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Playing Kohler

Whistling Straits

Straits Course
7,288 yards, par 72 // Rating/Slope: 76.8/152

"I should say this with some degree of modesty," Pete Dye proclaimed when Whistling Straits opened last July. "In my lifetime I've never seen anything like this. Anyplace."

Neither have you. Crouched on rocky cliffs about a fifteen-minute drive from the Blackwolf Run courses, Whistling Straits is a true Old World links course that occupies two full miles of coastline overlooking Lake Michigan. No fewer than twelve of the eighteen holes have fairways on or tees abutting the cliffs.

Compared with Whistling Straits, venerable old Pebble Beach seems, well, like something that just washed up. The landscape is riddled with mounds, moguls, humps, hillocks and double, triple and quadruple bumps sculpted into fantastical profiles. The bunkering includes a varietyof fingers, fall-aways, pots, pans, pits and pews, as well as a sand plate that stands on its rim and rises twenty-three feet. In keeping with the links style, Dye provides entrance ramps on five or six holes, which offer chances to roll the ball onto the greens from the fairways and to play bump-and-run shots. The greens and tees feature familiar varieties of bent grass, but the fairways are composed of three strains of fescue. There are even six Scottish Blackface sheep wandering under the crooks of two specially recruited staff shepherds.

Selected to host this year's PGA of America National Club Pro Championship, Whistling Straits boasts some of the most beautifully routed and brutally challenging long par fours in the world. The fourth and eighth holes hug the shoreline, measuring 455 yards and 462 yards respectively. The 465-yard fifteenth hooks through a heavily bunkered highland set back from the cliffs, and the 470-yard eighteenth, another classic Dye finishing hole (dubbed Dye-abolical), dives from a cliffside tee box through a tree-lined ravine and over a creek that fronts the green. The inland holes are almost equally extraordinary, especially the 584-yard par-five fifth, known as Snake, which slithers between two man-made lakes and reclaimed wetlands.

But the par threes at Whistling Straits are the holes that really make you whistle in awe--and pray you hit the ball straight. All four of them are carved into the cliffsides and require you to carry the ball virtually all the way from the tee, a task made only marginally less intimidating by the deepest greens on the course. With the wind always a factor at Whistling Straits, club selection can change moment to moment, much less day to day. The third hole, which plays 183 yards from the black tees and has water on the left, immediately prompts you to mutter its name, O' Man. At a heady 214 yards, with water on the right, the seventh hole may well be the site of your front-nine Shipwreck, as it is called. And you had better hope that on the deceptively down-drafting, 166-yard twelfth hole, Pop Up, you do anything but pop it up or you will meet a rocky, watery grave.

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