What to do for an encore after moving a little heaven and a lot of earth to produce Whistling Straits, a course that nearly out-Ballybunions Ballybunion, a walkers-only links set along bluffs above Lake Michigan that will host the 2004 PGA Championship? For a sly old dirt devil like Pete Dye, a chance to build a second course at Whistling Straits was a gleeful return to the drawing board with his old friend and sparring partner, Herb Kohler, the plumbing fixtures baron who has collaborated with Dye in the creation of world-beaters since the mid-1980s. But here, set back from the lake in the shadow of the Straits, the order was tall.
Claiming to employ “every trick I’ve ever learned,” Dye melded the jumbled landscape into a quirky but endearing patchwork quilt of a course. Originally conceived as a subtle parkland test, the Irish Course evolved into a counter-puncher with a multiple personality that defies better players to settle in and get comfortable. How can you get comfortable on a course that sings you an Irish lullaby one moment and knocks you blind the next?
This one-of-a-kind hybrid, unveiled last summer, features nine holes routed through man-made dunes flashed with sand; six parkland-style holes crisscrossed by creeks; and three holes wrapped around ponds. And then there’s the par-three 13th, “blind man’s bluff,” where only the top of the 12-foot-high pin and a tiny portion of the enormous, rippled putting surface are visible from the five sets of hilltop tees, which range from 111 to 183 yards. If the tee shot is a hit-and-hope affair, the first putt on the sunken green — 15,000 square feet of roiling bentgrass enclosed by steep walls and ringed by nasty bunkers — is even more so.
Challenging, unnerving, but memorable, with views of the lake from five holes, the Irish, which carries a 146 Slope and 75.6 Course Rating, is a wild-eyed cousin to the Straits. Carry a pocketful of shamrocks. Pete and Herb have done it again.
Preferred tee times are available to guests of The American Club and the Inn on Woodlake in Kohler. Reservations: 800-344-2838. Tee times: 800-618-5535. Web site: www.whistlingstraits.com.