Later this week, the best golfers in the world will play at Whistling Straits near Sheboygan. Earlier this summer, I did. They will be competing for the Ryder Cup, one of the most coveted prizes in pro golf. I was playing at the invitation of Destination Kohler and trying not to embarrass myself.
My heart was racing as my affable caddie, Kyle Weiland, walked me to the first tee. I confessed I had no place on this hallowed ground of sport, that I usually play muni courses (poorly) and hadn’t even played with a caddie before. I mean, don’t only really good golfers play the Straits?
Not at all, Kyle laughed. It was the first of many lessons from a guy who’s been carrying bags for 12 years at Whistling Straits and the Kohler sibling course Blackwolf Run. If you can pay for it – as much as $500 or more, including tips and fees – it doesn’t matter how bad your slices are.
Don’t worry, Kyle said, you’ll be fine. And I’m here to help. And help he did, counseling on shot strategy, reading greens and, once he understood my range, club selection. Hit it here, he’d say on the many blind shots.
From that first tee, I cranked a beautiful drive into the middle of the fairway, right where Kyle told me to. A good 7-iron later, I missed a long birdie putt and two more, three-putting for a 5. But I was elated. You just bogeyed your first hole on Whistling Straits! I was feeling less intimidated, until we came up to the next hole – and the lake.
Lake Michigan is the defining characteristic of Whistling Straits. The layout by legendary designer Pete Dye is essentially two belts of holes carved into a lakeshore bluff, with the tier closest to the shoreline set perhaps 12-15 feet lower. This has two effects: it hides the other holes, so you feel like you’re all by yourself out there, and it gives the lake a lurking, bogeyman-like presence on nearly every shot.
But if you miss those shots toward that blue expanse, your ball usually isn’t plunking into the lake. It’s not really that close, though that’d probably be better than the cavernous bunkers that swallow your ball instead. There are nearly 1,000, many of them as deep as I am tall. And I feel like I found most of that sand.
My round went downhill quickly after the first hole, and I finished 14 holes before dark with a 98 score – 42 over par. The difficulty of the course was partly to blame, but I think my poor play was the defining factor. Kyle said early in the round that players rarely lose balls here; I managed to leave five on the course.
And I absolutely didn’t care. Whistling Straits is as gorgeous as everyone says it is, a pastiche of green, blue and tan that feels like another world. So, Brooks or Bryson, if you need some pointers ahead of the big match, let me know.
The Ryder Cup
Whistling Straits Golf Course, Haven
TICKETS: Sold out; as of mid-July, resellers were asking more than $450 a ticket for entry to match play days.
TV: Golf Channel (Fri), NBC (Sat-Sun)