THE PGA CHAMPIONSHIP STAYS IN THE MIDWEST NEXT SUMMER, moving just 300 miles to the east and on roughly the same latitude. However, comparing Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., and the 2010 venue, Whistling
Straits in Kohler, Wis., is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, forest
to desert, Hogan to Snead.
By Gary D’Amato
facility in Kohler,
Wis. – which has
hosted a PGA
Open and PGA
will be the
site of the
While Hazeltine National took years to mature into one of the nation’s pre-eminent parkland courses, the awe-inspiring seaside links replica that is Whistling Straits sprang from the fertile imagination of architect Pete Dye and was bulldozed into existence in 1998.
Within nine years, Whistling Straits already had played host to the 1999 PGA Professional National Championship, a highly successful 2004 PGA Championship won by Vijay Singh, and the 2007 U.S. Senior Open.
The PGA of America, taking note of the support of Wisconsin golf fans – the 2004 PGA Championship produced record crowds and an estimated economic impact of 77 million – along with the uniqueness of the golf course and the resources of the Kohler Company’s hospitality division, signed a contract with CEO Herbert V. Kohler Jr. to bring multiple championships to Whistling Straits.
Not only does the PGA Championship return to the Straits next year for “The Season’s Final Major … Glory’s Last Shot,” but there’s another PGA Championship on tap for 2015 and the Ryder Cup pays a visit in 2020.
Few courses still in their relative infancy would be ready for such an impressive array of championships, but Whistling Straits is a mold-breaker.
“The whole look and feel of it, it’s remarkable,” says Kerry Haigh, the managing director of championships and
business development for The PGA of America. “Every time I go out it just boggles my mind how (Dye) could come up with this on what was basically a flat piece of ground. He created an unbelievable product.”
The key word is “created.” Dye turned an abandoned military camp strewn with illegal toxic dumps into Ballybunion West, complete with jagged sand dunes fashioned from thousands of truckloads of dirt and sand, more than 1,000 bunkers (both cosmetic and strategic) and firm fescue fair ways. An imported flock of Scottish blackface sheep completed the illusion.
“I don’t know how to explain my true feelings about what’s happened here, but there’s nothing better,” Dye explains. “The whole atmosphere and ambiance of Whistling Straits is just great.”
A walking-only course buffeted by two-club winds and occasionally blanketed by mist and fog, Whistling Straits has such an authentic links feel that many first-time visitors mistakenly refer to Lake Michigan as the “ocean.”
“There is a visual intimidation to it,” Haigh says. “It’s just stunning, the contrast with the bunkers and the tall grass and the lake.”
Because Dye enjoys tinkering with his courses as much as he does creating them, Whistling Straits has evolved since 2004, when it measured 7,597 yards for the PGA Championship. A few changes could be