The latest report from The Scrambler’s return to Kohler is … no report at all. By all accounts, he should be on day three of the trip, enjoying the challenges of the Straits Course, site of last August’s PGA Championship, won by Martin Kaymer over Bubba Watson. To whet your appetite for his anticipated pieces, here is a rerun of a bit he offered five years ago, on the occasion of our first trip to Destination Kohler.
Day 1 – A Short Trip to Ireland.
On a rainy Friday afternoon, the Scrambler was running in a downpour, frantically shoving all his golf clubs and luggage into the far too small cabin of his wife’s Ford Ranger. Groceries and other miscellany had been put in the front, while all the golf gear and clothes had been loaded in the back of the truck, ready to meet up with Mo’ Golf and Travellin’ Duff for a weekend voyage. The sudden downpour caused an immediate detour in the best laid plans, and a little comic relief for Mrs. Scrambler.
“Now, where exactly are you going?” she asks.
“Kohler, Wisconsin – we’re playing Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run over the weekend,” I replied, knowing full well that these answers meant absolutely nothing to my wife. She may vaguely recognize Kohler as the faucet and fixture people, but other than that, it meant nothing.
To my fellow members at Elma Meadows and other Golf enthusiasts, Kohler means Whistling Straits and the 2004 PGA Championship. Blackwolf Run and the 1998 US Women’s Open. Future host to the 2007 Senior U.S. Open Championship, severa future PGA Championship returns, and the 2020 Ryder Cup. Pete Dye and Herb Kohler transforming the shore of Lake Michigan into a new Golfing Mecca.
As we passed through Chicago around 9:30 at night, I called the Mrs. for a travel update.
“You’re not there, yet?!”
“We’re not even close, we still have a few hours to go. It’s about an 11 hour drive.”
“Why on earth would you drive that far just to play Golf?”
The answer would be granted less than 12 hours later.
The Irish Course at Whistling Straits
All afternoon, I’ve been thinking of the best way to capture how impressive this course is. To put it most simply… if you consider yourself an avid golfer, you MUST make the trek to Wisconsin and see this for yourself. And I’ve only seen one of the four courses – and supposedly, this was the only course of the four in Kohler that did not receive a Five Star ranking from Golf Digest. (Only 16 courses receive Five Star Rankings – Kohler Resort boasts 3 of these). If this is the warm-up band, I can only imagine what the headliners will do to me.
On the inside of the Irish Course yardage book is a quote from Pete Dye which reads –
“There’s nothing on the United States that has the look and feel of this course.”
As a Golfer who values aesthetics far over conditioning, there is nothing better than letting the feel of a course just wash over you and soaking in the atmosphere. There are endless opportunities to do that here, and not just from the confines of the links.
A glance out the restaurant window revealed the panorama of Lake Michigan serving as a backdrop for one of the most beautiful holes I have ever seen. Once on the course, the breathtaking views just kept on coming, with the 5th hole “Devil’s Elbow” drawing some raves, and the massive 8th fairway rising high to reveal an inviting glimpse at the distant green. The remarkable 10th features dramatic elevation changes, a Cape hole tee-shot, followed by a Redan-style green, and completed by a towering mound nicknamed “Mount Dune” by the BuffaloGolfer trio.
However, all these holes paled in comparison to what was about to come. The climb to the 11th tee provided a glimpse of several holes, including some from the adjacent Straits course, all with Lake Michigan in the background. The feelings of awe were on par with the first time I witnessed Bethpage’s massive 4th. While the Irish Course turned away from Lake Michigan a few holes later, I am heartened by the fact that all 18 holes at the Straits course will be in view of the Great Lake, raising my anticipation for Monday’s coming experience.
Yet, even more amazing than the end product is the transformation and development of Whistling Straits. The trek from our hotel to the course was filled with miles of flat farmland. However, as we crossed over one last country road and through the Whistling Straits entrance, we seemingly passed through a space porthole which transported us from Wisconsin dairyland to the rugged Ireland Coast in the span of 100 feet. Until you experience it firsthand, you cannot possibly comprehend how much earth was moved to create this Pete Dye masterpiece.
The Scrambler normally likes the “minimalist” approach to course design, where golf holes arise from the natural landscape and are not forced onto the land. I’ve often been turned off by courses I felt were overly “manufactured” as they just don’t appear to fit the land.
After today’s experience, I told Mo’ Golf that I was challenging my aversion to “manufacturing,” especially when done this spectacularly. Pete Dye didn’t force Irish-Style Golf holes and bunkers onto a piece of non-descript land. Rather, Dye first metamorphosed the entire landscape into a miniature Emerald Isle. Massive sand dunes frame your paths, appearing as if they had been worn by centuries of erosion, not created from flat farmland less than a decade ago. The end result is a design that blends with its environment as smoothly as any genuine Ireland links.
With Day One in the books, I now know why three men would drive over 11 hours to play Golf. Great tracks like the Irish Course at Whistling Straits transcend Golf beyond a mere game or activity that is “played”, providing those memorable moments of euphoria and awe that allow Golf to be fully “experienced.”
Ability to Scramble
It’s a Pete “Dye-abolical” design, so what do you think? If you miss, you will be appropriately dealt with, especially when there are thousands of sand dunes dotting the landscape and rough everywhere else. However, the fairways and landing areas are more than generous enough, so this is certainly a fair test.
The Scrambler probably could have lost several balls, but his Titleist 8 started to take on “Rasputin”-like qualities. The “Ocho” seemingly refused to be lost, and came back to life several times from the heavy rough and dunes. However, there are few heroic recoveries available from these places, as severe slopes and ugly lies abound – rather you are destined to get back into play and try to make it up with the short game.
Favorite Hole: 13th Hole / 160 yards / Par 3
This hole is named “Blind Man’s Bluff” and seems to be Pete Dye’s homage to the “Dell Hole” – Tom Norris’ much copied design at Lahinch’s Old Course. A massive sand dune blocks all views of the green, with the top of a 15 foot flag as the only aiming indicator available. The Scrambler loves this hole for its beauty and nod to Golf’s storied past. However, even more so, it flies in the face of a disturbing trend in modern golf architecture. Many architects seem to believe that the only way to make a hole challenging is by pushing tees farther back, resulting in new courses with several non-descript 200+ yard Par 3’s. At only 160 yards, this hole is reachable with a short iron, but yields very little. Assuming you choose the proper short club – a real challenge given the significant elevation change and restricted view – the green is likely to see more 4-putts than 1-putts, as the 14,000 square foot dance floor ebbs and flows, sending poorly struck putts severely off-line.
To find out more about the Irish Course at Whistling Straits, visit www.DestinationKohler.com, and follow the “Golf” links to see the variety of world-caliber Golf available.
On tap for Day Two is a 36 hole marathon at Blackwolf Run, playing the River Course in the morning and Valley Course to wrap up the day. Stay tuned to www.BuffaloGolfer.com for more on the Golf adventures of Mo’ Golf, Travellin’ Duff and the Scrambler.