But as I think most golfers know, there are two courses at Whistling Straits, the Ryder-Cup-hosting Straits Course which occupies all of the best land along the shoreline and the inland Irish Course. The plan here was clearly to have one standout course and one ‘other’ course, but the Irish has been shaped in much the same spirit as the Straits and lake views aside, there’s often a similar look and feel. Both courses are heavily shaped to give them (I guess; I haven’t been) an ‘Irish dunes’ feel although perhaps because it was built on a flat piece of farmland and all that dirt had to come from somewhere, there’s more water on the Irish course. It feels more like a standard Pete Dye course than the Straits.
Now that I’ve played somewhere around a dozen Pete Dye courses, I’m starting to realize that there was a spectrum in his design style as far as shaping from subdued, like Radrick Farms in Michigan or much of the Meadow Valleys next door at Blackwolf Run, to extreme. At this end we find courses like the Dye Course at the Barefoot Resort in Myrtle Beach and Whistling Straits. While all of his course generate a lot of strategy in the placement of hazards, courses in the latter category have a lot of shaping between the holes, creating this faux dunes look.
I definitely prefer the courses in the former category. While the Irish has a lot of good holes and I appreciate that they were trying to create a consistent style across the two Whistling Straits courses and different from the two courses at Blackwolf Run, but the Irish just feels overdone too me. There’s plenty of width out there (certainly more than on the Straits), but there’s also a lot of awkwardness, with it being unclear where to hit several shots. And there’s just a lot more created severity than necessary. I’ve never played a Pete Dye course that suffered from being too easy, but several that suffered from the opposite.
Now I had to play the Irish Course because I hadn’t played it and needed to check the box. But it was probably my least favorite of the four Kohler courses and save for a heavy discount, I probably wouldn’t play it again.
The first hole is a mid-length par 4 running gradually up a hill to a green that’s on a diagonal from front-right to back-left. Although it had been three weeks, there was still Ryder Cup infrastructure on the course and we were limited to the 275 yard forward tee, making this an interesting driveable par 4. I’d like the original version more as an opening hole, but this version works and I would imagine plays similarly for someone who drives the ball 160 yards as the full version does for the rest of us.
If I had never played a Dye course before, I probably would have liked the Irish a lot more because it’s very interesting in its own right. But after 6 or 8 courses like this, you start to think ‘yeah, it’s an interesting design style and generates strategy, but couldn’t you do something a bit different once in awhile?’ I don’t often get the feel that I’m seeing something new on these courses and when I do, it’s in a bad way—like the godawful 5th hole next door on the Straits course. It makes me wonder if I’d be unimpressed by TPC Sawgrass because I would have seen a lot of it elsewhere—even though it was the first for many of those templates.
Still, the Irish is a good course. There are several good holes and I thought that there were a few times that the manufactured landscape looked quite good, like on the par 3 eleventh.
But I’ll also reiterate another criticism: the fake dunes shaping doesn’t work well with the forest setting that we encounter several times here. There’s an interesting trade-off between shaping in a consistent way across a course and shaping in a way that fits the setting that you have, which may differ across the course. Dye is much closer to the former here, but I would have preferred the latter. I don’t think that there’d be anything wrong with having holes with fake dunes like 1 and 11 (which are also next to the Straits, where this shaping looks better) when there wasn’t much to work with and then transitioning to the more Langford-style shaping of the River Course or even something more minimal when you have a nice forest setting like 7, 13-14. You get a bit of a different style on 9 and 18, but I would have liked to have seen more of this. There’s something to be said for internal consistency, but different styles can work if you’re careful about the flow between them (Park Jr./Colt blend brilliantly on Sunningdale’s Old Course).
One more point: being the clearly inferior course at Whistling Straits, you’d think that you’d want to use the Irish as a warm-up course. But it’s way too hard for that; I wouldn’t say that it’s much easier than the Straits, only maybe a little bit because the fairways are wider. I’d go the other way with the Irish—play the Straits in the morning and use the Irish as your beer-drinking, golf-ball-losing afternoon round.
Come to think of it, Kohler could really use an easier warm-up course. The first six holes on the Meadow Valleys are perfect for this, but the rest of the course isn’t. Like I said earlier, Pete Dye courses have never suffered for being too easy and it would have been nice if someone else had designed one of these courses. Kohler wants to build a fifth course in a forested state park just south of Sheboygan but while the plans are currently on hold, apparently Dye was slated to build that one too. But now that Dye is gone, hopefully if they build that course—which I’m not sure that they should; it’ll mean tearing up a lot of old forest that’s in short supply in southeastern Wisconsin—they’ll get someone else to do it.