Rater’s notebook: Whistling Straits
1.) Ease and intimacy of routing: 9
Arrayed in an elegant butterfly shape, with returning nines that are symmetrical: two holes inland, two holes lakefront, two holes inland again, two more holes on the shoreline and finishing holes (ninth and 18th) that are stout par 4s with their backs to the water.
2.) Quality of feature shaping: 8
A raw, angry lunar look throughout.
3.) Natural setting and overall land plan: 10
Two miles of lakefront along a bluff, towering dunes, distant barns and silos, along with a country manor-style clubhouse and first-rate practice grounds.
4.) Interest of greens and surrounding chipping contours: 9
Great sense of angle created by entirely visible green surfaces. Small misses kick into big trouble, leaving varied short-game shots back.
5.) Variety and memorability of par 3s: 10
All are situated on the lakefront, and presuming the prevailing southwest wind they range from a delicate, parachuted wedge at the 143-yard 12th to a powerfully shaped long iron at the 223-yard 17th. The latter hole, into a headwind, is absurd, even hysterical, thanks to a 12-foot high sea stack (totally artificial, of course) with a fearsome bunker atop it that is directly in play for anyone who wisely plays away from the left side, where the green appears as if it is suspended in midair over the water.
6.) Variety and memorability of par 4s: 9
Dye avoids midrange par 4s, preferring either short or long holes for resort golfers and scratch players alike. There’s a bipolar character here, too, with five par 4s averaging 380 yards that, depending upon the wind, are either almost drivable or call for lay-ups off the tee. The other five are stern tests with no letup and average492 yards.
7.) Variety and memorability of par 5s: 7
Evenly split between downwind (fifth and 11th) and upwind (second and 16th), with carefully calibrated second-shot options that will prove crucial. The only remaining anomaly at Whistling Straits is the 598-yard, double-dogleg fifth, which offers a chicane fairway, the only pond in play on the course and a greenside beach bunker. Together, those elements form a Myrtle Beach lookalike that ought to be blown up.
8.) Basic conditioning: 8
Penncross bentgrass greens are on the large side (averaging 8,000 square feet) and will be targeted for Stimpmeter speeds of 11-12. Since the 2004 PGA, the approach areas have been converted from bentgrass to the same fine fescue that prevails on the fairways, which should provide for firmer conditions and (downwind) bump-and-run options. Fairway widths of 28-30 yards will prove decisive in determining contenders, since players cannot keep hitting iron shots out of the rough with any hope of scoring well.
9.) Landscape and tree management: 10
Only one tree on the entire site (on the ninth hole) is a factor. Everything else is kept low, wavy and tawny.
10.) “Walk in the park” test: 9
A classic tone to the entire place, with the best thing being how you approach and leave the water’s edge throughout the round.
Overall rating: 8.5
One of Dye’s most amazing designs, created on a totally manufactured site.
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Whistling Straits (Straits Course)
• Kohler, Wis.
• 866-847-4856; www.destinationkohler.com
• Green fee: $340 and mandatory caddie ($60 plus tip).