If you read my post on Saturday, you know that The Scrambler, aka world-class gadabout Kevin Patrick Thomas Lawrence Ladasha Lynch is bound today for Wisconsin, to the shores of Lake Michigan, to the too-good-to-be-true American Club. He will replicate our three-day, four-course meal of 2006, when Travelin’ Duff, Scrambler and I got a taste of the good golfing life. To further commemorate the anniversary, here is a trip back to the second of two pieces that I wrote a half-decade ago:
I’ve never dated anyone that was super-model gorgeous, nor driven a car that had more vowels than consonants, and more horsepower than flat tires. I have, however, been given the opportunities to visit and play the courses of two resorts whose equal I cannot
imagine anywhere in the world. That they came within nine months of each other allowed me to make fairly-accurate comparisons of lodging, culinary offerings, and of course, the golf courses. I can say (and I hope you’ll read the rest of the article in spite of this revelation) that Kohler’s American Club is the complete golfing resort. If you have one to visit the rest of your days, make this one it. Save your change, return your pop bottles, and use coupons at the grocery store to hoard the $$$ you’ll need to play all four courses and stay at the American Club. You’ll leave their opulence with the knowledge that, for one brief period, you dated the supermodel and drove the Ferrari.
Kohler, Wisconsin sits about an hour north of Milwaukee. It is a bit inland from the shore of Lake Michigan, and borders Sheboygan, the home of the largest American flag in the USA (and, one supposes, the world.) Kohler is a tribute to the family that gave us many of the bathroom and kitchen implements that control water and sewage flow. The current docent of the family fortune, Herb Kohler, had a bit of a thing for golf, and decided to hire the best in the business (Pete Dye) to build him some courses. The first plots of land that Herb provided sat adjacent to the town, and begat the River and Meadows Valley courses at Blackwolf Run. This pair of courses could not be more distinct, with the River never straying too far from the eponymous water course. From the first tee shot, one becomes aware that the River is about high rough, precise fairway targeting, and turbulent putting surfaces. This is not to insinuate that the holes are not fun. Rather, they are! You will be offered tee shots from on high (numbers five and eight), over water (numbers nine through fourteen) and across stretches of desert (fifteen comes to mind.)
If your preoccupation is with execution, not result, you will certainly enjoy your round. If the occasional swimming golf ball bothers you, then you won’t. The round finishes with an enjoyable sequence of 5, 3, 4. Sixteen is a long, sweeping par five called Unter der lindenI (all the holes have names), which translates to “under the Linden.” The Linden is a gi-normous tree that guards the left side of the hole. It obscures all third shots to a green that plays longer than some par 3 holes. Hit your drive straight, and your second shot right, or you’ll have to hit a bender around der linden if you hope to putt for birdie. The entire right side of the 18th hole is wasteland that normally floods during tournament time. Imagine having the wherewithal to flood a huge waste bunker for appearance sake! The fairway rides triumphantly right, then back left, to finish under the decks of the clubhouse.
If you don’t bask in the approach to the green of Black and Tan, then you should turn in your membership card to Golfers Everywhere.
The Irish course at Whistling Straits transports us to another world. Located in Haven, a five-mile shuttle from the lodge, this land could not look less like the farmland that it once was. Word on the fairway is, Pete Dye looked at the land, trucked in mountains of soil to create new land that mimicked Ireland’s rolling seaside terrain, then went about building his two courses. The Irish immediately catches your eye with the ridges that serve as backdrop to the first hole. It doesn’t allow those ocular organs to refocus until the course is finished. The turbulence of the fairways is reminiscent of rolling and bucking of the high seas. Watching your ball bound this way and that is part of the experience, part of the fun. If you take its final destination too seriously, be careful: you may ruin your day. You find that holes dogleg at apparently-preposterous angles on
the Irish Course. What the maps and scorecards don’t tell you, and what only experience can reveal, is that the landing areas for drives, second, and even third shots are ample enough.
More than any other skill needed is the knowledge of, and faith in, your own yardages. If you want to turn in a score for handicap purposes, then the Irish Course is not the place for heroic, I-hit-my-five-iron-this-far-once shots (although they, too, can be fun to attempt.) Dye and Kohler present this cornucopia of visual hazards that, quite frankly, we’re not used to. We come from our ho-hum golf and country clubs and course, with rough and trees and not much more on either side of the fairway. What we seemingly find at The Irish Course are fjords, trenches, caverns, and other such declivities where angels fear to tread. If looking at them is difficult enough, then recovering from them is even more demanding. I believe that the tenth hole was where I first encountered God’s majesty. The hole plays away from the clubhouse, toward the sea (or in this case, Lake Michigan.) It plays over one of those fjords, up, up, and then up some more. It is not overly long at 398 yards, but it is so evocative that catching your breath (as you climb the hill), and playing some shots along the way, is a mind and body-bending experience. You encounter blind shots and long flagsticks (number 13), sheep and shots from craggy bluffs (number 11), and more than enough sand to build a castle, bulwark, or trellace. As much fun as the Irish Course is, it serves as a prelude to the Straits.
In my humble opinion, if you play Straits, followed by Irish, you will be
a bit disappointed in the Irish. If you play them in their proper order, then the world will be righted.
I’ve spent the better part of three months considering all 72 holes, and have been able to identify only two that really lack…something. The 18th at Irish is a par five with a wonderful drive and a wonderful greenside space. The tee shot carries a bunker
on the right or plays safely to the left of it. The second shot must travel over 225 yards in the air to reach a severely-sloped, landing zone area. There are no bunkers around this green, just a volcanic side slope that forces a high and blind pitch, or a low and blind run-up. Either shot is appropriate for the situation. What is missing, however, is the lay-up area between 225 and 125 yards out…there is none. Or rather, it is razor-thin, beyond difficult to hit. An entire acreage to the lower right, identified on the course plan as lay-up turf, is now high rough. Someone has forced the golfer to lay back 150-plus yards on a par five. On some holes, after reaching the putting surface, you remark aloud “oh, there WAS more room than it seemed.” Not the case here.
The other curious hole is the first at Meadows Valley (complete review in September.) It is a flat, unremarkable par four that swerves…nowhere. It plays straight amid bunkers and a pond to a green located one foot above the fairway. The hole apparently serves to warn, “this is as easy as it’s going to get, so save your strokes here.”
However, there is an extra hole that is not on any map. The River course has a separate tee box, adjacent to its first tee, that plays to an extra fairway, across the river from the clubhouse. The approach is then played to the tenth at Meadows Valley…sideways. This is the official “first hole” of the tournament course, a combination of holes from both courses. It was used at the 1998 US Women’s Open, and is a tremendous 73rd hole. This is the final lesson on the vision of Dye…he is so capable of creating distinctive methods of playing individual holes along one fairway, so much so that he physically invented a second fairway to play 90 degrees to a green already employed, without the slightest thought of “this doesn’t work.” Like many resort courses, we only have the chance to play them once. Certainly a return trip with a bit of knowledge would make the experience complete.
Ah, well, unter der linden!