PGA Championship Preview: Whistling Straits Is Scotland in Wisconsin
Deep pot bunkers, vast sandy areas, huge undulating greens, a strong, unpredictable wind coming off the water, tall native grasses on sharp dunes. Sound like Scotland?
Yes? Well, how about Wisconsin?
Whistling Straits, the Pete and Alice Dye design in Kohler, Wisconsin on the banks of Lake Michigan, will again host the year's final major championship. Whistling Straits hosted the PGA Championship in 2004, and after this year will again host the event in 2015. The links course in the heartland of America is also scheduled to host the Ryder Cup matches in 2020.
The long par 72, 7,500+ yard course boasts over two miles of continuous shoreline on the banks of Lake Michigan. The PGA Championship will be played on the Straits course. The other course at Whistling Straits is the Irish Course.
The wind, just like any Scottish coastal course, is a huge factor in determining the severity of the golf course on any particular day. Just like at St. Andrews this year during the first round of the British Open, if the wind isn't blowing the course can be had. In 2004 the winds were fairly mild the first three days and scoring was good. However, the winds picked up, along with the scores, for the final round on Sunday.
In 2004, Vijay Singh won his second PGA Championship, outlasting Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco in a three-hole playoff. Singh has not won a major title of any kind since, and 2010 has seen his game drop-off considerably. The world's former number one ranked player is currently ranked 72nd.
Singh will be grouped with defending champion Y.E. Yang and the struggling Tiger Woods for the first two rounds Thursday and Friday.
Another interesting grouping will be of the year's three major winners playing together; Phil Mickelson, who won the Masters, Graeme McDowell, the U.S. Open winner, and the surprise runaway winner of the British Open, Louis Oosthuizen.
The unofficial signature hole at Whistling Straits in the par three 17th, a 223 yard well-guarded true test. The left side of the hole is guarded by bunkers and sand dunes that drop 20 feet below the green. On the right more bunkers and dunes on a steep hillside. In front of the green is a large, elevated dune, and behind the green it drops off to the lake.
The finishing hole features a change for this year's tournament. A risk-reward element has been added to the 18th. The 500-yard par four now offers a high-risk shortcut in a 300-yard carry over bunkers along the left-side to a narrowing fairway at the dogleg.
Pete Dye also made a change to hole number six. He moved a deep bunker in front of the middle of the green to alter the drivable par four.
The golf course superintendent at Whistling Straits is CGCS Michael Lee. According to the Golf Course Superintendent's Association of America (GCSAA), Lee has the course in perfect condition.
Lee said in a statement to the GCSAA that the bentgrass greens were rolling a smooth 11 on the stimpmeter. Any faster, with the undulations of the huge putting surfaces, would be unfair. He also said the fine-fescue rough would be anywhere from four to six inches long.
Something tells me the winning score next Sunday will not be anywhere in the neighborhood of the seven-under par Singh, DiMarco and Leonard managed six years ago.
An interesting fact: Golf Digest recently made an attempt to count every bunker at Whistling Straits. Doesn't sound like a hard thing to do, right? Well, Ron Whitten at Golf Digest says in the August issue of the magazine that he may be the first to try. The final number he came up with? 967.
Sounds to me like practicing on your sand game may have been a prudent thing to do heading into the 92nd PGA Championship.
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