REVIEW: Whistling Straits Golf Course, WI - Straits & Irish

The Best in WI + The Best in the World
WI has become one of the top states in the US for golf. Growing up in WI, I would have never imagined the golf powerhouse that WI has become. Sure we had golf courses, but nothing screamed come to WI and play golf. The Kohler family really changed that when they built Blackwolf Run. After success was found in the town of Kohler, they set their sights on an abandoned piece of land along Lake Michigan. The bland blank slate was reshaped by Pete Dye into one of the most dramatic waterfront golf courses in the world. Whistling Straits immediately became a gem in the golf world. The outstanding design has been reward with hosting the best golfers in the world: PGA championships and coming in 2020 the Ryder Cup. This public course allows anyone to play the best golf course in WI and the same holes the best in the world have played.
1. Straits Course
The Straits course is the creme de la creme when it comes to golf anywhere in the world.  The location and design are absolutely outstanding.  While I’ve heard of some golf “purist” who turn their nose at the course since it was manufactured via millions of tons of sand which were trucked in, they are missing the joy and beauty of Pete Dye did.  The course doesn’t feel unnatural, but actually it appears to have been there the whole time, it blends in perfectly with the surrounding topography as well as the shoreline.  With 8 holes on the water and a few more that feel close to the water, it really makes excellent use of the lake shore.  The routing has you switching back and forth and requires every club in the bag.  The finishing holes for each nine make great use of some inland terrain and views from the clubhouse.

2. 2020 Ryder Cup
Whistling Straits has already hosted 3 PGA championships which have all been awesome on TV or in person.  The Ryder Cup event will be even bigger and better.  The crowds will be treated to a spectacular golf course, the worlds best golfers and the best format on the planet.  The rugged terrain is balanced with well thought out pathways and access routes between holes for great viewership.  The early fall weather in WI will offer some challenges to the golfers as well which will add to the drama.  There a few new tee-boxes and the large greens have exciting pin placements for each day of the event.  There is plenty of space for spectators and the course sets up great for team play. But what really excites me about this Ryder Cup is the fact that you can go and play there before or after the event on the same holes they are playing.  You might even be able to find one of the 1000 bunkers that the pros will hit into. 

3. Irish Course
This “not so” hidden gem doesn’t get much recognition because it lives in the shadow of the Straits course.  If you play both courses you will rave and remember the Straits course, but if the Irish course were moved 100 miles away as a stand alone course, it would generate discussion and rave reviews as well.  Sure it doesn’t have the lake shore, but the creative design, fun routing and challenging holes really make this an enjoyable round.  Again golf “purists” don’t appreciated the manufactured Irish course, but personally, who cares, just enjoy what is there.  It is fairly wide, a little more forgiving and yet is visually beautiful.  It is up and down,  and around dunes and lakes and hills and valleys.  Every hole has you thinking about your game yet it is fairly straight forward in front of you.  Almost every hole you can see the challenge, it is more about choosing wisely how to play each shot.

4. Experience
The Whistling Straits Golf Experience is top shelf from start to finish.  Upon arrival the starter shack takes care of you the rest of your time there.  If you need anything, they will take care of you or point you in the right direction.  They are friendly, helpful and fun.  You can pretty much park your car and they will guide you through your day of golf on property.  There are a couple putting greens nearby, they range is a less than a 100 yards away and both 1st tees are just down the path behind the shed.  There are caddies for your round on the Straits and there are carts or caddies for your round on the Irish.

5. Conditions
WI can have harsh weather which at times makes course management difficult.  But the sandy soil that was used to form the courses makes for great drainage and excellent turf conditions year round.  The grounds crew at Whistling Straits knows what they are doing since every tee box, every fairway and every green was smooth, groomed and consistent.  The turf is in great shape, even coming out of harsh winter.  I was impressed with how well it held up while playing in the rain.  There was minimal pooling or soggy turf, even in some heavy rain.  The one thing I would recommend is a “rock” club.  I’m used to carrying one of those in AZ, but the waste areas are plentiful at Whistling Straits and they have rocks.  While you can pick up and remove the visible ones by your golf ball, it is the hidden ones that ding the bottom of your forged irons.  I can’t fault them for not screening the 1000s of bunkers on property, but I also don’t want to damage my clubs.

6. Food and Beverage
This is another area where the course shines, they have amazing food in the clubhouse.  While we chose to grab a simple lunch in the Pub upstairs, it still was some of WI’s finest food.  The double bratwurst sandwich is outstanding.  They also serve 2 unique brews: Spotted Cow which is only sold in WI and Jigger Ale which can only be had at Whistling Straits in the US.  This goes along with a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner on property.  The outdoor terrace dining room has great views of golfer coming up holes 9 and 18.  The rustic farmhouse style clubhouse has an old world setting that just feel right.  Don’t expect to grab a hotdog and go, but sit down and enjoy quality food at a beautiful location.

7. Unique Features
Whistling Straits in nor your typical golf experience.  You will be in for a real treat with some unique features throughout your round.  The first feature that will become obvious when booking your tee-time is that they prefer you take caddies. The caddie experience is great and these are not high-schoolers making some spending money, these are professionals who make there living looping each day. While the caddie experience isn’t common for many golfers, remember to enjoy it.  They have seen better and worse golfers and their number 1 job is to help you play better golf.  If you choose to take a cart on the Irish it is cart path only.  (I was glad we did for the protection from the rain during our round)  The bathrooms all feel like “Hobbit” houses.  Each one is built into a hill and tucked well out of sight from the course.  They also have some special law mowers, sheep.  The flock of sheep are let out each morning to roam the property.  They wear bells so you know where they are. 

8. Location
Whistling Straits feels like one of the more accessible great courses in the US.  While I love Bandon and Pebble, traveling to those courses seems much more difficult and certainly more expensive.  You can fly in to Chicago, Milwaukee or Green Bay and with a short drive to Whistling Straits you won’t feel like you had to jump through hoops to get there, but yet on arrival you will feel miles away from everything else without being in the middle of nowhere.  If you want to do more than golf while in WI, sporting events and cultural experiences are just a short drive in either direction from Whistling Straits.  The central location makes this a great spring, summer or fall destination for golf.

9. Play where the pros play NOW!
The Pros play on golf courses that the majority of golfers will never be able to have access to. Whistling Straits however is open the public.  Yes it is not a place that most people can afford to play regularly, but this bucket list course should be at the top of you list of “must plays.”  The 2020 Ryder Cup will be even more enjoyable if you have played the course.  This spring is a perfect time with some reduced rates until the prime season starts.  They often run some specials in the fall too.  The best deal is grab one of the multiple round packages that include on-site lodging.

You might not feel like you are in WI when you play Whistling Straits.  The rugged and beautiful terrain that butts up against the surprisingly colorful Lake Michigan makes for a setting that is unlike anything else in WI and certainly one of the best in all the world.   YES, the Straits course is all it is cracked up to be and then some, but don’t sleep on the Irish course, you will enjoy that unique course too.  If you want to take in all four Kohler courses, check out the various packages to add Blackwolf Run to your WI golf trip.  When you walk off the 18th green at Whistling Straits, you are going to have some memories that will stick with you a lifetime.  It is truly a memorable experience as the best in WI and one of the best in the world.

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