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Plumbing Kohler

In that way, it prepares you for Blackwolf Run's first eighteen, Meadow Valleys, the front nine of which opened in 1988. Here Dye used three distinct landscapes--open meadows, narrow gullies, sensuous riverbanks --to play with the golfer's emotions. The first nine of Meadow Valleys sits up on high, rolling land bounded on one side by a hardwood forest. The effect is one of extravagant space and, for the golfer, a sense of blessed isolation. There is no rush here, no pressure. Or at least no pressure but the game, which presses in the same way the high, thick prairie grasses press against and define the shape of the tournament-green fairways. The back nine (1989) crowds in and takes advantage of the gullies cut into the land by receding glaciers and rivers long gone. And by the time you've fought your way to the approach to eighteen, there's the Sheboygan River rolling along between the golfer and the green, laughing the way rivers do.

The River course, which also opened nine holes in 1988 (the second nine in 1990), is feminine, round and lush. It curves like the river. It veils the obvious shot and teases with shortcuts edged with disaster. Its laugh is low and lusty. Take chances, it purrs. Gamble a little.

No other course eats up more balls than these two, says Blackwolf Run's head professional, David Albrecht. Where you might lose a single ball at Whistling Straits, you might lose an entire boxful at Blackwolf Run. The average score for a round on either course hovers between 95 and 105. The fast greens have a lot to do with that. Ernie Els advised the '98 Women's Open competitors that they could get the feel for the speed of the greens by learning to putt in a bathtub.

Having done "American rustic" at Blackwolf, Kohler turned to golf's Celtic roots at Whistling Straits. The immense stone clubhouse, based on the slate-roofed stone farmhouses of Irish manors, sets the stage. The pro shop beckons from one side of the grand entryway, the restaurant from the other. The staircase leads to finely appointed locker rooms, the bar and a private dining room warmed by a big, stone-faced fireplace in front of which there should be a couple of lounging, yawning Irish wolfhounds. The Whistling Straits clubhouse gives the golfer something to look forward to as his round winds down, a place to settle and consider what's been going on these past hours and miles.

After the turn, Ultra Bob's bad knee starts giving him the business, and his drive collapses on him. But he settles into a crafty short game, getting up out of some of the worst rough he's ever seen, rolling his ball right up to the pin. Gimme here. Gimme there. Very magical. Ultra Bob starts smiling into the wind and having a little talk with himself.

Regular Joe's jokes and patter desert him between the twelfth and thirteenth holes, but not his focus on the game. Waiting for the foursome ahead, he and his caddie, Charlie, an all-but-albino with a Georgia drawl, launch mighty drives off the tee at seagulls perched on rocks 250 yards out in Lake Michigan. Kersplish, kersplash. Charlie, who's missing the tips of the important three fingers on his left hand, smacks x-out discount balls with Regular Joe's buttery-yellow Ping persimmon wood. Regular Joe's teeing up three-dollar golf balls and holding his own. "It keeps you loose," he says. "Gotta stay loose."

Over a late lunch with the wives on the clubhouse patio, overlooking the eighteenth green, Ultra Bob and Regular Joe find in the retelling that they are pleased with their round in a way that's different from any they've played anywhere else. This one has been about survival, about having managed successfully to navigate this strange course where nothing is manicured but the greens. They played all the shots from all their oddball lies--sides of hills, deep in sandy gullies, you name it. They struggled through eighteen holes of golf set out for them by a guy who's obviously full of mischief, and the pleasure is all theirs for having done so. Kohler golf has left both Ultra Bob and Regular Joe tired and empty and full in a most satisfying way. And a little spacey.

Halfway back to the American Club, Regular Joe realizes he's forgotten his clubs. He never even got them into the shuttle van. Neither did Ultra Bob. When the panic and heart palpitations subside, they realize this is no big deal. A phone call should get the clubs on the next shuttle. And as for those knots that have suddenly seized the backs of their necks, well, those big Kohler whirlpool baths beckon.

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