Travel to Whistling Straits, America’s Toughest Public Course

The 18th tee at the always challenging Whistling Straits overlooks the clubhouse and restaurant.

Even if you don’t play golf — even if you’ve never picked up a club and have no desire to do so as long as you live — it’s worth a joinery to Whistling Straits along the shores of Lake Michigan in quiet Kohler, Wisconsin.

Ranked by multiple services as the most difficult public course in the United States, Whistling Straits will play host to a Major next year (the 2015 PGA Championship). Still, it remains open for public play until the end of this month.

Whistling Straits offers two courses — the PGA-level Straits and the challenging, but more accessible Irish. While the Irish involves more of a parkland feel, both 18s are traditional UK-style links style courses. For the initiated, if you want to get a feel for what links courses offer, check out my run through Wales a couple summers ago. The facility hosts more than 80,000 rounds per year, and the facilities remain open until New Year’s Eve once the course closes for winter.

Suffice to say, the Straits course (designed by the legendary Pete Dye) is laid out to punish a golfer who makes a poor shot. The 18 holes offer endless hills, abundant sand and precious few even lies. It’s the kind of course an amateur should not play on a quest for low scores. They should head out to experience playing a course that challenges the greatest golfers in the world. And, they should come for the idyllic views of a long, unspoiled stretch of Lake Michigan.

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The course will kick you if you make the slightest error. U-shaped greens stand separated by bunkers. Tees stand separated from fairway by golf ball eating Fescue. A hook can put you in the lake. A slice introduces you to fairway length beach. Dye’s courses always look to challenge a golfer’s courage and aggressiveness. The risk is another sleeve of balls, but the gain is overwhelming when you nail a scary shot.

For me, I saved the highlight for 18 – a long, split fairway playing downhill into the clubhouse. After hitting a lucky drive that bounced an extra 30 yards down toward the hole, I nailed a clean 7 iron to within 20 feet of the pin. On in regulation. That’s all I need to remember from my gorgeous round.

There’s much to offer the non-golfer at The Straits. There those same vistas, the friendly Whistling Straights Restaurant and a well-appointed pro shop loaded with gifts celebrating the upcoming PGA Championship.

Dirk Willis, Associate Director of Golf at Whistling Straits, said the course began preparing for the PGA in last year while remaining continuously open for play.

“Most of the work of preparing for a Major is making sure you have the space and facilities for all of the events and hospitality needs that come with a Major,” Willis added. “And, we’ll keep those facilities ready for when we host the 2020 Ryder Cup.”

I leave you with a few more looks at this extraordinary patch of sportsman’s real estate.