Kohler, Wis.—The PGA Championship returns to Whistling Straits for the third time since 2004 and the final major of the 2015 golf season showcases the handiwork of legendary architect Pete Dye and the devilish layout he created for owner Herb Kohler on the banks of Lake Michigan—about 7 miles north of Sheboygan.
Whistling Straits is testament to Dye’s incredible talents in shaping a former U.S. Army anti-aircraft training facility called Camp Haven. The camp was present for approximately nine years during the 1950s. Before that it was pancake-flat farmland. The 560-acres was literally brought to life by Dye and consists of two-18-hole courses—The Straits and The Irish. The PGA Championship will once again be played on The Straits, which opened in July 1998 will play to a maximum yardage of 7,514 and to a par of 72.
Dye created a faux links for both layouts, with The Straits having numerous bunkers that defy total count. The layout weaves its way in an out and back circle for both the outward and inward nines. Eight holes of The Straits course hug Lake Michigan with 2 miles of uninterrupted shoreline and views from all 18 holes. In addition to the plethora of bunkers, The Straits includes various man-made dunes varying in size and location. The course has no trees of consequence and winds can easily sweep through the property at varying velocities.
Throughout his long and storied career, Dye is one of the few architects able to get into the heads of world class touring golf professionals. Dye has successfully crafted holes manifesting sheer terror for any player with the slightest of hesitation in execution. The Straits can be set up in any manner by PGA Chief Championships Officer Kerry Haigh. In years past, Haigh has smartly balanced sheer difficulty in concert with sensible scoring probabilities. Driving the ball for both length and accuracy will be a major point of emphasis.
Second Hole—593 Yards Par-5: Cross County
The second hold on The Straits provides an opportunity for players to get momentum going for the round. The hole is reachable in two shots if wind conditions are cooperative. The hole favors a right-to-left ball movement off the tee—getting this done allows you to see the distant target. The key rests with the second shot if the fairway is successfully reached. A solitary pot bunker is roughly 35 yards short of the hole and players will need to pay heed because going into this bunker will mean the loss of at least one stroke. The green is slightly elevated with bunkers protecting the left side and a large swale on the right which will funnel balls away for those who are too bold with their approaches. The second can provide a real jumpstart to a round—and it will provide a clear indicator on who is able to get things started early on with his round.
Fourth Hole—493 Yards Par-4: Glory
The fourth played as the second most difficult hole with a 4.47 stroke average in the 2010 PGA Championship and its demands will once again take center stage. The key is again getting into the fairway. The hole is protected by a large mound, which pinches in the drive zone at roughly 300 yards. Getting to the left side is imperative as this provides an easier approach. The main issue is that overplaying one’s hand to the left side can mean bogeys or worse. For players who have built momentum over the first three holes the fourth could well mean whether such strides continue or end quickly.
17th Hole—223 yards Par-3: Pinched Nerve
Named most appropriately, the 17th was the fourth most demanding hole during the last PGA Championship five years ago. With the hole in the penultimate position, the need for a solid play from the tee will be essential. Players will stand on an elevated tee and see Lake Michigan to their left and a green that is far from generous in terms of overall size. No question given the hole location the wherewithal to make a solid play will be dictated by the circumstances of the championship and the weather conditions Mother Nature provides. Making a par here will be a demanding chore for all contestants.
18th Hole—500 yards Par-4: Dyeabolical
Aptly named, the toughest hole from the previous PGA Championship here with a 4.51 stroke average. Given its position as the final hole, the outcome of the event may well happen here. The hole plays perpendicular to the Lake Michigan shoreline. Players have options at the tee—they can elect to play the more prudent play which is down the right side. Nonetheless, getting into the fairway is an essential element because of the length of the approach—200 or more yards for the overwhelming number of players.
The more daring shot is a 300-yard carry over a series of bunkers, which guard the left side—there is an alleyway that if hit can propel the ball even further, leaving a very short second. In all likelihood, few players will attempt to go this route and opt for the more conventional way to play.
The putting surface is also quite large and failure to play an accurate approach will leave a possible long and twisting putt. The final hole played a pivotal role in the last two PGA’s played here—expect no less this week.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.