was going to kill me for doing that,” he says with a chuckle.
Former PGA of America Chief Executive
Officer Jim Awtrey remembers Kohler’s
dismay with some of the low scores. “I
tried to calm him by saying he had to wait
until the end to judge things,” he says. “The
tournament is held over four days, and a lot
can happen over four days. I was sure the
wind would eventually blow and the scores
would come down. I also told him that he
didn’t want the course to be so difficult no
one wanted to come back.”
Days Two and Three were similar to the
first weather-wise, though the Straits did
toughen up a bit. Then came the final
round. Vijay Singh was 12-under after three
days, with Leonard one back. “But the
wind finally started to blow, and the golf
course played during the fourth round the
way we had hoped it would all along,”
Friedlander says. Singh shot 76 and
Leonard 75 to finish in a tie at 8-under with
Chris DiMarco. Then Singh won in a three-
By any measure, the 2004 PGA Championship was a grand success. The winner was one of the game’s best players, the crowds broke attendance records, merchandise and concession sales set new highs, as did hospitality.
“The Straits had everything you looked
for in a major venue,” Awtrey says. “And we
also saw it as one of those sites that could
last for a long time. It had the room to
adjust to changing dynamics of competitive
play. If you needed to add tees, for example,
you could. It also had the lake, the wind
and that links-style feel.”
Not surprisingly, those attributes were
not lost on USGA executive director David
Fay, and he talked to Kohler a year after the
’04 PGA Championship about hosting
some majors for his organization. In time,
they settled on the 2007 U.S. Senior Open,
which was won by journeyman Brad Bryant.
He finished three strokes ahead of Ben
Crenshaw and five in front of Tom Watson,
who had led after 54 holes.
Prior to working out that deal with the USGA, Kohler had also struck an agreement with The PGA of America to hold its 2010 and 2015 Championships at Whistling Straits, as well as the 2020 Ryder Cup.
Herb Kohler had always said he wanted to host majors. Now, he had a whole bunch of them. ●
John Steinbreder is an award-
winning writer from Redding,
Conn., and author of the book:
“Golf Kohler – In The New and Old Worlds.”
Even after building his third golf course, Whistling Straits, Herb Kohler felt he needed another 18 holes. Demand for golf from his guests at The American Club continued to grow, and he had plenty of land for a second course at that site.
So he and Pete Dye went back to work.
They started in 1997, before the original Whistling Straits course was even done, on adjoining land just to the west. While it wasn’t directly on Lake Michigan, per se, the property did offer stunning views of the expansive water as well as the rugged dunes Dye had fashioned next door. But neither Kohler nor Dye had any intention of simply replicating the links-style Straits, as the initial layout had come to be known. Rather they wanted to give the new track another kind of aura. Dye used the phrase “grassland and dunes” to describe it, and a unique layout melding two very different styles began to take shape.
Called the Irish, the fourth course of the
Kohler quartet (the Straits course and
Blackwolf Run’s River course and Meadow
Valleys course are the others) came to
boast many of the characteristics of the
great links of the Emerald Isle. It featured
the same vagaries of weather that often
made the Straits so challenging to play.
At the same time, Dye gave the Irish its fair share of American characteristics. An irrigation pond, for example, served as a water hazard on the 16th and 17th holes.
He also planted some 2,000 trees, and
instead of using the same fescue grasses
on the fairways he had with the
Straits, he employed bent grass, ensuring
those on the Irish would usually run
The result was a beguiling layout that forced golfers to employ two styles of play – the low, running game of Scotland and Ireland and the target golf so popular here in the States, with forced carries over ponds and streams to precise landing areas.
Early reviews of the Irish when it opened in the summer of 2000 were strong, and the course quickly came to serve as a nice compliment to the Straits. To be fair, it wasn’t tough or spectacular enough to be major championship material. But it became a terrific test for golfers of all abilities, as well as a first-rate venue for resort guests. And it could certainly show its competitive mettle when it had to, such as the time in 2005 when it hosted to great acclaim the Palmer Cup, an annual, Ryder Cup-style match between top collegiate players in Europe and the United States.
Located by the Straits course, Whistling Straits’ Irish course opened in 2000
THE OFFICIAL PROGRAM OF THE 2010 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP 65