SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Call it Bubba’s Hillock.
OK, that’s not the official name of the small mountain going up in front of the new back tees at Whistling Straits’ fifth hole, but you wouldn’t be far off saying Whistling Straits owner Herb Kohler and architect Pete Dye have Bubba-proofed the hole. Actually, they’ve protected it from all long hitters like Bubba Watson, but Watson made the largest impression shrinking the course during his run into the PGA Championship playoff a little more than a year ago.
Whistling Straits’ head professional Mike O’Reilly gave this writer a sneak peek of some of the new tees in a visit during the U.S. Amateur last week. With the new fifth tee, the course will measure about 7,825 yards from the back tees. That’s 318 yards longer than the PGA Championship layout last year. Notably, it’s also longer than Erin Hills played (7,760 yards) during the U.S. Amateur, the longest layout in U.S. Golf Association championship history. Erin Hills is 60 miles southwest of Whistling Straits.
Whistling Straits will host the PGA Championship again in 2015 and the Ryder Cup in 2020.
Dye’s new back tee at No. 5 isn’t officially open for play yet, but it’s close. The new tee box adds 35 yards to the par 5, which will soon play to about 635 yards.
It’s a dogleg-right, around a pond. Watson used his driver to take a shortcut not imagined when Dye first built the hole.
“Bubba was hitting driver and 9-iron,” O’Reilly said. “It was a 310-yard carry the way he played it. That’s a 340-yard carry now.”
Notably, Dye also built a large mound (hillock) just to the right and front of the new tee box, which would help block a bid to cut the corner. Specifically, it blocks a favored left-handed Bubba fade.
There are also new tees at the 10th and 14th holes. With Dye mulling the possibility of building another new tee at the 16th, the course could soon play to 7,850 yards from the back tees, though there’s no guarantee the PGA Championship will be played from there when it returns in four years. Heck, by then, there might be even more new tees.