Hole to watch: No. 18 at Whistling Straits
489 yards, par 4
What’s distinctive: Whoever heard of a course on which club officials don’t know how many bunkers there are? Before the 2004 PGA Championship on the Straits Course, the superintendent told me, “We stopped counting at 1,100.” It certainly looks like Pete Dye scattered sand everywhere, especially when the course is viewed from the back tees.
In an ingenious move of sheer evil, Dye outfoxed his architecture colleagues by building his back tees lower rather than higher. He believes that will confuse good players more, and he’s all for that.
At the Straits Course, no hole is more confusing than the 18th, a hole that bridges two huge dunes and already has been renovated three times. The semi-blind tee shot has to carry a vast wasteland but not go too far lest it tumble into oblivion.
The long second shot must carry a steep ravine and parachute onto a green that looks like it barely survived a cat fight because of all the bunkers clawing into it.
What to look for: As demanding as the tee shot is, the fairway shape provides enough pocket cushioning to allow most drives into a reasonable place. But from there, all hell breaks loose, as players are confronted with a long, slightly downhill approach to a green set in an amphitheater that reveals all of the trouble: a big crease of wild, broken land to carry and a crazily misshapen green collared by Whistling Straits’ seemingly unkempt bunkers.
At the 2004 PGA Championship, Justin Leonard squandered his lead here when he tried to force a 5-iron from 204 yards to a hole cut over a front bunker; he came up a few feet short and bogeyed to fall into a three-way playoff (with Chris DiMarco and eventual winner Vijay Singh).
When the hole is cut to the right, there’s more room all around to work with. But the Sunday pin, stuffed into the left corner, simply looks unapproachable. The safe play there, to the right, is hardly safe at all when it comes to putting, since it leaves a long downhill putt that’s hard to control. It’s simply one of those torturous finishing holes that squeezes a player all the way.
Course ranking: No. 3, Golfweek’s Best Modern Course list