A Guide to the Straits Course at Whistling Straits
If you like golf and appreciate amazing golf courses, you are going to love this page. Whistling Straits, overlooking Lake Michigan on the eastern tip of Wisconsin, has everything a fan of the game of golf could imagine.
Has it hosted multiple major championships? Yes, it has. Is it available for the public to play if we want to call up and set up a tee time? Yes, it is. Whistling Straits is not only a public golf course, but it also happens to be an extension of one of the coolest properties and resorts in the country.
The plan here is to bring you up to speed on everything that has gone on and is currently happening at the Straits Course. Wouldn’t you like to know how and why this place was created and by whom? Aren’t you interested in learning about the layout created by Pete Dye?
Well, this guide is going to answer those questions and much more. This is an all-inclusive catalog to the 22nd-ranked course in America, and we want to explain to you how it approached this elite status.
We’ll talk about the three PGA Championships that have been contested here, not to mention an upcoming Ryder Cup that you may want to schedule plans to be a part of.
Our final segment will tell you all about the American Club Resort and how to get to Whistling Straits if you do plan on attending. For those of you that want to head to Sheboygan to stay at the resorts and play the course yourself, we couldn’t endorse that more.
We’ll tell you everything you need to know; all you have to do is get comfortable and be willing to read. From the beginning days at Whistling Straits to traveling there yourself, the journey begins now!
Straits Course at Whistling Straits – Key Facts
- Sheboygan, Wisconsin
- Year Opened
- Owner/Operated by
- Kohler Company/ The American Club
- Course Designer
- Pete Dye
- 7,790 yards
- Host to
- PGA Championship (2004, 2010, 2015), 2021 Ryder Cup
- Official Website
The Start of Links-Style Golf in the Midwest
To understand how and why Whistling Straits was developed the way it was, you have to understand the exact intentions. It all starts with Herbert Kohler, the chairman of Kohler Company. Kohler Company is an extremely widespread and well-known corporation in the plumbing and bathroom manufacturing industries.
The American Club is the exquisite resort that was built in Kohler, Wisconsin, right near the factory and headquarters of the Kohler Company. The resort has been around since 1918.
It was sometime in the 1990s that a parcel of nearby land that had unobstructed views of Lake Michigan’s shoreline was available to develop a golf course on.
This wouldn’t be just a golf course; Herb intended on building a championship-quality venue that mimicked the type of seaside golf that was played in the British Isles. Once Pete Dye was recruited to be the creator of the layout, the rest is basically history.
The decorated and devilish course architect had the vision to execute the request of Herbert Kohler, but it would take time and manpower. Forget about a bunch of shovels; this project required tons of high-powered equipment to carry out Dye’s orders.
In all, Pete was responsible for moving more than a million tons of cubic earth, not to mention that some 80,000 cubic yards of sand was brought in and dispersed.
Kohler had said he wanted the layout to emulate that of a Scottish links course, so Dye was just following instructions. To get more into the details and characteristics of the 18 holes that were built on the edge of Lake Michigan, just keep following along.
Dye’s Diabolical Layout
More than 1,000 sand traps. A flock of more than 40 Scottish Blackface Sheep roams the grounds at free will, just as they would if this were a golf course in Scotland. It’s quite the scene at Whistling Straits.
If you are one of the fortunate ones who has played the Straits Course in Sheboygan, then this will be a nice refresher for the round you played. Perhaps you haven’t played the track, but you watched Jason Day torch the golf course to the tune of 20-under-par at the 2015 PGA Championship.
If you have just seen it on television or you haven’t seen it at all, that’s okay. That’s exactly why we assigned a writer who played Whistling Straits in the summer of 2017 to complete this page.
It’s truly hard to describe the raw beauty that is presented on the holes that are pushed up against the water. The euphoric feelings that come over you as you are walking the course with your caddie up ahead, toting your bag and giving you tips and advice…it’s just hard to explain and difficult to put into words.
The best thing we can do is illustrate the course and tell you about the features that make this place stand out.
We have already gushed about the fact that the Pete Dye design is nestled up against the flowing current of Lake Michigan. The next order of business is to tell you what the course is like as a whole.
For one, the fact that one of the five Great Lakes is part of the landscape means the wind is almost always blowing here.
Forget about calm, 10- to 15-mile-per-hour breezes; that’s nothing at the Straits Course.
The good news about the traditional gales is that the course was designed and set up to handle such wind. For example, you won’t see the greens rolling off the charts on the stimp meter, because it’s just not practical.
If you can picture a links-style golf course in Scotland, where long, wispy grass and undulating greens dominate the scenery, then you have a good foundation for what Whistling Straits is like.
Right from the get-go and the tee shot on the opening hole, you realize that you are in a special place, and you are in for one unforgettable round. The opening par 4 gently bends to the left and directs you straight towards Lake Michigan, and boy, is it a sight to see. There’s no reason to get impressed yet, because it just gets better and better as you go.
Now is a good time to start depicting the most memorable holes at the Straits Course. This is difficult to do, as each of the 18 are special in their own right, but we chose the 5 that we would consider the flagship holes of the property. Go ahead and take a look.
The 7th Hole
If you are looking for a setting to take a picture of the foursome you are playing in, the 7th tee is about as good of a time as ever. Before we even attempt to describe the beauty of the 7th hole, you should watch the short, 25-second fly-over clip that illustrates the 221-yard par 3.
It’s practically impossible to look out over the overhanging cliffs towards this green without smiling and enjoying yourself. Not only is this setting as picturesque as it can get, but the 7th hole happens to be one darn-good par 3 as well.
As evidenced in the video above, any ball that misses right will be lucky to get gobbled up by one of the many narrow bunkers that loom to the right and beneath the putting surface. Anything right of the sand traps, and it’s “sayonara” to your golf ball.
If you thought you could keep your ball dry by simply bailing out to the left of the green, that certainly is an option. Just don’t expect to get the ball up and down from the precarious positions you will find yourself in.
In terms of a being an absolutely stunning but also challenging golf hole, it doesn’t get much better than the hole nicknamed “Shipwreck.”
The 13th Hole
When you look at the Straits Course’s scorecard, you’ll notice that they call the 13th hole “Cliffhanger.” If you are eager to see what lies ahead at 13, trust us when we tell you that you won’t be disappointed when you get there.
If you like holes that scream for creativity, this is right up your alley. This 402-yard, sweeping dogleg right hugs the shoreline of Lake Michigan, and the contour of the fairway lets you know that. Not only does the hole dogleg from left to right, but the fairway is severely sloped that same way.
A low, burning cut off the tee from a right-handed player is what the shot calls for, and those who can execute it can actually run this ball all the way up near the front of the putting surface if the conditions are favorable.
If you enjoyed that short flyover of the 7th hole, wait until you see this flyover footage of the 13th hole at Whistling Straits.
We aren’t trying to make you jealous; we are just trying to portray how ridiculously spectacular this place is.
Now it’s time to talk about the finish at Whistling Straits. The final 3-hole stretch at the Straits Course is a scenic as you’ll find, and they happen to be three incredible golf holes. Let’s start with the par-5 16th.
The 16th Hole
Here you have 569 yards of a grassy strip of fairway that is pinched in between an outline of bunkers on each side. Anything left of the sand left of the fairway, and the ball will be down by where the waves crash. Anything right of the bunkers, and you’ll be lucky just to find your ball in the knee-high grass.
The hole is named “Endless Bite,” and if you aren’t hitting solid golf shots, the hole will seem endless. Do yourself a favor and keep it in the short grass because advancing the ball more than 100 yards or so from the surrounding rough is going to be a tall task.
If bombers tag one down the middle, they may have the option of giving it a rip in two and trying to give themselves a look at eagle. The only issue is that second shot will be all carry, as the green is perched on a hill, with the magnificent Lake Michigan as the backdrop.
Birdies can certainly be made here, but once you get going sideways, anything can happen.
The 17th Hole
On the card, it reads a 223-yard par 3. So far, fairly standard for a finishing par 3 at a championship-quality venue. Once you step up to the tee and look at what’s in front of you, the view is anything but standard.
It’s referred to as “Pinched Nerve,” because if you wind up short and to the left and have to hack your way back up to the level of the surface, your back might not feel so good afterward.
This is as intimidating of a par 3 as Pete Dye has designed, and for that matter, as daunting of a par 3 as you’ll probably ever play. The distance of the hole combined with the prevailing wind off the lake means this hole will require some sort of long iron or utility club, if not a fairway metal or a “bunt driver.”
You immediately know that any ball that starts hooking left will be in one of two places. Those that are way left will simply be in in the “drink,” while those that are just slightly offline to the left will be swallowed by one of the plethora of bunkers that are awaiting.
As far as a greenside bunker shot, they don’t come much tougher than ones from the sand traps that are dug well beneath the surface of the green. Don’t take our word for the mind-boggling description of the 17th; check it out for yourself below!
The Finishing Hole
Before you ask yourself if the 18th hole at Whistling Straits is difficult, take a peek at the name of the hole, and it might give you the clue you are looking for.
They call the final hole at the Straits Course “Dyeabolical,” as a way to honor Pete Dye, the course architect.
This isn’t just the club trying to be fancy with a play on words. This hole is unequivocally diabolical and about as demanding as a par 4 can be. Where do we even start?
How about with its brutal length? This thing tips out at 520 yards from the back tee, and there’s really nowhere to miss it if you expect to get anywhere near this green in regulation.
Drives need to favor the right side of the fairway, unless, of course, you can carry the ball 320 yards into the wind.
That’s what it’ll take to clear the collection of bunkers that hound the entire left side of this fairway, so you better be prepared to swing for the fences if you take that aggressive of a line.
There is a meandering sliver of a stream they call “7-Mile Creek” that juts across the end of the fairway and twists its way up towards the front-left corner of the green. Talk about a cool setting for a final hole; the green is sunken down in a natural amphitheater-like setting, providing all the drama one could ask for and then some.
In terms of a finishing hole, this is as good as it gets.
PGA Championships at Whistling Straits
This course was always destined to host major championships. Ever since Whistling Straits opened in 1998, it was only a matter of time until the Straits Course would receive the nod for either a U.S. Open or a PGA Championship.
The answer came just a few years into the existence of the course when the PGA of America announced that in 2004, Whistling Straits would host the year’s fourth major. See what happened that year, as well as the other two occasions in which the PGA Championship took place just outside Kohler, Wisconsin.
Nobody really knew what to expect the first time around. The course was essentially brand new, and the layout seemed much different than that of a traditional PGA. Generally, PGA Championship venues were known to be lush and tree-lined, many times held at private and exclusive country clubs.
Whistling Straits was not only a public property, but the place was also wide open and built against a massive lake, creating a “British Open-style” type of feel. The elements that players would have to contend with were significant wind and the obstacles presented by the natural terrain.
If the authorities in charge were hoping for an exciting finish and raving reviews, then they succeeded on both fronts. The 72 holes scheduled to be played wouldn’t be enough to decide the winner, as three men completed the event tied at 8-under-par.
Chris DiMarco was already in the clubhouse after posting 280, waiting to see if he would live to fight another day.
When Justin Leonard bogeyed the final hole and Vijay Singh made par, it was off to a three-hole aggregate playoff. After not making a birdie the entire day, the 54-hole leader finally notched his first on the 10th hole, the first hole of the playoff. After pars on 17 and 18, Vijay Singh had won his second Wanamaker Trophy and his third major overall.
Believe it or not, this victory marked the 6th time Singh had won that year, a total that would balloon all the way up to 9 by the time the 2004 PGA Tour season had ended.
Without a doubt, Vijay’s 2004 campaign was one of the most dominating years we have ever seen on tour. To put it in perspective, his 9 victories were 6 more than the 3 that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson had combined.
If the fans in Sheboygan appreciated some extra golf back in 2004, they’d be treated to more bonus action in 2010, the second time the PGA Championship was played at the Straits Course.
Interestingly enough, the 2010 PGA Championship was originally scheduled to be played at Sahalee Country Club, the course that hosted the 1998 PGA. However, as a direct result of the turnout at Whistling Straits a few months prior, the decision was made in early 2005 that the 2010 edition would be moved to the destination near Kohler.
The anticipation for this event was building, and the players and fans would have to wait even longer once Thursday morning arrived. A heavy fog in the air caused play to be delayed for nearly 4 hours.
Once play got underway, there were plenty of birdies to be had. Matt Kuchar’s 5-under-par 67 led the way, with a quartet of players right behind at -4.
While this was going on, a 25-year-old German named Martin Kaymer was quietly going about his business, shooting an opening round of even par, 72. It was after firing 67-68 during the middle two rounds that Kaymer had gotten within shouting distance of the lead.
Despite being -9, Martin found himself in a tie for 4th place, trailing Nick Watney by 4.
To say the final round was eventful would be a huge understatement, as 7 different golfers were at one point leading the golf tournament on that Sunday. The most unforgettable moment of the Championship came on the 72nd hole, just after the final pairing of Nick Watney and Dustin Johnson struck their tee shots.
Leading by a shot, Dustin Johnson grounded his club in what ended up being deemed a bunker. Instead of making a bogey and joining Kaymer and Bubba Watson in the playoff, DJ had to assume a two-stroke penalty and missed out on a chance to put his name on the Wanamaker Trophy.
The 15-foot par putt that Kaymer made on the 72nd hole proved to be huge. It meant he was off to a 3-hole aggregate playoff, just as was the case back in 2004.
After Kaymer and Watson exchanged a par and a birdie on the first two holes, the crown of PGA champ would come down to the 18th hole.
Bubba ended up hitting his approach short into Seven-Mile Creek and struggled just to make double-bogey. Seeing this unfold, Kaymer elected to play smart and lay up short of the hazard with his second shot. When he tapped in his putt for bogey, Martin’s dream of becoming a major champion was finally realized.
Ready for some ridiculously good scoring? Because that’s exactly what the fans in Sheboygan witnessed at the 2015 PGA Championship. In the first round alone, 14 men broke 70, while 35 men were able to shoot under par.
Once again, Dustin Johnson put his name in the mix at this golf course after opening with a sizzling round of 6-under-par, good enough for the solo-lead. Unfortunately for Dustin, his second-round 73 left him well off the pace that was being set. Aussie Matt Jones reached -11 by the time Friday had ended and was leading a fellow Aussie by 2.
That fellow Aussie was none other than Jason Day, who after shooting 68-67 over the first two days, got even better on Saturday. His 66 left him 2 shots clear of the field and in a final pairing on Sunday with the Golden Child, Jordan Spieth.
Considering that Jordan had two wins and a 4th place in the first 3 majors of the year in 2015, you could say that Day had his hands full on Sunday.
To the dismay of Spieth, the firepower that Jason Day brought to the course that final day was just too much and too exhausting for Spieth to keep up with. Jason got off to a red-hot start, birdieing 4 of his first 7 holes and stretching the lead out to 4 strokes.
The rest of the day provided little stress for someone who was running down their first major championship, but Jason just made it look easy that day.
You can see all the emotion finally pour out as Day erupts into tears after he holes the final putt. Day engages in a lengthy embrace with his longtime caddie and father figure, Colin Swatton. His wife Ellie and son Dash race onto the green to congratulate him, and the tears keep flowing. It was really quite the scene. Check it out for yourself below.
The 2021 Ryder Cup
Originally slated to take place in 2020, the festivities at Whistling Straits were pushed back to 2021.
As thrilling and invigorating as all three PGA Championships at the Straits Course have been, we don’t suspect any of the drama will compare to what happens in late September.
You can catch 12 of Europe’s best players against the world-class players from the United States at the 2021 Ryder Cup in what promises to be a tournament that will captivate us all.
Who will be part of each team which team will come out on top remains to be seen, but we sure as heck will be tuned in to see how it pans out!
Come to Kohler and Experience the American Club Resort
If you want to head to Kohler and be part of the 2020 Ryder Cup festivities, making plans to attend is easier than you think. If you want to stay at the astounding American Club Resort, it might end up being the best decision you ever made.
A trip to the American Club Resort when done right will not only include a round of 18 holes at the famous Straits Course we have been reveling about. Whistling Straits also has a sister track called the Irish Course, and it can be every bit as demanding, and it provides just as many breathtaking views.
Make sure you have time for two additional rounds because about 90 seconds from the resort in Kohler is Blackwolf Run, an undeniably remarkable piece of property in its own right.
Two courses are featured, the Meadow Valleys and the River, and both were also designed by Pete Dye. The River Course at Blackwolf Run is truly one of the hidden gems in the country and has some of the coolest holes we’ve ever seen.
In terms of public courses to play, we would put the River Course right up near the top; it’s that good.
As unbelievably good as all the golf is, one might say it pales in comparison to the warmth and the unparalleled hospitality exhibited at the American Club Resort. Known for its incredible spas and wellness treatments, it’s hard to explain just how amazing one feels when staying at the American Club.
The accommodations are second to none, and it’s right up there with Bandon Dunes as the premier golf vacation destination in the entire United States. As much as we can boast about the resort and surrounding golf courses on this page, you really ought to just experience it for yourself.
Forget about being disappointed. The experience is so good that it’s priceless. Fly into Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and just head north on the I-43 for about 55-60 miles, and you’ll run right into the American Club. The worst and saddest part about the trip will be when you’re packing up and it’s time to leave.
Some Lingering Thoughts
Trust us when we tell you that a trip Wisconsin that includes staying at the American Club Resort and teeing it up at the Straits Course is a trip that you need to add to your bucket list.
If you call yourself a fan of golf and enjoy golf vacations, this is a spot that you can’t skip out on. We told you all about the origins of when Herbert Kohler first brought in Pete Dye to fulfill his dream of creating a links-style track on the shores of Lake Michigan.
We even unveiled the course’s layout in a detailed fashion, thoroughly revealing five of the most noteworthy holes on the property. Transitioning into the three PGA Championships that have been played on the Straits Course was the obvious thing to do, as some of the highlights are more than worth reminiscing about.
The Ryder Cup is on its way to Whistling Straits, and you could be, too! As a final piece of advice, if you end up making the journey to the American Club Resort, under no circumstances leave without trying the Wisconsin cheese curds from The Horse & Plow.
The mouthwatering appetizer from the historic tavern located just a couple steps from the resort’s entrance will be a lasting part of the memory. We guarantee it!