Whistling Rock Country Club
Chuncheon-si, Gangwon-do, South Korea

Second hole, 495 yards; This connector hole could have been a complete miss, similar to eight at Chambers Bay or five at Whistling Straits where neither feels a part of the fabric of the rest of the course. Temple Two plays surprisingly well and offers up some of the more heroic moments of the day. Much work was done by Iverson to balance the green site which hangs on a ledge and has a steep fall off right. By reworking the green contours and extending short grass well to the left, Iverson created more opportunities for more classes of player to enjoy this severely uphill hole. Allowing for kicks and bounces is what makes links golf fun and Whistling Rock now enjoys its fair share of such moments.

A bullet power fade chases to the lower right portion of the fairway where level lies are afforded. From there, the confident golfer might elect to hoist a 230 yard shot out over the valley wall in an effort to reach the green in two.

Similar to the 6th at Piping Rock and the 14th at St. Louis Country Club, a top hole location can add a whopping ½ shot to the day’s stroke average. Iverson strongly advises a running approach to the top tier. In addition to rebuilding the green, he pushed short grass well left of the green enabling all classes of players a way to finish the hole.

One of the rewards for climbing up to Temple 2 green is the gorgeous valley views that unfold.

This photograph from Joann Dost’s drone captures the appealingly angled Temple 2 green. The golfer’s orientation to it varies greatly depending on where in the fairway he plays his approach.

Third hole, 430 yards; Eyeing the more than 100 foot tee to the fairway drop, the staunch traditionalist might sniff, knowing a cart ride will likely ensue. That seems small-minded, given that a cart for carrying four bags and four players accompanies every group (i.e. four people chatting amiably are never divided into two carts like they are in America – socializing isn’t interrupted at Whistling Rock). The upside to this drop shot tee ball is four fold: first, the sight of the ball suspended in air extends for over 10 seconds (!); two, the environment is so quiet that the sound of tee ball colliding with the fairway reverberates back up to the tee; three, the hole embraces the course’s mountain setting in an unshrinking manner; and finally most importantly, the shot has strategic merit for the golfer that hugs the hazard and enjoys the best angle for his approach.

High drama in South Korea – the view from Temple 3 tee where the playing angles are as good as the views.

Give Robinson credit for locating the green in a secluded pocket of the property and give Iverson credit for increasing the number of fun hole locations and for the short grass to the right. Overall, Iverson’s work yielded a net reduction in the number of bunkers and increased the amount of short grass around the greens.

Fourth hole, 415 yards; The ideal line off the tee hugs the right side hazard, the same dry stream bed that the golfer (hopefully!) avoided on the last hole. A driver brings the left fairway bunker into play so a three wood becomes a good option.

Should the golfer squeeze his tee ball down the right side of the fairway, avoiding both the lateral hazard right and the bunker left? Or just lay back with a 3 wood?

At least the Temple tea house is nearby to comfort the golfer who’s out of position and places his approach above the hole.

Seventh hole, 510 yards; On each of Whistling Rock’s three nines the seventh hole happens to be a 5 par. Those on Cocoon and Temple parallel each other heading in the same easterly direction. The obvious challenge was to make each hole distinct and Robinson did so from tee to green, helped by the waterfall at Cocoon and the course’s largest fairway bunker on Temple. Iverson extended the lower left portion of Cocoon’s green and that work nicely contrasts with the built-up, tightly-bunkered, pulpit green complex on Temple.

This rock formation was enhanced rather than hidden by the enormous bunker that Robinson built at its base.

Where are we? California? The sinewy Japanese Red Pines add tranquility and peace to a course that belies its young age.

The sculpted greenside bunkers are invariably deep, about the height of a man.

Eighth hole, 345 yards; Fairway contours take front and center stage on Iverson’s newly created hole. Two mindsets exist as to how to best tackle it. One has the golfer use the ridge in the fairway to shunt his tee ball left where he would enjoy a level lie and play up a channel toward the green. The other has him play long to the elevated outside of the dogleg from where he can look down and see most of the putting surface. A tee ball pushed weakly right of center will find a bank, perpendicular to play that kills forward progress. Though the fairway is immensely wide at 65 yards, the golfer who finds himself in this no-man’s will discover that he has a blind approach to the course’s smallest green. Tom Doak’s greatest designs all enjoy an innocent, wide fairway where ground contours can thrust shots into either advantageous or unfavorable positions. Here, Eric Iverson exhibits that same flair for terrorizing the golfer with intelligent contouring and abundant short grass.

On land that was once a long par 3 hole, Iverson fashioned a tempting short par 4 that swings left around a native depression.

As seen from high on Temple 2, the two tiered Temple 8 fairway swings left around a native area. A 4,625 square foot green is the smallest on Cocoon-Temple.

Ninth hole, 175 yards; Whistling Rock sits on the edge of the Chuncheon Lake Basin which is fed by numerous streams that flow down the valleys off the Taebak Ridge. So, streams and water falls are very commonplace in a region where water features hold an exalted place. There is no more fitting a location for the final green than over a rushing stream in front of the clubhouse. Now this hole is a par 3 instead of the par 4 when the course opened. Iverson converted it to a one shotter in the fall of 2016, at the suggestion of work associate Jonathan Reisetter and course consultant Masa Nishijima. Credit must also be given to Club President Kim for embracing the idea and enabling Iverson. The alteration was anything but straightforward because this is the finishing hole for the best sequence on the three nines (e.g. Cocoon-Temple). Asking someone to agree to conclude their course with a par 3 is no small thing, especially in Asia where tradition is cherished. For the author there is no more fitting – or exhilarating – finish possible. Iverson’s expansion of the green and the new front right bunker lend the green a close connection to the cliff.

Temple 9 is less than one year old and is guaranteed to become one of the most photographed holes in Asia.

One benefit of converting the ninth to a par 3 is that the group is brought together on the tee. The author finds it inconceivable that the conversation wouldn’t be interrupted by the spectacle ahead.

As seen from high right, walking across the swinging bridge over the deep gorge is part of the profound pleasure of Temple 9. Iverson’s front right bunker and green expansion to the edge of the embankment enhance the hole’s flexibility. The putting surface itself renders a slew of big breaking putts, while listening to the churning water below.

Ever since Se Ri Pak broke onto the golf scene in the mid 1990s, South Korea has been creating its identity in the golf world. Today, its training schools produce an abundance of top draw players that dominate the LPGA tour on a regular basis. More recently, Korea hosted the 2015 President’s Cup on a Jack Nicklaus design on the outskirts of Seoul, and the drama was broadcast around the world. This country in its golf nascence is embracing the game while doing so by adding a flair all its own.

Not discussed in this profile is the Cloud Nine, which we will feature at another time. Here is its ninth hole, handsomely framed at dusk by the yellow ball and clubhouse.

Sometimes golf is more than the sum of the architectural merits of eighteen holes. Certainly, the history of St Andrews and the drama of Pebble Beach add to those occasions. There’s an exoticness and sense of serenity that pervades a round of golf at Whistling Rock. The natural landforms and man’s adornments are extreme yet so esthetically congruent that the place becomes irresistibly attractive. Whistling Rock demonstrates how East meets West to provide an indelible experience worth savoring on multiple levels, all the while being true to its heritage:  The name Korea stems from Koryo, the dynasty that ruled for nearly four centuries. Loosely translated, it means ‘land of high mountains and sparkling streams’, which is exactly what the golfer experiences at Whistling Rock.

Over the past decade Chairman Ho-jin Lee’s vision of a harmony of art and nature was realized in a one-of-a-kind way that pays tribute to Korea.

The End