Whistling Straits - Straits Course

Pete Dye

Alice Dye

Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, United States

Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, United States
Alice Dye

The Straits Course hosted last year’s Ryder Cup along with three PGA Championships (2004, 2010, 2015) and the U.S. Senior Open in 2007. Three months before the Americans took down the Europeans 19-9, the Straits played host to one golfer just trying to break 90 and not triple any hole despite there being over 1,000 bunkers on the course. 

Pete and Alice Dye’s Wisconsin links course sits on Lake Michigan about an hour north of Milwaukee as one of five courses that make up Destination Kohler. I played the course on a blustery fall day at 54 degrees with a cold, gusty wind in early July. The day before had been in the 90s, but the wind and weather only added to the links feel of the course. Much like the Pacific at Pebble or the Atlantic at Ballybunion or Lahinch, you can not only see the water on almost every hole, but you can feel it throughout the course. Inexplicably, Lake Michigan takes on a near-Caribbean color and clarity as viewed from the course. Even moreso with a threatening storm on the horizon for the back nine. 

Sidenote: I enjoyed a damn good pre-round cheeseburger and fries in the upstairs pub. I highly recommend it. The only thing I recommend more is a caddie. You’ll enjoy the course a lot more with someone knowing where to look for your ball and giving you accurate reads on the greens. 

Hole 1 – Outward Bound: The layout starts with a longer par 4 running down from the clubhouse towards the lake. While 405 yards from the blues, the 15 handicap hole doesn’t reveal too much as only about half of the 40 bunkers on the hole come into play. Don’t worry though as I found a bunker on the right, despite it not really being in play. From the blacks,it’s a different hole altogether from at 493 and hitting across a ravine. 

Hole 2 – Cross Country: The 533-yard par 5 takes you down to the water, or at least it feels that way. It’s the first of many holes where you feel as though the fairway hangs over Lake Michigan, only to find there’s another hole below, between you and the shoreline. The bunkers stand taller and dive deeper, and don’t take kindly to strangers. The fairway felt narrow from the tee but opens up in the middle before tightening around the green with, you guessed it, lots of bunkers. 

Hole 3 – O’man: This is a fun little par 3 with a beautiful coastline view from the red, white, and green tees. It’s picturesque to say the least, but from the blue and black tees, it’s 180 to 188 with the wind coming off the lake. 

Hole 4 – Glory: According to Pete Dye, “It oughta play as a good long par 4.” The #1 handicap plays along the water but there’s no fear of hitting into lake Michigan since it’s well protected from attack by a series of bunkers and tall grass cover. A 451-yard par 4 from the blues, the hole is as dramatic as it is difficult. 

Hole 5 – The Snake: This hole is a puzzling choice to me. Unless they needed an irrigation pond in this spot, there is absolutely no reason to introduce water on this hole, much less twice. The fairway wraps between two oddly placed ponds sitting a few stories above the beautiful blue of Lake Michigan. (Trust me, it’s a different color here than Chicago.) The Snake is reminiscent of PGA West’s Double Trouble, which is a great hole, but the double dogleg doesn’t make sense here, nor do the ponds. The approach shot over water into the narrow green was a lot of fun, but the full hole ranks last by a long shot and feels like a single mistake on a course full of great holes.

Hole 6 – Gremlin’s Ear: Dogleg right with lots of room on the left side and bunkers plus a blind approach on the right side of the fairway. One guess where I went? While the drone footage looks great. This is actually a fairly forgettable hole as I didn’t recall anything but the name and had to go look at the flyover. 

Hole 7 – Shipwreck: The aptly named hole is a postcard par 3 that feels carved out of the shore. The fairly large green isn’t so large from 205, but missing it in any direction makes the hole less beautiful in a hurry. Still only the second best par 3 on the course, trailing 17. 

Hole 8 – On the Rocks: The 8th feels hidden from the rest of the course, resting on a shelf between the 2nd hole and the lake, until you walk up to it from #7 green. Deep bunkers and a steep dropoff to the water are intimidating off the tee. A blind landing and 470 yards from tee to green add to the challenge. There green is open in the front so it’s an easier entry point to roll on from way back. It’s a very cool par 4. As I write this several months later, I don’t recall what I shot on the hole but I clearly remember the view. 

Hole 9 – Down and Dirty: The clubhouse looms over the green as you make your way back to the start. The big tree on the right is home to two juvenile bald eagles. Bunkers and a stream protect the right side of the green with dunes and bunkers guarding the right. It’s a pretty hole that funnels drives back to the fairway. At 404, the par 4 is a bit of a respite and a decent chance at par if you can land your approach shot. 

The Turn: In Wisconsin, it’s probably worse to dog the bratwurst than the course so I’m afraid to even say it, but I immediately regretted the free brat. Instant issues and then on to the 10th. 

Hole 10 – Voyageur: Shorter par 4 falling away from the clubhouse with an elevated, well-protected green. There’s a fair bit of risk/reward with the dropoff along the leftside of the fairway, bunkers short of the green for anyone aiming for driver-wedge, and lots of trouble if the pin is anywhere but the middle of the green. 

Hole 11 – Sand Box: Saying “watch out for the sand” on 11 is like telling an NFL QB to watch out for Aaron Donald. There’s an endless bunker on the left and the fairway can kick drives to bunkers lined up all along the right. There’s also a death bunker short left of the green. It a good hole but a little too much luck is involved on your try at it. 

Hole 12 – Pop Up: Easiest par 3 on the course as the #18 handicap. A large, undulating green sits a mere 138 yards away. Avoiding the 3-putt and the sharp drop off to the bunkers right of the green keep it interesting.

Hole 13 – Cliff Hanger: The name says it all. The 13th is visually stunning and fun to play although a bit intimidating off the tee. A.well played fade shortens the hole quickly and a miss right won’t kill you. A big miss left puts you in deep traps or a steep downward lie. 

Hole 14 – Widow’s Watch: With 12, 13, and 14, this stretch gives your scorecard a break before the march home. As the easiest par 4 on the back, 14 shows as a birdie opportunity right until you hit into a bunker. 

Hole 15 – Grand Strand: Take a breath. You’re about to play some golf. The four finishing holes are full of fun and f-bombs. The par 4 15th is wider than it looks but is more of a second shot hole. The green is open in the front so you can roll your long iron approach shot on or bump and run your third shot if you came up short. 

Hole 16 – Endless Bite: The shortest par 5 turned into a long beach for me. I hit three bunkers – one right, one left, and one by the green. Still bogeyed the hole somehow. I don’t think my caddie had seen anyone play with such a solid mix of “wow, nice shot” and “wow, I’ve never seen anyone hit it there before.” 

Hole 17 – Pinched Nerve: If 17 at PGA West is Alcatraz, this is Chateau d’If. It’s an island green but surrounded by walls instead of water. I’ll say it’s a beautiful hole since I birdied it by stopping my shot 15 feet away and dropping the putt. 

Hole 18 – Dyeabolical: This is the most confusing hole from the tee with a split fairway I couldn’t see half until I was in the other fairway. My caddie told me it was there but I just didn’t believe him and went right instead. The left, mostly invisible fairway is the better approach into a green that resembles the Navarone with all of its defenses including three sections of the same creek snaking just short of the green/bunker complex. Even though it reads like a mystery, it’s a great final page to The Straits. 

Nature note: Look for the two juvenile bald eagles that live in the tree along the right side of the fairway. 

The Straits course is polarizing and often labeled as manufactured but I really enjoyed riding the struggle bus all over this links layout. The only real negative I can say is that many of the holes don’t distinguish themselves from one another but the course overall is a great layout, a really fun round of golf, and well worth the trip. It’s far and away my favorite of the half dozen Pete Dye courses I’ve played and was ideal for Ryder Cup play. Best in Wisconsin? Not sure until I play Erin Hills and a few others. I also need to actually stay at The American Club and play at The Irish and Blackwolf Run after a follow-up round at The Straits.

Chris Austin — Founder, Editor, Writer, Average Golfer