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Walking And Whistling


By Stuart Hall
July 28, 2007
 

 

The Straits Course on Whistling Straits is located along two-and-a-half miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. Using land that was previously an Army base, 13,216 truckloads of sand were hauled in. It is hilly and difficult to traverse. Twisting an ankle, in fact, wouldn't be uncommon. Stuart Hall set out this morning to see what it's like. He survived.

By Stuart Hall

First Hole - Outward Bound

8:30.03: Reigning two-time U.S. Senior Open champion Allen Doyle has worked himself into a full lather of sweat as he leaves the practice putting green. He then proceeds down the gravel and asphalt path across a faux Swilcan Burn bridge and then up the steep incline to the first tee.

8:39.47: Doyle, Loren Roberts and Mike Bell Jr. finish teeing off and the journey around Whistling Straits' Straits

Course begins.

8:41.58: The day's first approach shot is into a green that is backed by a breathtaking view of serene Lake Michigan. The fog has yet to lift over the lake.

Second Hole - Cross Country

8:46.34: "It's a doozy," says Nancy Gray, of Oak Ridge, Tenn., about the course that measures between 6,924 and 7,068 yards in length depending on tee placements.

Gray is serving as a marshal just off to the right of the second fairway.

"I saw a guy with a prosthetic leg walk up that hill over there," she said pointing to a grassy incline with a grade of about 60 degrees, "and I just wanted to see him walk down it."

8:49.20: Walking inside the ropes with a media armband is often a journalistic perk. Around this course it's an invitation to a broken ankle. We're required to stay as close to the ropes as possible, but that's virtually impossible in some instances.

Overheard while keeping my eyes focused on my next step: "This course is going to kill them."

I'm thinking I'll be a casualty before any of the players.

8:52.02: Lake Michigan is in full view across the second fairway. The morning fog in the far distance creates a clear delineation between the sky and water, which is eerily calm.

8:54.37: Directions off the second green point left for holes 4-5-6 and right for holes 7-8-9. It's worth noting that First Aid is also to the left. Good thing to know.

Third Hole - O'Man

8:58.05: This par-3 hole butts up hard against Lake Michigan. Seagulls playfully dash in and out of the water. The hole is playing 166 yards with a back left hole location.

9:02.25: Morris Hatalsky draws his shot into the green and the ball releases, rolling just past the hole to within a few feet.

9:03.19: Bobby Wadkins goes on a straight line to the hole, the ball hitting and then crawling over the ridge to within inches. There is only a smattering of applause from the gallery, which consists of 18 people in the greenside grandstand.

9:05.24: Rick Franzen, Dennis Northern and Tom Kriederman, all of Kenosha, Wis., have been at the course since 6:30 a.m. They watched the end of the first round earlier in the morning from the upper left corner of the grandstand.

The tee was pushed back and the hole location was front right.

"We saw eight bogeys and a double bogey," Northern said. That would not be the case with the second round hole location, especially in these docile conditions.

"I want to see a Nor'easter come off the lake," Kreiderman said. "That would make things interesting."

You think?

Fourth Hole - Glory

9:12.21: A half moon still hangs high in a perfect azul sky. As players wait to tee off, there is nary a sound outside of the slight ripples in the lake.

Fifth Hole - Snake

9:21.03: This hole is at the southern most tip of the course, with the teeing ground pushed back to the limits.

9:25.59: "Brats, the breakfast of champions," says John Reppond of Kansas City, who is following friend Mark Johnson, but has taken a break at the nearby concession stand.

Reppond admits that The Straits Course is not a good walk spoiled, but that people need to watch their footing. At the moment, Johnson's footing is in the first cut of rough after his second shot.

"He needs to stick this by the pin if I'm buying him dinner tonight," he said.

Johnson nuzzles his shot to within dinner range.

Sixth Hole - Gremlin's Ear

9:33.36: From outside the ropes, spectators trying to watch play from the vantage point of a players' approach shot see nothing but marshals standing on a hill with their arms raised. Quiet please.

Seventh Hole - Shipwreck

9:39.21: This hole runs along the shore and is at the lowest point on the course. A boat trudges along quietly next to the hole.

Eighth Hole - On The Rocks

9:44.05: While spectators are seated in foldable chairs along the hill overlooking the green, the best seats on this hole belong to the sea gulls gathered on the edge of Lake Michigan.

Ninth Hole - Down and Dirty

9:49.35: Off the tee in the distance is the rustic Irish-resembling clubhouse, replete with its whitewashed stone siding and slate roof. The clubhouse is a stunning site.

9:55.24 The front nine is finished.

10 thHole - Voyageur

10:03.39: The back nine trek begins.

10:08.04: Robert Polk and Mark Morrison have less than 100 yards into the green and, like many outside the ropes, lay sod over their approach shots that rest well short of the green.

11 thHole - Sand Box

10:13.41: Robert Thompson's second shot from the fairway bunker hits the lip and advances the ball only 50 yards. His shot is typical of many being hit in that shots off the fairway are often penal.

10:15.07: Says a husband to his wife: "You really want to walk the entire course?"

12 thHole - Pop Up

10:22.12: Just near the dual 12 thand 16 thtee box is an ice cream stand being manned by Kayla Tetschlag of nearby Sheboygan, Wis.

"People actually are eating ice cream for breakfast," said the former Sheboygan North High basketball standout who will play this coming season at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Tetschlag said business has been brisk, especially at the end of the day.

"People feel like they have been walking uphill all day," said Tetschlag, who also was on the grounds for the 2004 PGA Championship. "The people have been really nice. They'll stop and are willing to share their stories. It's neat.

The cool hot item are the Dove Bars.

13 thHole - Cliff Hanger

10:32.54: This hole is completely open. Given the potential difficulty of this course, easily understandable would be pace of play issues. But a nearby U.S. Golf Association Rules official says that has not been the case

14 thHole - Widow's Watch

10:38.46: Bo Redman, caddie for Mike Smith, walks ahead of his threesome.

"This guy is Tiger long," he said of Smith's fellow competitor, Steve Thomas.

Thomas then drives the 357-yard green, his ball stopping about 12 feet past the hole.

"Pulled it a little bit," said Thomas, who is being hailed as Steve-O by the galleries as he walks by.

10:39.51: How is the walk, Bo?

"How do you think it is?" he said.

10:45.38: Just off the 14 thgreen, after Steve-O makes birdie to go three under for his round, I tumble. My left foot slides out from underneath me on the grassy knoll. It was inevitable.

Less than a minute later, a second fall is averted.

15 thHole - Grand Strand

10:48.47: This is the third or fourth longest par 4, depending where the tee is placed on the fourth hole.

Steve-O releases another bomb of a drive. Crowds are starting to flock, so it's time to pick up the pace.

16 thHole - Endless Bite

11:00.42: The par-5 hole runs along the shore and appears to be one of the more forgiving holes in terms of width of fairways. Otherwise it's fairly non-descript. Move on.

17 thHole - Pinched Nerve

11:02.13: Tee and green. Nothing much in between, thus the reference to pinched nerve. I say to know one in particular that this hole should be renamed Achilles Heel for the throbbing pain that is starting to set in above my left foot.

11:05.58: Bob Ford, the club pro at Oakmont Country Club, finds the gunk below and left of the green. No chance for recovery is the murmur through the crowd.

A few seconds later, Ford's ball rises from below the hole, lands on the green and rests about 15 inches from its destination.

18 thHole - Dyeabolical

11:20:13: Keith Fergus, Ron Streck and Mark McNulty play this 450-yard hole in a combined even par to finish off their first nine.

Named after its designer, Pete Dye, the hole played as the most difficult hole in the opening round. The field scoring average was 4.583,

11:21.17: The 2 hour, 41 minute and 30 second walk is finished. Whew.

Stuart Hall is a writer for the Golf Press Association whose work has appeared previously on www.ussenioropen.com.

 

 
Moving about on The Straits Course is no easy task. (John Mummert/USGA)
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