HAVEN, Wis. - Darren Clarke, the Irishman who is fazed by little, walked off the 18th hole after yesterday's practice round at Whistling Straits and commented, with his tongue only partly planted in his cheek, that "I didn't realize there was a golf course with so many par 6s."
England's Lee Westwood said he'd been told before he arrived on the shore of Lake Michigan that "there were 10 really difficult holes and eight impossible ones. I'm just trying to work out which are the 10 difficult ones. "
Even Jerry Kelly, a Wisconsin resident who has played the Straits many times, walked
off shaking his head.
"This is a golf course," Kelly said of this week's home for the 86th PGA Championship. "This is a big golf course."
How big is it?
Well, it's 7,514 yards from stem to stern.
There is a 618-yard par 5 and two others that measure in the 590s. There are par 4s of 500, 507, and 518 yards.
How big is it?
The last four holes add up to a par of 16 - it goes 4-5-3-4, in that order - as do the last four holes at Augusta National and Shinnecock Hills, the first two legs of the 2004 American-based major championships. At Augusta, those four holes measure a combined 1,560 yards; at Shinnecock it was 1,572 yards. Put a yardstick to the last four at the Straits and you'll need 1,810 of them.
And it's not just length. Did we mention the bunkers? There are more than 1,000 of them. That's a guess only because nobody's ever bothered to count them. Staring from the 10th tee down the fairway, you can see 41 traps. Some of them are maintained and some are not. Some are in play and some are for appearance. But there they are.
And did we mention the wind? It was gusting to upwards of 30 mph yesterday, a blustery, overcast, sweatshirt sort of day, and the beauty of it is that it blows off the lake and nearly every hole is parallel to the lake.
"If the wind blows like this, I don't think I've played a golf course so difficult," Tiger Woods said. "If the wind doesn't blow, the guys will shoot good scores. But if it blows, every hole is a crosswind. You rarely ever face any shot into the wind or downwind. Everything is off the right or left, which makes it very difficult.
"There's not one hole out here where there's not the possibility of making a double [bogey] just with a marginal shot. Not a bad shot, just a marginal shot. You get a bad bounce and all of a sudden you're down off one of those cliffs or you get into a rut coming off a bunker and you have absolutely no golf shot."
Whistling Straits was built on two levels. There are eight holes along the shore, including all four par 3s, where the water lurks maybe 25 feet below the greens surfaces. On a higher level are six "inland" holes that run parallel to the eight below.
"It's unique," Ernie Els said. "It kind of looks like a links [course] but it doesn't play like one. It plays softer, meaning you have to fly the ball to the green in the air. You can't run it in there like real links courses."
Added Sergio Garcia: "It's going to be a long week on a long course. I mean, there are short holes. Like No. 12 is short. But they put the pins in some places that, honestly, I don't know how you get there. "
Clarke said there is nothing unfair about Whistling Straits.
"It's just brutally difficult, " he added.
Herb Kohler, who owns the plumbing fixtures giant of the same name in a nearby town of the same name, hired Pete Dye to build him the country's toughest, most beautiful golf course. He took two miles of nearly tabletop-flat Lake Michigan coastline, moved about 800,000 cubic yards of fill to create towering dunes and links-like humps and hollows. It opened in 1998 and was fast-tracked for a major championship.
It is truly picturesque bordering on breathtaking. It is almost enchanting. Unless, that is, you have a golf club in hand. Then it's Dye-abolical.
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