The Straits at Whistling Straits Golf Course Review

50 Words or Less

The Straits Course at Whistling Straits is the crown jewel of Destination Kohler in Wisconsin.  A multiple major venue and site of the Ryder Cup, this course can challenge any golfer.

Introduction

There are few things that the traveling golfer likes more than being able to test their game on the same courses that the pros play.  The Straits Course at Whistling Straits provides golfers with just that kind of opportunity.  The home of the three PGA Championships and the 2020 Ryder Cup is a beauty and a brute and a course that every golfer will want to check off their bucket list.

Practice Facilities

When you go to a top-rated course you expect great practice facilities, and Whistling Straits delivers.  There’s a huge range just a handful of steps from the clubhouse.  If you’re playing on a windy day, make sure you get a sense of how it will affect your distance and direction.

On your walk back to the first tee, you can stop at one of two putting greens to get a feel for the speed of the greens.

Customer Service & Amenities

Whistling Straits is home to one of the most beautiful clubhouses I’ve seen.  The two story stone building houses the Whistling Straits restaurant and the pro shop.  When there’s a frost delay, the fire in the pro shop becomes a very popular attraction.

Next to the clubhouse is the Whistling Straits Irish Barn, a venue for large groups and weddings.  With a view that overlooks holes 9 and 18 on The Straits, it would be a dream site for a golfer’s nuptials.

The Straits is a walking-only course, and a caddie is required.  All the caddies we interacted with were models of professionalism.  I never had to wait for a club or a yardage, and they were a pleasure to walk and converse with.

While Whistling Straits does carry a hefty green fee during peak season, they do offer substantial discounts on the shoulder seasons.  If you’re thinking of hosting a Ryder Cup-style event with your friends, you couldn’t ask for a better spot than the site of the actual Ryder Cup.

Beauty & Scenery

Whistling Straits has the benefit of being located on Lake Michigan.  For those not from the Midwest, that’s as good as being on the ocean for boundless views of the water.  Pete Dye makes great use of this gift by placing half of the holes directly on the lake and providing views of it from many more.

What makes Whistling Straits aesthetically interesting is the contrast between the serene beauty of the lake and the wild elevation and manic bunkering on the land.  The other intriguing disparity is that the course allows you to see forever in every direction, but the winding routing of each hole provides constant surprises.

Finally, Whistling Straits has one of the most whimsical touches I’ve encountered on a golf course: a flock of sheep.  The sheep have free reign over both The Straits and The Irish, and if seeing them grazing doesn’t put a little smile on your face, you may be taking things a bit too seriously.

Tee Shots

That picture above shows your tee shot on #8 if you’re playing from the pro tees.  That’s a nice way of saying, “Don’t play from the pro tees.”  At 7,790 yards, this course is absolutely insane from the tips.  Even the blue tees, at 7,142, are probably too much for anyone who doesn’t have above average length and ball striking.

Regardless of where you tee it up, the defining characteristic of the fairways at The Straits is movement.  They slither, angle, pinch, and dip to provide targets that look (and are) difficult to hit.  The Straits is not as visually deceptive as The River Course at Blackwolf Run, but the shots it demands are harder.  The difference between missing the fairway and finding your ball in the deep trouble is not large.

Approaches

To play successful approach shots at The Straits, you need both good course management instincts and a sound knowledge of your game.  And, of course, the ability to execute quality shots.  The picture above illustrates why: every green has at least one side that you cannot play from.  Whether its water, bunkers, elevation, or a combination of the three, Pete Dye uses penal hazards to force force you into risk/reward decisions.

Mr. Dye shows no favoritism when it comes to shot shapes or player types.  There are elevated greens and approaches that play down hill.  Hazards are equally distributed around all sides of the greens.  Players at The Straits will love the variety, and it’s also a key part of the challenge.

The one saving grace is that, if you’re playing from the fairway, you generally have a good lie and a fair view of the target.  Playing from anywhere else, however, is another story, as you see above.

Greens & Surrounds

When you’re on the greens at The Straits, they seem to be about average in size, though they hardly appear that large from the fairway.  There are plenty of interesting breaks and a handful of multi-tiered greens, but overall the greens are the one area where you can catch your breath on The Straits.

The surrounds typically have one safe zone and a lot of penal hazards.  Being short of the green above is not a problem; left, right, and long make par a near impossibility.  Before you head out to The Straits, make sure you’re able to capably play out the sand and put an emphasis on elevating the ball quickly.

Overall Design

Whistling Straits is a course that cannot be tamed without top tier ball striking.  Good course management and a sound short game can limit some of the damage, but you simply can’t make many pars without hitting fairways and greens.

Favorite Holes

#5 – Snake – Par 5

Shown above, this par 5 is named for its winding fairway.  Regardless of how you play it, every shot requires full focus, and the approach is a nail biter no matter what angle or yardage you play from.

#6 – Gremlin’s Ear – Par 4

I’ve never seen a green as dramatic as this.  If you find yourself in the middle of the horseshoe, you’ll be ten feet below the putting surface.  It’s a short hole but by no means easy.

#8 – On The Rocks – Par 4

I love this hole almost purely for the aesthetics.  The view from the pro tees is a great reminder of exactly how good those guys are.  The approach shot, played out into the lake, is jaw dropping.

Conclusion

The Straits at Whistling Straits is a golf course that tests you physically and mentally for 18 holes.  If you want to see how your game compares to the best in the world, there are few better places to go.  And if you just want to say you’ve played at the same course that has hosted majors and a Ryder Cup, move up a tee box and enjoy the variety of devious elements that Pete Dye has place in this beautiful locale.

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

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