Whistling Straits Hot Commodity in Golfing World

By Associated PressJanuary 25, 2005, 5:00 pm
For those who like to plan ahead, and we're not talking about putting snow tires on the car in August, the 2020 Ryder Cup will be played at Whistling Straits in the new golfing mecca of Wisconsin.

That's the same year Phil Mickelson is eligible for the Champions Tour.

'It is a long time out,' PGA of America president Roger Warren conceded. 'The last one we had, previous to that, would have been 2016.'

04 PGA ChampionshipMaybe the PGA should take its cue from the Olympics.

The IOC will meet later this year to select a site for the 2012 Olympics, giving the lucky city only seven years to prepare for the biggest spectacle in sports, played out over three weeks at three dozen venues involving thousands of athletes from more than 100 countries.

The Ryder Cup is 12 Europeans and 12 Americans playing golf for three days.

Alas, it wasn't just the Ryder Cup at the center of this scheduling insanity.

The PGA of America also announced that Whistling Straits would get the PGA Championship in 2010 and 2015, the quickest turnaround for golf's fourth major since it waited only four years to return to storied Valhalla.

But the issues run much deeper.

The most compelling competition in golf last week wasn't Tiger Woods against Tom Lehman in a sloppy duel in the fog at Torrey Pines. It was the PGA Championship against the U.S. Open -- one of them stopping at nothing to make Whistling Straits part of its landscape, the other not losing any sleep over it.

Some history on the course, and the competition for it:
Whistling Straits is the dream of Herb Kohler and the creation of Pete Dye. It is a spectacular, links-styled course stretching over 7,500 yards with more than 1,400 bunkers and sensational, limitless views of Lake Michigan.

It opened to rave reviews, and quickly courted the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

The PGA Championship already was booked for the next 10 years, but so what? PGA officials simply took the '04 tournament away from Valhalla and awarded it to Whistling Straits. There wasn't much outcry because the PGA of America owns Valhalla, and no one thinks much of Valhalla as a major championship course, anyway.

Whistling Straits indeed proved to be worth the fuss last year.

There were more than 300,000 spectators, only a dozen or so ankle injuries from walking the cliffside course, and a three-way playoff won by Vijay Singh.

It was so successful that the USGA became interested again.

With the U.S. Senior Open scheduled for Whistling Straits in 2007, the USGA was leaning toward taking the U.S. Open there in 2012. But the blue coats dragged their feet. They postponed the decision at a November meeting until the USGA annual meeting next month.

And that was all the time the PGA needed to swoop in.

First came the announcement that the 2010 PGA would not be played at Sahalee -- it had been on the schedule since 2000, by the way -- because it would conflict with the Winter Olympics behind held in Vancouver.

Sorry, but aren't the Winter Olympics held in the winter?

And if this is about having enough corporate money to go around, remember that the Olympics were awarded to British Columbia two years ago. Did the PGA of America just now figure that out?

'The consensus of everyone involved was that it would be very difficult to compete with the Olympics when you talk about corporate support,' Warren said. 'The decision to compete with the Olympics is not something we wanted.'

That didn't seem to hurt the 1980 PGA Championship at Oak Hill, only 280 miles away from Lake Placid.

Maybe that's because it was an era when the focus was on golf, not money.

And it's interesting that the PGA doesn't want to compete for corporate money with the Olympics. It sure didn't mind taking away from the women when it picked Hazeltine in Minnesota for the 2002 PGA Championship -- after the LPGA Tour had already announced the Solheim Cup would be played a month later at nearby Interlachen.

One can only suspect the PGA carried a win-at-all-cost attitude when it gave the shaft to Sahalee, a pretty, tree-lined course outside Seattle in an area starved for championship golf.

'We want to bring back a PGA event to Sahalee,' Warren said.

The PGA Championship has vacancies from 2012-14, and it's surprising the PGA of America didn't just pick one of those years -- unless it had some other PGA event in mind, like the Club Pro Championship.

Meantime, USGA executive director David Fay said he spoke to Kohler and Jim Awtrey, the outgoing CEO of the PGA, and offered them his sincere congratulations for their trifecta.

'I commend the PGA for identifying Whistling Straits early, taking the bold step of taking the PGA there last year and buttoning it up,' Fay said Tuesday. 'Once they got what seems to be a winner -- clearly, it's a winner in the eyes of the players, press and public -- it was a good move on their part.'

The USGA will move on with no shortage of great courses available.

Then again, the U.S. Open doesn't need a golf course to establish its identity.
 
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