With fairways set further in from Lake Michigan than the Straits course, the Irish was unveiled at Whistling Straits a couple of years after its older sibling debuted. Golfers need to watch out for water and sandy waste areas, both of which appear as intimidating hazards on this course.
Author Daniel Wexler comments on the Irish course in his book The American Golf Resort Guide: “seeming even less natural than its sister (which, by definition, is impossible), it is heavily affected by three man-made lakes, particularly on a front nine whose strongest holes include the 489-yard 4th, which doglegs left around massive waste bunkers (and) the 160-yard 6th, played to an island green within the sand.
The back nine runs out to the north where it is initially led by the 208-yard 11th (whose narrow green is pinched between right-side sand and a large, left-side dune), the blind 183-yard 13th (styled after the famed Dell hole at Lahinch), and the 564-yard 14th, where a creek divides the lay-up zone. Particularly given the more limited nature of its site, one of the stronger ‘second’ courses around.”
The Irish sits in the shadows of the Straits. Candidly, If you picked up the average person and dropped them on the Irish and told them it was the Straits, they wouldn't know the difference. It's a fabulous course with most of the same attributes of Straits except the property adjacent the Lake. It is in excellent shape and has numerous water holes and many bunkers. It's a very challenging lay out which plays just as tough as it's big brother. It is manufactured but so is the Straits. The Irish may even be more artificial thru use of mounding. The green complexes are very good and create many different approach angles. The Irish is a joy to play.
The major difference between the more noted Straits Course and the Irish Course comes down to two words -- Lake Michigan. The former is aided significantly by the juxtaposition of one of the five Great Lakes. Credit Dye for his inventiveness but having Lake Michigan as your lead actor helps buttress the storyline considerably.
The Irish is overly shaped and clearly manufactured so that the layout has little meaningful connection to the land it occupies. To use a Star Trek analogy - the final product was "beamed" to the site and attempts to sell golfers on an "Irish" connection. What's funny is that the cost to play the real thing is likely cheaper than playing the artificial one.
Sadly, Dye in the later designs of his career opted in a number of instances of creating visual overloads and the Irish would have worked even more so if a "less is more" approach would have been followed given how the big brother Straits opts to do so similarly.
With all that said, keep in mind, the actual test of golf is rigorous. Some of that is because the grotesque mounds can intrude to such a degree creating uneven bounces in concert with the sheer array of varying bunker sizes and shapes. To be fair, the par-3, par-4 and par-5 series of holes from the 3rd through the 5th is done quite well. The short 3rd is quite engaging -- especially when the wind is up and the frontal pond needs to be cleared. The long par-4 4th that follows is a superb challenge, although the winding cart path that cuts across the drive zone should have been placed elsewhere, and the par-5 dog-leg right is a fine risk/reward hole.
The inward side is a split verdict -- the first couple of holes are acceptable but hardly memorable. The concluding five holes are a worthy ending series of tests with two long par-4s at the 15th and 16th respectively putting pressure on execution. However, the par-4 17th is even more captivating -- working around a pond on the drive zone and demonstrates a meaningful Dye-fore gambit when you stand on the tee.
All in all, the Irish will work for the golfer who has not really sampled what vintage links on the Emerald Isle is truly about. For those with that experience you'll be wondering as the round progresses if someone should have told Pete to cool it with all the overkill inclusions. A more subdued counterpoint course to the Straits would have really been the ideal companion layout.
M. James Ward
The views and the environment of The Irish is outstanding. I played it in the fall weather and is by far the best condition course I have played. 10/10!!
The sister Course to Straits. Very similar design, just not right on the lake. Features even more exaggerated Pete Dye mounding than Straits.
It’s no Straits, that’s for sure. The Irish Course has bentgrass fairways and bluegrass rough, as opposed to the fescue found on the Straits Course. The fairways and greens are bigger by comparison as well, and more trees interspersed throughout, though most hole corridors are still very wide open. Because of its location on the backside of the artificial dunescape and views of the farmland to the west, in many places the Irish has more of a feel of a course like the Trophy Club or Birck Boilermaker (Kampen) in Indiana rather than one so close to Lake Michigan. On some holes, the routing feels as though it was wedged into place to complete another eighteen holes on the property, but that’s not to say there aren’t a ton of awesome holes out there.
Those awesome holes include: #4, a long dogleg left par four that is classic Dye – the closer one plays to the danger, the better angle to the green, #6, a cute little par three to an “island” green in the sand, #10, a long, uphill par four that starts a fantastic stretch of dune holes, #11, a long par three tucked between the dunes, #13, a semi-blind par three (depending on what tee you play) to a simply enormous green tucked in a valley between dunes, and #16, a long, mean par four with mounds and bunkers galore. I wasn’t a huge fan of the finishing two holes, especially #17, which felt extremely contrived because it had to fit into a weird corner of the property, but quite frankly most holes on the Irish are great ones.
Overall, I liked the Irish, but not as much as I liked the Straits. It didn’t play quite as firm and fast and as Dye probably intended, though it was still fairly new at the time I played it. What it did have was a nice variety of holes and landscapes despite playing second fiddle to the Straits. Certainly, I enjoyed playing Irish far more than I enjoyed playing Blackwolf Run. Since in my mind I had awarded Blackwolf Run (River) three and a half stars and rounded up, I will award Irish four and a half stars and round up as well.
Played June 30, 2001
The Irish course is the second course at Whistling Straits, part of the Kohler resort in Wisconsin. Designed by Pete Dye, the course is just inland to it's more famous neighbor, the Straits course, which has hosted multiple PGA championships a senior U.S. Open. The Irish course is a fun track that is easily walkable. The holes all present a number of different challenges with subtle elevation changes, contoured greens consistent with a Pete Dye layout, and holes that offer a number of strategic options. Many of the greens are amenable to to an approach that runs up, giving the course a bit more of a links flavor than the sister Straits course. However, like the Straits course, the ground is not true links land but the feel and ambience of the layout are certainly links like. I found the par 5's to be the most interesting holes, with each one providing a number of options depending on the length and quality of your drive. One of the down sides to this course was the routing. All the holes seemed to run parallel to each other so that you were either straight downwind or against. Otherwise I found the course great fun to play.
My wife and I played with a caddy and made our way around in 3 hours 15 minutes, just missing an incoming storm. My wife is a relative beginner but she enjoyed the day and hit a number of excellent shots. This is a great second course that was easy to walk and I would highly recommend playing here on a trip to Kohler. Read my full story here: The Wisconsin "Pearl" Golf Trip