Geneva National is a lot of things. First and foremost, it is a fantastic facility with three championship golf courses designed by three of golf’s all-time legends: Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, and Lee Trevino.
Geneva National is also the most friendly golf course I have ever been to. Without provocation, I was bombarded with friendly conversation from everybody there, starting with I.C. in the clubhouse, Del the starter, several people at the practice range, and ending with Zoltan at the end of our round. Geneva National is a very warm and welcoming course, set amidst the otherwise sometimes stodgy community of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Low fall rates and mid-50’s weather made today’s trip a must-play. Ask three people which of the three courses at Geneva National is best, and you will likely get three different answers. The Gary Player course is the best rated on whole, though, so we chose this track today. Next season, I would like to get a stay-and-play package together to check out the other two, as well.
The Player course starts with a beautiful par four overlooking Lake Como. Downhill with a tight fairway, the first concludes over a small creek and wide fescue area. If you are going to miss the fairway, miss left.
The second hole is the first of the five par fives on the Player course, and is the longest. The tee shot is from before a large pond, but this should not come in to play off the tee. Stay right if you are going to miss the fairway, as the left side will lock out any potential approach.
Heading over another, much larger pond, the fairway runs massively uphill and to the left. This is a tough approach to hit, although the slight upward slope will help hold the green.
The par four third hole on the Player course reminds me a lot of a similar hole at ThunderHawk. This is a tight par four with a fairway that must be hit for any chance at a green in regulation (unless you are my friend who hit the fairway to the right, then miraculously flew the woods to hit the green in two).
The first of five par threes on the course is a short one, at just 132 yards from the gold tees. The green is deceptively farther than it looks, though, as the mounding short and to the left is placed well before the putting surface.
Hole five on the Player course is an instant classic! A true risk/reward hole, the fairway in front of the green is drivable, but requires at least 225 yards to carry the waste area and fingered sand traps. The bail-out fairway to the right is much more accessible, although it adds considerably to the hole’s yardage.
The green’s front-right bunker is deep, and woods to the left must also be considered if going for this green from the tee. At 310 yards from the gold boxes, this is one of the best short par fours I have ever seen or played.
The second of Player’s par threes is one of my favorites on the course. From elevated tee boxes, the tee shot is fairly long and can be heavily wind-influenced. At 178 yards from the gold tees, the majority of that yardage must be carried to get over the pond and pre-green sand trap.
The seventh is an excellent par four that demands a long iron or fairway wood from the tee. The fairway runs laterally on the opposite side of a huge natural grass area, and the distance off the tee will increase as the right side of the fairway is chopped off. The best play is just right of the mid-way sand traps, which will best set up a delicate approach to the green. The fairway is narrow and lined with forest on both sides.
Hole eight is another really nice par five, and is the number one handicapped hole on the Player course. The fairway runs to the left, but not as far left as it appears.
Avoid cutting the corner at the tree line, as this should lead to a lost ball. Aim left of the far sand traps for excellent placement on the second shot. A pond runs along the right side of the approach area, and leads to a rather small, two-tiered green. The hole drops off post-green, so be sure not to overhit the approach.
The ninth ends the front nine is terrific fashion. The tee shot looks narrower than it actually is, as the fairway runs right and slightly uphill. The green is surrounded by sand, especially on the far side, making the traps beyond the green brutal to play from.
As the front nine ends in terrific fashion, the back nine begins spectacularly. The tenth hole features highly-elevated tee boxes with woods to the left and a hugely downhill drive.
Find the fairway on the drive and get great roll to set up a chance at hitting this green in two. The shot over the pond is long, and the landing area is largely populated with sand. The finish of this hole reminds me of the 18th from Castle at the Bay, requiring a long shot over water and staggered bunkers. The green is multi-tiered, as many of the greens at Geneva National are.
Following this awesome par five is a tough par four. The majority of the landing area on the 11th is littered with fairway bunkers. Large mounds and an uphill fairway make the approach difficult, as the right side cuts off quickly and falls into the woods. Although short, this is not an easy par four.
Keeping with the theme of tough par fours, twelve is one of the toughest to be found anywhere. At 433 yards from the gold tees, it looks simple enough from the tee boxes. The entire right side of the driving area might as well be a black hole, though.
Aim significantly left on this fairway to avoid dropping three. If the drive goes over the three trees on the right side, there will be little chance of salvaging par. The twelfth is one of the holes showcased on the drive to the clubhouse, so get a good look at it coming in so you’ll have an idea of what you’re facing when teeing up.
Fourteen is the fourth of the Player course’s par fives. A sharp dogleg left, the drive is the key to a chance for birdie or eagle. The tee boxes are risen well above the fairway, and forest lines both sides. A narrow stream zig-zags before the green, and the subtle slope of it is a bit tougher than it initially seams. This is certainly a birdie-able hole.
To me, the fifteenth is the most non-descript hole on the course. A mid-range par three, there is little to be concerned about. At 156 yards, the green is slightly uphill which added a club and a half to hit.
Sixteen is sensational. With tee boxes overlooking Lake Como, the drive is as long as you can make it. There is no trouble for 500 yards, but take a hard look from the tees at what this trouble will look like. It is difficult to tell from the approach that it will be as tough as it is.
From the playing surface, the pond in front of the green looks like a small, carry-able fescue area, but turns out to be a fairly significant pond. Club up once or twice to stay dry.
The seventeenth is the longest of the par threes on the Player course. At 187 yards from the gold tees, be sure not to hook this tee shot. Anything else should play fine.
The eighteenth is the second short par four on the course. At 337 yards from the gold tees, the green appears to be drivable, but with a prevailing wind in to the tee boxes, was not. Our closest shot was a good 30 yards downhill from the putting surface, which led to an easy par. I am a big fan of short closing holes – who doesn’t like a decent chance for a low number to end their round?
Geneva National’s $125 summer rates make it a difficult play for young folks like myself, but with sub-$40 [almost] off-season rates, it has to be taken advantage of! This is one of the courses I will be setting money aside for to check out more of in 2012. Their stay-and-play packages look semi-affordable, and with three world-class courses on location, this is an ideal spot for a great weekend get-away.
Take a look at the comprehensive course previews on Grand Geneva’s web site, and choose the track that looks best to you. All three look fantastic. I am told the Player course, ranked 2010’s tenth best course you can play in Wisconsin, is the most fun track, while the Palmer is the best golf layout. The Trevino course looks heavily wooded, and tight, and I am told has the most difficult greens of the three courses at Geneva National. I look forward to finding out more about the other two next season.
Location: Lake Geneva, WI
Yardage: Black-7008, Gold-6417, White-6014, Gray-5462, Red-4823
Slope/Rating: Black-141-74.3, Gold-133/71.5, 130/69.7, Gray-128/72.0, Red-120/68.4
Weekend Rates: $130