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For women-friendly golf, try these U.S. links-style courses

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, a women-friendly course? Get serious. The site where pros contested last year's PGA Championship and where the 2020 Ryder Cup Matches will be held, not to mention the 2015 PGA Championship again?

Whistling Straits' two courses were designed by Pete Dye, who many golfers regard as golf architecture's premier sadist, and both measure significantly more than 7,000 yards.

Women traditionally like to play shorter courses, where they don't have to let their big dog eat all the time, or play macho woman. Yet former LPGA pro Judy Rankin, writing in Golf for Women, swears links-style courses are women-friendly.

The idea is that links-style courses are geared to golf by women who typically don't like long, forced carries or high, lofted shots to small, tricky greens. Most of the women I've played with don't hit the ball far, but are very straight and accurate and the hard ground of classic links courses gives them more distance with bounce and roll.

Though quite a few U.S. courses market themselves as "links," few are. True links courses are sandy strips of land "linking" water to the mainland. Rankin named several U.S. links courses that women should enjoy. We'll take a closer look at them and why women
might enjoy the experience.

Chisholm Trail in Kansas, northwest of Abilene, was designed and built by a retired optometrist using a 50-year-old Ford tractor. It's a mom-and-pop operations that many golfers swear by, including Ron Whitten of Golf Digest.

It was carved out of the sand hills that stretch from southern Nebraska, though Kansas all the way to northern Oklahoma. Not an ocean in sight, but it does have rolling sand dunes, native grasses and firm fairways. The wind that sweeps off the prairies is usually a factor and golfers must play low shots and use the ground to compensate.

"Those (women) that play here seem to like it because it doesn't require a massive amount of carry and there's not a lot of obstacles to carry," Chisholm Trail general manager Doug Kugler said. "This year, we're starting to get more and more. The wind is about 35 miles an hour today - 15-20 mph is not unusual - so if you hit a high shot you could be in trouble.

"Trying to get an accurate wedge in there to the green can be your downfall. Women traditionally don't have to hit a precise pitch shot from 60-70 yards. They can hit it up there and let it bounce and roll with the natural contours."

They cut the grass in the rough, after complaints from golfers losing balls, but the course still has small, difficult-to-hit greens. As an added bonus, green fees are only $12 weekdays and $15 weekends. The course, which plays 4,746 yards from the forward tees, opened in 1999. It's also an easy course to walk.

Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes on the southern Oregon coast overlook the Pacific and have gained reputations for being some of the best links-style golf in the U.S.

Its links grasses of highland bent and fine fescue give tight lies and a lot of bounce and roll, ideal for women. Because of the wind, the courses' Web site says: "mastery of the ground game becomes a more important skill than raw power."

It also has wide fairways with firm turf and large greens where the best line of attack requires accuracy, not so much distance.

"Newcomers to links golf must master playing the ball along the ground, shots that have all but disappeared from the game today," architect David McLay Kidd said on the site. "I imagined the routing having the structure of a symphony - a strong start, a sense of anticipation, small crescendos and an incredible finishing sequence along the Pacific."

It's a walking-only facility and caddies are encouraged.

Royal Links in Las Vegas is another links-style course that encourages caddies, and you'll be glad you paid the extra money.

The course was "inspired" by the great courses in England, Ireland and Scotland that have hosted and will host British Opens, down to the statue of Old Tom Morris and the authentic English phone booths on the course to call in advance food or drink orders. Every hole has its own particular history, and the caddies can tell you about it in detail.

Like No. 8, inspired by Royal Troon's famed Postage Stamp, a hole Gene Sarazen holed in one on his 75th birthday, calling it quits afterward for tournament play. The third hole was inspired by No. 2 at Prestwick, site of the first British Open in 1860, for heaven's sake. No. 10 is a near-replica of St. Andrews' famed Road Hole - one of the key differences being you can take a drop if you hit over the green and your ball lands on the concrete cart path.

No. 16, a near-replica of Carnoustie's 15th hole, is the most difficult hole on the course. It's a 454-yard par-4 that gives people fits. The landing area for driver is about 13 yards wide, with the second shot anywhere from 180-230 yards to a green that is not receptive to fairway woods or long irons. Then there are those pot bunker, along the right side.

"You get in there, this hole is over," caddie Mike Tousa said during one outing at the course.

All of the 18 holes at Royal Links share common characteristics. There is absolutely no water, for example, a rarity for a modern course.

If women can avoid the pot bunkers and the hideous rough - which I could not in my continuing, unsuccessful attempt to be long off the tee - they can score well here. It's 5,142 yards from the emerald (forward) tees.

Which brings us to Whistling Straits which will also host the 2007 U.S. Senior Open. Dye laid out the course, with input from owner Herb Kohler, on a 560-acre parcel of flat land.

The Straits course slides along two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, while the Irish course is more inland, and features four streams, grassland and dunes. On the Straits course, women should find a number of holes they can play as well or better than the men.

No. 1 plays fairly short at 304 yards from the forward tees and on No. 2, the men will try to carry a bunker short of the green to reach the par-5 in two; it's 437 yards for women. No. 3 is only 106 yards for women and has a huge green. On No. 10, most men will again try to carry a fairway bunker at least 240 yards, but staying on the left side is the safe route.

No. 11 is a 619-yard par-5 from the back tees and men will invariably hit driver into the bunkers along the right side. But, it's 468 yards from the women's tees.

However, women may have more difficulty with the closing four holes, which are long, although the forward tee on the 126-yard par-3 has a better angle to the green, which is guarded by huge sand dunes and bunkers that fall 20 feet below the green.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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