How Did Whistling Straits Get Built Right on Top of Lake Superior?
Saturday, 01 May 2010 15:06

I was talking to someone in the office the other day and he grew up near Sheboygan, Wisconsin and knew some of the background on how Whistling Straits Golf Course was developed.  So it made me curious.  How could a golf course, built in 1998, get permission to build a course that is basically on Lake Superior shoreline?

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Here is what I found.  Whistling Straits hosted the 2004 PGA Championship, the 2007 U.S. Senior Open, and will host the 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships and the 2020 Ryder Cup.  It’s sister course, Blackwolf Run hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998 and will host the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open.

It was also an army base called Camp Haven in the late 1940’s.  From an article at the Mead Public Library website:

In 1949 the United States Army decided to set up an anti-aircraft training range on the site that is today Whistling Straights. The Army leased 160 acres of farm land from a local owner on which to construct their new training facility. In its prime the camp had a floating population of 500 to 700 men. Over 120 tents and permanent buildings were set up on the site.

It remained an anti-aircraft gunnery range until 1959 when, because of guided missile antiaircraft guns, the range was no longer needed.  Later the land was sold to Wisconsin Power and Light so that they could build a nuclear power plant which never happened.

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Now if it was you or I that wanted to develop a golf course that is carved out of the bluffs that overlooks Lake Superior, it would never happen.  But if you are Herb Kohler , president and CEO of Kohler Company and basically the John D. Rockefeller of Wisconsin, in the late 1970’s, it could be a golf course of the highest quality.

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It all started with Herb (he doesn’t know me, but I like to call him Herb), trying to decide what to do with an old brick building built in 1918 and designed to house his company’s immigrant workers. Against the advice of his own board (you can disagree with your board if your company’s privately held), he decided to convert it to a fancy hotel which he named American Club.  After opening in 1981, it became a big hit.

Big-moneyed guests liked to play golf in the area and they suggested to Herb that he build a golf course.   As a result, he built Blackwolf Run in 1988 and the golf world loved it. In the same year, the U.S. Women’s Open was played there with classic results (an unknown Jenny Chuasiriporn pushed Se Ri Pak to an 18-hole playoff).

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Ten years later, Herb built Whistling Straits to huge fanfare and it is now considered the top public course in Wisconsin.

At just a mere $340 for 18-holes (plus the $60 caddie fee of course) it’s not cheap . And don’t forget the suggested $35/bag caddie tip too.  So each golfer will pay $435 for a round a golf at Whistling Straits (and I thought Pebble Beach was expensive).   Actually Pebble Beach is because it tops out as $495/round (plus cart). If you have your golf course bucket list, you too can play Wisconsin’s best golf course, albeit at a very steep price.

1 Comment

  1. Correction....Whistling Straits is actually built on Lake Michigan's shoreline....not Lake Superior.