Vessel makes golf’s best bags. Period. Since getting my first last year (the Player 2.0 stand bag, reviewed here), I’m comfortable stating that as a fact.

I’m so enamored at this point with the brand and product experience, though, that I’m venturing out to try other products in their line to fit my other golf needs. The first of these other products I’m currently bringing in to the fold is the Lux XV Cart Bag.

Released this past December, the Lux XV sold out in all colorways quickly via pre-sale. It’s available again online now, though, which makes this the perfect time to talk about it and the amazing golf brand known as Vessel.

As high-end, luxury-performance bags in the $350-and-up price range, consumers are right to expect a lot from their investment in a Vessel bag, and – in my humble opinion – they over-deliver.

.

Why Vessel?

Vessel makes the nicest golf bags I’ve ever used or seen, and the only competition close are the brands who private label with them.

Their focus on sleek, functional and minimalistic style is unrivaled in an industry that is otherwise dominated by bright and flashy, bold and athletic. Vessel’s focus is on performance and classic looks – they take pride in having their bags perform as flawlessly as they look.

Vessel’s Tour-grade synthetic leather has a wonderful feel and has proven to be quite durable. I was nervous when I first got my Player 2.0 bag last year, for example, about having a white-colored bag. After a full season of golf, there has been no fading or discoloration; it looks as great as the day it arrived.

I’ll have even less to worry about with my new Lux XV cart bag. The matte gray color is so cool, especially with black and dark metal accents and white lettering.

I’ve had issues with the zippers breaking down on all my previous golf bags. Knowing this tends to be an area of concern, Vessel utilizes metal connectors in conjunction with their genuine leather pulls and gussets to withstand rust and corrosion.

That’s consistent throughout their product line: All touchpoints are crafted with high-quality construction and materials. Those pain points you’ve seen with other brands’ bags? Vessel’s found a way to engineer something a little extra that others don’t.

Plus, the Lux XV is a beautiful looking golf bag and has all the aesthetics you’d expect for $385.

My Vessel Lux XV cart bag on the riding cart at Wanaki Golf Course

.

What makes Vessel bags truly special, though, is their design and functionality, which I’ll get in to next.

That, and they live a wonderful mission in society. For every golf bag purchased, Vessel donates a school backpack to a child in need. My Lux XV marks 90,013 total bags donated to those less fortunate.

Vessel packs these bags full of school supplies, food and living essentials for kids across the US and internationally.

.

Setup and Performance

The Lux XV is feature rich, to say the least, and was designed to provide an optimal player experience while using a golf cart or trolley. It’s that second part I had in mind when getting my Lux XV cart bag: For use with my Bat-Caddy X4R electric caddy / trolley.

Rocking the Lux XV cart bag with my Bat-Caddy X4R at Hawthorn Hills in Saukville for my first round of 2021

.

Storage

Cart bags are recommended with trolleys to help provide weight and stability, but they serve the added purpose of allowing players to carry more. For a guy like me, that’s huge. I can fit my drone in either of the oversized side pockets and a coat or hoodie in the other (or several), hundreds of tees and dozens of balls, my Bushnell Wingman Bluetooth speaker, rangefinder, a 32-ounce Yeti and large bottle of Gatorade, my wallet, wedding ring and all my valuables (locked up), plenty of extra gloves and accessories and still have enough room to throw 8 beers in the cooler pockets (if I wanted to).

The only real limit to how much stuff you can carry with the Lux XV cart bag is A) How heavy of a bag you can lift in to and out of your car, and B) If using it with an electric caddy, its weight capacity (~ 77 pounds for my X4R, but keep in mind a heavier bag will adversely affect battery life).

For club storage, the Lux XV comes standard with a 15-way divider top that keeps all clubs separated, including an oversized putter well that works with grips of all sizes (eg: SuperStroke and other fat setups). This is my first time owning a bag with individual dividers, and it took some time to figure out my organizational strategy.

My preferred bag setup, keeping hybrids, woods and driver toward the back to make everything accessible

.

Here is where my one complaint about the Lux XV comes in: When used on my trolley or with the rain cover, some wells can be tough to access irons or wedges from. In both cases, it would be more convenient to have a 3- to 5-way divider configuration, but I’m figuring out ways around it… Talk about first-world problems, I know 🙂

I haven’t figured out a way around the rain cover issue yet, but have found that by putting my driver, fairway woods and 3-hybrid toward the back (against the base of the caddy), it makes all my clubs more accessible and my irons and wedges more visible.

My original hesitancy with a 15-way divider system had to do with grips. Other bags I’ve seen set up that way had a top divider that kept club faces spaced out but then entwined the grips underneath. Especially with Arccos sensors that cost $15 apiece to replace attached to each grip, it was a valid concern.

The Lux XV features full-length dividers, though, to keep clubs isolated entirely, avoid sub-surface entanglement and keep my sensors attached and working properly.

.

The little things

Being a second-time Vessel owner, I write this review with so much more knowledge and experience of the brand than when I reviewed the Player 2.0. I was crushing on its great looks and specs at the time. It was a strong emotional connection, sure, but it was surface-level and we were still in the honeymoon stage.

Those emotions have only grown over time, and it’s consistently surprised me along the way. One day we got poured on at Brown Deer, for example, and I discovered the same-material rain cover and its simple but ingenious two-way zipper that allowed me to peruse club selection quickly without having to reattach the rain cover each time to keep my clubs dry. So smart!

After ~ 35 rounds of golf together, here are some of my favorite features on Vessel Bags:

  1. Magnetic rangefinder pockets – I show these off to everyone who asks about my bag
  2. The luxurious straps on my stand bag, always in a comfortable position because of the self-adjusting Equilibrium strap system
  3. Sturdy, high-quality gunmetal alloy YKK zippers and pulls – zippers have always been a pain point on other bags
  4. 2-way zipping, matching rain cover
  5. Velour-lined, microfiber pockets
  6. Expandable, magnetic water bottle holders
  7. Durable side handles on the cart bag for lifting

I’ll admit I also enjoy the way others check it out on the bag rack. Vessel bags are gorgeous, and people notice. At the practice green by Mammoth Dunes at Sand Valley, for example, I had four separate caddies or other players compliment me on my bag or ask to feel it. It’s like bringing the prettiest girl to the ball.

The feature of Vessel Bags that gets me every time is the magnetic pocket, and the Lux XV has two. It’s a pull pocket with a strong magnet that lets you quickly access things like your rangefinder, tees and other accessories without constantly zipping and unzipping. It’s a very satisfying “snap” that I’ve come to love.

The Lux XV has another magnetic, snapping feature, too: The upper pocket pod that pulls away to allow the cart strap to secure underneath. Again, it’s smart design that’s elemental after the fact, but it’s not something I’ve seen elsewhere. Having the strap routed behind this pocket eliminates the wear and tear a cart strap can otherwise inflict on the leather (especially in conjunction with the neoprene strap sleeve, which is an accessory they’re currently including free of charge).

My Vessel Lux XV cart bag, from the front – its most essential pockets are stacked centrally

.

The Lux XV was designed to keep everything in front of you, providing ample storage in a center column with mirrored storage options on each side.

From top-to-bottom, this includes the first magnetic easy-access pocket, a deep zippered accessories pocket, the second magnetic rangefinder pocket and a large ball storage compartment.

Each side then has a large zippered garment compartment that runs the length of the bag (each with a locking interior valuables pocket and combination lock), a microfiber-lined personals pocket, pen sleeve, cooler compartment that holds four 12-ounce cans per side, and an insulated, magnetic, self-expanding and drainable water bottle carrier that carries my 32-ounce Yeti snugly.

The Vessel Lux XV cart bag on my Bat-Caddy X4R electric golf caddy – side-view, including the full-length garment compartment, cooler pocket, pen holder, water bottle sleeve and valuables pocket (mirrored on each side)

. T

My conclusion

Now that mid-April has arrived and the golf season is finally rounding in to view here in the Midwest, I can’t be more excited to get to know my new Vessel playing companion better.

If you’re in the market for a new golf bag this season, and looking for something top-of-line, trust me when I say Vessel is worth the extra money. Whether it’s a cart bag like the Lux XV, one of their Pro Staff bags (used by Tiger Woods, Bryson DeChambeau, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Steve Stricker, Patrick Reed and dozens of others on the PGA Tour and LPGA), or a more traditional carry bag like the updated Player 3, Lite Lux or VLX stand bags, the difference in craftsmanship, aesthetics and features/performance with Vessel is far superior to anything else on the market.

It’s pricier, but it’s worth it, and so are you.

Vessel’s got a customer for life in me, and I’m confident if you make one of their bags your next golf investment they’ll make a customer for life out of you, too.

.

Product Wrap-Up:
Brand: Vessel Bags
Product: Lux XV Cart Bag
Price as shown: $385 + $35 personalization

Vessel Bags Lux XV Cart Bag Product Page

A really nice golf shirt can be a great holiday present, especially when it’s a shirt that’s made to last.

That’s what I want in golf attire. I want tops that aren’t going to be out-of-fashion in two years. Tiger Woods mock necks? No way. Wild and wacky patterns? I’ve learned that lesson. Too bright colors? They stick out like a sore thumb. Color block? I’ve got 20 combinations in my basement closet that I haven’t been able to rock for several seasons.

That doesn’t mean I don’t like the way those shirts look, or even how they look on me, but I know that fashion’s not my world and I’m not interested anymore in spending good money on what’s cool this season.

I’m more about style. I want a well thought-out shirt constructed with top-of-the-line materials that I can buy today and find almost unchanged on the same rack or website ten years down the road. I don’t want it to scream 2014, or even 2020.

Holderness & Bourne blends classic style with modern, tailored fits and great-feeling performance fabrics to appease the golf enthusiast like me: A guy who wants to look great wearing clothes that fit well and don’t get in the way of my swing.

The Perkins shirt, by Holderness & Bourne, is a great performance golf polo

.

In just five years, Alex Holderness and John Bourne have taken their anti-fashion brand and created something really special: A premium clothing line that’s highly sought after and doesn’t require constant reinvention.

From a business standpoint, it makes too much sense. Playing the fashion game means retiring clothes every season that’s gone out of style, selling it to the highest bidder to liquidate what’s left on sites like Rock Bottom Golf, Golfetail, Discount Golf and TGW.

This practice erodes both profit margins and brand value. Meanwhile, selling timeless styles that never go out of fashion means updating only when the opportunity arises, continually improving what works without scrapping what’s left.

It also means golf enthusiasts like me can put together a nice wardrobe over time, and even allows for a more versatile product that can be worn outside of golf.

Our family photo shoot this year, for example, featured my favorite piece from H&B: The navy blue Robbins pullover.

Charlie (3), me, Kelly and Quinn (1) – sporting my navy blue Robbins pullover, from Holderness & Bourne

The Robbins pullover, which sells for $125, utilizes a blend of cotton, polyester and elastane that promotes shape retention while providing a really nice, tailored fit. The fabric is comfortable, and after having worn it a dozen times looks as nice and new as the day I got it. Whether for golf or everyday wear, I cannot recommend this top enough.

The Robbins pullover, in navy (image courtesy of Holderness & Bourne)

Holderness & Bourne does outerwear really well, but their bread and butter is golf polos.

Their polos feature a comfortably modern, tailored fit with structured cutaway collars, sewn-in stays and 2- or 3-button set-in plackets.

Their fabrics are top of the line for the industry, including DryLuxe Performance Pique, DryLuxe Performance Interlock, Supima Cotton and Peruvian Pima Cotton, and all their polos are adorned with trocas shell buttons, which have a classy look and sturdy feel.

All these premium materials don’t translate to cheap shirts, but they are well worth the $90-98.

My favorite style so far is The Maxwell short-sleeve, which I’ve gotten in both grey & white (shown below), and cobalt & white.

The Maxwell shirt, in grey and white (image courtesy of Holderness & Bourne)

The sewn-in collar stays make for a well-designed and consistent appearance from the neck up, because nothing screams lazy more than a droopy collar!

The Maxwell shirt, in cobalt and white (image courtesy of Holderness & Bourne)

.

Looking for other gift ideas to add to your cart while on the H&B website? Check out their Fischer belts, dopp kits and shoe bags.

I haven’t owned a Fischer belt yet, but I really like the look and style: A premium, Italian stretch fabric with genuine leather and nickel-plated solid brass buckles. I’d go with the amparo and white ribbon design, personally.

The Fischer belt, in amparo & white ribbon (image courtesy of Holderness & Bourne)

.

Fashion vs. style. A timeless look vs. dressing up like Tiger, DJ or Rory on a given week. To me, the sophisticated, classic looks, superior performance and dynamite materials will win out every time.

That’s what I love about Holderness & Bourne, and that’s why I recommend their polos and outerwear as another top-notch holiday gift idea for the golf enthusiast in your life.

.

Product Wrap-Up:
Brand: Holderness & Bourne
Product: Golf polos and outerwear
Price range: $90-125

Holderness & Bourne website

It’s the golfer’s uniform: A collared shirt, hat and shorts or pants, along with a white, black or navy blue stand bag.

It gets worse for professionals, who have even less to choose from since they can’t wear shorts.

Maybe that’s why we golfers love to accessorize the way we do. It’s fun showcasing something that’s a little different in an environment that otherwise keeps us looking pretty similar… Especially when it’s with customized accessories that showcase our personality while providing much needed functionality.

To me, one of the coolest ways to accessorize golf gear is with custom club head covers.

It’s crazy to think Seamus basically started the head cover industry in earnest about ten years ago. Prior to that, the only options were the head covers that came with your clubs, which were fine, a couple generic options at Golf Galaxy or your dad’s old calf-length socks. Not as great.

When it comes to club head covers, there are two companies that stand above the rest: Seamus and Fore Ewe. Both sell super high-quality, durable woolen products, both are based out of Portland, Oregon, and both provide endless ways to customize.

Driver, fairway wood and hybrid cover samples (photo courtesy Seamus Golf)

Where the two companies differ the most revolves entirely around personal preference: Seamus’s head covers are sewn and more sleek in appearance, and Fore Ewe’s are knit and more “floppy” in appearance.

Club head covers are very personal, and they’re not cheap (nor usually returnable), so you’ll want to make sure you get this one right. A few ideas for ensuring that:

  • Keep it simple – colors and patterns you know they’ll love that work with their current bag setup (link: Fore Ewe standard collections, link: Seamus Golf all head covers)
  • Make it obvious – maybe a club head cover from their alma mater (link: Seamus Collegiate collection)? Or favorite NBA team (link: Seamus NBA collection)?
  • A gift card – expect ~ $75 per cover for drivers, and $55-65 for fairway woods and hybrids
  • Ask them to make their own selection(s)! It takes out the surprise, but gets them exactly what they want while working through the lead time en route to the Holidays

.

Seamus Golf

Established in 2011 by Akbar and Megan Chisti and named for their Irish Terrier, Seamus O’Reily, Seamus Golf specializes in unique, one-off golf accessories that started with club head covers and has since expanded to on-course tools (divot repair, bag tags, flasks, alignment sticks, towels, scorecard holders, yardage books and so on), bags and pouches, extremely limited-run Sunday bags and equipment, major golf memorabilia (eg: US Open collectibles), clothing and cool hand-forged collectibles.

The newest of those hand-forged collectibles is the putting cup, for example:

One of Seamus Golf’s new hand-forged putting cups (photo courtesy Seamus Golf)
Seamus Co-Founder Akbar Chisti working the Seamus anvil at the 2017 US Open at Erin Hills

While their stable of accessories has expanded significantly over the past 9 years, their bread and butter has always been exquisitely designed and manufactured woolen club head covers.

Seamus Golf has collections that will match every golfer’s personality and interests, whether through classic design like with their tartan wools or through more direct associations like with their new collegiate and NBA collections.

The new Wisconsin Badgers driver head cover (photo courtesy Seamus Golf)

Looking for a good starting point? Below is a link to Seamus’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide:

Seamus Golf’s Holiday Gift Guide (click for link)

Beyond their amazing golf products, Seamus is a company worth supporting. When the COVID-19 pandemic originally started, for example, they shut down their normal operations for months to instead sew masks to donate to frontline workers. Akbar, Megan and their staff are wonderful people who always go above and beyond, whether that’s for customers or society, in general.

Product Wrap-Up:
Brand: Seamus Golf
Product: Club head covers
Price range: $55-75 apiece

Seamus Golf Website

.

Fore Ewe, by MacKenzie Golf Bags

Also exceptionally high in quality construction and customizability, Fore Ewe offers a very different head cover product than Seamus in that theirs’ are knit.

Knit head covers have a very old-school look and feel: They’re softer and flowy, with smooth yarn and pom poms.

Erin Hills hybrid head covers, by Fore Ewe (photo courtesy Fore Ewe)

Knit head covers are typically skein dyed, which involves loose lengths of yarn being immersed in receptacles full of pigment. This is the most costly method of dyeing yarn, but leads to a superior product with color that’s fade-resistant.

As is the case with their hand-made MacKenzie Golf Bags, everything is handmade with incredible attention to detail.


An example of a MacKenzie Golf Bag, made for Mammoth Dunes (photo courtesy MacKenzie Golf Bags)

Included in that detail is a whole lot of potential customization. For “standard” options, the order placer only needs to make a couple of decisions, like what type of top feature to use (fat tassel, tassel, large pom), the club it’s for (driver, fairway wood, hybrid, putter), and standard vs. long length. Chances are it’ll always be standard-length, and if they don’t already have custom head covers then you’ll want to go with the driver option. It’ll be $10 more than the others, but it’s the most popular option by far.

For custom orders, there is a whole lot more personalization available, including:

  • Club type (driver, fairway wood, hybrid)
  • Head color (40 color options)
  • Head design (solid, small checks, larger checks, vertical stripes, horizontal stripe, diagonal dot and what color(s)?)
  • Head cap (yes or no)
  • Neck stripes (none, thick, thin and what color(s)?)
  • Top treatment (none, tassel, fat tassel, mini tassel, large pom, small pom, loop and what color(s)?)
  • Neck length (almost always standard)
  • Top stitch text (eg: Initials)

Double-waxed and spun, Fore Ewe’s wool is exceptionally durable and smooth. Elastic promotes a snug fit.

Numerous light blue options from Fore Ewe (photo courtesy Fore Ewe)
Numerous standard knit options from Fore Ewe (photo courtesy Fore Ewe)

Product Wrap-Up:
Brand: Fore Ewe, by MacKenzie Golf Bags
Product: Club head covers
Price range: $55-80 apiece

Fore Ewe Website

.

Whether you go with sewn Seamus head covers or knit covers from Fore Ewe, the important thing is that they protect your club heads.

Both companies’ products will do that beautifully, protecting club faces from dings and scratches during your round or in storage, and worse from snaps while in transit or when that immature buddy of yours’ unstraps your bag on a cart path.

Which style best fits the golfer in your life?

Generally speaking, golf enthusiasts tend to be collectors. Myself included, we’re lovers of anything and everything that brings back memories of the best times on our favorite courses.

Options abound when those favorite courses are Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes or Augusta National, but what about when it’s somewhere less known and more personal?

Options are few and far between, then, and are typically limited to the clothing and gear for sale in their pro shop.

So, rather than spending $95 on a golf polo with a logo on the sleeve, this year go the extra mile for something that’ll blow them away.

Course Maps Founder Severiano Saiz (“Sev,” as named after Seve Ballesteros whose family lineage traces back to the same village of Pedrena, Spain) launched Course Maps this past March, realized quickly he had a winner and left his real world job in August to work full-time on the golf start-up.

“Golf course layouts present a neat intersection of a couple of things I’ve always loved:,” said Sev, “golf/golf architecture, maps and graphic design. It’s all come together very naturally for me and I really enjoy putting together each map.”

Sev’s maps feature beautiful architectural hole layouts with the course’s scorecard and key information in white ink set against a solid-colored background of green, grey, navy blue or slate. Key features of each hole are called out in contrast and include fairways and greens, teeing areas and bunkers; ideal lines of play are shown as dotted lines.

Course Map of Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, NC (green with white frame) – their best seller

The printing process utilizes giclee ink on high-quality, museum-grade paper. The standard for art prints, giclee features a 12-color combination that results in vivid colors, especially when compared to the standard 4-color inkjet printer. The chemical makeup of giclee keeps prints from fading over time due to sun exposure and age, ensuring Course Maps should look beautiful for generations to come.

While framing is not required, it is available through Course Maps in black or white. Their frames are 3/4″ thick Alder semi-hardwood and include hanging hardware. Adding the frame (which ships complete) to an 18×24, for example, adds $49 to the cost.

Course Map of Chambers Bay in University Place, WA (navy blue with black frame)

I went with a green background and black frame for my Course Map of the Links course at Lawsonia. The hunter green works beautifully with the rest of the golf art in my basement and bar area, and as Sev described it: The green over black “screams ‘classic golf clubhouse.'” I couldn’t agree more.

.

Customer Service

When it arrived, I was so enamored with the aesthetics of my first Course Map that I didn’t realize the scorecard had mislabeled the par five 11th hole as a par four.

A coworker of mine noticed it in my Instagram post, though, and mentioned it as a comment. Within a week, Course Maps had sent me a new one with an updated scorecard.

I would have noticed the error at some point – it’s part of my favorite stretch of holes on the Links course where the 9th thru 15th holes go par 5, 3, 5, 3, 5, 3. It’s a really unique stretch of holes with lots of good birdie opportunities. I never even mentioned it to Course Maps, though, and so for them to see it and remedy the issue so quickly was really impressive. I like to support companies who understand the importance of customer service and doing the right thing, and I feel great about backing Course Maps.

My Course Map of the Links course at Lawsonia

.

Custom orders

Fortunately for golf enthusiasts in Wisconsin, Course Maps has several in-state options already available without requiring a custom order. These standard options include the Links course at Lawsonia, Erin Hills and Sand Valley.

If you or the person you’re shopping for has a love affair with one of those or another already on their site, you’re in luck!

But, for the everyday golfer who hasn’t traveled to Cruden Bay, Pinehurst or the Ocean course at Kiawah Island, and hasn’t found their way [yet] on to Oakmont, Inverness or Pine Valley, then custom prints from Course Maps will allow golf enthusiasts to enjoy and relive the cadence of holes from their favorite property – whatever property that is.

“The majority of golf art, memorabilia, etc. is built around the famous courses that everyone knows — Augusta, Pebble, St. Andrews and so on. But the reality is most people will never get to play those courses.

The courses that people love and have created the most memories at are the local muni courses, the small country clubs, or the hidden gems that are off the beaten path. There’s not really much in the way of giftable items related to those courses and I think that’s what we really cater to with Course Maps.

We’ve seen a huge demand for our custom orders and I think it’s such an awesome thing. Our maps are really something that encapsulates all of the memories that have been created on that course. I’ll always remember watching my dad open that first map and it makes me really happy that I’m able to share that feeling with others through Course Maps.”

— Sev Saiz, Founder of Course Maps

.

Course Maps with all 4 background colors shown

Custom ordering creates the opportunity for a truly unique gift, especially for private club players who love and have tremendous pride in their home course.

As you’d guess, it is more expensive to buy a custom Course Map than it is one of the ones that’s already available. The reason for this, of course, is that it requires the upfront artistic work to make it printable.

As a one-off product, Course Maps will sell custom prints for $120 (12×16) to $150 (24×36). As an order of five or more, though, the per unit cost comes all the way down to $45 (12×16) to $60 (24×36), without framing.

Especially at a private golf club, it’s really easy to find four friends to go in on a custom order. I sent an email to 19 friends from North Hills Country Club, for example, and in three days 12 have responded they’re in.

For golf courses and pro shops, orders of 25+ can be tremendously lucrative, bringing the price for 12×16’s all the way down to $36 apiece, or $48 apiece for 24×36 prints.

Like with standard, non-custom prints, framing is available on custom product and will add $55 (one-off price) to 12×16’s, $70 to 18×24’s or $140 to 24×36 prints. Those costs can be reduced by volume ordering, as well.

If this is an avenue you’re interested in pursuing for a Christmas / Holiday gift for a golf enthusiast in your life, make sure you get going on the order soon. Course Maps has a 2-3 week lead time (followed by time in transit), so we’ve got a 1-2 week time frame to place an order and expect delivery before December 25.

If you’re concerned whether he or she will like it, don’t be. Trust me, they’ll love it.

.

Product Wrap-Up:
Brand: Course Maps
Product: Golf course architectural prints
Price (as shown): $94

Course Maps Website

My wife says presents should be gifts people would feel guilty buying for themselves – gifts that make them feel appreciated, and better yet spoiled.

The first item in my 2020 Holiday Gift Guide, the Bat-Caddy X4R electric golf caddy, fits that description to a T as a thoughtful and indulgent gift for a number of worthy golf enthusiasts:

  • The first to adopt new technology / the “gadget guy”
  • Older players wanting to extend their ability to walk the course
  • The player who has everything
  • The purist – it’s the closest thing you can get to having a human caddy on the course without one
  • Those concerned with social distancing right now

Prior to getting the X4R, I had seen two electric caddies in my life… In thousands of rounds of golf. One was a guy’s I played with at Chambers Bay back in 2012, and the other was one of my playing partners at Kenosha Country Club earlier this season.

It was his first round with it, and he had it imported from China as all manufacturers in the States were stocked out when golf enthusiasts bought up everything that could help them walk the course with less effort while COVID-19 wouldn’t allow the use of riding carts.

All that to say they have not caught on yet here in the Midwest.

I was enamored with the remote control one I saw at Kenosha, though, and had to experience it.

In just four rounds, the Bat-Caddy X4R has become my all-time favorite piece of golf equipment.

Bat-Caddy X4R waiting on the 7th tee at North Hills CC

A round of golf with an electric caddy is as care-free as it gets. Outside of errant shots and missed putts, there’s no pushing, pulling or lifting. It’s stress-free play where the only thing to carry is a remote control.

Walking the course, in general, changes the rhythm of the game, and not having to shoulder your clubs especially creates an easygoing experience so you can focus on the game in front of you.

Imagine just walking with your hands free (minus a small remote or your drink of choice, which it can also carry), no weight on your back and shoulders, a little extra bounce in your step…

It’s that great.

//www.instagram.com/embed.js

.

.

Why the Bat-Caddy X4R?

Bat-Caddy leads the US market for electric golf caddies with over 60% market share. Chances are you’ve never seen their product here in the Midwest, though, and that’s because they’ve been busy growing their business on the East and West Coasts.

In the marketplace of brands, Bat-Caddy has the best product selection and fits in a space I typically like: Feature-rich at a value price point.

Bat-Caddy’s product line allows golf enthusiasts to get in to advanced technology without breaking the bank. While most brands’ fully electric, remote control option with a lithium ion battery will cost upwards of $2,000, for example, the X4R with lithium ion upgrade hits around $1,500-$1,600 but is available through the Holidays for around $1,100 (current promotional price).

Consumers get a lot for that $1,100, including a long-lasting lithium ion battery (up to 36 holes per charge), lightweight aluminum alloy construction (with stainless steel components) and many standard options that are paid upgrades for their competitors.

A scorecard holder, drink holder, umbrella holder, freestyle mode with timed distance advance and cruise control functions, power and battery charge indicator, USB port, rear anti-tippers, bilateral adjustable-height handlebars, automatic shutoff mode, and ultra-quiet dual direct drive motors all come standard on the X4R.

A leisurely walk in the park with the Bat-Caddy X4R on the 6th fairway at North Hills CC

.

Performance and operations

If you can’t tell by now, I’m a huge fan of electric golf caddies and the X4R, specifically, but that’s not to say the experience has been 100% perfect.

There is a learning curve when it comes to operating an electric golf caddy, and some courses are more challenging to use them on than others.

I practiced a bit in my driveway after I got the X4R set up. Feeling pretty good about my ability to control it, I took her out on the 6th hole at North Hills Country Club to take a few photos, capture drone video and give it a trial run in a course setting.

I learned quickly that hills should be traversed straight up and down after I toppled it the first time I tried driving it down an elevated tee box.

While the X4R can handle 30-degree inclines/declines with relative ease, the tripod configuration (which is the industry standard) can get off-balance quickly when the left or right side is lower than the other.

The 30 degrees works up and down very well, though, especially with the standard rear anti-tipper that anchors the caddy going uphill on more extreme terrain.

My first round with the X4R was at Nakoma Country Club in Madison, and looking back was probably the easiest possible course to use it on. It’s a mature course with smooth terrain – plenty of ups and downs but without the “wild” areas and sandy expanses. The tee boxes, especially, are accessible from all angles.

The Bat-Caddy X4R ready for its first round at Nakoma CC in Madison, WI

To say it was a perfect golfing experience couldn’t have been more true. The caddy was a breeze to operate, I broke 80 with a great group of friends and when we finished 18 it was hard to believe we weren’t ending the front 9. It was the easiest, most enjoyable walk.

My electric golf caddy ready to go from the 1st tee at Nakoma

Conversely, my second round with the Bat-Caddy was during our annual Wisconsin vs. Illinois Writer’s Cup at the newly renovated Club at Lac La Belle in Oconomowoc. The course’s new routing features some very wild/fescue-covered areas, and the cart paths are far from smooth. The edges of the cart paths are extremely canted, which if run up against can push over the Bat-Caddy pretty easily. In addition to that, the tee boxes are oftentimes separated by expanses of fescue and long grasses that can’t be rolled over using a cart.

I tipped the cart twice at Nakoma getting used to operating it, and at least a handful of times during our 27 holes at La Belle.

I’ve only tipped it once since then, though, in two rounds at North Hills. I was maneuvering it alongside the 16th green, saw my ball was in the trap behind me and to the right, quickly stopped it and hit reverse, then watched as it plummeted in to the bunker. A lady in the group on the nearby first green thought it was hilarious and laughed really loud, and I’ll admit I was a little embarrassed (not easy to do).

My point is that the more you use it, the more efficient you’ll get at operating the electric caddy and understanding the strategy behind where to and not to drive it, how much speed to add and when, how to get it on a straight line and which angles you should and shouldn’t take.

The X4R is best operated with its remote control. Hitting the up or down directional buttons once will add a slight amount of speed in that direction, while hitting it several times will speed it up significantly up to ~ 5.5 miles per hour.

The caddy can then be shut down by either hitting the middle “Stop” button or by hitting the arrow opposite its current direction to take off some of the speed it was previously given.

The X4R does not always stop completely. There have been several times when I thought it was stopped but it continued to roll, very slowly. In other words, and this seems obvious when it’s written down, there’s not a parking brake that keeps it 100% in place on steep hills after it’s been shut down.

My last time out I had it stopped on the hill that leads to the elevated green on 18 at North Hills, for example, and it never stopped rolling backward down the hill. It wasn’t a big deal in this case because it came to rest on level ground and I hit a really nice chip shot to one foot on a back pin while it was still rolling, but it obviously could have been bad if there was water or a cliff where it was rolling to (and if I didn’t have my eye on it).

The other thing to be cognizant of is that once the cart is set in motion, it’s set in motion [until the 45-second automatic shutoff kicks in]. There are several situations when this is important to keep in mind:

  1. If you’re multi-tasking
    In my first round with the X4R, I sent it heading slowly off the tee box on the par three 4th at Nakoma. I then put my drone up to get some aerial shots. It completely escaped my mind that the cart wasn’t totally turned off, which I realized when I heard a crash and subsequently saw my clubs in a yard sale right of the green.
  2. If it’s out of the 90- to 120-yard range
    If it gets out of the range of the remote control, you will not be able to stop or turn it. Hopefully the automatic shutoff will kick in first, or that the only thing in its way will be a tree branch or shallow sand trap, and not a river!

Don’t even mess with either of those situations. If there’s a question about it getting out of range, shut it down. If you want to post something to your Instagram, stop the cart. Trust me, there’s no point messing with potential disaster.

.

Electric golf caddies can keep you playing, and walking the course, longer

“That could get me walking the course again!”

Those were the exact words of two different North Hills members [on separate occasions] who approached me after seeing the X4R on the course. Another dozen have asked me about it with interest as a cool toy.

Both sides are true… It’s a really cool toy, but more importantly using the X4R means expending energy only on swinging the club and walking the terrain – no pushing, no pulling and no lifting. Getting up hills can be a breeze again without the added weight of a golf bag, or having to push or pull a standard cart.

If you’re the guy who has to pay to ride his own cart while his buddies walk, maybe an electric caddy is for you. And if you want the exercise that comes with walking the course, but don’t want to carry your own clubs or pay for a pro jock to lug them, you’d for sure love it.

And if you love the caddy experience but are concerned about social distancing during this crazy time of COVID-19, there is no better way to find that than with a remote-controlled trolley like the Bat-Caddy X4R.

.

Making a financial case for an electric golf caddy

With the average cost of using a golf cart between $20-24 per round, the high price tag of an electric trolley starts making sense. In fact, you can theoretically recover $100-$120 of the product’s cost every five rounds played.

Dollars rarely make sense when it comes to golf, though! In the same way you can’t expect to be happy with your price per round at an exclusive private country club, realize that the “investment” in a golf caddy is primarily one that will enhance your enjoyment of the game of golf (and not as a long-term cost saver).

.

Setup

The Bat-Caddy X4R comes in a single large box with a number of parts, and it’s very easy to install. The frame is pre-assembled, so just the wheels, anti-tipper, battery and accessories need to be put together manually.

The install is simple and well-documented. The wheels snap in to place, the battery (after charging) straps down with Velcro, and installation of most accessories was easy to figure out even for a guy who hates following instructions to put things together.

The one accessory that was a little confusing for me was the phone / GPS device holder. With the accessory holder, drink holder, scorecard holder and umbrella holder all installed, it’s hard to find a place for the phone to go.

I got a little creative and used the three rubber strips that were included to attach it to the screw of the umbrella holder, which looks great but is I’m sure not its intended spot.

After four rounds with the caddy, though, I’ve had no performance issues and it holds my phone up just fine.

While it’s recommended using a cart bag (which does not have tripod legs and has a more stable base) with an electric golf caddy, I’ve been using it with my Vessel Player 2.0 stand bag and have had no issues with weight/stability nor the legs which I keep strapped together. I also remove the straps to streamline the setup.

My current electric golf caddy and bag setup

.

Selecting the right electric golf caddy / trolley

It took a while for me to figure out all the specifications that are involved with electric golf caddies, so I thought I’d include some of my research on features in case it’s helpful for others, like yourself.

The following are some of the key components you’ll want to consider when researching electric golf caddies. The features of the X4R I’m reviewing are in green.

Control style: Manual vs. remote

A manual control style means you’ll be controlling the steering of the caddy from its handlebar(s). A button, lever or other power source will move the cart move forward, taking just the pushing or pulling off the user’s hands. A remote style, which is wireless, is much more advantageous as it allows you to get the cart away from your body and control its operations using a small remote control.

Battery type: sealed lead acid (SLA) vs. lithium ion (Li-ion)

This part’s big, so pay attention.

Sealed lead acid batteries are less expensive, but they’re heavy. They also get 25% to 50% of the life expectancy of its standard lithium ion counterpart, which for the Bat-Caddy X4R is the 14v-20Ah.

The heaviness factor can be a positive when it comes to electric caddies because the weight adds stability. It can also be a negative since it makes it tougher to pull out of the car trunk. For a relatively young and healthy guy like myself, that’s not a major nuisance, but it could be a deal breaker for others.

The 14v-20Ah lithium ion battery upgrade adds $200 to the cost of the sealed lead acid version. Bat-Caddy also sells a 12v-25Ah LiFePO battery, though, that will last two to four times as long as the standard lithium ion one but adds another $100 to the overall cost.

Here’s a handy chart showing battery options from Bat-Caddy’s website:

Bat-Caddy Battery Info & Comparison

Climbing capabilities: 20 to 30-degree hill climbing

Most caddies will climb hills up to 20- or 30-degree angles. The X4R climbs or goes down up to 30 degrees, which is supported by its rear anti-tippers that help keep it upright.

Battery operating range: 18 to 54 holes

The X4R with the 14v-20Ah standard lithium ion battery’s product page gives a range of up to 36 holes per charge, or 36-54 holes with the upgraded 12v-25Ah battery. This can be adversely affected, of course, by the weight of the golf bag it’s carrying, excessively steep hills/uneven terrain, and right-left-right “Army” golf.

Bat-Caddy recommends charging its lithium ion batteries between every use. There is no loss of battery life doing it this way, and it ensures you always have enough juice regardless of where you’re at in your round.

Carrying capacity: 50 to 77 pounds

The X4R’s durable aluminum alloy and stainless steel construction gives it a higher weight capacity than most electric golf caddies. While you probably will not need it to carry 77 pounds of gear, it will keep the cart from bottoming out around the wheels if you’re carrying more weight than usual.

Accessories – all of these are available on the Bat-Caddy X4R, but its standard accessories are shown in green. I’ve ranked the importance of each to me in parentheses:

  • Scorecard holder (#1)
  • Golf cart drink holder (#2)
  • Golf umbrella holder (#4) – do not use an electric golf caddy in the rain!
  • Golf trolley carry bag
  • Golf bag rain cover (#5)
  • Golf trolley seat – sounds nice to have!
  • GPS or cell phone holder (#3)
  • Sand and seed dispenser
  • Remote control clip hanger (#6)

A few other things you might want to consider when buying an electric golf caddy / trolley include (ones that come standard for the X4R are in green):

  • Tracking adjustments – if it does not drive perfectly straight, can you straighten it out manually?
  • Handle design – left- or right-handed? Is the handle height adjustable for taller people? The X4R has dual handles and is adjustable-height
  • Warranty and service – Bat-Caddy has 1-year parts & labor, and 2 years on lithium ion batteries
  • Dimensions and foldability – size when folded? The X4R is ~ 31iL x 20iW x 10iH
  • Free-wheeling mode – if the battery dies, can you use it as a standard push cart or will you be stuck on the course?
  • Wheels – the wider the wheels and the wider the wheel base, the more stable the cart will be (the X4R has a standard width wheel base)
  • Tire tread – tire tread helps keep the cart operating consistently on morning dew and loose turf
  • Advanced technology:
    • Descent control – keeps the speed consistent when going downhill
    • Automatic shut-off – prevents runaway carts (the X4R shuts off after 45 seconds if no commands have been given)
    • Battery charge indicator – know how much juice you’ve got left in the batteries
    • Programmable speed settings
    • Electronic (GPS) navigation – set the cart’s direction and allow it to automatically continue on a straight line
    • Robotic follow-me mode – on robot caddies; I’ve heard very mixed reviews of this operation style, including that it’ll run in to you a lot when you stop
    • Gyroscope – a full 360-degree directional range vs. forward/backward and left/right

.

Summary

Having rarely seen and barely known electric golf caddies existed, I had no idea what I was missing. Now that I’ve got one, I can’t imagine golf without it and wholeheartedly recommend the Bat-Caddy X4R for any golfer, whether it’s the player in your life who’s got everything or maybe even yourself.

.

Product Wrap-Up:
Brand: Bat-Caddy
Product: X4R Electric Golf Caddy
Price as shown: $1,594 MSRP (current promotional price through the Holidays: $1,099)
Optional accessories shown: Phone/GPS device holder

Bat-Caddy X4R Line Product Page

Last month I had a 9 am tee time with my cousin, Frank, at The Club at Lac La Belle. I’d been there earlier in the season, and several other times for preview play and had a good idea of the shots – especially drone shots – I most wanted to get.

As it happens to me pretty often the night before rounds of golf that I’m really excited about, I didn’t sleep well the night before. My daughter woke up screaming at 1:45 in the morning, and after I got up to give her a new bottle and change her never fell back asleep. The same thing happened a few nights later when I was trying to rest up before a day at Medinah Country Club.

The great thing about being up way too early before rounds of golf is that it gives me the opportunity to leave early and chase the sunrise.

The Club at Lac La Belle is an amazing place to do just that. Everything about the course pops on camera. I’ve shown a handful of these on my Instagram account already, but here are some of my favorites from that morning… Enjoy!

Blue Mound Golf & Country Club in Wauwatosa is no stranger to hosting great golf tournaments, having held the 1916 Western Open, 1933 PGA Championship, 1955 Miller High Life Open, co-hosted the 2011 US Amateur with Erin Hills and plenty of others in between.

In 1919, the club hosted the state’s first and largest major golf tournament: The State Open. It was won by Arthur Clarkson, who defended his title the next year at Milwaukee Country Club.

All in all, Blue Mound has held the State Open five times (1919, 1921, 1928, 1942, 1952), and this year makes it a cool half-dozen in the form of the event’s 100th edition.

A 72-hole stroke play event conducted by the Wisconsin Section of the PGA, this year’s State Open sponsored by the Suter/Ward Group features a field of 156 players: 81 professionals, 67 amateurs and 2 players awaiting amateur reinstatement.

Throughout the years, the State Open has produced some of Wisconsin’s most legendary champions, including Steve Stricker (5 times), Jerry Kelly (1992), Skip Kendall (1988, 1989), Mark Wilson (2001), Eddie Terasa (3 times), Manuel de la Torre (5 times), Tommy Veech (4 times), Bobby Brue (5 times), Jordan Niebrugge (2011), and the winner of the event’s last two installments, Dan Woltman of Beaver Dam (4 total State Open wins).

Woltman, a member of the Korn Ferry Tour, is on the prowl again this year seeking his 5th title and currently tied for fourth just four strokes behind Kaylor Steger of Mount Pleasant who’s reached 8 under par.

Now in the books, days 1 and 2 otherwise produced a lot of high numbers. Players battled lightning fast greens and hellacious pin positions. Many of Blue Mound’s enormous, sometimes over 10,000 square foot green complexes have pins tucked in to far corners, cut just paces from edges. Former PGA Tour and current Champions Tour player Skip Kendall told Wisconsin.Golf’s Gary D’Amato they’re the second fastest greens he’s ever played (behind one year at The Memorial).

Tough greens lead to high cuts and great leaderboards, and this week’s tournament is no exception as a cadre of terrific players remain in the running, including:

  • 2nd place at -6: Harrison Ott, fresh off a round of 16 appearance in last week’s US Amateur at Bandon Dunes where he knocked off the tournament’s medalist, Wilson Furr
  • 3rd place at -5: Tommy Longbella, winner of the State Amateur at Milwaukee CC by TEN STROKES three weeks ago
  • T-11 at +2: 5-time PGA Champion Mark Wilson
  • T-11 at +2: Former PGA & current Champion Tour player Skip Kendall

A lot has changed since the State Open’s original event at Blue Mound in 1919, both in society and at their club. The course, though, looks tremendously similar now to its legendary course architect Seth Raynor’s design, thanks to a caring and benevolent staff and membership that has consistently done the right thing.

It’s not just golf that Blue Mound’s membership has shown to be consistently gracious toward, but also the great kids who grow up in and around their community. One player in the field who has been a benefactor of that is fellow North Hills member Mike Bielawski.

Bielawski, a former Marquette player and winner of the 2017 & 2018 WSGA State Match Play and 2018 WSGA State 4-Ball Championship, knows this year’s site well:

“This year’s open at Blue Mound is very special to me personally. I first learned what golf was when I was 12 years old when my Dad took me to Doyne, a MKE County Par 3 course. I loved it immediately and my parents thought it would be good to get me a job as a caddy, which turned out to be a great decision! Blue Mound is where I ended up going to caddy and it’s been an incredible ride in the golf world ever since. From winning a few good junior events, to college golf at Marquette, to mini tour life (thanks to a group of Blue Mound members sponsoring me), to club pro, and finally to college golf coach; I have seen a lot of the golf world. Now a father of two (Noah 2.5 and Lily 5 months) and husband, and working at the MACC Fund, I have so much to be thankful for.

Realistically, I owe much of this to my experience at Blue Mound and a few key people there that helped shaped my golf path. Head Professional Barry Linhart and (at the time) Assistant Pro Andy Fish really went out of their way to help me along both on and off the course, in addition to a generous group of members who helped me ‘chase the dream’ after college.

The reason I note all this is over the next few days, whether my golf is good or bad, two rounds or four, I am going to have a lifetime of really special memories to reflect upon between trying to hit some decent golf shots. It’s hard to find a place more special than Blue Mound to learn about golf and life. Aside from these great memories, the course changes over the past few years have been incredible—it’s truly pristine. I feel very fortunate to be able to compete in this year’s Open and can’t say thanks enough to the membership, staff, PGA staff, volunteers, and everyone who will make the 100th State Open a first class event.”

– Mike Bielawski

Over the years, Bielo has become one of my favorite people in the golf world, and it’s classy statements like these that exemplify his character and leadership at an organization as impactful as the MACC Fund.

While a lot has changed since Blue Mound held the state’s first Open, surely no changes have been as drastic as the environment created for this year’s tournament: A modern golf event held during the time of COVID-19.

Spectators this year are limited to immediate family members who must arrive and depart with the players, and members of the media who are required to socially distance while on-site.

Scoring is being updated online, and there are no physical leaderboards or crowds to cheer on their favorites. Still, 61 players remain in the battle for 36 more holes, motivated to become the state’s 100th Open Champion.

14 players have repeated at the State Open over the past 100 years, but will Woltman be the tournament’s first ever three-peat winner? Will University of Minnesota’s Longbella back up his State Am title? Will Harrison Ott stay hot after his impressive performance at Bandon last week? Will one of the streaky guys a ways back, like Charlie Delsman at +6, get hot and fire off something in the low-to-mid-sixties to get in the hunt?

Even without fans, this year’s State Open is filled with storylines, and tomorrow’s 36-hole marathon should be writhe with intrigue. They certainly couldn’t find a better host club than Blue Mound for it all to happen.

Note: If you’re bored/annoyed by the first section of this post, please feel free to skip to the 2nd section that begins near the teal-highlighted call-out

As I wrote about in my previous post, this is an exciting time for the 92-year-old Pine Hills Country Club, and I think the club and Drew Rogers’ upcoming renovation work, combined with some potential national media play during the now 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits is going to help skyrocket the course’s image nationally.

How it’s stayed as low-key as it has – even in the state – for so long is a mystery to me.

That Pine Hills doesn’t appear in any of the state rankings amazes me, though I think recently it’s because the course hasn’t been rated often enough. That will change soon, I’m sure, too.

I’m not saying the major publications’ rankings are the Bible on golf courses, nor am I saying Pine Hills should care. What I am saying is I think it’s as good of a private member golf course as there is in Wisconsin.

Keep in mind, in the following current “major rankings,” that Pine Hills does not qualify for public courses. I’m including them to provide a transferable framework for where they could/should fit in.

In this first list (Golf Digest’s top 10 overall courses in the state), for example, I think Pine Hills post-renovation has potential to reach the top 3-5. It belongs in the top 7 already, if you ask me.

Golf Digest’s 2019-2020 Top 10 Courses in Wisconsin (2019):
* Public & Private
1. Whistling Straits, Straits course
2. Erin Hills
3. Milwaukee Country Club
4. Blackwolf Run, River course
5. Sand Valley, Sand Valley course
6. Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes course
7. Whistling Straits, Irish course
8. SentryWorld
9. Blue Mound Golf & Country Club
10. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys course

Here’s how those figures translate nationally:

Golf Digest’s 2019-2020 Top 100 Public Courses, Wisconsin (2019):
* Public Only
3. Whistling Straits, Straits course
9. Erin Hills
15. Blackwolf Run, River course
18. Sand Valley, Sand Valley course
27. Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes course
43. Whistling Straits, Irish course
44. SentryWorld
57. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys
58. Lawsonia, Links course
69. Troy Burne

Golf Digest’s Top 100 Golf Courses, Wisconsin (2019-2020):
* Public & Private
21. Whistling Straits, Straits course
42. Erin Hills
74. Milwaukee Country Club
97. Blackwolf Run, River course

Next is a public ranking by GolfWeek. As it stands, I think Pine Hills belongs a little before the Irish course, SentryWorld (which is tremendous, although closed for the 2020 season), the Meadow Valleys course and U-Ridge.

As a private club, Pine Hills does not qualify for this list, but it’s relevant for comparative purposes.

Aside: How can anyone put Erin Hills as the #6 public course in the state? I understand rankings are based on opinion, but it feels like a miss.

GolfWeek Best Courses You Can Play in Wisconsin (2019):
* Public Only
1. Whistling Straits, Straits course
2. Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes course
3. Sand Valley, Sand Valley course
4. Lawsonia, Links course
5. Blackwolf Run, River course
6. Erin Hills
7. Whistling Straits, Irish course
8. SentryWorld
9. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valley course
10. University Ridge
11. Troy Burne
12. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms
13. Geneva National, Player course
14. Wild Rock
15. Big Fish

This next list is an interesting one: If Milwaukee’s #49, the Links course at Lawsonia is #62 and Blue Mound is #148, Pine Hills should really be included.

GolfWeek Top 200 Classic Courses, Wisconsin (2019):
* Public & Private
49. Milwaukee Country Club
62. Lawsonia, Links course
148. Blue Mound Golf & Country Club

Here’s another interesting one… Like I said, I think Pine Hills should be #2 here, and that it could potentially get to #1 with some smart, subtle changes during their upcoming renovations. Blue Mound’s awesome, but I personally give PHCC an edge and put Blue Mound at #3.

I should mention I haven’t played Oneida or Green Bay. I hear great things about both but can’t imagine either challenges MCC, Pine Hills or Blue Mound for the top 3.

West Bend is fantastic, too, by the way.

GolfWeek Top Private Courses by State, Wisconsin (2019):
* Private Only
1. Milwaukee Country Club
2. Blue Mound Golf & Country Club
3. Oneida Golf & Country Club
4. Green Bay Country Club
5. West Bend Country Club

Golf.com hasn’t published a top 100 national list since 2018, but I think Pine Hills has the opportunity to break on to theirs’, potentially alongside or slightly ahead of the River course at Blackwolf Run.

Golf.com Top 100 Courses in the US, Wisconsin (2017-2018):
* Public & Private
28. Whistling Straits, Straits course
52. Sand Valley, Sand Valley course
74. Erin Hills
84. Milwaukee Country Club
100. Blackwolf Run, River course

I like a listing that has the Links course at Lawsonia (one of my favorite places in the world) as a top 150 course in the world, but it’s tough to get behind.

Golf.com Top 100 Courses in the World, Wisconsin (2020-2021):
* Public & Private
69. Whistling Straits, Straits course

* Lawsonia, Links course (World next 50)
* Sand Valley, Sand Valley (World next 50)

As you can see, there are spaces on all these [not public only] lists where a previously anonymous course can potentially fit in.

I think the time is right for Pine Hills to invest in their club and course (which they are), and afterwards I think we’ll start seeing “Pine Hills CC, Sheboygan WI” in a lot of lists going forward.

PART# 2: Comparing the state’s 2 best private clubs

So, how does Pine Hills compare now to the perennially top-ranked private golf course in Wisconsin, Milwaukee CC?

Keep in mind, this is all my personal opinion. All rankings and ratings within golf are, and I understand that my preferences for golf courses are not everyone else’s. They’re certainly not the same as the major publications’.

Milwaukee Country Club has always been the incumbent. No other private course in Wisconsin has probably ever even been considered.

Currently ranked by Golf Digest as the #74 course in the country (link), Milwaukee oozes rich heritage and tradition, features terrific golf holes both on the Milwaukee River and inland, and was recently updated by Tom Doak and his team in 2015.

It’s a hallowed ground that’s challenging to get on, and the anticipation of a round at Milwaukee Country Club can bring about butterflies, or anxiety in even the biggest golf enthusiast.

Yet, does its exclusivity make it the unquestioned number one private golf course in the state?

When considering course design and customer experience, I have a hard time saying it’s better than Pine Hills. I also have a hard time saying it’s not. I waffle between the two enough that I might as well call them 1-A and 1-B.

There are no losers here. It’s rare air. Some people who read this will say I’m an idiot for comparing the two at all – Milwaukee is clearly the best because it’s such an honor to play it, and its incredible heritage makes it better. Oh, and because CH Alison was a historically significant golf course architect while it’s hard to find much about Pine Hills’ designer, Harry Smead.

As an aside, I’m told Smead worked with or was a protege of Langford & Moreau’s. There are a lot of similarities between Langford & Moreau’s design and aesthetics and those of Pine Hills, especially in the green complexes, use of mounding and structuring of bunkers.

Here is how I compare the two clubs by key category:

Conditions: Milwaukee

Both courses are magnificently maintained, but green complexes like the 9th with their closely shorn green surrounds are so compelling that I’m sending the nod to MCC.

Par 3’s: Pine Hills

Pine Hills might have the most memorable set of par threes in the entire state of Wisconsin, and despite a quality set at Milwaukee wins this category easily.

My favorite par 3’s at Pine Hills:
1. 9th (170/145/135/114) – this is how I picture golf at Augusta
2. 5th (195/182/175/165) – uphill par 3 with a massive, tiered green
3. 14th (134/123/114/114) – I love a great short par 3
4. 7th (208/172/155/125) – the long downhill par 3 with amazing views
5. 16th (148/141/126/122) – uphill shot with a tough green

Par 4’s: Pine Hills

Along with a handful of great, incredibly memorable par fours, Pine Hills’ overall collection is solid. Stalwarts among those truly memorable holes are the 8th, 10th, 13th and 17th.

Par 5’s: Milwaukee

Neither course’s par fives are their biggest strength, but Pine Hills’ three-shot holes are more legitimate. The one that does not fit that mold is the 12th, which is the second in a set of back-to-back par fives that play in opposite directions.

While the 12th measures just 458 yards from the tips and 450 from the first tees in, its dramatically rolling fairway makes for a challenging [and oftentimes blind] approach shot to a heavily guarded green to get home in two.

While the 10th at Milwaukee is a gorgeous golf hole, and an incredible photo opportunity with the Milwaukee River as a backdrop, it and the 7th are both better played as long fours (as they are for the Wisconsin State Amateur) for scratch players. A more normal player like myself (8-10 handicap) still finds plenty of challenge in them.

Based purely on memorability, the edge here goes to Milwaukee.

The beautiful par five 10th at Milwaukee CC

Closing holes: Milwaukee

The 9th and 18th at Milwaukee might be its two best holes. The 9th is all-world, with an elevated tee shot heading straight toward the clubhouse.

Similarly, the 18th finishes outside the clubhouse and features an outstanding, back-to-front green complex.

Course Layout & Use of the Land: Pine Hills

Pine Hills is dramatic. There are very few level shots, whether off the tee or when approaching its greens. Milwaukee has some elevated tee boxes and greens, but nowhere near the ups and downs.

Both courses use the rivers that go through them well: The Pigeon River winds through the 7th, 8th, 10th and 17th at Pine Hills, and the Milwaukee River bisects or provides a border for the 10th thru 15th holes at MCC.

Bunkering: Milwaukee

Pine Hills’ dramatic land use and highly contoured greens barely require bunkering, and use of sand is nowhere near as prominent as it is at Milwaukee.

Milwaukee’s bunkering is beautiful. Players need only to look at the magnificent par three 8th, par four 11th and the recently updated par five 3rd as prime examples.

Greens: Pine Hills

Milwaukee’s greens are great, but Pine Hills’ greens are amazing. Pine Hills’ green complexes are just more interesting to me, and with much more break.

Take the par three 5th hole. This is a long, uphill shot that feels attainable because the green is so massive in size. Get up there, though, and the green surface is ribboned like the waves of nearby Lake Michigan.

The large, wild green on the par three 5th at Pine Hills

Clubhouse & Amenities: Milwaukee

Milwaukee has one of the most memorable clubhouses I’ve ever seen. While the men’s locker room facility is in the style of an old German beer hall, the principal dining and social areas are stately and well-appointed. I attend several annual events there and their food and beverage service is fantastic.

Pine Hills’ food and beverage is outstanding, too, but the edge – by an edge – goes to Milwaukee mostly based on uniqueness.

Milwaukee Country Club’s plantation-style clubhouse

Conclusion:

That I go back and forth between Milwaukee and Pine Hills says it all. Both courses are beautiful and feature tremendous Golden Age design and aesthetics.

If I could help it, I would never turn down the opportunity to play either of them, and both are shining examples of our state’s best golf.

I’m not saying Pine Hills should be ranked the number one private course in Wisconsin, but it should absolutely be considered and I hope it starts seeing a lot of positive pub in the years to come.

I’m expecting a few “you’re crazies” and would love to hear others’ thoughts, so please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

GolfCourseArchitecture.net’s Richard Humphreys posted an article last month about upcoming renovations at one of my favorite golf courses, Pine Hills Country Club in Sheboygan.

Link to article:
Drew Rogers Begins Work at ‘Extraordinary’ Pine Hills in Wisconsin

USGCA Architect Drew Rogers, also on the back end of a terrific restoration project at the Donald Ross designed Kenosha Country Club, is partnering with Pine Hills to help enact a series of small projects they anticipate will have long-lasting positive impacts.

Tree removal, bunker placements, tee boxes, drainage and green surrounds are all on the docket to be addressed.

Some lighter aspects of the renovation work have begun, and deforestation is set to begin this Fall on the course’s closing hole. Rogers’ plans for the 18th should take it from being Pine Hills’ weakest hole to potentially being one of its best (a bold statement on a property like PHCC!).

The 18th already has an excellent green complex, but its current layout doesn’t fit the rest of the course – especially to end the round. As it is, the 18th features a tight, restrictive right-to-left tee shot between trees that leaves a mid-iron approach to a really tough, elevated green.

It’s a very penal hole on a course that’s much better characterized as fun and imaginative.

By removing the woods inside the dogleg, repositioning the tees and making other small adjustments, the new 18th will open up views of a deep hillside ridge that lines the hole’s entire left border and in effect creates a thrilling right-to-left risk/reward opportunity.

This new Cape Hole (a CB Macdonald template design that originated at the National Golf Links of America) will urge players to bite off as much as they can of the ridge to leave a shorter approach shot to the green.

Like the rest of the course, it will be beautiful and dramatic – adjectives more befitting a great finishing hole than penal and restrictive.

Pine Hills’ / Drew Rogers’ plans for the renovated 18th at Pine Hills:

Plans for renovating the 18th hole at Pine Hills, to be started this Fall
(Graphic by Drew Rogers and courtesy of Pine Hills Country Club)

The new Cape will become the second half of a unique and dynamic back-to-back risk/reward left-to-right then right-to-left combination of holes.

While the 17th requires a risky faded tee shot to leave wedge in, the 18th will set up for a draw. Both will demand execution and will put golf balls, and high scores, in jeopardy.

Pine Hills is already a really special golf course, and I’ve flip-flopped on it and Milwaukee being my number one private course in the state for years, to the point that I basically consider them 1-A and 1-B.

So what will high-impact renovations mean to a course that’s already as ‘extraordinary’ as Pine Hills?

For one thing, I think we’ll finally start hearing about this exceptional 92-year-old Sheboygan golf course outside of post-round discussions at the bar or fire pit. I think it should also get a shot in the arm from golfers traveling to Sheboygan for next year’s 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.

But will these changes and more attention be the catalyst that elevates the club toward the state and national notoriety a course of its caliber deserves?

I’ll examine that in an upcoming post, including where I think Pine Hills can and should fit in to state and national rankings as well as how I think it compares to and against Wisconsin’s perennially top ranked private club, Milwaukee CC.

It was a familiar feeling, and one I’ve come to chase over the years while being blessed to play some of the country’s great golf courses. It was that feeling when, despite high expectations, you’re blown away by a golf course that’s unfolding in front of you.

My expectations were surpassed quickly and often at the new Club at Lac La Belle outside Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

Course Architect Craig Haltom has been a veritable Swiss Army knife of the golf industry throughout the years, having risen to the role of President at Oliphant Golf Management in his time with the company since 2001.

Still, many know his name for having found the land and introducing Mike Keiser to what has become Sand Valley Golf Resort in Rome, Wisconsin. Craig still serves as Construction Lead for new projects there, but until now hadn’t had the opportunity to both design and build a full golf course.

Having earned his Masters of Landscape Architecture from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, Craig spent years studying the great courses of Great Britain and Ireland, and while I have not been across the pond I can see from pictures there that his passion for European-style golf is on display at La Belle.

Rich in history dating back to 1896, Haltom was able to take something very old in Oconomowoc and not only make it new but completely unrecognizable from what it was… And unique compared to everything else in the area.

The new Club at Lac La Belle is bold and memorable. It meshes Mammoth Dunes-like green complexes with a beautiful, parkland-esque layout.

Thoughts like “Whoa, that’s so good,” and “This does not feel like Wisconsin,” and “This green is insane – I love what he did with [this] slope” popped in my head constantly. I had to apologize a number of times to my buddy Jeff for all the over-the-top commentary.

Simply put, I was in awe of what Craig Haltom and the Morse family have created at The Club at Lac La Belle.

They have successfully and simultaneously developed a golfing experience that is top-end and extremely unique to the area while paying homage to a rich heritage nearly 125 years in the making that originated with US Open champions Alex Smith and Willie Anderson, and fellow champion golfer Robert B. Simpson.

Those were the first three PGA Professionals at what was then the Country Club of Oconomowoc on the same piece of land that now inhabits the CLLL.

The club’s history and the Smith brothers who helped open the site for golf, specifically, intertwines with the history of Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. New ownership is even working with Carnoustie and David Mackesey of Diablo CC to put the Smith brothers’ nostalgic equipment and other turn-of-the-20th century artifacts on display at La Belle.

But I’ve written about the history of The Club at Lac La Belle in the past (Course Preview: The Club at Lac La Belle), and I hope you dive down that rabbit’s hole as it’s as rich as any course’s in the Midwest. What I want to touch on now is what The Club at Lac La Belle has become.

There is nothing fully comparable in the state of Wisconsin, and honestly I think it will jump straight in to the top 10 public courses discussion behind the likes of the River course at Blackwolf Run and the Links at Lawsonia, but ahead of or among [mostly top 100 nationally ranked] courses like SentryWorld, the Irish at Whistling Straits, Meadow Valleys at Blackwolf Run, the Bull at Pinehurst Farms, University Ridge and Wild Rock.

Random thoughts during my round:

  • The course design is unique and really fun
  • The Club at Lac La Belle will feature prominently in the “Best Renovations” category
  • Wide and forgiving fairways
  • These greens are massive! Only in-state comps are Mammoth Dunes, Blue Mound, Lawsonia Links for some
  • The bunkering stars – from the Ohio Best white sand to the natural fescue outcroppings, they’re really beautiful
  • I can’t believe they created this out of Rolling Hills (and what the hell happened to all those trees!?)
  • The Rivalry Pub, patio areas, short game practice area, events & wedding venues, and the pro shop are all really nicely appointed
  • Merchandising akin to Bandon Dunes and Sand Valley
  • Love the logo
  • Incredibly friendly staff – everyone’s very helpful, especially Patrick
  • So many wow moments on the course
  • Green contouring favors players with course/local knowledge – eg: The par three 8th green, bank shots found on other short holes
  • When these sand-based greens are sped up, false fronts could get really crazy
  • Love the drivable par fours, risk/reward opportunities
  • The par 3’s are masterful, and the 4th might be one of my all-time favorites
  • The par 5’s are gettable, especially the course’s signature 16th hole
  • The 18th green is incredible – I love a good punch bowl
  • Don’t go in the left-most fairway bunker on 2
  • I need to buy more batteries for my drone – 3 was not enough here
  • The memorabilia they have on property from Carnoustie is very cool – I held the mashie of a 4-time US Open champion, for example
  • This would be a fun course to chase the sun on, then spend time with cocktails betting over putts on the Himalayas / Punch Bowl-like putting course outside the Rivalry Pub

I could go on, and I’m sure I will in future posts about the Club at Lac La Belle, but the point I want to get across is that their opening week (this weekend, starting Saturday June 20) is a big day for golf in Southeastern Wisconsin.

With a price tag just under $100 including cart, the new Club at Lac La Belle is the best course in the area not named Erin Hills, and I think it is the perfect complement to Erin Hills for out-of-towners looking for a second round without breaking the bank.

A few of my favorite holes:
The par four second is a wonderful strategic golf hole on land new to the Club at Lac La Belle. The tee shot is between trees to an area littered with sand traps – the smart play is short of them to set up a short approach shot, but what fun would that be? This multi-tiered green will be diabolical when fully grown in.

Tee shot on the par four 2nd hole from the ground (construction golf)
Tee shot on the par four 2nd at the Club at Lac La Belle (construction golf)
Tee shot landing area on the par four 2nd
A close-up of the green on two – avoid that short-left trap off the tee, trust me
%d bloggers like this: