Pine Hills Country Club: Big Things on the Horizon

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.

Golf Club Review: Kenosha Country Club (WI)

One of two Donald Ross designed golf courses in the state of Wisconsin, Kenosha Country Club boasts an almost 100-year-old private course with a rather unique variety of hole layouts, thoughtful use of elevation and fun, tiny [but expanding] green complexes that my host, Gregg, described perfectly as “playful.”

This was my first ever round on a Donald Ross design, and since playing I’ve found myself thinking a lot about it: Different options off its tees (I’d definitely change how I played 15!), how different pin locations could dramatically change several holes, how I could have optimized where I left my bag around certain greens, how I’d love to have both those restrictive tee shots on two, three, five, ten, eleven and fifteen, as well as those “Swing as hard as I can in the right general direction” shots on six, seven, twelve, thirteen and sixteen to look forward to again…

Basically, how Kenosha Country Club is the kind of golf course that would really grow on you.

KCC is a great everyday golf club. Its holes are laid out with terrific variety, allowing players to wail away at will then reining them back in. It’s perfectly walkable with short transfers between greens and tees, and the green complexes are really interesting.

It’s an easy walk minus a few steep hills, but for the most part the hills can be climbed without your full bag (grab your driver or next club selection before walking uphill on 3, 5 and 14, for example, and leave the rest of your equipment to grab on the way down).

Originally designed and opened for play in 1921, Kenosha Country Club has experienced a lot of the same changes and challenges as many other Golden Age golf courses.

1921 Donald Ross layout for Kenosha Country Club (courtesy of the Donald Ross Web Library)

It started with a great strategic design (above) by a master at his craft, Donald Ross, and over time matured and morphed in to something different, albeit recognizable. It’s how recognizable it is compared to its originally designed intentions that’s helping make its current and next steps truly special.

A return to its roots

Kenosha Country Club has been working with ASGCA architect J. Drew Rogers since 2015 to help undo some of the changes that have happened both naturally and intentionally over the last 99 years.

Chief among these updates are significant tree removal, realignment of fairways, recovery of bunkers that have been filled in, and – most importantly if you ask me – a reclamation of green surfaces that have shrunken over time.

Evidence of these green surface changes can be found across the course today. Blue/green dots outline where putting surfaces will be re-expanded to, and it’s easy to picture the positive impact that will be made by recouping so much short grass.

The green on ten, for example, will be expanded to include high slopes on either side that were meant to help push balls toward the center of the green, protecting its outside pins.

Approach shot on the dogleg right par four 10th at Kenosha

Some greens’ redemptive surfaces are less structural (not re-incorporating humps or slopes, for example), but their impact when expanded will be immeasurable through the addition of pinnable areas.

For several holes on the course, it’s that adding of pinnable space that will make all the difference. The par three 17th, for example, can now only be pinned in the upper-right. Surely this was not Ross’s original intent, but it is a natural and unfortunate by-product of golf course evolution.

The uphill par three 17th at Kenosha CC, pinned back-right

Most putting surfaces will be moved out a few feet in each direction, which will be very noticeable on a course with such small greens.

The course and a few of my favorite holes

The smallest of the greens at Kenosha Country Club is on the short, way uphill par three 3rd. I wish I would have walked the length and width of this green, because if I had to guess from memory and photos I’d say it’s 40′ x 20′, and probably 30-40′ uphill.

It is just a 130-yard shot, though, and it was my first birdie of the day, so I thought the small green size fit the hole just right.

The tremendously uphill par three 3rd and its tiny green at Kenosha Country Club

We let the threesome behind us play through on three, and one of their guys went left of the traps off the tee. His only option was a flop shot over the back-left trap to a downhill green running hard away. Not easy, and understandable that he left it short and ended up in his pocket.

Uphill approach shots are a key trend at Kenosha Country Club, and the third is the first hole there where elevation could alter club selection by several clubs.

Other holes that play several clubs longer because of elevation changes include the par four 5th, par four 11th, par four 13th, par four 15th and the previously mentioned par three 17th.

The par four 5th at KCC plays high-low-high across a valley
Back tee boxes on the beautiful par four 11th at KCC, suggesting a draw
Approach shot from the fairway on the par four 13th at KCC
A view from atop the tiny green on the par four 13th
The challenging, uphill par three penultimate hole at Kenosha (17th)

While it’s unusual to see more than one hole on a golf course with such a dramatic low-to-high difference in elevation approaching the green, it simply works at KCC.

In general, Ross’s use of the terrain at Kenosha is thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing. Starring in this category is the all-world par four 15th.

Drew Rogers calls the 15th at Kenosha one of Ross’s all-time greatest hole designs (Ross is accredited with designing ~ 400 courses, by the way), and it’s easy to see why.

There are options galore off this tee. My host hit a wedge safely in front of the river. I elected, twice, to hit driver from the elevated tee boxes, with a wind coming in and to our right. I put two balls well over the trees on to the highway, then – feeling lucky to have avoided hitting anything –

Tee shot on the magnificent par four 15th at Kenosha CC
A look back toward the tee on 15 at Kenosha

Fifteen was the hole I wanted most to get drone photography of. Unfortunately, though, a massive storm hit about 20 minutes after our round and I was ushered back to the clubhouse before I got that far out. I’m definitely hoping to get aerial footage the next time I visit Kenosha, though.

While there are quite a few holes at Kenosha Country Club that feature uphill approach shots, there are also downhill approach shots that must be negotiated on the par four 7th, par four 9th, par three 14th and par four 18th.

The downhill par three 14th at KCC

The finishing holes on each nine are great round enders. Both are significantly downhill with really well protected greens.

The eighteenth has a terraced fairway that if hit well off the tee should leave just a short iron or wedge to get home:

Approach shot from the top terrace of the fairway on 18 at KCC
A look back over the par four 18th at Kenosha Country Club

The ninth is similarly as good, and challenging, to close out the front nine. A view from its higher fairway:

The par four 9th at Kenosha is a challenging end to the front nine

Probably my favorite green on the course is on the par four seventh.

The par four 7th at Kenosha, as seen from above
The extremely canted left-to-right green on 7

Gregg played this half-punch bowl green perfectly, hitting a long approach shot all the way to the left side and watching it climb the edges, roll toward the back and then back around toward the right-middle hole location.

I saw that and was excited for my turn, which was a short approach shot under 100 yards from the right side of the fairway. I wanted to play the same angle and enjoy the view as it filtered toward the hole.

Then, I pushed it right of the flag and in to a small collection area off the back-right of the green. That was a swing I’d love to get back.

Summary

As I said, this is the kind of golf course I could play every day. The fairways are forgiving enough that it won’t overly penalize players for having a bad driving day; the greens and hole layouts, in general, are varied and fun, and it would be a terrific walk that won’t completely wear you out.

Kenosha Country Club is a prime example of a Golden Age course that’s getting better and better over time. Even visiting on a Monday afternoon, the course was active with men and women of all age groups. They obviously have a very avid golfing membership, and one that is in growth mode having added over 50 new members in 2020.

While part of their single-year growth is likely because of the COVID-19 pandemic and folks needing something to do and be a part of, I’m sure the majority of it can be attributed to the excitement building around a course and membership that’s receiving new life through the returns from its investments – a revival in design and architecture that will once again see Kenosha Country Club played as one of the game’s all-time greatest designers meant for it to be played.

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Kenosha, WI
Yardage: Blue-6530, White-6277, Gold-5680, Red-5107
Slope/Rating: Blue-130/71.9, White-127/70.8, Gold-122/67.9, Red-121/69.4
Par: 70

Kenosha Country Club Website

Golf Course Preview: The Club at Lac La Belle

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
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Golf Club Review: The University Club

I first visited The University Club (fka Tripoli) three years ago with Golf Course Architect Andy Staples (link to original article). Andy had been hired to put together a 10-year strategic plan for renovating the now 99-year-old course: Updates that will help usher the club in to and beyond it’s centennial anniversary.

The University Club has a rich history, having played host to the 1956-1960 Miller Opens (video below from the year Ken Venturi won in 1957) and the 1970-1971 Greater Milwaukee Opens, won by players like Venturi, Cary Middlecoff and Gene Littler.

Video highlights from the 1957 Miller Open

Recent Renovations:
Starting with a terrific competition golf course and outstanding facilities/amenities, Staples’ work and suggestions have been far from a total redo.

Heightened private club competition on the north side of Milwaukee, though, meant critical changes needed to be made to address a few quirks and especially upgrade the club’s practice facilities.

The previous practice facilities consisted of a tight chute of land between N 43rd Street and the first tee with a handful of hitting spaces. It’s a small area that allows players to work out some kinks before teeing off, but little else.

Enter Staples, who is highly regarded for his practice facility expertise (link to portfolio), and enter a strategic partnership between the University Club and the Marquette University Men’s Golf Team.

This joint venture worked with Staples to upgrade the U-Club’s practice facilities significantly, including designated short game areas, practice greens (one perfectly level to practice speed and line), a competition wedge range with cement targets (to sound when hit) and a 4-hole practice course.

Level and uneven lies, uphill and downhill shots, required lobs, awkward sand shots, approaches from fairways and long rough can all now be simulated on the 10-acre parcel of land.

Conceptual plan for the new short game practice area (2017)
The new practice facility’s competition wedge range (photo credit: Dylan Hills, University Club of MKE)
4th green on the new short course (photo credit: Dylan Hills, University Club of MKE)
Practice facility short course (photo credit: Dylan Hills, University Club of MKE)

To make room for this state-of-the-art practice facility, some physical changes needed to be made to the golf course.

The par three twelfth was moved from running north-south to east-west, was lengthened slightly and given a terrific green complex that’s modeled after the original twelfth.

Much simpler re-routing was achieved on the tee areas of the thirteenth and sixteenth holes, helping create more well-defined fairways and, in the case of the sixteenth, a safer golf experience.

Significant tree removal has been undertaken (and is still underway) across the property, some mowing lines have been adjusted and numerous forward tees have been added.

The Course:
The University Club is not an overpoweringly long course on the scorecard, tipping out at 6,588 yards and with blue tees at 6,269, but it plays significantly longer. The back nine, especially, features a tremendously challenging stretch of holes from twelve to sixteen.

None are more challenging than the par four sixteenth, which regained its bite and now fully earns its number one handicapped hole status.

The par threes are mostly on the shorter side, which I appreciate at a classic course with tough greens.

The new twelfth is the longest of the four and is unquestionably the hardest. It plays about 200 yards slightly uphill, regularly in to the wind and to a fairly narrow, well-protected green.

The new par three 12th at The University Club

The great green complexes at The U-Club start right out of the gate on the first hole. A downhill drive from the clubhouse to a tree-lined fairway, this raised Bendelow putting surface is nicely canted back-to-front:

Hole 1: Par 4 (386/373/364/364)

The second is where players start to see noticeable updates from the renovation. This area, running parallel to Good Hope Road, includes the second hole fairway and its green surrounds, the sixteenth tee area and the twelfth hole.

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North Hills’ Eddie Terasa Earns WPGA Senior Player of the Decade Honors

It’s not often I re-post press releases on my site, but this one’s special to me as it pertains to the Head PGA Golf Professional at our home club, North Hills CC in Menomonee Falls, Eddie Terasa.

I’ve had the pleasure of playing a number of rounds with Eddie since I first joined North Hills in 2013. I’ve never seen a smoother, more consistent swing or approach to the game of golf.

Congratulations, Eddie, on being named the PGA Wisconsin Section’s Senior Player of the Decade!

WISCONSIN GOLF PROFESSIONALS HELMINEN AND TERASA EARN PLAYER OF THE DECADE HONORS

West Allis, WI (April 30, 2020) – The Wisconsin Professional Golfers’ Association (WPGA) announces Players of the Decade. Earning the prestigious honor for the decade spanning 2010-2019 are Ryan Helminen, PGA of Ridgeway Country Club (Neenah) in the member race and Eddie Terasa, PGA of North Hills Country Club (Menomonee Falls) in the senior race. 

“Helminen’s journey to the member honor featured ten years of consistently great play,” said Joe Stadler, Executive Director Wisconsin PGA / WPGA Junior Foundation. “Terasa’s senior resume during the ten years was just as impressive as Helminen’s on the member side with an impressive list of major tournament victories over the course of this 10-year stretch.” 

Photo courtesy of PGA of America

The process for determining these awards is based on a point system with players receiving points on how each individual finished in the Player of the Year standings annually from 2010-2019. On a yearly basis the system provides certain point values to each of the top twenty players in the member contest and the top ten players in the senior contest.

Player of the Decade – MEMBER
Ryan Helminen’s Journey

In the past decade, Appleton-native Helminen has won the WPGA Member Player of the Year award five times, finished second twice and finished third twice. These finishes helped him earn 213 points and win the award by an impressive 55-point margin. Highlights during Helminen’s run included the 2014 Wisconsin State Open Title, four WPGA Professional Championship victories and seven one-day WPGA Classic wins. Helminen has been a Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) member since 2007. He will be recognized at an upcoming WPGA Tournament. 

“Being a member of the WPGA is a great honor and I feel very privileged to be a part of it,” said Helminen, PGA Teaching Professional at Ridgeway Country Club. “The opportunity to have been able to compete on all our wonderful courses is very much appreciated. I look forward to the new decade and the challenge of continuing to have success in our great game, in our great state.”

Player of the Decade – SENIOR
Eddie Terasa’s Journey

Madison-native Terasa turned 50-years-old in June 2010 entering him into the senior standings for the upcoming decade. Just one year later Terasa started a run of four consecutive years of achieving the Senior Player of the Year Award. Terasa’s list of victories included the 2010 Wisconsin State Open, 2010 WPGA Match Play Championship, 2016 Wisconsin State Senior Open, two WPGA Professional Championships (2011 & 2013), and three WPGA Senior Professional Championships (2011, 2013 & 2014). Terasa has been a PGA member since 1987. The WPGA acknowledged Terasa as the Senior Player of the Decade at the WPGA Spring Membership Meeting Reception held on March 2, 2020 at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in Green Bay. 

“It’s all about the journey,” said Terasa, Head PGA Professional of North Hills Country Club. “I enjoy competing with my fellow PGA friends. The awards and accolades are the cherry on top.”