A huge horseshoe grandstand, a thousand bunkers and a whipping wind in the middle of nowhere… welcome to WONDERFUL Whistling Straits
- The 43rd edition of the Ryder Cup starts Friday at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin
- Europe are the defending champions, having defeated America back in 2018
- The course will play host to upwards of 45,000 people daily for the Ryder Cup
- The horseshoe grandstand is the biggest we’ve seen for an American Ryder Cup
- While designer, Pete Dye, has been up to his old tricks again with the bunkers
Build it and they will come. If you think that is the sort of cheesy line belonging only to the world of Hollywood movies about sport, then welcome to the back end of beyond otherwise known as wild and wonderful Whistling Straits.
Here amid the wheat fields of Wisconsin and the seemingly endless miles of farmlands, a golf course has been made that stands comparison with any built in the last half- century. On top of it they have constructed a reasonable-sized village filled with grandstands and hospitality outposts that, come Friday, will play host to upwards of 45,000 people daily.
The marvel is where on earth they are all coming from, and where they are all staying. The media hotel is a 65-mile drive away! Just a mile from the entrance, my journey was interrupted by a farm vehicle so vast I had to move over into the dirt so that it could pass.
The 43rd edition of the Ryder Cup starts Friday at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin (above)
Perhaps nothing illustrates the popularity of the modern Ryder Cup and the place it holds in the sporting bucket list that not even the remotest venue to stage the event and these uncertain times have led to any recourse to downscale.
The first hole is a classic example. The horseshoe grandstand around the first tee might not be quite as vast as the one built for the last match in Paris but it is pretty close.
It is the biggest we have seen for an American Ryder Cup and it certainly whets the appetite for what is about to follow, and an eagerly-awaited 43rd edition that is almost finally here.
Europe are the defending champions, having previously defeated America back in 2018
The horseshoe grandstand around the first tee might not be quite as vast as the one built for Paris but it’s pretty close. It’s the biggest we have seen for an American Ryder Cup
Wander down the first fairway and the number of hospitality units on view is jaw-dropping. Ten of America’s most prestigious companies have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for seating in the massive unit down the left side. By the green, there’s a ‘south side suite’ and a ‘north side suite,’ either side of the putting surface. There is no sport that big business adores quite like golf, even in nowheresville. It is truly a million dollar hole.
If truth be told, it is also a fairly ordinary hole on a course where there aren’t many. The glory begins at the par five second that runs for its entire length alongside Lake Michigan.
I had it all to myself on Monday until spying Sky’s Tim Barter beside the green, doing his homework, and marvelling at a nasty sand trap situated 20 yards before the putting surface. ‘Now that’s what I call a bunker,’ he said. ‘Imagine going in that?’
Stands (above) have been erected to host the 45,000 supporters that will attend daily
Ah, the bunkers. It is the incomparable designer Pete Dye up to his tricks again, just like his creation at Kiawah Island at the opposite end of this nation. A number of people have attempted to count the bunkers here but no one’s really sure. It is somewhere around 1,000 — typically, you would find about 100 on a regular course —and they range in size from a private beach to others where you would struggle to put a deckchair.
There was talk that the bunkers would all be treated as waste areas where you could ground your club, as was the case at Kiawah for the PGA last May. In fact, they will all be in play, just as they were at the PGA in 2010 and a situation that had painful consequences for Dustin Johnson, costing him his chance of winning his first major.
On the 18th he thought a sandy area where his ball had landed was too small and trampled on by spectators to be a bunker but it was and the two shots he was penalised for grounding his club cost him a place in the subsequent play-off, won by Martin Kaymer.
With so few matches on the course and a referee with each one, there is no chance of a similar incident befalling Johnson or anyone else this time.
A lot of the bunkers are there simply for visual intimidation. I counted 26 to the left of the 10th green, not one of which is in play, but they look scary from the tee.
A lot of the bunkers are there simply for visual intimidation. There are 26 to the left of the 10th green, not one of which is in play, but they look scary from the tee (eighteenth hole pictured)
Walking all 18 holes in a decent breeze, I felt a lot better about Europe’s chances of causing yet another upset. You can see why astute judges like Paul McGinley think the visitors have a heck of a chance. When the wind is blowing it is a thinker’s rather than a bomber’s course and Europe have more than their fair share of those.
It is also a world away from a typical PGA Tour venue like Hazeltine, the scene of the 2016 Ryder Cup. The wind speeds can change significantly from hole to hole as can the temperature. I started out in bright sunshine and finished in a sprinkling of rain.
Imagine sitting down in a meeting about Ryder Cup venues and proposing a place that’s almost an equidistant 65 miles from Milwaukee to the south and Green Bay to the north, with virtually nothing in between?
Yet they have made it work. Whistling Straits makes it work. ‘I should say this with some modesty but I’ve never seen anything like this course,’ said the late, much-missed Dye, who passed away last year.
Nevertheless, we’re set for three days that promises to be worth the wait of three years
How he would have loved the drama to come over the closing two holes. The 17th is up there with the best par threes in the game, with a hellish 25ft drop off to the left of the green beside the lake that would certainly draw a look from your foursomes partner if you hit it down there.
Stand on the tee at the last two holes and there appears to be nothing to aim at, a classic Dye trait. But there is, if you trust your research and your game and your nerve, with points on the line and the crowd on top of you and scrambling the senses.
In other words, all that you want at a Ryder Cup. Here in the middle of nowhere, we are set for three days of what promises to be worth the wait of three years.
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