a breather before getting to #17 and #18, which are not!  It's the shortest of the four par fives at the Straits, but there's ample trouble in the form of sand and uneven lies if you stray off the short grass.

#17, "Pinched Nerve,", Par 3, 197 Yards

If I had to pick a hole to criticize at The Straits, it would be this one.  It's just too demanding.  When the pin is on the front half of the green, there is seemingly nowhere to land a ball, as the green is protected in the front by a crazy mound/knoll with a bunker in it.  Then if the pin is in the back, it's tighter back there, and a 210 yard shot from my tees, stretching to about 260 from all the way back.  Oh yeah, and to the left of the green is basically a cliff that falls off into bunkers and then Lake Michigan.  Wow, what a hole!  I hit 3 Wood into the wind for a shot I was estimating would play about 225 with the wind.  Landed it on the green but rolled back into a bunker behind the middle right of the green.  It was probably my best shot of the day and I didn't even end up on the green.  Oh well, Mr. Dye has never been one to avoid controversy!

#8, "On The Rocks," Par 4, 429 Yards

Again, play the correct tees.  The blacks are well back, to the right, and about 20 feet below the others, leaving a completely blind tee shot.  It's worth walking past them to check out the view from the tips.  From the other sets of tees, a fairly wide fairway presents itself.  However, the approach to the green is an intimidating shot with sand, rock, and Lake Michigan waiting for an errant shot.
#9, "Down and Dirty," Par 4, 384 Yards

Number nine plays downhill and back to the clubhouse with slopes framing the hole on both sides.  The fairway tightens up significantly as you get closer to the hole.  You probably don't want to carry a drive much beyond 260 from the Green tees or it will start to tighten on you. The usual pitfalls await if you miss the green, so just don't!
#10, "Voyageur," Par 4, 334 Yards

Not a long hole, but it plays uphill and to the left.  Whatever you do, avoid the pot bunker in the middle of the fairway that sits about 205 yards from the Green tee.  This is a tricky green too, so get your wedge as close as you can.
#11, "Sand Box," Par 5, 544 Yards

A par five that will likely take three shots to get home.  Another double dogleg, but this one is a lot more slight than #5.  Bending to the right at first and then back to the left again, this hole winds through what feels like hundreds of bunkers.  However, the two bunkers that you need to pay the most attention to are the one that guards your layup to the green and the one that guards the right side of the green.  Avoid them both!

A great part of Whistling Straits is the flock of sheep that can be found grazing on both the Irish and Straits courses.  When we played the Irish, they were roaming freely, but were in their pen when we played the Straits.
#7, "Shipwreck," Par 3, 185 Yards

Most everything about this hole is the opposite of #3--a mirror image in many ways.  Make sure you choose enough club to carry all the way there, as you won't want to be where a shot that stays short will end up.  A beautiful hole from the tee.
#5, "Snake," Par 5, 543 Yards

A double dogleg here, first going to the right with water down the right side off the tee, and then back to the left at the very end with water all the way down the left side on your second shot.  In both cases, you water guards the side that the aggressive player would want to hit it.  This was playing downwind the day we were there, and a great tee shot left me only 210 yards into the hole, with all carry over the water required (the picture shows the decision I was facing).  Since I don't play Whistling Straits every day, I figured I'd give it a shot....dumb move!  The green is very shallow if you're trying to hit it in two, with plenty of trouble long and the obvious trouble short.  The green is slim but deep if you lay up and approach it from right side.  Definitely would have been the smarter play.
#6, "Gremlin's Ear," Par 4, 360 Yards

Placement off the tee is important here if you want to have any chance to see the flag on your approach....aim down the left side.  A small but deep pot bunker is in the middle of a boomerang type of green.  If the green is on the right side of this bunker, there isn't much room for error, though you should have a wedge in your hand on the approach.  This will be obvious when you get there, but don't be on the wrong side of the green!

#4, "Glory," Par 4, 414 Yards

My first two pictures on #4 show the importance of playing the correct tees.  The first picture shows the intimidating tee shot from the blacks (494 yards) rather than the softer tee shot from the tee on the next picture where you can see more of the fairway.  Continuing on the pictures, you can get a sense of how high some of the mounds, dunes, and banks are at the Straits, and finally, a look of the kind of trouble you can get into if you veer off course.

#3, "O'Man," Par 3, 166 Yards

The first par three is a sort of a Redan hole, going front right to back left and sloping from right to left with plenty of trouble guarding the front and left of the green.  The green is over 40 yards deep, so gauging the wind and pin placement is critical to pulling the correct club.

#2, "Cross Country," Par 5, 521 Yards

Driver can come out of the bag here.  Just aim down the middle and keep it left of the huge mound visible from the tee.  Keep it on the left side of the fairway to avoid a blind second shot.  Depending on the wind, you may or may not have a chance to have a go at the green in two, however, don't be short and mess with the nasty pot bunker that lies about 35 yards short and to the right of this green.

Here's what you face if you miss the green to the left, as I did.  A nice welcome to The Straits.

The Straits Course at Whistling Straits is one of four golf courses that make up the American Club Resort, a creation of Herb Kohler, located in and around the small town of Kohler, Wisconsin.  The American Club, formerly used as housing for immigrant employees of Kohler Company, is now a 5 star hotel/spa, and serves as the centerpiece of the resort.  The Inn at Woodlake also is the alternate hotel in Kohler, just a short drive from the American Club.  On the golf side, there are two world class properties that comprise the Kohler complex (both are a short drive from the American Club, and can be accessed via shuttle if you're staying at the resort--I didn't).  The first of the courses was Blackwolf Run, opened for play in 1988.  Blackwolf Run became so popular, and the resort in general, that a second 18 were built.  The front nine of the original course now services as the back nine of the Meadow Valleys Course, while the back nine of the original composite course are now found spread across the more challenging River Course.  Down the road a ways lies Whistling Straits.  The clubhouse was created to resemble an old Irish farmhouse and is the starting point for both the Irish Course, and its predecessor and big brother, the more famous Straits Course.  While the Irish is a solid track, the Straits Course has gotten more attention, evidenced by its hosting of the 2004 and 2010 PGA Championships, among other prestigious tournaments.  In addition, The Straits will host the Ryder Cup in 2020.

I had the chance to play all four courses in May, 2012.  While May in Wisconsin is hit-or-miss, we were fortunate enough to have a very pleasant week, with temperatures actually rising over 80 degrees on some of the days.  Warmth isn't quite as relevant when playing the two Blackwolf Run courses, but with Whistling Straits being on the coast of Lake Michigan, the winds could make for a blustery cold day. 

Carts are available on three of the four courses in Kohler, with the Straits Course being walking only.  Caddies are required throughout the day until the "Twilight" tee times, during which you can carry your own bag if you choose (I did).  Twilight adjusts throughout the year and begins exactly four hours before the official sunset that day.  So, there's no guarantee that you'll get the round in at that hour, but in May, it was awfully quiet that time a day, a college friend and I played as a twosome and had no problem.

So, onto my review of the Straits Course:

Our afternoon was nearly 80 degrees with winds that I would estimate as steadily 20-30 mph most of the afternoon.  I'd say it was windier that a normal day, but I guess I can't say that for sure, since I've only played the course once.  Let's just say that downwind holes (5-8 and 11-13) were potentially there for the taking, while holes into the wind (2-4 and 14-17) were a bear.  As you can imagine with unseasonably warm weather in May, the wind was blowing out of the south.

The routing of the course is interesting, and definitely walkable, however, it's not the flattest or easiest walk from the perspective of all the mounds you can find yourself walking up and down.  There are narrow paths with stone and gravel that guide you through some of the tall grass and mounding.  The clubhouse is 500 yards or so from the edge or Lake Michigan, so unlike the Ocean Course at Kiawah, the clubhouse doesn't really have much of a view of the water.  The front nine takes you straight out to toward the water, is followed by holes 2-8 which form an out-and-back figure eight, and finishes with the ninth hole that returns to the clubhouse, heading straight away from the water.  The back nine is essentially the same thing, except you turn left, or to the North once you get to the water, loop around to head back south, and then return to the clubhouse.

I've played a good number of challenging courses, but I'm not I've played many that have made me feel more on my heels throughout the round.  Missed shots are punished, and punished severely.  I played from the Green tees, which stretched to 6,663 yards and played to a rating/slope of 71.9/141.  There are two other tees behind the Green tees:  Blue plays 7,142 and goes 74.2/145 while the Black tees play 7,790 and play to a ridiculous 77.2/152.  Green was just fine, and actually, I probably could have lived with the Whites (6,360 - 70.4/137)!  The scorecard shows the recommended tees for your actually suggests that handicaps 4-9 play from the Blues....I'd argue that.  The yardages below are quoted from the Green tees:

#1, "Outward Bound," Par 4, 370 Yards

Pete Dye eases you into the Straits, as he seems to do with many of his courses.  Driver could be left in the bag on the first hole if you choose.  A fairway wood or hybrid down the middle would likely leave you in the 150 yard range into a hole that bends to the left and uphill.  Right is a better miss that left when approaching the green.

Whistling Straits (Straits)

​Haven, Wisconsin

Checked off the Bucket List May 18, 2012

Golf Magazine:

#49, Top 100 Courses in the World (2013)

#28, Top 100 Courses in the U.S.(2013)   

#4, Top 100 Courses You Can Play (2012)

#1, Best Public Golf Courses in Wisconsin (2012)

Golf Digest:

#2, America's 100 Greatest Public Courses (2013-2014)

#22, America's 100 Greatest Courses (2015-2016)

#1, Best in the State of Wisconsin (2013-2014)