It has been a busy summer of golf travel. In July I made my annual trek to Kohler, Wisconsin to challenge the Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run courses. If you have followed my blogs, or, more importantly, read my book, you already know that I think the best value in golf can be found in the stay and play deals offered along the shores of Lake Michigan. Specifically, the “Dye-Abolical” package is my offering of choice (http://www.americanclubresort.com/packages/dye-abolical). Depending upon the season, three nights accommodations, including at least four rounds of golf, can be had for as little as $1,200. This includes base caddie fees on the Whistling Straits courses, forecaddie on the Blackwolf Run River venue, breakfasts, free replays (limited) and other bonuses. Even in season, the rates are very reasonable. While I prefer Pebble Beach, the daily cost in Northern California is almost as high as this package.
The additional benefit is that you can also play the nearby 2017 U.S. Open host Erin Hills golf course (http://erinhills.com/), and then choose to ferry across to Michigan for more great golf, or drive down to the Chicago area for more exceptional links experiences. This year we chose the latter, owing in part to several generous offers to play private clubs near the Windy City.
The 2016 golf boondoggle got off to a rocky start with a missed connection on Delta, due to maintenance issues, for which I received no satisfaction, and problems with the Holiday Inn Express in Germantown, Wisconsin. (Stay at the Country Inn and Suites if you are playing Erin Hills.) As a result, we missed our tee time at Erin Hills, receiving instead a quality evening in Detroit. The people at Erin Hills tried very hard to rebook us, unfortunately, the popularity of this venue is such that no times were available on either Sunday or Monday. Too bad, as I really like this course.
We started with the Meadow Valleys course at Blackwolf Run. This is an excellent opening test to get warmed up for the other venues. The front nine is fun, but allows for a few mistakes. The back nine begins to challenge, becoming progressively more difficult. The real fun begins on 13 with a crazy elevated green that slopes off in all directions. Number 14 offers one of the scariest approach shots I have played. The course finishes strong, with 18 sharing a green with Number 18 on the River course. Meadow Valleys can be had, but, like all of the Kohler courses requires excellent ball striking. My rating 7.5.
Rounds 2 and 3 were on the River course at Blackwolf Run. This is one of the premier courses in the region and remains one of my top 10. You need to score well early, because once you hit Number 5, on the back side of the course, there are no easy holes, only easy doubles, or worse. (FYI: Hole 4 is no bargain for a par 3, with water all along the right side.) As usual, Dye has given this course some wonderful, but knee-knocking par 3’s. If you can survive the first five holes on the back side, there is a chance to post a decent score. I am still trying to figure out how to play the par 3, number 13, although I got away with a par both rounds. There are so many great holes, and so much tremendous scenery that the River course is must. My rating 9.5.
For some reason, I always seem to book the Irish course at Whistling Straits for my afternoon round. Because I walk, I am always dragging by the end. (I guess I am only good for 27 holes.) Hole Number 2 always gets me, and did again this year. Nevertheless, I made the turn with a decent number. The backside, not so much. The combination of exhaustion, and a slew of tough golf holes torpedoed any chance for me to post a good score. I usually recommend to my golfing friends that they play the Irish before the Straits course. By comparison, Irish is inferior, and could be a letdown. On its own, however, it is still a fun links design, similar, yet not at the same level as Erin Hills. My rating 8.
The crown jewel of the Kohler package is The Straits course. This is partially because it has hosted three major tournaments, partly because of the Lake Michigan influence, but primarily because there are just a lot of great golf holes. You will play this one with a caddie; which is necessary to find balls, point out flight lines and read the crazy greens. The caddie fee is included in the package (gratuity additional). These are generally very good loopers. The par 3’s are exceptional; almost on par with Dye’s Harbour Town Golf Links. Since I birdied three of the four I may be biased. Having now played this course five times, I am beginning to figure it out, having shaved 15 strokes off my initial pass. Number 18 is one of the great finishing holes. You have seen this course on television; most recently with Jason Day taking home the Wannamaker Cup. This one is well worth the effort. My rating 9.5
Absolutely Must Play? I cannot emphasize enough how much you should partake of the Kohler Experience. It is not a great place to bring a non-golfer; although they spend a lot of time pushing their spa. The dining options are decent (make sure and try the corn and sausage chowder at Blackwolf Run). The accommodations are nice, with some unusual Kohler fixtures. At the end of the day, however, it is about the golf. Combined with a very attractive pricing schedule, the golf packages at Kohler should be number 1 on your to do list.
My Rating: Overall, the package is a 9+. It is not Pebble Beach, but, you could add a second golf trip to Myrtle Beach and still put money in your pocket as an alternative.
Weekly Observation: We are well into the FedEx Cup, which gets bigger and better with every season. Rory found some confidence in his putting so he might be tough to beat. Jason Day will not win it, unless he can figure out how to find the fairways. That said, Dustin Johnson looks like he might be the one to beat. Hopefully his great play continues into the Ryder Cup.
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He has recently released Confessions of a Golfaholic: A Guide to Playing America’s Top 100 Public Golf Courses; now available in hardcover edition. Please visit tophundredgolf.com regularly for more (im)practical information.