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.”
This was my second visit to Kohler, having last visited there in June, 2003. On that visit I played the Straits and Blackwolf Run River course, and was rained out of the Meadows/Valley. I was told to avoid the Irish. A few years a friend of mine played the Irish and told me that he did not care for it. However, one golf publication has it in the top 200 modern courses built since 1960.
Therefore I went into my round curious as to whether I would enjoy the course or regret the decision to play it.
I have no doubt that this review will be favorably influenced by two factors. First, there was little wind in my round as the wind came later that afternoon when I went to the Straits course. Second, I had the first starting time at 7AM and although I thought I would be pared with others, I played with a caddie as a single. I went around the course in 2:12, stopping at various points to ask my caddie questions as he had been at Whistling Straits for ten years. I was able to take numerous photos.
When I played the Straits course in 2003 I walked away believing it to both the most contrived and manufactured course I had ever played at that point. The Irish certainly is even more contrived and manufactured. Mount Kohler rises over 100 feet as likely thousands of truckloads of dirt were brought in. I marveled at how they created a relatively small “summit” with such steep cliffs. This Mount is meant to serve as a guideline on two holes, even though I felt t it to be completely unnecessary for that purpose as it is obvious where one has to hit the ball off the tee on both holes. I admit to wanting to take a detour in my round and climb it as I am certain the views of the two courses and Lake Michigan are spectacular from that peak.
The course offers a lot of variety in the holes, including length, the use of water with ponds and streams, elevated tees, doglegs, and green complexes. The bunkering is numerous and evident even if the fairways are generous. The Irish is similar to the Straits in that many of the bunkers are truly out of play and contribute only to a higher maintenance budget. Having played many courses in Ireland and Northern Ireland, I did not see any meaningful similarity to those courses. While the thirteenth, a par 3 offering an option of a blind tee shot, is thought to resemble the famous fifth “Dell” hole at Lahinch Old, I did not see any similarity.
The Irish has some very good holes although there were many that disappointed me. As such, while the variety is good, the course lacks consistency and has areas that I thought were weak. The finishing hole is a prime example of a hole that should be better, but in its current form, is a bit confusing for the average player. I will cover this in the hole by hole review. It reminded me of Red course at Streamsong where I also feel there is inconsistency in the holes.
The course is challenging as indicated by its ratings. From the back tees the course is 7201 yards, par 72 rated 75.6/146. From the Blue tees it is 6750 yards rated 73.5/141. The Green tees are 6366 yards rated 72.0/137. There are two sets of lesser tees. I played a combination set between the green and blue tees, but played more often from the green tees.
1. Par 4 – 400/387/369. I liked this starting hole which plays from an elevated tee across a short valley to a fairway that is banked to the right. The left side has large man-made mounds where a ball will not likely kick back into the fairway due to the taller grass on these mounds. The fairway snakes its way a few times as it rises to a green about 30 feet above the beginning of the fairway. The hole angles to the left with numerous bunkers set into a fall-off to the left of the green. There are two bunkers short of the green on the right with another one at the first third of the green. There is final sandy waste area at the rear of the green. Some of the bunkers on the left side of the green are well away from the green and I immediately asked the caddie whether he had seen anyone in any of them during his years spent there. His response was no to the ones set away by 20+ yards. The green is sloped back to front and right to left. I landed just short of the green but chipped it stiff. I liked the hole both visually and playing it.
2. Par 4 – 372/360/347. From another elevated tee, this shot has to stay right as a pond goes down the entirety of the left side. There is an early long bunker at the front/right of the fairway but it should be easily carried. Further up about 100 yards from the green on the right begins another bunker. The green is angled to the right with two fronting, small bunkers and one at the rear middle. The green is thin between these greenside bunkers, probably a little too shallow. The green is reasonably flat yet I three-putted it as I did not correctly judge the pace. It is an okay hole due to the green and the visual from the tee.
3. Par 3 – 147/138/128. This hole requires a forced carry over a pond unless the pin is located at the front right. A long arched bunker angled right to left sits between the green and the water. There is a bunker with sleepers on the right front half where a large spine cuts from this bunker halfway into the green. Another bunker sits behind the hole although from the tee this is on the left back of the green. The green has a front depression, the large spine, and two further mounds on the back corners. I had the easiest pin position on the hole. For a short par 3 the hole is visually attractive but the challenge of the hole is heavily influenced by the location of the cup.
4. Par 4 – 489/443/432. This is the best hole on the front nine, both due to its length and being the shape of the hole as a dogleg left to a relatively narrow green. A long waste area goes down the left side stopping about 125 yards from the green. The fairway becomes very tight at the turn in the dogleg due to mounds down the right side and this waste area. I do not think bigger hitters should try to carry the waste area from the black tee as it is just over 300 yards. The green sits below much higher ground to its left and another long waste area on its right side. There are smaller swales and ripples in this fairway. The difficulty with this hole is getting to the tee as the green itself is relatively tame, with two ripples down the left side but not so large as to create doubt in one’s putt. There is an enormous number of bunkers built into the hill on the left and once again the caddie responded no when I asked if he had ever seen anyone in the upper half of these bunkers.
5. Par 5 – 570/517/501. A large sandy waste area with several internal islands is down the right side forcing one a bit more left on this near 90 degree dogleg right. The tee shot has about 150 yard forced carry. This is a quirky hole where bigger hitters will go for the green in two from the Blue and Green tees if they avoid all of the sand down the left side that mirrors the shape of the fairway. There is a 30 wide stream/rough area/high grass/road that one has to either carry or lay up short. If laying up, it will leave an approach shot of 150-170 yards to a narrow opening. For those trying for the green in two another wide and long stretch of sand is down the left side continuing to the green. The green is angled to the left like a kidney bean with a front right and back right bunker. The green is tilted back to front and to the left with the steepest slope nearer its front. While I liked the green, I felt the dogleg to be too severe as well as the opening to the green. Hitting just right of the green will allow one to bounce left onto the green.
6. Par 3 – 160/149/135. This is an island green with higher ground on its left to block the view of Lakeshore Road. Sand surrounds all of the green. The green is a bit disappointing as it is essentially flat. I thought the hole to be a bit better visually than it played.
7. Par 4 – 372/363/344. This hole plays as a dogleg right with the green perched on a shelf. If one goes down the right side they will likely have a blind shot into the green due to trees that are thick and come close to the green. The right side also features a fairway bunker about 230 yards from the tee that has a raised mound at its face. It is a fairly wide bunker placed inside the fairway. Down the left side off the green going to the edge of the green are scattered bunkers. The green is angled to the right with three plateaus in it. The front of the green has a false front. The most interesting part of the green are all of the sizeable fall-offs on the sides as well as the rear deep bunkers. I liked the hole because it has strategy and an element of surprise.
8. Par 5 – 555/542/501. This hole is somewhat similar to the fifth as it is also a sharp dogleg right with a long sandy/waste area down the right side, although this time with a break in it of 25 yards. The left side has scattered bunkers. For shorter hitters the second shot needs to carry a winding stream that cuts essentially diagonally across the fairway. For longer hitters they need to avoid a long bunker left of the fairway about 90 yards from the green as well as a center-line bunker. The green is angled right to left with sand everywhere around it. The green has two tiers and good movement. The hole felt redundant with the fifth.
9. Par 4 – 484/409/322. The green tee should be avoided on this hole unless one wants to “save” their scorecard. The snaky stream that crossed the eighth has to be carried but should be easy to do. The green is placed just beyond the snaky stream which has come back in front of the fairway. There is a small “c” shaped bunker on the left of the green with a small bunker followed by a long bunker on the right side. The green has more of its danger at the front due to a fall in the land with sleeper bunkers somewhat camouflaged in the grass. I had another easy pin position in the middle of the green but overall did not think the long green was overly difficult.
10. Par 4 – 398/387/378. I had mixed feelings about this uphill dogleg left. I very much liked the green complex, with the back half of the green angled to the left but the front half allowing access. I also liked the rise in the fairway with various waves in it as it likely goes up 40 feet or more. However, on the right are manufactured dunes/hills and the long, ragged bunkers placed into those dunes looked overly done and very contrived. While the front nine had many holes that did looked natural, the right side of the fairway looks completely unnatural. The left side of the fairway has a steep fall-off down to two long bunkers set between 150-100 yards from the green. The green has a bunker on the front of either side and is also relatively thin with various small spines cutting horizontally across it.
11. Par 3 – 208/193/178. I felt this to be the best par 3 on the course. This uphill hole with a green that is nearly 40 yards long has a bunker down the entirety of the right side set about 4 feet below the green. To the left of this green is Mount Kohler which makes the green feel as if it is in a bowl. The more problematic bunkers are the two deep ones on the left side of the green. I did not go into them to see their depth but they looked to be at least twelve feet down, possibly more, with steep faces.
12. Par 4 – 413/396/373. This looks to be a benign hole with higher ground on the right side and trees down the left. The unique feature to this hole is the fall-off of the left which is 25 feet at its deepest. This lower shelf continues all the way to the green. The green is angled to the left making a back pin position difficult to get close to. There are no bunkers on the hole.
13. Par 3 – 183/160/152. From the very back of the black tee, you cannot see any of the green. The front half of the black tee offers a glimpse of the beginning of the green but perhaps 85% is still not visible. The green sits at the bottom of a 30 feet drop from the back tee and has numerous unnecessary bunkers between the tee and the fall-off. Behind the green climbing up the hill are more bunkers, completely unnecessary. From the blue and white tees you see much of the green and the hole plays flat. This is another long green of nearly 50 yards. From the black tee the green is fairly neutral while from the other tees it is angled to the right. I stopped counting the bunkers when I reached 30. I did not like this hole due to the numerous unnecessary bunkers and a disappointing flat green. I liked it even less as a blind shot.
14. Par 5 – 564/520/508. I liked this hole playing slightly to the left with a long bunker down its left after a forced carry off the tee. The left side provides a better sight line to the green but the reality is that a lay-up short of the stream cutting diagonally across the fairway is the better idea. As you near the green the right and left sides have numerous bunkers. The right side bunkers are placed well below the green level and one is likely to have to hit out of a bunker over another bunker to get to the green. The rear of the green has a steep fall-off. The green sits above the fairway as much as twenty feet from the likely third shot. This is easily the best par 5 on the golf course.
15. Par 4 – 479/459/416. The best par 5 is followed by why I thought to be the best par 4 because it has a superior green complex to the fourth hole. This hole plays slightly downhill then slightly more downhill on this dogleg right. The safe play is down the left side due to the fall-off and trees down the right side. However, the left side also has a long, thin bunker placed below the hill. On the left side is Mount Kohler with perhaps as many as twenty bunkers built into the side of the hill before it. The caddie said these bunkers and the Mount are meant to serve as guidelines but I found them to be completely unnecessary and not visually attractive. The green is long at 44 yards but it also thin. It has numerous deep bunkers on both sides set well below a green with various ripples.
16. Par 4 - 474/436/425. From a slightly elevated tee the fairway moves to the left but then back slightly to the right. A pond sits down the entirety of the left side consistent with the contours of the fairway with that bulge to the left. Numerous bunkers sit between the water and the green following the tee shot. The right side has two bunkers placed below the fairway about 150 yards from the green. There is a 25 feet drop-off on the right side with a long bunker placed at its bottom. This hole concludes the best stretch of golf on the course from 14-16.
17. Par 4 – 375/355/335. This is not quite a mirror image of the second because there is no reason to carry any part of the water off the tee. The water reservoir sits down the right side all the way to the green. This dogleg right has bunkers on the outer corner that seem unnecessary to me. A tee shot of 200-250 yards is fine for this hole. The green has no bunkers and is fairly simple, albeit slightly narrow.
18. Par 5 – 558/536/523. I liked the tee shot and the green but nothing else regarding the finishing hole. The water reservoir runs down the left side and is a factor for the shorter hitters. Down the right side are scattered bunkers with the final one seeming to be a center line bunker except it is not as it is on the right edge of the fairway. One wants to be as far left as possible off the tee to see the fairway for any lay-up shot short of the stream that crosses the fairway about 130 yards from the very uphill green. The final fairway bunker on the right is placed in a mound that blocks the view of the fairway. Although my caddie gave me the correct line, I did not go as far right as he wanted with my second and found an enormous stretch of rough that sits off the right side nearly all the way to the stream. There are also two fairway bunkers on the left but I did not see any reason for them to be there. The green is somewhat of a volcano green with steep fall-offs on all but the rear. Any ball not landing on the green will likely come back 30-80 yards from the green. It is a weird design to this hole.
The Irish course is not in the same league as the Straits course, although it does have many fine golf holes. But it is let down by an overload of visuals that are more of a nuisance than a distraction. It also has only one par 5 that is compelling. There is a bit of silliness to the course, but overall I liked the green complexes and I used many of the clubs in my bag. I can certainly recommend the course given the nine-ten good holes on it. But for a better test of golf, one should play the Straits or the River course at Blackwolf Run. For me, this serves as a good warm-up round to those two courses.
At a resort that typically punches guests in the face, the Irish is a good substitute and second round for the day. The course is a lot more wide and playable with a lot more interesting holes. The greens are much more undulating and creative, my favorite of which can be found on the blind short par three 13th. The par fives are all excellent with lots of strategy, and overall the course is definitely a better match play course than the straits.
I've always found that playing Championship courses one time causes them to stick out more, just because of how cool it is to play where the pros play. However, over time, most of these courses such as Medinah (prior to OCM renovations) or Cog Hill are typically not as much fun the more they're played. While I have only played the courses at Whistling once each, I would imagine this holds true. If the PGA's and Ryder cups are taken out of the equation, I honestly believe that the Irish is a better golf course. Make sure not to pass up the replay rate when visiting Kohler.
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