Parts of Whistling Straits Too Severe

By Brian HewittAugust 9, 2004, 4:00 pm
It was two weeks before the PGA Championship would begin and Paul Azinger was animated. He stood straight up in his shoes and tilted his neck back, as if to look at a skyline.
Its like the first time you go to New York City, he said, eyes widening. Your first reaction is how did they build this?
Azinger was talking about Whistling Straits, Pete Dyes lakeside attraction near Sheboygan, Wisc., and the venue for this years fourth major that will commence, with an immense amount of attendant foofaraw Thursday morning by the bonnie banks of Lake Michigan.
Impressive, said Azinger, a former PGA champion. Very impressive. Azinger had stopped off at Whistling Straits before crossing the lake to play in the Buick Open. He said he had liked the course very much.
Many of the other players who had done the same thing had politely disagreed.
Having been to Whistling Straits several times myself, I had enjoyed the linksy feel of the place and the sense of immersion in golf that most of the holes provide. But I had a few problems with the design as well.
As David Feherty once told me, Every golf course is allowed to have at least one bad hole.
Azinger and I agreed that hole at Whistling Straits was the 490-yard 18th that will play longer than 500 yards if the PGA of America so chooses. I have yet to see the player whose eye fits the 18th at Whistling Straits.
I am also dubious about the playability of the ninth green complex. These guys are good. But this one is too severe.
And then theres the fifth hole, a 598-yard par 5 that seems to serve little purpose other than to turn Dyes routing back to the north. It is very much a target golf hole and out of place.
I agree with you on that one, Azinger said. I made double.
All of Dyes lakeside holes at Whistling Straits run north-south or south-north. I would love to have seen just one go west-east with the lake as a backdrop for the players approach.
All of that having been said, Whistling Straits is a surpassing achievement and a rarity. Its a golf course that doesnt need to be tricked up to challenge the worlds best players (its my fervent hope they will bring a Ryder Cup to this place some year). And its a golf course, with multiple and graduated tee boxes, that the average golfer can play as well.
The winning score will be a strict function of how hard and how often the wind blows. Architect Dye thinks the low number will be in the eight to 10 under range. Defending champion Shaun Micheel, who visited Whistling Straits in June, said Dye must have been having a senior moment when he made that prediction.
Other, more dire, predictions have pegged the winning number at eight to 10 over par. The weather charts try and comfort us by saying mid-August is the least windy time of the year near Sheboygan. None of the players are counting on that.
If they want to make fools of us, said rising young British pro Paul Casey, they will be able to do so at Whistling Straits.
The sanest comment I have heard to date about this weeks PGA Championship is this: The winner may or may not be the best player in the field but he will be the most patient.
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