Episode 15 - Whistling Straits

Secret Golf's Steve Elkington travels Wisconson to play Whistling Straits and visit Herb Kohler. He also visits Sartori Cheese, Wisconson-based manufacturer of award-winning specialty cheese.

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FEMALE NARRATOR: On this episode of "Secret Golf," we visit America's dairy land and discover a true gem.

-It is a destination that is just not believable. Some of the people that we brought here this week. They never thought they'd ever come to Wisconsin for anything.

FEMALE NARRATOR: Off the course, we partake in a local custom.

-And then we have a Merlot BellaVitano. And then last, this is an Asiago And this Asiago is aged six months.

FEMALE NARRATOR: And our smackdown is on one of the country's best courses. And we find out who will be the big cheese.

-Gone, baby. Get going, baby. keep going.

-What are you doing? Keep going. Go in the hole.

-Did that go all the way back there?

-I think it went in, Steve. I think it went in.

-Very close. I certainly hope it did.

FEMALE NARRATOR: "Secret Golf" is rolling your way.



THEME SONG: It's Secret Golf. It's what I'm looking for. It's where i get up every morning, call my good-timing friend. It keeps me coming back for more. Secret Golf, we're headed down the road. We just love it enough. The big show is going looking for the heart of stone. Roll until the wheels fall off is Secret Golf. GET UP Shh. It's a secret.

-So I'm at the great Whistling Straits. This was a cornfield. This used to be flat. Everything you see here has been put here.

MALE NARRATOR: Kohler, Wisconsin is a small village in Sheboygan county on the Western shore of Lake Michigan. Originally called Riverside, the town was renamed Kohler in 1900 when the Kohler Company built its new factory there.

-The village of Kohler is our home. We have great legacy here as kind of the cornerstone of who we are and our headquarters. It's a small place, but it's true to our values.

MALE NARRATOR: Starting with a cast iron water trough more than 130 years ago, the company now spans six continents with over 33,000 associates. And while it may be a golfing mecca today, that was never the original intent. Golf in Kohler was a result of customer comment cards.

-It wasn't a grand vision from the beginning. It wasn't about that. My father knew very little about golf, and customers were coming to the American club and they were seeking to golf. So we would ship them off to local courses. They filled out comment cards. He was reviewing those one day with his head of business development, who's a scratch golfer. And it said they wanted to golf. So he said, OK, how do we create a golf course?

MALE NARRATOR: The four courses at Black Wolf Run and Whistling Straits have hosted six major championships and will host the Ryder Cup in 2020. But the crown jewel of the golf portfolio is the Straits course at Whistling Straits. Built on a flatter air field, the course was crafted through the vision of Herb Kohler and Pete Dye and 1700 truckloads of sand.

-It really was amazing what Mr. Kohler and Pete Dye were able to build. It was a military facility at one point. There was actually a runway that was on this property. So it was really almost dead flat land. So to be able to do that, really takes a special talent. Because of that, what they've created now is one of the greatest golf courses in the country, if not the world.

-I was amazed. I mean Pete Dye, you know, he's an amazing architect. He took a flat piece of land and was able to create everything you see behind me. And it's wonderful architecture.

Herb is an amazing businessman who's done so much for this community up here. He built these for golf courses, five star hotels. It is a destination that is just not believable.

So we are on the range here with the best weather on the best golf course, Whistling Straits, Wisconsin. And when I think of Wisconsin, by I think of cheese. And I've got the cheese man here, Sartori Cheese. Jim, thank you for being on our show.

-Well thank you. Appreciate it. It's an honor to be here. Michael's the head pro here at Whistling Straits, one of the best gigs around. And if we're lucky, we may even get to see the logo. He's going to meet us right here. Herb Kohler, the man himself is going to come. That's him, isn't it?

-Well they say it isn't. They say it isn't.

-I'm going to ask him straight up. So as you guys know, in our show, we-- well, we're going to play the three holes, and we've chosen the three most dastardly holes here at Whistling Straits.

-Yeah, they're pretty tough.

-16, 17, and 18. What about the sheep. Where are the sheep?

-The sheep are on the golf course. They just roam. Yeah. They're typically on the back nine. Can we find them?

-We can try.

-We're going to to have fun today in the smackdown, Whistler Strait style.

MALE NARRATOR: At every turn, the mystique of Whistling Straits leaves mirrored traces from our English neighbors to the east. And with the British Isles in mind, Herb Kohler and Pete Dye wanted visitors to be swept away by its natural terrain and unique wildlife.

-Now there is quite a bit of wildlife that you do see in and around the area. It's not uncommon to see deer, pheasant, foxes, wild turkeys, the sheep. So I think it gives of the guests also a sense that you really are out in kind of a unique place.

-Oh, look at the baby turkeys. I've never seen baby turkeys, ever.


They're listening to me, but they're ignoring me, taking their children to eat breakfast.


-I think all of destination Kohler golf properties have really made themselves known throughout the world, but Whistling Straits is certainly the most iconic. It's this magical creation Herb Kohler and Pete Dye, really out of a flat piece of land.

-To a lot of us like me, it's a bit of an enigma It's like, what's that doing here? You know, he's taken a flat piece of terrain and he's designed this relatively hilly course, or roly-poly course with such interesting golf shots.

-He's very much about testing the best players in the world but being fair as well to the everyday player. He really tries to make it very visually intimidating, gives them spots to hit it to, but draws their attention away either to Lake Michigan or to bunkers or the berms.

-The severity of the lies in the bunkers and the long grass is high. You know, it's really severe. If you keep it in the middle of the fairway, if you keep it in the middle of the green, you're going to do just fine.

He's smart, because he listened to his customers. He built this beautiful golf course, not only for his customers, but he built it for this community and tournament sites. When you come here you really know you've been somewhere.

Jim, The Big Cheese. You ready for this?

-I'm ready.

-Michael, tell us why we've chosen the 16th hole as one of the holes in this week's smackdown.

-It's a long par five, 569 yards from in the back tee.

-Yes, and I think the match today should be you two guys, local pro, local cheese, is it a merchant?

-Whatever you like.

-Cheese merchant. And the loser-- Keith, give me that. The loser-- because we got a special guest going to join after, the loser may have to serve. What do you think?

-Sounds like a good bet to me.

-OK. Let's do it. Oh.

-Right down the middle.

-Big Cheese!


-Nice swing.

-16th hole is the last chance for birdie at Whistling Straits, you know, for most every player. You know it's a pretty straight away par five. There's a little trouble left, but not crazy. I mean you can still make a birdie. We play those two versus me, and we had a ball.

-But it was a bit intimidating to have these wonderful golfers competing with. But as I say, I just wanted to relax and enjoy it. And they're great guys so there was no intimidation from them. It was fun. We enjoyed it.

-Perfect, Jim.

-Good shot. Oh. Hit it right at the flag.


-Got to be pretty good.

-Looking good.


-Nice shot.

-Yeah, thank you.

-Well done.

-I'll take it.

-Just get down a little for us.

-I was very impressed with Jim. He, right away, just hit one down the middle and hit a solid second shot, hit his third shot onto the green. And he carried us through the hole.

-You're a natural. You're a natural showman. I love it. I pulled it.


-I happened to hit a good drive and a five iron on the green. Jim started off on 16 strong. He had a stroke on that hole. He played the hole perfectly for him.

Stretch it out, baby. Oh, you had it right on the line too. And we tied that hole.

MALE NARRATOR: With 1.3 million cows producing over 3 billion pounds of cheese a year, Wisconsin is the largest producer of the product in the United States. However, one legendary producer you need to be familiar with is Sartori Cheese.

-We feel like cheese making is an art. Some of the larger mega factories nowadays just do it much more as a commodity. We have four master cheese makers and they know exactly how to treat the cheese. And I think people are surprised at the artistic nature of our business.

MALE NARRATOR: The Sartori Cheese Company is a fourth generation owned and operated business that has been producing artisan cheese for over 75 years.

-I think the biggest thing when we bring people in, they're surprised at how much effort and work goes into it. Simply collecting the milk and getting the best milk in the world is a big process. And we haven't even started it yet. The milk is heated. It's treated, rennet is added for coagulation.

The cheese has cut, formed into the special sizes. We make all different sizes. And then from there, they're soaked in a brine, a salt brine for a number of days. And then they begin the maturation process, which is cured in temperature controlled rooms, humidity controlled rooms that we have all across Wisconsin, aging our cheese anywhere from six to 26 months.

-Yeah, Sartori Cheese. I mean one of our goals when we came up to Wisconsin was to, let's talk about some of the great things they have up here, some of the great products. And the milk is very important. Aging process, attention to detail, the skin of the cheese, the absorption rate of the cheese, how old it is. I knew cheese was one of my favorite things, now I really know why it is.

MALE NARRATOR: And with over 200 awards to their credit, Sartori is not only one of the best cheese producers in Wisconsin, but in the world.

-We love Wisconsin. We love the heritage. And we feel like we're a real part of the Wisconsin landscape.

-Well, I was still in the tournament really good in 2010 when I stepped onto this tee. And we can see where the pin is today, right there. But if you take the camera, and you take it all the way over to the left edge over there, where it looks so nasty on those, and there's a little tree all the way in the background, where there's some little sticks up right on the bank, it was back there. And it was just so intimidating.

I hit one of the best shots I've ever hit in my life. Because this is where the pin is, and then as we step over, from 240 yards, you know, you're literally looking at that. And that's the trouble that Whistling Straits presents itself to you.

17 is the most, you know, the most distracting hole you've ever seen. It's got the real visual drop off on the left. Oh. Look at Big Cheese.

-Carry it, wind.

-Now go.

-Well, 17. I like par threes. That one didn't intimidate me having too much. And I felt like with an iron in my hand, I could get it on.

-Keep going, baby. Keep going, baby.

-What are you doing?

-Keep going. Go in the hole.

-Is that all the way back there?

-I think it went in, Steve. I think it went in, Steve. Very close.

-I certainly it did.

-Good shot, partner.

-Oh, he's hit it right down the line.

-Beautiful, Michael.

-Those two guys probably hit two of the best shots I have ever seen. I mean, one five iron, one six iron, that finished 12 feet away, into a back left [INAUDIBLE]. Pretty impressive.

I still have a little scar tissue left over from the tournament. So I flared mine out to the right, safe, you know, after they put it in there [INAUDIBLE]. That was strictly scar tissue. Because if you go over there, smack down's over.

I hit it nice. [INAUDIBLE] Pretty good putt.

-I think Steve was a little disappointed. He pushed his shot out there a little bit, but still got away with a par.

The hole is designed to really visually intimidate you.


-But as you can see, both mine and Jim's balls landed front, center of the green and it rolled back to the pin.

-Oh, a little too high.

-A little too high.

-Neither of us were able to make the putt. And then Elk wasn't able to make the putt either, so we're tied going into 18.

-This is going to happen quite a bit around here. Michael, right?


-I mean the fescue. This is the same turf that's on the fairways.


-Except, let go. Now here's the problem with this shot. If you're out there, and you're trying to get distance, what happens is all this grass wraps around this shaft like that as it comes through, under velocity. Makes that face just go whoosh. Tip over like that. So what I do, the only way I can combat that is open it more. Open it more, and try to get-- I try to twist the blade right so I'm open. And I just try to slam it, slam it square right at impact and forget all this stuff here. So I'm open, open.

-Steve really explained that it's not so much making contact with the ball, it's what comes after. All that fescue that wraps around your shaft, and he explained that closes the face.


Yeah, well it can be a challenge. And it really can grab your club. And if you're not coming into it with the proper angle, and with the amount of club head speed that you need, your club will just get caught up. You'll flub it five feet, and maybe have that same shot again. Maybe get it out, maybe not, depending on where you're at. Tough shot. Tough shot. Why they call it the rough.

-I think the biggest thing is, you just got to swing hard. You can't fool around, because that fescue is thick. And I wasn't real successful in getting it out the first two times.

-You see this every day with the guys coming through here. What do you--

-Well, I see a lot of m the amateur player will try to play this like a normal chip shot, kind of get their weight forward, get their hands ahead, and just try to go like this. And they don't generate enough club head speed. You got to get some club head speed. So what I like to do, similar to what you said, I open the club face up to counteract it closing down in the grass. But I also try to get real steep.

I take my club straight up in the air. It's not going to get caught up in this grass over here. Whereas, if I come in real shallow--

-It's going to start twisting already.

-I'm going to lose all my club head speed, and it will close the club face down.

-I had a little help from Michael, the pro, who has a fair amount of experience. And I tend to try to keep out of the fescue. But we learned today that, you know, that club turns over really quick. And so you need a lot of velocity to get in there and be on a sharp angle. No point coming in low, because it's going to wrap around more. So it's a good shot to have in your tackle box. You know it's a good shop to have. If you get in the fescue, got to be able to get out.

So we are on probably one of the hardest holes I've ever played in my life. Michael, the 18th at Whistling Straits. What are we looking at? It's this big hole here.

-I mean it is a long challenging par four.

-Yeah, I mean the hole itself must chew up 20 acres, 30 acres. It's like a huge hole, just a big hole. It takes two excellent shots, great tee shot, great second shot to get on. And then negotiate it for a par. Four is a great score at 18.

I like your swing. I like your game. Good shot.

-I think it's a beautiful hole, a great hole. I thought I could hit a really good drive. I was in the fairway. But into the wind, it's still a long way to get on the hole in two. And even if you really poke one out there, you're still going to leave yourself a long shot in, five, four, six iron, somewhere in that ballpark.

-That would be good. You know, 18, we all hit good drives and we all had good seconds. Oh! Big Cheese

-Partner. Get up. Oh, no! Oh it stayed in the grass.

-It's up.

-It stayed in the grass.

-Oh, here it comes. Here it comes.

-Come on.

-Nice. Yeah. Good play. Michael, he had a great hybrid into the back portion of the green here, which is great. Like that.


-How about that shot?

-What a swing.


-Great shot.

-Hey, I'd take that.

-Good shot.

-Any day.

-Absolutely. Thank you.

-There's no bail out. There's no way to miss to the right and be OK or miss short and be OK. It's very penal.

-Oh, you got it up nice.

-Go! That's all right. You got a par to the birdie.

-Partner almost sunk it, which would have been nice. But he had a tap in par.

-OK. Looks like it's going to be me and, me and Big Cheese. I'm going to make mine. I don't care, beating you. Just beating the cheese guy, doesn't matter. I'll take a win any way I can get it. Oh, no. Oh no.

-Come on, baby.


-Oh, oh, oh, oh.

-You know, it was just a real friendly match. We finished even. No one made a long putt on this day. It's nice to be in Wisconsin, cheese, golf, some of the best stuff around right here.

-Absolutely. Absolutely.

-Thank you guys.

-Thank you, Jim.

-Michael, thank you.

-Enjoyed it.

-We have a little surprise for you guys today. We do. We do. We're in Wisconsin. And what would be more appropriate than golf and Sartori cheese?

-And we honored to have the man himself here. Let me see, we're just starting to have a little Sartori cheese.


-I wouldn't have missed this for the world.

-We started with the SarVecchio Parmesan. And then we have the Merlot Belavitano. And last, this is an Asiago. And this Asoiago is aged six months, and then we bring it out, and we hand rub rosemary and olive oil.

-Now listen, while I've got you here, you and I have been friends for a long time. Where does your passion for golf, where is the heart of the passion for you?

-You know, I really didn't know the game until well after we started to build the courses. We built courses because the clientele of the American Club--

- --wanted golf.

-Want golf. And as a young CEO, you have to respond to your clientele.


-So we searched around for a designer, finally came up with a strange character by the name of Pete Dye.

-Yes, sir.

-And we got halfway done with the first course, and I decided, I better learn this game. I was fascinated, how it required all your capability, your emotions, your physical attributes, your mental. And they all had to be in tune to even have a chance. But then what really got me was the values behind the game.

The fact that you had to call a penalty on yourself. Nothing like it elsewhere in this world. So you combine all of that, and I was just in love with the game, fell in love with the game. And that never stopped. It's been a passion ever since.

-I've got to ask you one question before we go. Is that you on the logo?


If it isn't, it should be.

-I asked our lead designer one day to do a logo for us and I gave her the description of a troll.


-It's surprising how many people say, Kohler, that's you for God's sake, you're the troll.


-I thought it was interesting listing to Herb about what he likes about golf. He likes the rules and the integrity it takes to be a golfer.

-Looking back on it, it's been a great accomplishment to see my father and Pete have really done here in creating Kohler as a global golf destination. We never really imagined where we would be from the beginning.

-It's a wonderful place, and people should know about it and I hope our show--

-It's a secret, Steve. It's a secret. It's a secret.

NARRATOR: "Secret Golf" with Steve Elkington has been a presentation of Secret Golf Incorporated.