PGA's rural setting could make city slickers sheepish

KOHLER (Wisconsin) • So you thought Brora near Royal Dornoch in the north of Scotland was remote, and that Maidens, that speck of a place outside Turnberry, was small.

Heading for Whistling Straits, site of this week's US PGA Championship? Good luck. Allow plenty of time and fine-tune your GPS.

It is in Sheboygan in Wisconsin, an hour and a half from Milwaukee, up the west side of Lake Michigan, and to reach it you pass fields full of corn and cows and silos.

It confirms a changing trend in golf. Once major championships were always held on traditional courses near cities - Baltusrol in New Jersey, Oak Hill in Rochester and Winged Foot in New York.

This year alone, there has been a US Open on a new course at Chambers Bay in the north-west of the United States, where no Major had been held before, and here we are at Whistling Straits for a third US PGA Championship where the 2020 Ryder Cup will be held too.

The phrase "middle of nowhere" is one being heard more and more in golf.

There are more bunkers at Whistling Straits than there are people in Sheboygan, population 7,100.

That is an exaggeration - but not by much. There were 967 bunkers for the US PGA Championship five years ago. There are 1,012 now, more, it is claimed, than any other course in the world.

Herb Kohler, the owner, wanted a course that resembled the links of Ireland or Scotland.

The land that Pete Dye, the architect, had to work with was clay-based and had been an abandoned military base littered with hazardous waste.

Now it is a faux links, roamed by black-faced sheep.

More than 13,000 truckloads of sand were used to make its artificiality look natural.

While there are not many similarities between the Stadium course at The Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass in Florida, and Whistling Straits, both of which are designed by Dye, the 17th holes at both strike fear into any golfer. It is a matter of opinion which is the more terrifying.

At the Florida course it is the famous, near-island short hole of which Darren Clarke once said: "It's like waking up in the morning knowing you have root canal work to be done at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. It weighs on the mind."

There is also water on the 17th at Whistling Straits. The green, more than 220 yards from the back tee, nearly topples into Lake Michigan. There is a large, man-made dune to deal with, should you try to play short of the green.

You had better get used to these newer venues. The 2017 US Open will be 65km north-west of Milwaukee in a town with a population of barely 3,300. The courses, never mind the times, they are a-changing.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2015, with the headline 'PGA's rural setting could make city slickers sheepish'. Subscribe