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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Who Will Tame The Beast Known As Whistling Straits?

The subject of golf in Wisconsin is enjoying quite a run of electronic ink. The fact that the PGA Championship comes to Whistling Straits this week will only mean the streak continues.  

Last fall I caught the Straits course on a few days when the wind off Lake Michigan wasn't a factor. According to, wind won't be much of a factor for the final major of 2010 this week (a high of 10 mph). I said it then, and I still believe it now, the Straits (176-yard third hole pictured above) is my favorite of Pete Dye's cranky creations.

Designed by Pete Dye, Whistling Straits emulates the great old seaside links courses of the British Isles, invoking an image of the game founded more than 400 years ago. The Straits Course is open with rugged and windswept terrain. A more mature course than one would expect, golfers encounter huge sandy areas, deep pot bunkers,grass-topped dunes, big and undulating greens and majestic views of Lake Michigan from each of its 18 holes. The dramatic par-3 17th, the course's unofficial signature hole, features a green precariously perched over water and sand. Whistling Straits also features:

• Two miles of uninterrupted shoreline on Lake Michigan
• Eight holes hugging the Lake Michigan shoreline
• Bluffs and massive sand dune areas
• Natural fescue fairways
• A flock of Scottish Blackface sheep call the course home
• Elevation change on the course (hole 15) is approximately 80 feet
• The Straits Course is a walking course; walking distance for 18 holes is approximately five miles
• Three stone bridges at holes 9, 10 and 18

Straits Course

The Straits Course is the flagship course at Whistling Straits. It has a length of 7,514 yards and a par of 72. It hosted the 86th PGA Championship which Vijay Singh was the winner in August 2004, and was host to the 2007 U.S. Senior Open. In January 2005, the Straits Course was announced as the site for the PGA Championships in 2010 and 2015, as well as the 2020 Ryder Cup.

The Straits Course replicates the ancient seaside links courses of the United Kingdom and Ireland. Nestled along a two-mile (3 km) stretch of Lake Michigan, the course features vast rolling greens, deep pot bunkers, grass-topped dunes and winds that sweep in off the lake. At 7,514 yards, it is the second longest course to host a major.[citation needed]

The seventeenth named "Pinched Nerve", the unofficial signature hole, is the most difficult par-3 on the course. At 223 yards, with towering sand dunes and the lake to the left leaves golfers with no option but to go straight for the green.

The course also features two miles (3 km) of shoreline on Lake Michigan, eight holes hugging the lake, a flock of Scottish Blackface sheep, elevation changes of approximately 80 feet (24 m) and three stone bridges at holes 9, 10 and 18.

Although the Straits Course duplicates British and Irish links layouts, its original state was not linksland. Before the course was built, the property was a more or less featureless abandoned airfield called Camp Haven (1949-1959) [1], with a stream running through the middle. Its one saving grace, from a golf standpoint, was its two miles (3.2 km) of lake frontage. Kohler Company CEO Herbert Kohler signed up Dye as course architect, giving him a basically unlimited budget.[citation needed] During construction, the original landscape of the Straits Course alone was covered with about 800,000 cubic yards (610,000 m³) of dirt and sand. Until recently, the amount of earth moved would have been considered extreme for a golf course, but this amount has been dwarfed by that required by several other courses, most notably Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, where 25 million cubic yards (19.1 million m³) of earth were moved.

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