Public Access Whistling Straits - COPIED

By Erik PetersonDecember 13, 2010, 8:53 pm
KOHLER, Wis. – If a plumber said he planned to build a golf resort in Wisconsin that would rival Pebble Beach, he’d be laughed out of the room. Fifteen years ago Herb Kohler, the venerable president of Kohler Company, had such a vision and this summer the Straits Course at his beloved Whistling Straits is already hosting its second PGA Championship.

Not bad for a cheesehead.

In addition to bold, the Straits is all things a championship course should be: Scenic and demanding, with a dozen or more holes that make you say, “Wow.”

Despite its glory, however, perhaps its most important characteristic is that it’s open to the public. In fact, this summer, for the first time in history, the U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship all take place at venues open to the public.

Whether you’re a PGA Tour star, a middle-aged couple from Toronto, or a quadriplegic who’s a nearby resident, Whistling Straits is your golf course. But before being introduced to the people who enjoy visiting Whistling Straits, you need to know about Pete Dye, the crazy man who built it.

When Kohler approached Dye about designing Whistling Straits he asked him to do what Dye does best:  The impossible. The site, an abandoned 560-acre airfield along Lake Michigan, was a flat wasteland that looked more like the surface of the moon than PGA Championship staples like Southern Hills or Medinah.

That is, until Dye got his hands on it.

'I should say this with some degree of modesty. But in my lifetime I've never seen anything like this. Anyplace. Period,' Dye gushed in 1998 prior to the opening of the Straits Course.

Amazing what an unlimited budget and 13,000 truckloads of sand can do for you.

“Pete Dye has always made the most of the glorious possibilities that the land affords,” Kohler said. “He is nature’s best collaborator and this time, he has truly outdone himself.”

The Straits Course is the crown jewel of the American Club, the only AAA five-diamond resort in the Midwest. But its other three courses – Irish and two at Blackwolf Run – are no slouches either. Each is considered one of America’s 20-best public golf courses and the River Course at Blackwolf Run will host its second U.S. Women’s Open in 2012.

Kohler’s trio rivals Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Spanish Bay. In fact, Bandon Dunes is the only other golfing trio that garners such high praise, but the hotel accommodations there are like college dorms compared with the American Club.

For husband and wife Eric Kay and Gloria MacDonald, the comparison of Whistling Straits to Pebble Beach was something they wanted to judge for themselves. Since marrying in 2004, they’ve been on a mission to experience the best golf courses they can find – including Pebble Beach, which was tops on their list before visiting Kohler.

He, a Toronto attorney, and she, the owner of a Canadian dating website, have the likes of Bandon Dunes, Ireland and Scottsdale on their golf vacationing résumé, but after playing the Straits this spring on a sun-soaked 80-degree afternoon they both admitted Kohler’s three championship golf courses have taken over the top spot.

When asked to compare Pebble Beach with Kohler, their joviality was as evident as the sky was blue that day.

“There’s no comparison,” Gloria beamed from the clubhouse patio that overlooks the ninth and 18th greens at the Straits. “This is 10 times better than Pebble Beach.”

“The Straits Course is in better shape than Pebble and there aren’t any weak holes here,” Eric added.

While they agreed the majestic ocean views of Pebble Beach are unequalled, they were enamored by Pete Dye’s design at the Straits, where mighty Lake Michigan is visible from the tee or green on every hole and an eye-popping 1,200 bunkers litter the rugged landscape. Grassy dunes frame holes like imposing natural walls.

Whistling Straits has the treachery of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and the raw, natural hazards of Kiawah’s Ocean Course.

When the world’s best golfers got their first glimpse of Whistling Straits at the 2004 PGA Championship, benign conditions the first three days gave way to a brutally windy Sunday. Though Vijay Singh ended up winning in a playoff, his first birdie of the final round didn’t come until the playoff. Chris DiMarco was the only player in the final nine groups to break par that day.

Whistling Straits had lived up to its blustery name and the golf world took notice. The following year Whistling Straits was awarded the 2010 PGA Championship, becoming the first public venue to re-host the championship so quickly. In 2015 it will re-break that record by hosting again, and it will also host the 2020 Ryder Cup.

Three majors and a Ryder Cup before its 22nd birthday? Tiger Woods wasn’t that good, that fast.

But you don’t even have to play the golf course to be inspired by Whistling Straits. Twenty-six-year-old Adam Spenner of Jackson, Wis., is a quadriplegic and breathes with the aid of a ventilator, but that hasn’t stopped him from experiencing all that Whistling Straits has to offer.

At age 3, an astrocytoma brain tumor took away Spenner’s ability to stand and speak, but while he and his family became regular attendees of the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee he developed a love for the sport, despite the fact that he’s unable to hold a golf club.

That doesn’t matter to Spenner. He just loves golf.

At the 2004 PGA Championship, Spenner caught national attention when Phil Mickelson stopped to chat with him during one of his rounds. The poignant mid-round gesture, almost unheard of during an event of such magnitude, created quite a stir among surrounding spectators and put the two in the middle of a mob scene that looked more like Phil and Tiger. Instead, it was Phil and Adam.

Since then Spenner has returned to Whistling Straits on a monthly basis to have lunch with his family. In a thank you letter to Kohler, he wrote about his new-found joy.

“I can’t play golf, but it is my life,” he wrote.

In addition to golf he’s taken up art, and a painting of Whistling Straits (above) that he created using his mouth to hold the paint brush adorns a wall in the clubhouse. If you ask any of the staff about Adam, they’ll tell you he's as much a part of Whistling Straits as the wind off Lake Michigan.

“Adam’s involvement with Whistling Straits makes us proud to be a public-access facility,” said head professional Mike O’Reilly. “If we weren’t open for the public to see and play there are so many things that wouldn’t be included in the Whistling Straits story, including Adam Spenner himself.”

Fifteen years ago when the plumber from Wisconsin envisioned a public course on par with Pebble Beach, it seemed unlikely. But like Adam Spenner wielding a paint brush, some people have the vision to turn a blank canvas into a masterpiece.
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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.