A Lengthy Task; Whistling Straits Not for Short-Knockers

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Byline: Barker Davis, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

HAVEN, Wis. - Maybe Pete Dye and Herb Kohler should have considered dubbing the site of this week's 86th PGA Championship "Dire Straits."

At nearly 7,514 yards from the tips, Whistling Straits dwarfs Grand Slam golf's leader in the clubhouse for length. Dye's contrived linksland gem on the banks of Lake Michigan is lined by hip-high fescue, dotted with a quasi-comical 1,400 bunkers and features greens more easily measured in acres than cubic feet. Throw in the omnipresent wind that gusts off Lake Michigan and this aesthetic stunner isn't likely to produce many pretty scorecards.

"I didn't realize there could be that many par-6s on one golf course," Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke said after his first tour of the par-72 brute 70 miles north of Milwaukee. "If the breeze is up, I'd say par is closer to 77 than 72. It's that difficult. ... You usually have one or two holes every week where you could take lots of high numbers, but I think there's about 10 this week."

Clarke's closest chum, England's Lee Westwood, was similarly awed by his initial inspection.

"There's really nothing like it in terms of potential disaster," Westwood said. "If you're in form, it's a monster, but it's fair and manageable. If you're not, well, forget it. ... I was told before I got here that there were 10 really difficult holes and eight impossible ones. I'm just trying to work out which the 10 difficult holes were. It's a very, very difficult golf course, almost a little too difficult, really. It almost seems a bit too long."

How long is too long?

Well, three of the layout's par-4s measure 500 yards or more. The 518-yard 15th has a full two clubs on the two holes that caused short-knockers to caterwaul at Bethpage (Nos.10 and 12) two years ago. The four par-5s average 594.5 yards, so there won't be any eagles via the flatstick. And the 223-yard 17th is every bit as nasty as Dye's infamous island green 17th at TPC at Sawgrass.

"That's a scalded 2-iron into the prevailing wind to the front right edge," Westwood said of the 17th, which is guarded by pot bunkers on the right and a waste area and Lake Michigan on the left. "I don't know what it would be to that back left pin ... other than insane. Anybody who takes that line has lost his mind."

At first blush, the entire Whistling Straits project seems to be the creation of an unstable mind. The surrounding farmland is as flat and unforgettable as can be expected from a chunk of Midwest real estate that once was leased by the military as an ordinance range and nearly wound up as a nuclear power plant.

But Kohler, the kitchen and bath fixture magnate, had other ideas. Seven years ago, Kohler decided he needed a spectacular links course to complement Blackwolf Run, then the signature course for his posh nearby resort, the American Club. It didn't matter that the 560 acres Kohler purchased on Lake Michigan lacked the dramatic topography for a traditional links course. Kohler, who was signing autographs after making an appearance in the media tent yesterday, has an ego to match his bank account. …