It's been 13 years since Josue Reye joined the professional staff at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin. He's worked two PGA Championships, a Women's U.S. Open and this week he adds a Ryder Cup to his resume.
However, the long-time PGA Professional (the club pros who run golf shops, provide lessons, and do all the little things that make golf possible) likely has more in common with you – the everyday golfer – than the world's top players traversing Whistling this week.
Reyes picked up the game later in life. After studying hospitality at the University of Central Florida, a buddy invited him for a round of golf on a Sunday afternoon. That one Sunday, turned into every Sunday. As his passion for the game grew, he decided to pivot his career. He left a cushy and lucrative gig running banquets at Disney to work in the cart barn and at the bagdrop.
It turned out to be the right call. Reyes now oversees the entire retail operation for Kohler golf properties, including Whistling Straits, Blackwolf Run and the Old Course Hotel at St. Andrews.
Reyes, a Team TaylorMade ambassador, has more than a hundred Whistling Straits rounds under his belt. As we prepare for this week's competition between the U.S. and Europe, he uses that experience to walk us through each hole of the breathtaking course.
This dogleg left opener leads out to Lake Michigan and can be challenging when the wind's coming off the water. Most players will opt for less than driver to avoid the large fairway bunker down the right. You'll also want to avoid missing left off the tee. No fun over there, trust me. In an ideal world, you'll have a mid-to-short iron in your hand on the approach. Everything angles forward from right to left on the green, so play for that slope when deciding where to land the ball. Attacking a back pin location can lead to a rough start.
You'll see a lot of players going after this green in two this week, as it will be a critical birdie opportunity and a chance to grab an early match play lead. The fairway is narrow and fast, and players will need to be down the left-hand side to give themselves the best chance of reaching in two. For us mortal golfers, this is usually a three-shot par 5. You'll want to leave yourself with 60-100 yards on your approach. A theme for this course is knowing how and when to attack pin placements, as some shots will release upwards of 10 yards, and others will hold. Caddies play crucial roles every week, but precise yardages will be needed to hit the ball close. That's particularly true on this green.
We like to say there are 18 signature holes on The Straits Course, but No. 3 is one of the most picturesque on property. The relatively short par 3 plays into Lake Michigan with severely undulated green. Your golf ball will want to run off to the left, so favor the right side of the green and allow the ball to release down towards the pin. Club selection and landing areas will be important, regardless of how hard the wind is blowing.
This is the No. 1 handicap. It always takes my lunch, and, to be honest, bogey feels like birdie to me sometimes. It will play long in this week's match (nearly 500 yards), and even at 414 yards, where I play from, it's still a challenge! There's ample space down the right-hand side of the fairway, but the farther right you are, the longer the hole plays. However, missing left may lead to a gnarly lie in the waste area or high fescue; and you may find yourself having to punch out — error towards the right-hand portion of this green on your approach for safety.
The second par-5 on The Straits Course is appropriately named Snake. It meanders through marsh and waste areas to the tune of 603 yards. It will be a three-shot hole for most players, and long hitters who dare challenge the green in two will have to contend with water short/left of the putting surface. The pin location will dictate how aggressive players can be on the approach, even for those who decide to lay up.
This short par 4 can be fun and is one of my favorite holes. You'll want to be accurate off the tee and be committed to your target line. Awkward lies await if you tug your drive too far left on top of the hill or push it right into the bunkering. Long hitters will be tempted to drive the green and should error towards the left side. Those laying back will want to be in the left-hand portion of the fairway to give themselves the best look on an approach. This hole earned its name, Gremlin's Ear, from the deep pot bunker that protects the middle of the green. If there's one rule on this hole, it's keeping it to the left.
This is one of the great par 3s in championship golf. If you recall the 2015 PGA Championship, one competitor donated a few golf balls to Lake Michigan – which stretches down the right side of the hole. His club joined them shortly after. You'll want to favor the left side of the green on the approach, even on pins located on the right side, as the contours of the green will take the ball towards the back corner. Distance control is critical, as you don't want to be short or long of this green. You can find yourself with some interesting lies if you miss the green, and bogey (or worse) comes into play quickly.
This is a risk-reward tee shot. There's a blind landing area, and the safe play is taking your drive down the left side of the fairway. However, if you're down the right side, you have a shorter and more manageable approach. What's the risk? There's a severe drop-off, dunes and Lake Michigan if your ball wanders too far right. Players driving the ball confidently will take on the right-hand side and be rewarded if they pull off the shot. The green is relatively flat and also guarded by heavy bunkering on the right.
The 9th hole offers beautiful views as you make your way back towards the clubhouse. There's a gracious landing area, so feel free to swing away on the tee. However, tee shots that wander too far right may be blocked out by large tree 100 yards short of the green. The approach shot plays slightly downhill, and landing in the correct portion of the green is critical. This hole demands that you be aggressive off the tee and strategic on the approach.
The 10th hole is a legitimate birdie chance. It's a short par 4, and most players will take less than driver off the tee – leaving a wedge on the approach. Players with enough firepower may attempt to drive the green or aim for the collection area just right of it to leave a straightforward pitch or chip. The green has some subtle breaks that you'll need to account for.
After a short par 4, we jump to one of the longest holes on the course. The challenging par-5 11th will play at 645 yards during the match. There's more room in the fairway than it appears off the tee, as the mounds of bunkering on the right side dwarf the greenspace. A good drive is critical here because you'll want to position yourself for a solid second shot. Most players will lay back to about 100 yards because an intense and challenging bunker complex awaits overly aggressive second shots. The perfect leave is the right-hand tier just below the green, which will give players the chance to flight a wedge up the hill. A pesky little pot bunker protects the middle of the green.
This is a short par 3 but birdies, and at times pars, are not guaranteed. This may be the most challenging green on the course, and some hole locations are just impossible. When the pin is in the back right, you'll need to hit a landing area about the size of a coffee table to get the ball close. Shots that land in the middle of the green face the threat of careening forward into the back bunkers. Anything that lands short or right will be gobbled up by a 40 foot drop off to dunes and Lake Michigan. This shot will require all your focus.
This hole is appropriately named "Cliffhanger." It moves right-to-left with heavy bunkering and Lake Michigan stretching down the right side. It favors a cut off the tee, but danger awaits any shots that wander too far right. There's plenty of space left; remind yourself of that before you swing. The fun continues on the approach shot. Anything long and right will tumble into Lake Michigan.
No. 14 turns back towards the clubhouse and starts the homeward stretch. It's short par 4, and you'll want to favor the right-hand side, so you don't end up in a bunker or with a blind approach. Most players will take less than driver. You can be aggressive into this green because there's not a lot of trouble up there. It's relatively flat and holds well. Greenlight here.
After a relatively easy hole, the 15th is one of the most challenging par-4 finishing holes in championship golf. It's long (stretching upwards of 503 yards), and the wind can wreak havoc. Favor the left side of the fairway to avoid bunkering down the right. It's going to take two solid shots to reach the green in regulation, and when you get there, you'll find subtle contours that will make holing putts very challenging.
Reaching this green in two will require a couple of strong shots. In a match-play format, players may take on the risk in search of an early victory or stealing a late point. It gets narrow up by the green, so they'll need to be precise. My only advice is, don't miss left. Keep all approaches to the right side of the green. For me, this is always a three-shot hole. There's space to lay up down the right-hand side, which will give you a great angle with a wedge in your hand. The green has some movement to it, but nothing too severe. If you stay away from the trouble, this is a birdie opportunity on the home stretch.
What you see is what you get on this hole, and you don't see very much. From 200-plus yards away, the green appears to be a tiny target. When you get up there, you'll realize you have more space than you imagined. Still, you'll want to play it safe and keep your tee shot to the right side. Anything that misses left faces a steep 40 feet drop off into the dunes and Lake Michigan. Par is a good score.
Diabolical: The name says everything you need to know. In my 13 years of playing here, I can count the number of birdies I've had on this hole on one hand. It's tough. You need an exacting tee shot down the right side and then a long iron into the green. For the big hitters, there is an adjacent fairway on the left-hand side that will leave you with a shorter approach – reaching that landing area will require the perfect drive. It could lead to some fireworks down the stretch during match play this week, as players may feel the need to take on the big drive. For us mere mortals, a par will make your dinner taste a lot better.
Josue Reyes is a TaylorMade staff professional and the Director of Retail at Destination Kohler and Destination St. Andrews. He is the 2020 National PGA Merchandiser of the Year and has been a PGA member since 2006.
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