By Mike McAllister, SI.com
(CNN) — Someone says, “Wisconsin.” What thoughts immediately come to mind? The Green Bay Packers? Dairy products? A TV show? (“Happy Days” for the middle-age crowd; “That ’70s Show” for the younger generation).
Thanks to plumbing fixture magnate Herb Kohler Jr.’s Whistling Straits layout near Sheboygan, the extended Milwaukee area is carving out a reputation as a must-play destination among avid golfers. As with fellow public-access courses Pebble Beach, Pinehurst and Bethpage, the allure of teeing off at a major championship track is too difficult to resist.
Whistling Straits, which has already hosted one PGA Championship and is scheduled to host two others — as well as the 2020 Ryder Cup — is just the centerpiece of what could be a delicious weekend of golf.
After flying into Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport on Friday morning, here’s how we’d play it the rest of the weekend.
The Bog: As you travel north from Milwaukee toward Whistling Straits, stop by Saukville to play this Arnold Palmer-designed course, rated seventh-best in the state by Golf Digest. Though the western boundary of the course does snuggle up to the Cedarburg Bog peatlands, don’t worry — the course itself doesn’t really reflect its name (although the 297 acres does include wetlands and wildlife habitats). Oh, and don’t worry about seeing so many bunkers (20) on the opening hole; none of the other 17 holes contain that much sand.
Whistling Straits: It started with 560 acres of relatively flat terrain along the Lake Michigan coastline, 55 miles north of Milwaukee. It required thousands of truckloads of earth as sculpting material. But what Herb Kohler financed and architect Pete Dye created in the late 1990s is now considered a modern masterpiece. The Straits, which runs two miles along the coastline, is rated among the top 10 courses you can play in the U.S. by Golf magazine; its sister course, Irish, is well within the top 100. The links-style Straits, with its 500 bunkers, offers such a British Isle-feel that even a flock of Scottish sheep roam the grounds. And please note — you’ll need to be stout of lungs and legs to play this 18, since no carts are allowed (although you’ll have a caddie).
Blackwolf Run: Ten years older than the more celebrated Whistling Straits, Blackwolf Run’s courses — River and Meadows Valley — are two other Kohler-owned/Dye-created layouts that rank among the nation’s elite public courses. The River course is the more highly rated of the two, but either one is worthy of your time. Unlike his two tracks at Whistling Straits, which were basically made from scratch, Dye was able to use more of the natural topography at Blackwolf Run. Golfers who like to take chances will enjoy Blackwolf Run’s temptations … but if your gamble fails, expect to be heavily penalized.
Bull at Pinehurst Farms: Before heading back to Milwaukee, check out this Jack Nicklaus-designed course in Sheboygan Falls, just across the street from Blackwolf Run. Grand Champion-caliber cattle once roamed this farm, and the course has played to rave reviews since opening in 2003. The fifth hole will capture your attention with its dogleg around a 40-foot ravine. Added bonus for golfers: GPS technology is installed on every cart to help with distances and to speed up play.