Early Season Golf at Whistling Straits & Golf Kohler

There are a number of different ways to play Whistling Straits, and none of them are cheap. Playing it during the early Spring and late Fall, though, will save money.

Normal folks like myself have a hard time dishing out $600 for a round at the Straits, so one of the most common questions I get asked is how and when to play it.

The answer: Whenever you can afford it and have a good group to go with. The more economical answer, though, depends on the year. Kohler’s current promotion has early-season deals through Friday, May 9, which include:

  • Whistling Straits, Straits course: $190
  • Whistling Straits, Irish course: $80
  • Blackwolf Run: River course: $130
  • Blackwolf Run: Meadow Valleys course: $80

The next round of deals goes up significantly, making this week the perfect time to play it. Golf Kohler rates from May 10 to June 3:

  • Whistling Straits, Straits course: $300
  • Whistling Straits, Irish course: $130
  • Blackwolf Run, River course: $210
  • Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys course: $130

Now here’s where early-season rates get tricky…

There’s a fine line between taking advantage of early-season rates on one of the top five courses in the country and playing it on soupy, brown terrain. I won’t pretend to know everything about fescue grass, but a combination of the Straits course’s turf type and its proximity to the lake can mean a less than beautiful setting during some early Spring seasons.

The trick is to get as close to the final day of the early-season rates as possible, and to consult the course ahead of time if you’re concerned about how it’ll look and play.

For example, here is the second fairway on the Straits course during the final week of the initial early-season rates during two very different years:

The fairway on 2 at the Straits course on May 8, 2014 – soupy, soggy, brown, slow

In stark contrast, the course greened up very quickly this year, and in fact the conditions right now are legendarily good. In other words, if you can get a tee time on the Straits course this week (by May 9, 2019), book it. If you can’t and are on a budget, book it before June 3.

The fairway on 2 at the Straits course on May 5, 2019 – really good

As you can see, the big difference between what the course looks like right now versus what it looks like during peak season is in the fescue off the fairways – it just hasn’t grown in yet.

The fairway on 2 at the Straits course on August 10, 2014 – perfect

Additional photos from Sunday’s round on the Straits course:

It should be mentioned that the Blackwolf Run and Irish courses are much less volatile than the Straits, so if you’re looking for a world-class round of golf on one of them, feel confident in booking it that the conditions will be worth the investment.

Just like your game probably won’t be in mid-season form yet, though, don’t expect perfection quite yet – that’s why they’re offering early-season deals. The greens will probably still be a little choppy and on the slower side, the native grasses won’t be grown out yet, and tee shots probably won’t get as much run as they will in July… But chances are you’re still going to love the round.

WiscoGolfAddict review of Whistling Straits: Straits course (2014)

WiscoGolfAddict review of Whistling Straits, Irish course (2011)

WiscoGolfAddict review of Blackwolf Run, River course (2012)

WiscoGolfAddict review of Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys course (2014)

2015 Golf Season in Review

For the first couple of years I wrote my blog, I did a write-up at the end of each year to put the season in to words, and to commend the courses I felt were the best that year in multiple categories.

As my site has continued to grow, this has become less academic, especially since I joined a private club a few years back and am obviously playing a much smaller sample of different courses each season.

It doesn’t hurt to write a little review, though, especially for my own pleasure to look back at in the future at what was the golf season of 2015.

The winter of 2015 extended a little longer than normal, with most golf courses opening in early April. This was a couple weeks earlier than in 2014, but months behind some years. I am already praying that 2016 will see course openings back in the February timeline again… Fingers crossed.

With last night’s first snow of the Winter, I figure this is as good a time as any to wrap things up… Not that I won’t be out there if/when the weather warms up and the grounds are healthy enough to play!

Most of my rounds this year were played at my home course of North Hills Country Club, which under the tutelage of Randy DuPont was in exceptional shape again all year round. My season was a roller coaster of sorts, starting out with an index of 12.1 and getting down to 9.0, shooting consistently for a while in the low 80’s.

Then I became a bad nine, right around September first, shooting 87-89 and losing money in my Saturday games. In games where the total monetary payout ranges from $3-5, I actually lost $45 one day. Ouch.

That is enough about my game, though – what about the courses from 2015?

2015: Best Public Golf Course Played

1. Pacific Dunes (OR)

Rated the number two public course by Golf Digest, number two modern course by GolfWeek, and number one public course in the country by Golf.com, Pacific Dunes is coastal golf at its very best. Designed by Tom Doak and opened in 2001, Pacific Dunes blends perfectly rugged Bandon landscape with ingenious hole layouts and execution.

Pacific Dunes hole 4

Pacific Dunes hole 4

Pacific Dunes Website

2. Streamsong, Red Course (FL)

Just a few years old, the Red course at Streamsong has already amassed an incredible number of accolades, including the number 18 public course in the United States.

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Painting by Kris Halsrud: The 17th at Whistling Straits, Straits Course

Kris Halsrud is a talented writer, golfer and IT professional. Like me, he has blogged about golf for years, and over the past five or so years we’ve built a friendship through our golf writing and love of the game.

While most of my writing revolves around the Wisconsin golf scene, Kris’s is more focused on Minnesota with his Kristazio on Golf blog.

When I went remote for my sales job back in July of last year, I turned what was my second bedroom in to my office and have been working on getting some cool artwork including photographs and paintings (ie: This caricature by Gene Haas), and have always wanted something big and impressive for the corner accent wall.

Kris, who is a Systems Engineer in the Twin Cities area, has always had a passion for painting and artwork. While he does not sell his work professionally, his artwork is amazing and he has made quite a few pieces over the years for charity auctions and other events.

After playing the Straits course in perfect weather last August, I finally had a scene I wanted to have done for the coveted accent wall in my office:

Photo of Kyle teeing off on the 17th of the Straits course at Whistling Straits

Photo of Kyle teeing off on the 17th of the Straits course at Whistling Straits

While the above picture shows my friend, Kyle (I took it), he was able to work with other pictures found on my blog to paint me in to the setting.

The 17th on the Straits course is one of the most famous par three holes in the world, and is every bit as beautiful as it is treacherous. Be short and find trouble; be right and find some of the most ridiculous bunkers in the world; be left and you’re in Lake Michigan.

And who would raise up a huge berm front-right on a 200-plus yard par three just to have an awkward-shaped bunker that will leave a blind shot downhill toward the lake? Only Pete Dye.

The story is that with every course Pete Dye designs, his wife (Alice) is given artistic integrity on one par three. This was Alice’s par three on the Straits course, and she must have been in a real bad mood that day!

Kris did an incredible job on the painting, even matching the frame’s finish to other artwork in my office, and this beautiful 36 x 24 oil painting now hangs proudly on the pavement gray accent wall that I see a hundred times or more per day:

Painting by Kris Halsrud (http://kristaziogolf.blogspot.com) of me on the 17th of the Straits course at Whistling Straits

Painting by Kris Halsrud (http://kristaziogolf.blogspot.com) of me on the 17th of the Straits course at Whistling Straits

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Golf Course Review: Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys

Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys Course Rankings:

Golf Digest: #72 US public, #10 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #10 Wisconsin public

Designer: Pete Dye (1998)

The Meadow Valleys golf course at Blackwolf Run is GolfWeek’s number eight public course in the state of Wisconsin, and Golf Digest’s number 62 overall rated public course in the country.

As part of the Blackwolf Run golf facility, the Meadow Valleys features nine of the eighteen holes played for the “Original Championship” golf course – the course played during the late-nineties’ World Golf Championships at Blackwolf Run (won by Mark McCumber, Greg Norman, and Ernie Els), and then for the US Women’s Opens of 1998 and 2012.

The Original Championship course plays slightly different than the River or Meadow Valleys courses, regardless of the routing. For example, the Original Championship course starts out next to the clubhouse and plays out to the green of the tenth hole on the Meadow Valleys – the one hole on the course that I would personally throw away.

While the River course is the number fourteen rated public course in the country, and the undisputed king of the Blackwolf Run golf complex, the Meadow Valleys is a fantastic course in its own right, and actually includes some of the most beautiful holes included in the championship track – especially the thirteenth through fifteenth on the Meadow Valleys.

The course starts off with a fairly intimidating tee shot, or at least it was from the black tees! With water on the right and long fescue encompassing the left side of the driving area and long, this is a hole where the old “Breakfast ball” might have to be taken.

Hole 1: Par 4 (392/368/349/335/281)
 
The second hole is a bit easier off the tee than the first, and is best approached from the right side. Traps on the left side need to be avoided to have a chance at hitting this highly elevated green in two.
 
Hole 2: Par 4 (402/392/385/375/278)
Hole 2: Par 4 (402/392/385/375/278)
 
A mid-length par three, the third hole does not look like much from the tees, but somehow played very difficult for our group – no one was able to hit the green from 182. The left side is the best line to keep away from the traps and deep waste areas right.
 
Hole 3: Par 3 (182/176/158/142/110)
 
With a massive fairway trap directly in front of the tees, and a split fairway on each side, drivers need to make up their mind before teeing off on four. Hit the huge sand feature and do your best to get out. I thought I could play a long iron out, twice, which resulted in my fourth shot being played from just beyond the sand.
The fairway then runs out and right, with large mounds shrouding a recessed green area.
 
Hole 4: Par 5 (565/539/516/473/428)
Hole 4: Par 5 (565/539/516/473/428)
 
The fifth hole tee shot is best played toward the left tree of the big oaks that front the green complex. The approach area between them is narrow, as is the green, and it slopes heavily from right to left.
 
Hole 5: Par 4 (403/380/362/340/314)
 
The sixth is a long par four. The left side of the driving area does not look appealing off the tee, but the closer the tee shot is to the left side in the fairway, the closer it will be to the green (and the less sand that will have to be taken on to hit it).
Hole 6: Par 4 (475/470/444/406/341)
 
Hole 6: Par 4 (475/470/444/406/341)

The par five seventh plays toward the world’s tallest symbol of freedom: The 400-foot tall American flag at Acuity Insurance. The flag, in fact, can be seen from almost anywhere on both the Meadow Valleys and River golf courses at Blackwolf Run.

The fairway trap that cuts through from the right side of the hole’s playing area is within driving distance, but the most important shot on this hole is the second: Keep it dry.

Hole 7: Par 5 (520/494/488/475/426)
Hole 7: Par 5 (520/494/488/475/426)
 
Here is where I personally started regretting our decision to play the tips on the Meadow Valleys course. With strong winds, we brought our carts around to the eighth hole tee boxes, and looked farther back. Then farther…
The eighth played straight in to the teeth of the wind, with water left and short and a forced carry of 225-plus yards. Good luck. Only one person did not lose a ball on this hole, and I lost two (my second attempt was with driver).
 
Hole 8: Par 3 (240/187/176/160/112)
 
The Meadow Valleys gritted its teeth at us even more on the par four ninth hole: A 485-yard two-shotter with a very demanding tee shot. Keep the ball just right of the left-side treeline, but left of the huge recessed trap that fronts the fairway. Easy.
The second shot takes on the same pond that was played on eight, with the only bailout areas left or short.
 
Hole 9: Par 4 (485/462/432/413/307)
Hole 9: Par 4 (485/462/432/413/307)
 
To me, Pete Dye always has one hole that does not make sense with the course. At the Meadow Valleys course, this is the tenth. If there was a competition for the hardest short par four in the world, my opinion is that this might be it.
Golfers are literally shrouded in a canopy of a tee box with what appears to be a long chute no more than 10-15 yards wide and trees/leaves everywhere, and have to blast their way out without hitting either a draw or a fade (either would hit the treeline and almost inevitably result in a lost ball).
If and when players get out of the forested start to the tenth, the finish is not much easier: Plenty of sand, and a massive drop-off on the left side of the putting surface that falls to the approach area of the opening hole on the Original Championship course: The original 18 holes of Blackwolf Run that are played for PGA/USGA and LPGA tournaments.
With the clubhouse on the horizon, it is at least a beautiful look-back.
 
Hole 10: Par 4 (382/366/330/320/242)
Hole 10: Par 4 (382/366/330/320/242)
 
Getting back out in to open terrain again, the eleventh is a much more friendly hole – a par five of medium range whose biggest hazard is the gigantic (although not the largest on the course) sand trap that makes up the left side of the driving area.
 
Hole 11: Par 5 (522/514/495/487/460)
 
You will notice a large cow-milking barn to the left during the drive to the twelfth hole. This is actually the restroom – an authentic, charming feel that does not go unnoticed.
The twelfth is one of my favorite driving holes on the Meadow Valleys, as everything is out in front of you and downhill. There is plenty of trouble, sure, but something about it looks awesome and drivable. The green falls hard toward the left side, so the approach should be to the middle/right to avoid the falloff left.
 
Hole 12: Par 4 (461/438/407/395/327)

The approach is not as simple or inviting. The left side is dead, and the mounds right and deep rough make for an intimidating approach.

Hole 12: Par 4 (461/438/407/395/327)
 
Thirteen is a very interesting par four. While driver can be hit off the tee, it will have to be played over the left side traps or else drawn down the fairway.
The characteristic of the thirteenth that makes it so memorable is the green complex: Risen high above the playing surface, the volcano-like green complex can be very tough to hit and hold with anything more than wedge.
 
Hole 13: Par 4 (341/335/313/304/233)
Hole 13: Par 4 (341/335/313/304/233)
Hole 13: Par 4 (341/335/313/304/233)
 
Quite possibly the most beautiful golf hole I have ever played, the fourteenth at Meadow Valleys is nicknamed “Nature’s Course.” From the elevated tee boxes, the Sheboygan River looms right, as well as on most days a number of fly fishermen trying to catch salmon and trout.
The tree-lined fairway plays slightly right to left from the tees, then veers sharply downhill and to the right on the approach. Driver can be used, but probably not from the forward tees. Hit it straight and aim for the middle of the fairway, in hopes of catching a charitable downhill run-out.
The green is vast, and is surrounded on three sides by the river, as well as a charming  bridge fashioned from an old flat-bed train car. Anything that misses this huge green is destined to fall dramatically from the playing surface in to the river.
 
Hole 14: Par 4 (423/409/384/376/293)
Hole 14: Par 4 (423/409/384/376/293)
 
The fourteenth is probably best viewed from the forward tees on the fifteenth hole, as seen here:
 
Hole 14: Par 4 (423/409/384/376/293)
 
The walk back to the fifteenth’s black tees was another sobering experience: If eight was intimidating, this was just a joke. To me, it said: “As a 10.0 handicap, I should probably not be playing the tips!”
[“Hash-tag-‘Play-it-forward'”]
With a 230-plus yard carry straight in to the howling wind, this was a nearly impossible shot. Again, all of us lost balls except for Ross, and dropped nearer to the green. This is probably a good time to mention that I was the highest handicap in our group – Jeremy and Ross are both ~ 3-4, Michael is ~ 8, and I am by far the worst player of the group. This is seriously a PGA caliber par three.
The fifteenth is the signature hole on the Meadow Valleys: It is the hole featured on their scorecard and on the course web site’s main page.
 
Hole 15: Par 3 (227/196/189/150/103)

The longest par five on the course, the sixteenth is nicknamed “Rolling Thunder.” The tee shot from the tips requires a whole lot of length to clear the hill that fronts the fairway and landing zone, then fires right green-ward. Stay well right of the small barn off the tee.

Be smart on the second shot to avoid the largest sand trap at all of Blackwolf Run, lingering short-right and along the entire right side of the green.

 
Hole 16: Par 5 (590/544/487/478/415)
Hole 16: Par 5 (590/544/487/478/415)
 
Probably the easiest par three on the Meadow Valleys course, the seventeenth is deemed “Maple Syrup,” named after the massive maple trees that front the green area. Avoid these trees, and enjoy a reasonable distance of 165-182.
A high shot shape is preferred here in order to clear the treeline.
 
Hole 17: Par 3 (182/165/152/138/92)
 
I absolutely love the finish on the Meadow Valleys course! Teeing off beside the Sheboygan River, a long driver can only be played if staying well left of the river crossing. The second shot is the true beauty of this finishing hole, as the longer the tee shot is, the shorter the distance to carry the river will be.
Nicknamed “Salmon Trap,” the eighteenth actually has two greens: One for the ladies (that does not cross the river), and a colossal shared double-green with the eighteenth on the River course for the men.
 
Hole 18: Par 4 (458/395/383/373/303)
Hole 18: Par 4 (458/395/383/373/303)
Hole 18: Par 4 (458/395/383/373/303)
Hole 18: Par 4 (458/395/383/373/303)
Hole 18: Par 4 (458/395/383/373/303)
 

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Kohler, WI
Yardage: Black-7165, Blue-6735, White-6236, Red-5065
Slope/Rating: Black-144/74.6, Blue-138/72.6, White-132/70.1, Red-120/66.1
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: $220 (including cart)

Golf Course Review: Whistling Straits, Straits Course

Whistling Straits, Straits Course Rankings:

Golf Digest: #4 US public, #22 US top 100, #48 world top 100, #6 US toughest, #1 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #6 US modern, #4 US resort, #1 Wisconsin public
Golf.com: #28 US top 100, #6 US public, #49 world top 100

Designer: Pete Dye (1997)

Currently rated the number two public golf course in the United States, and number four overall behind just Sand Hills, Pacific Dunes and Friar’s Head, the Straits course at Whistling Straits has amassed a big-time resume in a very short period of time.

As one of the truly elite golfing destinations in the world, the Straits has hosted the 2004 PGA Championship, 2007 US Senior Open, 2010 PGA Championship, next year’s PGA Championship, and the much-anticipated 2020 Ryder Cup.

I remember sitting in the rough off of the 16th fairway with my friends Mike and Jason for the final round of the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, thinking to myself, “I have got to play this course sometime,” and “This place looks absolutely impossible.”

It was in that rough that I almost had my head taken off by Chris DiMarco’s errant tee shot on the 16th (I literally heard it whiz by my head). He led the tournament at that time, and the TV cameras and crowds swarmed our area. Being one year out of college, I was hung over on that Sunday, and it was warm and I’m sure I thought it was an inconvenience to move out of the way so the impending doom that was about to occur next to us could take place: DiMarco’s next swing duck-hooked toward Lake Michigan, along with his hopes for a PGA Championship and $6.25 million. Vijay Singh would go on to win the PGA Championship in a playoff against DiMarco and Justin Leonard that year.

The 2010 PGA Championship delivered even more excitement when Martin Kaymer won his first major championship in a three-hole playoff over Bubba Watson. Maybe the most memorable moment of the 2010 tournament, though, involved Dustin Johnson, who missed taking part in that playoff after grounding his club on the 18th hole in one of the 967 bunkers on the Straits course. This “Bunker” was little more than a patch of dirt that had been trampled over for days by tournament attendees. Under a Local Rule that was instituted for the event (and will stay in place for the 2015 PGA Championship), Johnson was assessed a two-stroke penalty and therefore was disqualified from the playoff.

Of course, big tournaments are nothing new to Whistling Straits or to Kohler golf courses, in general, including:

  • 1995 Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf, US Championship at Blackwolf Run, River course (Winner: Mark McCumber)
  • 1996 Andersen Consulting WCG-US, River (Greg Norman)
  • 1997 Andersen Consulting WCG-US, River (Ernie Els)
  • 1998 US Women’s Open, River (Se Ri Pak)
  • 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Straits course (Vijay Singh)
  • 2007 US Senior Open, Straits (Brad Bryant)
  • 2010 PGA Championship, Straits (Martin Kaymer)
  • 2012 US Women’s Open, River (Na Yeon Choi)
  • 2015 PGA Championship, Straits
  • 2020 Ryder Cup, Straits

The Straits course delivers world-class excitement in one of the most beautiful natural settings in the world for a championship golf course: On a two-mile stretch of coast on Lake Michigan in Haven, Wisconsin.

Designed to have the look and feel of the legendary links courses of Scotland and Ireland, the Straits is a fine fescue facility from tee to green, with great use of elevation and sand and wasteland all around. A stream runs through parts of the course, and several inland ponds make its one inland par five, aptly nicknamed “Snake,” one of the toughest holes on the course.

Over 800,000 cubic yards of local sand and dirt were moved in the construction of the course, transitioning it from what was in the 1950’s “Camp Haven” (an anti-aircraft training facility complete with missile silos and an airfield) in to the present day pinnacle of the Kohler golf mecca.

While tons of dirt were moved to create the terrain, it could not look and feel more natural.

From the tees, fairways look miniscule and impossible to hit. They are typically quite wide, though, and the fine fescue rolls out well. With tips around 7,800 yards, you will hear some people say it plays longer because of the ever-present winds off the lake. Meanwhile, others say it plays shorter because of the roll-outs. It depends on the day and wind conditions, of course, but I actually lean toward it playing slightly shorter.

My foursome played the course from 7,142 yards, and none of us found the distance to be overwhelming. Our second group played it from the tips at 7,790, and said the same, although only two of them broke 90.

Me, Jeff, Mark, Kyle and Jason on the 7th tee

We had a rather calm day, which is not normal for the Straits. With the wind howling, I can imagine it would play considerably longer.

The Straits course starts off on both one and ten very similarly to the way the Irish starts: Both heading out from the clubhouse on one, with the lake on the horizon. The tenth on each course is sharply uphill toward the lake, with fairways running right to left.

One is a fairly simple par four, with a narrow looking fairway that leans slightly left. The green, like most on the course, is flanked by deep sand traps and mounding that make precise points of entry a must.

Hole 1: Par 4 (493/405/370/361/325)
Hole 1: Par 4 (493/405/370/361/325)

Two is a fantastic par five, measuring 597 from the tips and 533 from the blues. With the lake running parallel to the fairway, it is an intimidating tee shot that actually has much more room for error than it looks from the tees. Keeping the ball left of the largest mound right of the fairway should ensure a clear look at the second shot, which can be laid up well right of the green to stay safe. The infinity look of the green against the lake is beautiful.

Hole 2: Par 5 (597/533/521/508/447)
Hole 2: Par 5 (597/533/521/508/447)
Hole 2: Par 5 (597/533/521/508/447)

The first par three on the Straits course, the third is named simply “O’ man.” You wouldn’t believe it from seeing the following picture, but this might be the easiest par three on the course – there are probably more spots to miss-hit to than on any others.

Hole 3: Par 3 (188/180/166/154/111)

The second of six par fours measuring over 400 yards from the blue tees, the fourth continues a wonderful trek along Lake Michigan’s shoreline to the southernmost point of the Straits course, ending uphill with wasteland and sand traps seemingly everywhere, and with the lake on the left. The large trap on the hillside beyond the green that looks like the state of Texas is the best aiming point off the tee.

Hole 4: Par 4 (494/451/414/404/354)

The fifth is the only hole on the Straits course that I don’t completely love. Bringing in to play the course’s two ponds, “Snake” is a tough par five with a ton of bite, meandering inland with a double-dogleg around water and finishing on a small point.

The reason I say I don’t love it is that it has a very different feel and character from the rest of the course. To me, it doesn’t fit. It certainly does require players’ attention on each swing to avoid putting up big numbers, though.

Hole 5: Par 5 (603/563/543/527/459)
Hole 5: Par 5 (603/563/543/527/459)

The greatest feature of the sixth hole is the fly zone above the approach. The green is heavily raised, and falls off in all directions but left. The front-left sand trap that my friend Kyle found, especially, can be brutal.

Drive the left side of the fairway and have a good look at the green, but from anywhere else it’s pretty much guesswork with a blind approach.

Hole 6: Par 4 (409/378/360/352/282)
Hole 6: Par 4 (409/378/360/352/282)
Hole 6: Par 4 (409/378/360/352/282)

Kyle posted a similar picture to Facebook with one word of commentary: “#screwed.” Yup.

Hole 6: Par 4 (409/378/360/352/282)

The second par three on the course, and the second longest, the seventh is a wonderful one-shotter nicknamed “Shipwreck.” With the lake enveloping the right side of the hole, the smart play is to the front-left of the green.

Hole 7: Par 3 (221/205/185/172/132)

Robert getting us a distance of 205 on the seventh:

Hole 7: Par 3 (221/205/185/172/132)

The eighth is a tough driving hole, with sand traps lining the left side of the fairway and wasteland and side-ward lies inviting drivers to hit right. Find the fairway, and aim to lay up to the front-left of the green to roll on safely.

Hole 8: Par 4 (506/470/429/405/355)

Kyle hitting another bomb in the fairway:

Hole 8: Par 4 (506/470/429/405/355)
Hole 8: Par 4 (506/470/429/405/355)

The front nine finishes with a very cool downhill par four, nicknamed “Down and Dirty.” The driving area is not overly difficult to stay within, but the rough is hellish. I just missed the fairway, for example, and was buried deep in the grass. My next shot then pulled the club face closed and fired in to the sand, underneath the back lip. That barely got out in to the deepest fescue I’d ever seen, and from there I was simply lucky to get the ball 10 yards to the right back in to the fairway.

This is pretty common for the Straits course: Keep the ball moving in front of you; when it starts heading off to the sides, chances are that hole will finish with a crooked number.

Hole 9: Par 4 (442/412/384/371/347)
Hole 9: Par 4 (442/412/384/371/347)

The back nine starts with a tough driving hole: Like on the tenth at the Irish course at Whistling Straits, it is uphill and leaning left. A draw is definitely preferred, if you can play it.

Hole 10 on the Irish course: Par 4

Long hitters are rewarded heavily on this hole, as anything beneath the huge swell in the fairway is mostly blind to the green, while anything above it has a great look.

Hole 10: Par 4 (391/376/334/320/304)

Jeff and Kyle’s tee shots did not make it to the crest of the hill:

Hole 10: Par 4 (391/376/334/320/304)

My tee shot in green light position above the crest:

Hole 10: Par 4 (391/376/334/320/304)

To me, the eleventh might be the hardest overall hole on the Straits. A viciously long par five, the layup areas are fraught with hazards and the green area is uphill and challenging to hold.

Hole 11: Par 5 (645/563/544/519/479)

When it comes to adding charm and character to a golf course, can you imagine any better way than to populate it with the Scottish blackheaded sheep that populate the courses the Straits was built to mirror? Indigenous to Scotland, flocks roam freely on the Straits and Irish courses, and make for a very cool experience when they visit your group.

Hole 11: Par 5 (645/563/544/519/479)

Kyle putting with a herd of Scottish blackheaded sheep in the background:

Hole 11: Par 5 (645/563/544/519/479)

Greg, Michael, Ross and Dan playing up on eleven:

Hole 11: Par 5 (645/563/544/519/479)

Maybe my favorite par three at the Straits is one very rarely talked about: The twelfth. This green is massive from front-left to back-right, allowing for all kinds of variations on length and pin placements.

Let’s hope for a back-right shore-hugging Sunday pin next year!

Hole 12: Par 3 (163/138/118/99/89)
Hole 12: Par 3 (163/138/118/99/89)

Michael hitting to the twelfth green from the black tee boxes (on the horizon, taken from near the thirteenth hole tee boxes):

Hole 12: Par 3 (163/138/118/99/89)

Appropriately named “Cliff Hanger,” the thirteenth is a fantastic par four that directly abuts the shoreline. The green is below the fairway, begging players to run their approach shots on.

Hole 13: Par 4 (402/389/364/336/319)
Hole 13: Par 4 (402/389/364/336/319)

The easiest non-par three on the course, fourteen comes back inland with a much simpler yardage of 360 from the blue tees. A dogleg left par four, make sure to make par here before getting to a much longer fifteenth!

Hole 14: Par 4 (396/360/346/332/271)

Hopefully you enjoyed the wedge in on fourteen, because unless it’s your third or fourth shot, that experience will not be repeated on fifteen!

When the PGA Championship was last played on the Straits course, the fifteenth was at the time the longest par four ever played in a major championship. At 503 yards from the black tees, that makes sense.

I hit driver to the left side of the fairway during our round, followed by a flushed three-hybrid that luckily rolled to about five feet from the pin, and made it. Our caddies, Mark and Robert, said it was the first birdie they’ve seen on that hole this season.

Hole 15: Par 4 (503/464/429/402/367)
Hole 15: Par 4 (503/464/429/402/367)

Probably the coolest picture taken of the day: Jason, Robert, Kyle and Jeff approaching the fifteenth green and a crossing group of Scottish blackheaded sheep:

Hole 15: Par 4 (503/464/429/402/367)
Scottish blackheaded sheep herd passing us on 15

My leave from 237 out is just left of Jeff’s putt – thankfully it went in! #GolfFlow

Hole 15: Par 4 (503/464/429/402/367)

Heading back to the lake, sixteen is a very famous hole on the Straits course. It has always proved to be a pivotal hole in major championships, including for Chris DiMarco when his ball nearly decapitated me in 2004.

As you can see from the spots that my shots found during our round, there are plenty of bad places to be found on the sixteenth (several of my lies are shown), but there are not many ways to lose a ball unless it is in deep fescue.

The sixteenth, known as “Endless Bite,” forges along the Lake Michigan coastline, and takes on a very difficult green complex for professionals going for it in two.

Hole 16: Par 5 (568/545/535/513/412)
Hole 16: Par 5 (568/545/535/513/412)

My tee shot:

Hole 16: Par 5 (568/545/535/513/412)

… And the next shot…

Hole 16: Par 5 (568/545/535/513/412)

The legend of the seventeenth goes like this: At every course that Pete Dye designs, he allows his wife, Alice, to design one par three. This was the seventeenth for the Straits course, and she must have been angry with him that day!

The seventeenth, quite possibly the signature hole on the Straits course and one of the most beloved par threes in the state of Wisconsin, is a brutally long par three with very few spots to miss. The lake lingers left of the playing area, and huge mounds front the right entrance and entire right side of the putting surface.

The misses here are short and/or long-right, as the mounds right of the green can help carom slightly wayward shots toward the putting surface.

Hole 17: Par 3 (249/223/197/165/131)
 
Jason’s tee shot on seventeen:
Hole 17: Par 3 (249/223/197/165/131)

Kyle’s tee shot on seventeen:

Hole 17: Par 3 (249/223/197/165/131)
Jeff’s tee shot on seventeen:
Hole 17: Par 3 (249/223/197/165/131)

The finishing hole on the Straits could very well be one of the toughest holes in the world. Par on this 520/487-yard behemoth, which is set to be four, should be considered a monumental task, but will I’m sure be required on Sunday of the 2015 PGA Championship for whoever hopes to take home the Wanamaker Trophy.

Nicknamed “Dyeabolical,” after Pete Dye, of course, the eighteenth is 520 yards from the black tees, which are located behind and well below the blues, shown here:

Hole 18: Par 4 (520/487/424/420/380)

The tee shot from the blue tees on eighteen:

Hole 18: Par 4 (520/487/424/420/380)
Hole 18: Par 4 (520/487/424/420/380)

The long approach from anywhere on the upper-right fairway is best targeted right of the clubhouse in the distance. Anything left of that is likely to find the stream or wasteland (better shown in the second and third pictures below):

Hole 18: Par 4 (520/487/424/420/380)
Hole 18: Par 4 (520/487/424/420/380)
Hole 18: Par 4 (520/487/424/420/380)

Michael, Greg (great hat wave!), Ross and Dan following a “Triumphant round” playing the tips:

Hole 18: Par 4 (520/487/424/420/380)

[From my original review of the Straits Course, which I decided to wait out on until I had a chance to play it during better conditions:

The weather was supposed to be amazing last Thursday, May 8. The sun was shining and temperatures reached the low-to-mid 80’s in Menomonee Falls, where I live, and my hope was that it would be similar lake-side by Sheboygan. I checked the extended forecast every day for weeks leading up to our round, and it looked like we were going to luck out.

As my friend, Norm, and I neared the course, we started noticing huge swarms of gnats above the back roads that lead to the Kohler property, making us nervous that even though we got a good day we would be hit hard with another natural impediment: Bugs.

The bugs were almost nonexistent on the course, but the weather was far from perfect. While three out of the four in our group wore shorts, the caddies wore windbreakers, gloves and winter hats. They must have thought we were nuts on this 50-degree day lake-side.]

As a volunteer for next year’s 2015 PGA Championship at the Straits, I did get the opportunity to play this legendary course again, on August 10, 2014 – exactly one year from the opening round of the 2015 PGA Championship.

The Straits was in nothing less than brilliant condition, and certainly provided a far better golfing experience.

I was very impressed with the Straits’ caddy experience during our May round, but felt a little ripped off even though I was paying about half of what it would normally cost to play the course during regular season. Considering the shape the course was in, it almost shouldn’t have even been played on in May. I am very happy we were able to replay it at a reduced rate, as I can see now how tremendous of a golf course Whistling Straits truly is.

If you are curious about volunteering for the 2015 tournament: When you sign up you are also allowed heavily discounted tee times, which include $150 for the Straits course (plus caddy for $60/player and tip), $100 for the River course at Blackwolf Run (including cart), and $80 apiece for the Irish and Meadow Valleys courses (both include cart). All of these are tremendous deals.

It does cost around $200 to register as a volunteer, but includes the week’s access, all the equipment/apparel needed, and access to these discounted greens fees for up to two foursomes during specific time frames leading up to August of next year. Unfortunately, this year’s time frame did end this past weekend (we played the Straits on the last day of the deal, and the other three during previous weekends).

While on-site, I certainly recommend also checking out the Straits’ sister course, the Irish, which runs alongside and inland of the Straits track. If you have not had a chance to check out my review on the Irish yet, please do so here:


Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Haven, WI
Yardage: Black-7790, Blue-7142, Green-6663, White-6360, Red-5564
Slope/Rating: Black-152/77.2, Blue-145/74.2, Green-141/71.9, White-137/70.4, Red-129/66.4
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: $370 (plus $60 for caddy and $40 minimum recommended tip)