KOHLER, Wis. -- The Sheboygan River twists and meanders through the River Course at Blackwolf Run, almost as if Pete Dye dug the riverbank and poured the water in himself.
That's how intimately -- and wonderfully -- the river interacts with the golf course, a stunning track ranked No. 15 among the top 100 public courses in the country by Golf Digest.
The natural setting looks like an oil painting come to life. It's hard to call something so beautiful a house of horror, but this place devours weak shots. Golf Digest ranked it No. 32 on its list of the top 75 hardest golf courses in the country.
The fifth hole -- named "Made in Heaven" -- kick-starts a round that never lets up in its ferocity. The tee shot falls from an elevated tee to a fairway protected by a deep bunker and the river up the entire right side. The approach climbs to an elevated green. The river, coupled with several strategically placed trees, continues to define great holes like the risk-reward par-4 10th, the par-3 13th and the par-5 16th.
A two-year renovation completed in time for the 2012 U.S. Women's Open gave the course 400 additional yards in length, refurbished bunkers and resurfaced the greens and fairways with slick, hardy creeping bentgrass.
"The River Course is intimidating," said Dirk Willis, the manager of operations and merchandising at Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits. "People lose a lot more balls on the River than the Straits."