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Whistling Straits in enviable position

Major championships don't just land on the doorstep with the morning paper.

For even the best courses in the United States, obtaining a major is a drawn-out process that begins with courting either the United States Golf Association or the PGA of America.

After a mutual interest is declared, the course presents a financial game plan and then must make renovations to the infrastructure or the playing venue as required.

The process takes years and occasionally costs millions of dollars, and even if all goes well with the championship there are no guarantees the course will be awarded another (i.e. Olympia Fields, site of the 2003 U.S. Open).

Because the cycle takes so long, most courses align themselves with either the PGA or the USGA. Hence, Pebble Beach and Shinnecock Hills are on the U.S. Open "rotation" and Medinah and Hazeltine are future PGA Championship / Ryder Cup sites.

Given that perspective, it is stunning to watch the PGA and the USGA fawn and fight over Whistling Straits.

The 86th PGA Championship, which concluded Sunday with Vijay Singh winning a three-man playoff, proved beyond doubt that the Straits is one of the most spectacular stages in America for a major championship.

Now, both the PGA of America and the USGA want to hold future championships at the 6-year-old links course, giving Herbert V. Kohler Jr. a problem other owners would love to have.

One gets the distinct impression, based on comments by PGA officials and by Kohler himself, that he could sign a contract tomorrow that would bring another PGA Championship to Haven.

Kohler already has a contract with the USGA for the 2007 U.S. Senior Open. As for a future U.S. Open, USGA officials toured the Straits early last week and were impressed by the infrastructure and gallery flow, two concerns before the PGA Championship began.

"Boy, they're ready to go," Kohler said.

So, does he sign with the PGA of America for another PGA Championship or does he wait to see what the USGA will do at scheduled meetings in October and January?

The guess here is that Kohler will take his time with a decision. He has leverage in negotiations because he can play one organization against the other, as he did five years ago.

The USGA typically takes more time to make decisions because it is governed by committee. So when Kohler, who dearly wants a U.S. Open at Whistling Straits, received no guarantee in 1999 that it would happen any time soon, he signed instead with the PGA of America for the 2004 PGA Championship.

In order to beat the USGA to the punch, the PGA of America took the unprecedented step of pulling the 86th PGA from Valhalla in Louisville, Ky., which already had been awarded the championship, and giving it to the Straits.

Kohler clearly wants a U.S. Open because of the prestige factor. It wouldn't take him long to agree to a contract that would bring the 2009 U.S. Women's Open to Blackwolf Run -- "Don't forget the ladies," he said Sunday -- and the 2012 U.S. Open to Whistling Straits.

But he also wants the Ryder Cup Matches, which from a corporate standpoint is the biggest event in golf. The Ryder Cup, Kohler said, brings in 40% more corporate dollars than does the PGA Championship.

So if the USGA drags its feet, Kohler could sign a PGA Championship / Ryder Cup package deal with the PGA of America.

The first available U.S. date for the Ryder Cup is 2020 (the biennial matches alternate between Europe and America and are scheduled through 2016).

Why is Kohler in such an enviable position?

He and course architect Pete Dye designed and built Whistling Straits with major championships in mind. That was evident to anyone who saw the 50-acre PGA Championship Village and the impressive parking / shuttle system for 45,000 spectators.

The State of Wisconsin did a great job handling traffic and the Kohler Co. proved to be a model of efficiency in running a golf championship, just as it did during the 1998 U.S. Women's Open.

Wisconsin's enthusiastic and respectful golf fans did the rest, and the standing ovations Kohler received demonstrated their appreciation for what he has done.

Whistling Straits, which can be stretched to 7,800 yards, performed as advertised on the weekend, after scores were too low Thursday and Friday. The PGA erred on the side of caution early because players had expressed so much fear about high scores during practice rounds.

Once the PGA moved back the tees -- the Straits played at 7,369 yards on Thursday and 7,536 on Sunday -- and tucked a few pins, the red numbers all but disappeared. Only two players broke 70 in the final round and Singh shot a 76, the highest final-round score by a winner in PGA Championship history.

"It's the first time we played a championship here," said Steve Flesch, who tied for 37th place. "You can feel out the golf course and the next time we come back they'll know what they can do.

"You can set up this course so 75 would be a good score. You just firm up the greens and put the pins on the edges. Then, if they leave the rough long and get 20-mph winds, they're going to have everyone hanging their heads and whining all day long, which we pretty much do, anyway."

Kohler said the greens ran at 11.5 to 12 feet on the Stimpmeter, which is about the same speed as the greens at most PGA Tour events but slower than the greens at a typical major championship venue.

"The USGA knows it can strengthen this course immeasurably," he said. "You put it at 7,500 yards and you put the greens at the speed of the Masters and (the winning score) would be 5-over par, I guarantee it."

Tiger Woods, who will be 36 in 2012, already is expressing reservations about Whistling Straits as a U.S. Open venue because of its difficulty.

"I would hate to see what the USGA would do to this golf course," he said.

Kohler, on the other hand, wouldn't mind at all.

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