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.”
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