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The Irish course at Whistling Straits: No majors, but elite golf for the rest of us

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
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Pete Dye spiked Whistling Straits' Irish course with plenty of sand. (Brandon Tucker/GolfPublisher.com)

The Straits course at Herb Kohler's Whistling Straits golf club might have the PGA Championship/Ryder Cup pedigree and the best Lake Michigan views, but the sibling Irish course is still a Midwest must-play offering a serious Pete Dye test.

KOHLER, Wisc. - Herb Kohler commissioned the Straits course at Whistling Straits with golf's big events in mind. He's succeeded mightily, securing the 2004 PGA Championship and 2020 Ryder Cup.

The Irish course next-door, the newest track in the Kohler stable, wasn't built to fluster the world's elite. But play it first and you'll be forgiven for not pegging it as the more forgiving of the two.

Especially when your first tee shot must carry 150 to 200 yards (depending on the tee) into a breeze just to reach the fairway. This is a Pete Dye concoction, after all, with the 7,201-yard length and 146 slope rating to prove it.

It might labor under its prestigious sibling's shadow, but the only thing lacking at the Irish course is Lake Michigan views (there are just a handful). This is must-play Midwest golf, 18 holes on aggressively shaped, heavily bunkered land that won't present you with the same shot twice.

The course got its fair share of the 8,000 truckloads of dirt brought in to give the originally flat Whistling Straits land a rugged makeover. Crafted dunes range from rolling to giant. And as at the Straits, the sand is splattered everywhere - even behind tee boxes.

The layout blends links tradition and bold, modern target golf. There are many spots where you can play a low, Scottish-style running game, but several holes play over ponds and grassy streams, requiring precision to find the ideal landing zone. Greens are fast and firm with more subtle slopes than sharp tiers.

The par-3 13th, "Blind Man's Bluff," takes a page from Old Tom Morris' book, playing over dunes to a blind green. A modern twist is its split-level tee location: From the top you can see but a sliver of the massive 14,000-square-foot green; from the bottom, it's only partially blocked.

The par-5s demand ball placement over length, most notably the 555-yard eighth, which doglegs sharply right over a creek and uphill to a large green. The 564-yard 14th is cut from the same cloth, with a second-shot carry over a grassy creek to a shallow, elevated green.

The closing hole is a bold, sharp par-5 that doglegs right to a crowned green with a giant collection zone right and a bunker to the left. Put the second shot to your bread-and-butter distance or else you'll chipping back and forth around the green until sunset.

Whistling Straits Irish course: The Verdict

The Irish course is much more than just a second fiddle handling Straits course overflow. It holds its own as one of region's best modern public courses.

The Straits trumps it in lakefront beauty and major-tournament pedigree, but the Irish is a match in shot value at about half the price. It's best played as a warm-up to the Straits, although many golfers who book packages through The American Club save it for their free p.m. replay.

Both courses are walking-only, but the Irish course does not require a caddie. Facilities at Whistling Straits are five-star all the way, from fine dining and a bar upstairs to a full-service locker room with attendant.

Fast Fact

The Whistling Straits property was previously occupied by an airfield, Camp Haven, in operation from 1949 to '59.

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Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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