Is This The Best Ryder Cup Course In The Modern Era?

It's hard to find fault with Whistling Straits, an incredible venue for the 43rd Ryder Cup

Whistling Straits
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's hard to find fault with Whistling Straits, an incredible venue for the 43rd Ryder Cup

Is this the best Ryder Cup course in the modern era?

Whistling Straits, we’re reportedly told, is not a links.

It might look like one and Lake Michigan might dominate the eyeline like a coastal links but it’s played through the air and not on the ground.

But it is something else and a very welcome change from what we’re normally served up on American soil. Or Europe for that matter.

Over the past 20 years how many Ryder Cup venues really spark your interest and make you think that you’d give anything to play there?

For all the thrills and spills of Brookline or Medinah or Hazeltine would you be moving heaven and earth to tee it up there?

The K Club, Belfry, Gleneagles and Celtic Manor et al all have their own charms but they wouldn’t be ranked in the upper reaches of their own country.

The formula for staging Ryder Cups is quickly becoming a bit tired; put simply the Americans will thin out the rough and encourage length while the Europeans, as we saw so effectively at Le Golf National, will thicken out the rough and take driver out of the American hands wherever possible.

Related: How can I play Whistling Straits?

At Hazeltine in 2016 even the ever-polite Justin Rose was moved to question the layout.

“This course can be as tough as you want it to be. I think today, if we were all to be honest about it, the set-up was incredibly weak," he said.

"I thought it was very much a pro-am feel in terms of the pin placements. They were all middle of the green.

"I don't quite understand that to be honest, world-class players and we want to showcase our skills.

"We want to be tested. For example, the water holes out there, all the pins were as far away from the water as possible.

“The pin on 17 is an absolute joke. It's a 9-iron into the middle of the green and you stiff it.

"So with a match on the line, you want a player to step up a little bit more than they have to.

"Even 18, if you hit a good drive down there, you've got a wedge into the green. So I just felt coming down the stretch, it was a little soft.”

While the scoring at Whistling Straits has been often incredible and some pins can be located via the slopes the players have certainly been able to showcase their skills.

Better still, the fans are perched above the play making it a great viewing theatre.

It’s got a great and varied finish and we've hardly seen the 18th yet, which was the hole that stuck most in the memory from our previous visits here.

We all seem to like the same things; short par 3s, drivable 4s, par 5s where everyone isn’t hitting wedge from the same spot and the ability to make the players look a bit silly on occasion.

We don’t want to just see player after player hitting driver off every tee, we don’t want to see balls checking up from the rough but we want to see 7-irons from 120 yards, shots riding on the wind into some gnarly junk and we do want to see a load of birdies and we’ve had all of these and more.

The short 12th seems to have half a dozen hole locations and the players are good enough to find any of them while the par-5 5th has already been earmarked as one of the most iconic holes in Ryder Cup history after what Bryson DeChambeau did on day one.

Earlier in the week the American did hint at what was to come but that couldn’t really have prepared us for what then happened.

“If it’s the right wind I could pretty much go at the flag which is cool," Bryson said.

"In the practice session I had like 120 yards into that green. Guys are going to be hitting it over the left maybe and having 3-wood or hybrid in.”

For the record DeChambeau nutted it 417 yards, leaving himself just 72 yards from where he pitched up to kick-in distance.

Eight holes later he drove it greenside at a par 4 that measures 394 yards.

Even the walk to the 1st tee, over the river and through the woods, is something else.

What about Whistling Straits' thousand or so bunkers?

Every week we hear about how bunkers are no longer hazards and how players are better off finding them, either off the tee or with the approach, to guarantee a safe return to the putting surface.

This week we’ve already seen more awkward stances and knifed or chunked recoveries than the rest of the year put together.

By all means take the shot on but, be warned, your next shot might well be a stinker.

Jordan Spieth speaks as well as anyone and he sums it up far better than most of us could.   

I love the course, the set-up, it’s beautiful. It's on the lake but you've got to control the ball in the wind," the Texan said.

"You've got to hit kind of different shots off tees and then, if you position the ball well, you have these green complexes that are subtle and you can feed the ball into hole locations.

"You can get into trouble but you can also birdie just about every single hole with the right shot. It's tough and fair, and then if we see it in some colder, windier conditions, it could be a unique test, as well.

“You have to hit shots versus driving range shots. You have uneven lies that you have to work maybe against them or with them, hold winds, ride winds. I think it's an American links.”

Mark Townsend
Contributing editor

Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.