Friday, August 14, 2009

Whistling Straits

Whistling Straits (ranked #53 in the world) is located in Kohler, Wisconsin, about 90 minutes north of Milwaukee. Built by Pete Dye in 1998, it is a beautiful course. If you want to know what it is like to play golf in Ireland but don't want to fly across the Atlantic, Whistling Straits is as close as you'll ever get. The land the course was built on was formerly a U.S. Army base. Owner Herb Kohler instructed Dye that he wanted the course to resemble Ballybunion.

The eight holes that play along Lake Michigan are the most dramatic. Similar to his work at Casa de Campo, Dye does a brilliant job of situating green sites along and above the water. The course is also over-run with bunkering. Many holes have scores of bunkers. Golf Digest estimates there are more than 950 bunkers on the course. That means on average there are 50 bunkers per hole. For basis of comparison, Winged Foot West and Merion East have less than 150 bunkers each on the entire course.

Many of the bunkers don't actually come into play, but they give the course a dramatic and rough and tumble look. The dog-leg right eighth hole is especially noteworthy in this regard. It has a lot of small natural looking bunkers cascading down the hill between the fairway and Lake Michigan.

Like at the Bandon Resort, at Whistling Straits you can only walk, there are no golf carts. This is to maintain the aesthetic in keeping with that of a links course. Cart parts would have ruined the look of the course. The course is full of wonderful little walking paths and natural looking matted down areas that you use to walk from hole to hole, just like in the British Isles.

The par four fourth hole, "Glory"

The par threes along the water are all noteworthy, including the twelfth and seventeenth on the back.

The twelfth hole plays only 138 yards and has a big green, but there is a little piece of it close to the water that is isolated from the rest of the green and it's the Sunday pin placement for tournaments. The effective landing area when the flag is set on this side of the green is tiny.

The dramatic par three 17th at Whistling Straits

The area the course is built in is isolated and pastoral. It is subject to foggy and changeable weather conditions since it is on the lake. The clubhouse is done in an understated and elegant manner. Sitting in the clubhouse on a misty, rainy day with a Guinness in hand is enough to trick the mind into believing you are in the Emerald Isle.

I stayed at The American Club nearby, also owned by Herb Kohler, the owner of the resort. It is a very nice place and has a great pub. The dining room serves local fare including some great Wisconsin cheese.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Cherry Hills Country Club

The Cherry Hills Country Club (ranked #90 in the world) is located on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado. Cherry Hills proved to be a very difficult course for me to play, as it is a private club. It limits guest play and was hard to access since you must play with a member. It recently reopened this past May after being closed for renovations for eight months. The original 1922 William Flynn design has been modified by several architects over the years including some changes by Arnold Palmer. The most recent restorations were done by Tom Doak and his firm and were intended to bring the course closer to Flynn's original design. Doak and his team rebuilt several greens and most bunkers, among other changes. Cherry Hills is the only world ranked top 100 courses located in the Rocky Mountain region.

"The shot heard around the golf world" occurred during the epic 1960 U.S. Open held at Cherry Hills. The 1960 U.S. Open featured Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer vying for the lead. In the final round, as 'Arnie's Army' watched, Palmer uncorked a 346 yard drive to the par four, 1st green to start the greatest come-from-behind charge in Open history. Palmer moved up 12 players and 7 strokes for a final round 65 and a 280 total for his victory. The 65 was the best final round ever produced in an Open. In addition to the 1960 U.S. Open, Cherry Hills also hosted the event in 1938 and 1978 and the P.G.A. Championship in 1941 and 1985. Among the changes Palmer made to the course was to lengthen the first hole from 345 yards, presumably so no one could drive the green.

The iconic shot of Arnold Palmer throwing his visor after winning the 1960 U.S. Open

Cherry Hills also hosted the U.S. Amateur in 1990, won by 20-year-old Arizona State golfer Phil Mickelson. It will host the Amateur again in 2012. Former NFL great John Elway is a current member of Cherry Hills and the current club champion, with a 1 handicap index.

The Golf Course

The golf course starts on flat ground and the first four holes are relatively straight forward. The green on the 3rd hole, seen below, is new. The hole is 315 yards long but the green is now elevated and difficult to hold as it is crowned and balls not hit precisely will roll off.

The elevation on the course begins at the fifth hole and basically gets progressively more hilly as you play on. The par five fifth hole plays as the #1 stroke index hole at Cherry Hills. The green is elevated, hard to hold and fronted by a swale. The 518 yard hole has interesting terrain and the fairway slopes right to left and the hole dog-legs to the right at the end.

The par five 5th green

The course really begins to pick up steam on the ninth hole. The 434 yard par four ninth hole plays up a big hill back toward the clubhouse. From the landing area of your drive to the green, the hole slopes severely from left to right, following the natural contours of the land beautifully. The difficult green is perched on a slope on this dog-leg right hole.

9th hole
The dog-leg right, uphill 9th hole at Cherry Hills

The 428 yard par four 10th hole is a mirror image of the ninth except it runs away from the clubhouse and slopes from right to left. They are an excellent pair of holes that use the hilly terrain very well.

Cherry Hills original designer, William Flynn, was also involved in the design or renovations of several other top 100 courses including Shinnecock Hills and the Country Club at Brookline. There are some similarities between The Country Club and Cherry Hills in terms of course routing, the use of large sloping hills in the terrain and the style of approach shots required to get to the green.

The par three twelfth hole of 194 yards plays over water. Cherry Hills has a stream that meanders throughout the property and comes into play often, especially on the back nine.
12th hole

The par three 12th hole

The thirteenth hole is a 381 yard par four that has a new green. You have to hit over the stream on your second shot to a green that slopes back to front.

13th green from behind
13th green as seen from behind

The fourteenth is a 381 yard par four with another tee shot that you have to hit up onto a big hill. The second shot plays downhill and to the left to a green that has the stream snaking around it and a large tree protecting the left side. It was my favorite hole on the course and presents several good risk-reward decisions on both the tee shot and on the approach shot.

The fantastic 14th hole at Cherry Hills

The par three fifteenth plays 188 yards downhill to a relatively receptive, flat green. Cherry Hills has four sets of tees. The championship tees (which are 'cherry' red) play 7442 yards, the back tees play 6817 yards and the member tees 6400 yards. I like playing a mile in the air because the ball travels an extra 10% further than it does at sea level, so Cherry Hills is not a particularly long course by today's standards once you adjust for altitude. I hit a couple of shots in a less-than-ideal fashion and was yelling for them to get going while at the same time my caddy was yelling for them to get down. That extra 10% helped me more than once.

Par 3 15th
The par three 15th hole

The par four sixteenth is a good risk-reward hole as well and typifies the back nine, which is much stronger than the front nine. The hole is 402 yards and is a slight dogleg right. Your approach shot plays over the burn/stream to a green set at an angle to the fairway.

16th approach
Approach to the 16th green

The course finishes with back-to-back par fives that both have water in play.

17th green
The green on the par five 17th hole

The seventeenth hole is where Ben Hogan famously went for it during the 1960 Open and ended up in the water. The hole is 588 yards and has an island green. The eighteenth hole is a fairly easy par five at 458 yards. It is rated as the #16 stroke index hole, although it plays longer because the hole runs up the hill back toward the clubhouse and the entire landing area is bordered by water on the left, making an accurate tee shot of paramount importance.

The club has nice memorabilia on display in the clubhouse. Dwight Eisenhower had his "summer White House" in Denver and used to play at Cherry Hills where he was a member and at one time served at club president. Ike's heart attack in 1955 occurred after he played a round a Cherry Hills. It actually probably started while he was playing, as he complained of indigestion during the round. There is a nice signed scorecard and other mementos from his tenure in the clubhouse. During Eisenhower's eight years in office he played over 800 rounds of golf. If I'm doing my math correctly, that's almost one hundred rounds a year. This is clearly enough to vault Eisenhower ahead of Ronald Reagan as the greatest president of the 20th century. He had his priorities straight, and was obviously obsessed with golf. I am going to begin a letter writing campaign to the World Golf Hall of Fame to have Ike inducted for this worthy feat.