So what if Whistling Straits Golf Club is off the beaten path on the western shore of Lake Michigan? The golf course emerged from the PGA Championship as a strong candidate to host a future U.S. Open.
The date most frequently mentioned is 2012. The U.S. Open has been scheduled through 2010, and Congressional in Bethesda, Md., is expected to land the 2011 event.
Whistling Straits, a resort course built by plumbing fixtures magnate Herbert V. Kohler Jr., is only 6 years old. In 2012, it will be 14 years old. The last time the U.S. Open was played on a relatively new course was 1976 at Atlanta Athletic Club. The first nine of ACC’s Highlands course opened in 1967.
Despite its immaturity and isolation, Whistling Straits is being trumpeted by one influential member of the U.S. Golf Association Executive Committee as a leading candidate for a future U.S. Open. The course already has been awarded the 2007 U.S. Senior Open.
Jim Reinhart, USGA secretary and Executive Committee member, was optimistic but circumspect early in the week. “It’s the kind of course where you have to use every club in your bag,” said Reinhart, who lives in Mequon, Wis. “There’s no doubt in my mind it would be a fine site for the U.S. Open, if that’s the way we choose to go.”
By the end of the tournament, however, Reinhart had turned into a vocal Whistling Straits cheerleader as he talked with Dan Manoyan of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“Everything with the traffic flow has been great, there is more than enough parking, the hospitality areas everything has been fine,” he said. “The crowds here will be greater than we’ve ever had for any U.S. Open and that includes Bethpage (in 2002). I’m biased because I want to see Whistling Straits succeed, but I think everything is very positive.”
U.S. Open sites are selected by the USGA Championship Committee, then approved by the Executive Committee. The latter is considered a rubber-stamp vote because all members of the Championship Committee also are members of the Executive Committee.
USGA president Fred Ridley was at Whistling Straits early in the week, along with USGA executive director David Fay. Historically the USGA declines to talk in depth about future U.S. Open sites.
“People have come away from here very impressed,” Reinhart said.
More impressed, perhaps, than some of the players. Stuart Appleby called Whistling Straits a “terrible course for spectators.” And Stewart Cink said player consensus was that the 18th hole and the skinny 12th green could “be revisited,” but otherwise termed the layout “fantastic.” Tiger Woods wondered about the firm greens and high rough seen in the Open. “I think the PGA did a wonderful job of setting this golf course up,” Woods said. “It was hard, but it was fair. I would hate to see what the USGA would do to this golf course.”