When Herbert V. Kohler Jr., chairman and CEO of the Kohler Company, purchased a massive 280-hectare estate on the shores of Lake Michigan, he was very clear about what he wanted the golf course to look like. The businessman was a passionate golfer and enamoured with Irish courses, and he commissioned Pete Dye to create, in that part of Wisconsin, a links course in the purest Irish style.
And what would eventually become a legendary course began to take shape. The land had previously been used for military installations and was mostly flat, which was not at all in tune with Kohler and Dye's concept. So, in order to modify its orography and provide it with hills, deep bunkers and constant changes in elevation, more than 170,000 lorry loads of sand had to be dumped over the ground, transported from 30 kilometres away.
Although there are thousands of courses in the United States that describe themselves as links, there are none that even remotely come close to Whistling Straits. The venue for this year’s Ryder Cup, due to be held in September as Andalucía Golf/Espana Golf went to press, is certainly an extraordinarily rare sight on North American soil.
Not surprisingly, the magic of the terrain transports players to another place and space, making it seem they are in Great Britain or Ireland.
The course features more than three kilometres of unbroken Lake Michigan shoreline, with eight holes hugging the shore. The 18 holes have superb views of the lake, and there are four stone bridges, on the 1st, 9th, 10th and 18th holes. Large dune areas are another feature of Whistling Straits, whose highest point (on the 15th) is approximately 27 metres. The course comprises more than 500 bunkers and 14 water hazards.
Whistling Straits can only be played on foot (a caddie is mandatory), and the walking distance for the 18 holes is about eight kilometres.
The tees are seeded with Bentgrass Providence and the greens with Bentgrass Penncross, while the fairways and rough have a mix of three Festuca varieties. The knoll and embankment grass is left uncut. The average surface of the greens is 700 square metres and the tees 600 square metres. The fairways extend over an average of 89,000 square metres, and the rough occupies 607,000 square metres.
"I should say this with some degree of modesty. But in my lifetime I have never seen anything like this. Any place. Period.” Pete Dye’s words give an idea just how exceptional Whistling Straits is.
An emulation of Irish golf carved off the Wisconsin coast, Whistling Straits is part of Destination Kohler. Located across from Lake Michigan, it comprises two 18-hole championship golf courses (The Straits and The Irish) that continue to challenge the best professional and amateur golfers from around the world. Possibly the best golf experience in America, these Pete Dye-designed courses are ranked at the top of Golf Digest’s list of "America's Top 100 Public Courses".
The Straits at Whistling Straits, for example, was ranked third in Golf Digest’s 2019-2020 “America's Top 100 Public Courses” and 2019-2020 “Best Golf Courses in America” lists, as well as fifth in the 2018 “Best Resort Courses” list compiled by GolfWeek.
In addition to the two Whistling Straits courses, the Destination Kohler resort is home to three other golf courses operated under the name Blackwolf Run (The River and Meadow Valleys, both 18 holes, and The Baths of Blackwolf Run, 10 par-3 holes), two hotels, villas for rent, a spa and a dozen restaurants.