2011 was a fantastic golf season by most accounts. Among the positives for me was the variety and quality of courses played, and the creation of a consistent threesome that I look forward to getting out with for years to come. The only negative was the overall consistency of my game. Thankfully, there is always next season!
I played a total of 84 rounds of 18 holes at 59 different courses during 2011, opening in the frigid cold on March 19 and ending with an unseasonably warm, rainy day on November 26.
I worked my way through a horrific stretch of driving while trying to figure out my cool new white driver, and of course found better consistency and length in the last seven rounds.
My short game improved tremendously after being coached on chipping and the advantages of using eight and nine irons around the green. I also finally found a fluid putting stroke after my friend told me that my putting “offends” him. Those proved to be the most constructive words ever said to me on a golf course, and I am a far better player for it now.
My goal for this post is to serve as an annual recap of the season, and to provide an almanac of sorts for what was the 2011 Wisconsin golf season, including best- and worst-of awards.
Best Public Course:
Whistling Straits, Irish Course (Kohler, WI)
I consider the Irish to be the greatest golf course I have ever played. It is long and demanding, and rolls over craggy landscaping with hundreds of seamingly random sand traps and gorgeous vistas of Lake Michigan.
If it were not for the world famous Straits Course, it is my opinion the Irish would beat out every course in the state (including Blackwolf Run) as Wisconsin’s top rated public track. Nothing against Blackwolf Run, but to me the Irish is golf at its very best.
2. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys (Kohler, WI)
3. Wild Rock (Wisconsin Dells, WI)
4. Castle at the Bay (Arkdale, WI)
5. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms (Sheboygan Falls, WI)
Best Private Course:
Horseshoe Bay Golf Club (Egg Harbor, WI)
The facilities and service at Horseshoe Bay are world class, and the course is picturesque and beautifully maintained. Settled in the summertime haven of Door County, the par fives at Horseshoe Bay are among the best I have played.
2. Bull’s Eye Country Club (Wisconsin Rapids, WI)
A tight but fair course, Bull’s Eye is a perfectly manicured country club located in Wisconsin Rapids. The fairways are tight, but the tree lines are largely pine needles and bare ground, meaning anything into the woods is usually found. Finding a way out of the woods, on the other hand, is not as easy.
3. Wisconsin Club (Milwaukee, WI)
Playing this course the day before a friend’s wedding, I was incredibly impressed with the practice facilities and clubhouse, as well as the overall condition of the course. Just down the street from Brown Deer, the Wisconsin Club has some of the same feel and similar layouts, but with faster greens and more of an upscale setting.
Most Disappointing Course:
Devil’s Head Resort (Merrimac, WI)
Devil’s Head’s Prairie Glen and Glacier courses are built on what might be the most beautiful piece of land I have ever seen. That being said, the course was in horrific shape, particularly for a track seeking $74 greens fees. The elevation changes are drastic, and water comes into play on quite a few holes. This is a course with unlimited potential that receives too little love from its grounds crew.
2. Rock River Hills (Horicon, WI)
3. West Bend Lakes (West Bend, WI)
Course I Scored the Best At:
Broadlands Golf Club (North Prairie, WI)
As one of my friends tells me, Broadlands “fits my eye.” With very little water, and wide fairways, the course allows me to miss-hit my driver on occasion, and still have a chance to score. Three of my ten lowest rounds were at Broadlands this year.
2. Castle at the Bay (Arkdale, WI)
3. Ironwood (Sussex, WI)
Ironwood’s 27-hole layout has a little something for everyone: links style on the newest Birr course; woodlands on the Callow, and drastic elevation changes on the Meath. The Meath is my favorite of the three, followed by the Birr and Callow.
Course I Scored the Worst At:
Muskego Lakes Country Club (Muskego, WI)
Something about Muskego Lakes makes my game completely diminish. I do not dislike the course, and am looking forward to getting back to it again next year, but for some reason find trouble there constantly. In one particular round this year, I lost nine balls en route to a 102. Yikes.
2. Fire Ridge (Grafton, WI)
Playing Fire Ridge the morning after a wedding, and in the freezing cold, I was admittedly not feeling one hundred percent. Neither of those factors forgive the fact that I lost 11 balls.
3. Wild Rock (Wisconsin Dells, WI)
Most Difficult Course:
The Bull at Pinehurst Farms (Sheboygan Falls, WI)
Designed by Jack Nicklaus and widely regarded as one of the top 100 courses in the country, The Bull is a beautiful and unrelenting championship course spread out over 400-plus acres of former farm land. Through dense forests, rolling hills, deep ravines, large ponds, significant elevation changes, and along the Onion River, the course seems to roll out one signature hole after another.
Mercifully, the course offers four sets of men’s tees that range from 6,027 yards (white tees) to 7,354 yards (black tees). With a maximum slope of 147, this is a great course to abide by the recommended tee boxes.
2. Wild Rock (Wisconsin Dells, WI)
3. Whistling Straits, Irish Course (Kohler, WI)
4. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys Course (Kohler, WI)
5. Morningstar Golfers Club (Mukwonago, WI)
Best Spot for 36 Holes:
Green Lake, WI: Lawsonia, Links and Woodlands Courses
If your wife or significant other gives you the day for golf, take it and spend the day at Lawsonia. You will not find a single location in the state with two more completely different, outstanding golf courses.
If there are openings, play the Links in the morning as the pace of play can be brutal during the afternoon.
2. Verona, WI (Madison): University Ridge and Hawk’s Landing
3. Wisconsin Dells, WI: Wild Rock and Trapper’s Turn
To make this an even better golf weekend, play all 27 holes at Trapper’s Turn and add in Castle at the Bay (45 minutes from the Dells).
Most Memorable Round:
Castle at the Bay (Arkdale, WI)
On a picture-perfect day, we teed off for 18 holes and felt the impending doom of finishing around the 15th hole. At the green of the 18th (Bay Hill replica), we realized we had to replay and were accommodated by the clubhouse at the tune of $30 apiece.
Castle at the Bay is memorable for many reasons. The replica holes are splendidly done, and the non-replicas carry just as much character.
When discussing next year’s must-do trips, Northern Bay is at the top of the list.
2. University Ridge (Verona, WI)
3. Whistling Straits, Irish Course (Kohler, WI)
Washington County Golf Course (Hartford, WI)
One of the top 35 municipal courses in the country, I played three rounds this year at Washington County, and never paid more than $30, including cart. The value of twilight rates here are second to none.
2. Fairways of Woodside (Sussex, WI)
3. Silver Spring Country Club (Menomonee Falls, WI)
Biggest Surprise (Positive):
Edgewood Golf Course, Oaks Course (Big Bend, WI)
After a ho-hum front nine, the back nine on the Oaks course improved in a big way! 29 years newer than the front, holes ten through eighteen were absolutely magnificent, and was one of my favorite nine-hole stretches of the season.
2. Rolling Hills Country Club (Oconomowoc, WI)
The former Lac La Belle Country Club went public in 2006, and was renamed to Rolling Hills after 110 years years of members-only play. The course features a beautiful clubhouse and small but accommodating staff, inexpensive tee times, and a challenging layout. At 6,540 yards, Rolling Hills is not the longest course in Waukesha County, but what it lacks in length it makes up for with quick greens, tight fairways and a nice private club feel.
My only complaint about Rolling Hills is that the tee boxes are sometimes too close to greens – there are a number of tees that are very much in play from other holes. For $32 with cart, though, it is well worth the risk.
3. Oakwood Park Golf Club (Franklin, WI)
I entered this round with the belief that, excluding Brown Deer, the Milwaukee County Parks golf courses are not worth playing. When I played Oakwood again for the first time in seven years, I found it to be challenging with very nice layout. It is also the longest of the Milwaukee County courses, at 6,975 yards from the tips.
Most Difficult Hole:
The Bull at Pinehurst Farms #18 (Sheboygan Falls, WI; 485/462/432/365/312)
The club calls it “Rock-N-Roll.” “Sink-N-Swim” has always seemed more appropriate to me. This is a very strong finishing hole, and the tee shot from the black and blue (fitting) tees can be well over 200-250 yards to carry the pond, which lengthens the farther left the ball is driven.
Find the fairway and prepare for a difficult approach. The right side falls off to wetlands, while the left side is fairly open. Favor the left to avoid trouble, or use the hill beyond the green as a back-board for the approach.
2. Ironwood, Callow Course #7 (Sussex, WI; 500/496/447/426)
With a tee shot through a narrow gap in the woods, the entire seventh hole plays uphill and meanders slightly right. This is a hole that requires three perfectly straight shots for any chance at par.
3. Lawsonia, Links Course #10 (Green Lake, WI; 239/217/162/162)
At 239 yards from the tips, or 217 from the whites, the tee shot is extraordinarily intimidating as the fairway bunkers looks to run the distance to the green. Beyond it, though, is plenty of room to be short. The right line is the most important aspect of your tee shot, and flying right will find you in a heap of trouble in the sand well below the green. The green slopes severely upward from front to back, making this one of the longest and hardest par threes in the state of Wisconsin.
Best Par 3 Hole:
Wild Rock #15 (Wisconsin Dells, WI; 179/166/134/130/118)
With six individual tee boxes separated by trees, the fifteenth at Wild Rock is one of the most picturesque holes on one of the state’s most picturesque golf courses. A large stone quarry lives between the elevated tee boxes and the elevated green, and anything hit short will be claimed by the waste area that lies beneath.
2. Castle at the Bay #10 (Arkdale, WI; 146/132/127/95/81)
3. Whistling Straits, Irish Course #11 (Kohler, WI; 208/193/177/169/125)
Best Par 4 Hole:
Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys #14 (Kohler, WI; 423/409/384/376/293)
Quite possibly the most beautiful golf hole I have ever played, the fourteenth at Meadow Valleys is deemed “Nature’s Course.” From the elevated tee boxes, the Pigeon River and on most days teems of fly-fishermen are seen down the hill and to the right. The tree lined fairway plays slightly to the left, and is not advisable to drive. Hit it straight and aim down the middle of the fairway, in hopes of receiving a charitable downhill run.
The hole slants to the right, and further downhill where the green is surrounded on three sides by the river, and a charming bridge made from an old flat-bed train car. The river runs hard to the right, and anything errant will fall dramatically from the playing surface.
2. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms #5 (Sheboygan Falls, WI; 436/404/388/361/308)
3. Lawsonia, Woodlands Course #2 (Green Lake, WI; 341/329/315/315)
Best Par 5 Hole:
University Ridge #16 (Verona, WI; 554/533/514/434)
From the moment you step up to the tee, the sixteenth at U-Ridge is one of the most fun golf holes in Wisconsin. A large oak tree provides your first choose-your-own-adventure experience: Aim to the right of the tree to hit the lower fairway, but risk finding the woods or fescue if it cuts. Aim to the left for a slightly safer play, but doing so will add more yardage to the hole and bring in to play thirteen centrally placed sand traps on the approach.
The second shot will be long regardless of the side you choose, but each has a bailout fairway to help take the bunkers out of play. Aim over the traps for your only chance at hitting this green in two and putting for eagle.
2. Wild Rock #6 (Wisconsin Dells, WI; 588/551/525/504/457)
3. Horseshoe Bay #13 (Egg Harbor, WI; 584/545/505/445)
Best Drivable Par 4 Hole:
Geneva National, Gary Player Course #5 (Lake Geneva, WI; 354/310/283/257/255)
With a flurry of options from the tee boxes, the fifth on the Player Course overlooks a huge waste area and works uphill to a green only 310 yards away from the blue tees. An expansive fairway lies to the right, while an approach fairway afronts the green some 250-plus yards ahead. Exaggerated sand traps litter the approach area and make for an intimidating tee shot.
2. Ironwood, Meath Course #3 (Sussex, WI; 278/273/235/204)
The third hole on the Meath course is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of par four downhill from drastically elevated tees. The green is reachable on the drive, but next to impossible to hold. The fairway to the left leaves the best approach, while the bailout area to the right allows the shortest chip, but forces a carry over the pond, sand and to a heavily sloped green. Water on three sides makes this a very challenging par four.
3. Silver Spring Country Club, Falls Course #3 (Sussex, WI; 290/270)
The Falls course has a plethora of drivable par fours, and my favorite of the bunch is the third hole. From elevated tee boxes, the green is a postage stamp surrounded on three sides by water. It wasn’t until the last time I played this hole that I discovered the distance added to the elevation actually makes it drivable.
Best Opening Hole:
Whistling Straits, Irish Course #1 (Kohler, WI; 400/387/369/359/301)
The first hole of the Irish Course provides the first breathtaking view of Lake Michigan on the horizon. This is a beautiful opening hole, especially around the green where the bluffs and randomly placed sand traps blend harmoniously with the terrain, but make for treacherous short game.
2. Brown Deer Park #1 (Milwaukee, WI; 461/447/433)
Brown Deer Park starts with probably the hardest opening hole in the state: A 461-yard beast that doglegs right and is well guarded by trees, a large pond on the left side of the fairway, and deep sand traps all around the green.
3. Geneva National, Gary Player Course #1 (Lake Geneva, WI; 394/347/325/305/280)
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.
Best Finishing Hole:
Horseshoe Bay Golf Club #18 (Egg Harbor, WI; 604/549/515/461)
The eighteenth at Horseshoe Bay is a finishing hole that starts with a long tee shot, then goes straight right and eventually downhill. The approach is fairly narrow, and ends in front of the lake and to the right of the gorgeous clubhouse.
At 549 yards from the blue tees, this is a tumultuous par five with a long rock wall lining the right side of the fairway. The fairway bunkers come in to play on the drive, and more do on the approach surrounding the green. Aim right of the American flag on your tee shot to cut off some of the long yardage.
2. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys Course #18 (Kohler, WI; 458/395/383/373/303)
The finishing hole at the Meadow Valleys course, nicknamed “Salmon Trap,” is the first hole I have seen with two separate greens. The women play to a shorter distance, around 300 yards, that finishes shy of the Pigeon River. Men play across the river, short of the Blackwolf Run clubhouse.
3. Ironwood, Birr Course #9 (Sussex, WI; 408/377/350/276)
Teeing off over a huge pond, the fairway doglegs severely left beyond an old stone barn and silo. Aiming over these structures can leave a short approach, but requires well over 200 yards of flight to hit the fairway. Playing the fairway leaves a longer approach and will bring the pond on the right, and the wicked green-side sand traps, more into play. This is an outstanding finishing hole.
Lawsonia, Woodlands Course #18: Par 5 (Green Lake, WI; 524/504/504/416)
At the end of this long, three-shot par five comes one of the most deceptively difficult greens I have ever played. With a back-right hole location opposite a multitude of sand traps, the green slopes downhill so quickly from the back to the front that an approach to the back of the green is liable to stop, then roll more than 50 feet back off the front of the green.
Having finally learned our lesson, this video shows the best/only way to approach this devilish green:
2. Ironwood, Meath Course #7 (Sussex, WI; 149/144/129/97)
A short par three that goes uphill to a narrow green with deep bunkers in front and behind, the green is cut in half by a steep hill that climbs about five feet from the left to the right. The pin location tends to be on the bottom of that slope, making for impossible putting conditions. During one league outing this season, I was the only one in our group to two-putt the hole. One guy four-putted, while the others five- and six-putted it. No matter where this hole location is approached from, the ball is more likely to miss by 20 feet than it is to stop within a couple.
3. Whistling Straits, Irish Course #4 (Kohler, WI; 489/443/432/405/336)
A long, demanding hole already, the fourth on the Irish course features one of the most difficult approach shots in the state. With a back-right hole location, though, the chances of two-putting on this green are nearly impossible. After reaching the green in three strokes last month, for example, I took a seven after four-putting. No one in our group had better than three.
Favorite Driving Hole:
Fairways of Woodside #6 (Sussex, WI; 391/372/308)
At 372-391 yards from the white and blue tee boxes, the sixth at Fairways of Woodside is a mid-range par four that can play much shorter. As if playing Golden Tee, aim well left and lop off a huge amount of that distance. Target the electrical box left of the fairway and wail away!
2. Geneva National, Gary Player Course #16 (Lake Geneva, WI; 556/534/514/462/429)
Elevated high above Lake Como, the fairway on sixteen is wide and straight. This is a picture-perfect par five tee shot.
3. Wild Rock #6 (Wisconsin Dells, WI; 588/551/525/504/457)
The most awe-inspiring tee shot on Wisconsin’s most majestic course is Wild Rock’s par five sixth hole. The view from the quartzite tees overlooks Baraboo and more than 30 miles of the Wisconsin Dells surrounding area.
Toughest Sand Trap:
Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys Course #16 (Kohler, WI; 590/544/487/478/415)
At the end of this long par five lies the single largest green-side sand trap I have ever seen. The last time we played it, I thought I miss-hit my approach so poorly that it would get to the right of the trap in the fescue. It turned out to be on the edge, still in sand, and took me three shots to finally get out. Not fun.
Best Beer Cart Girls:
Blackstone Creek (Germantown, WI)
Having played a weekly nine-hole work league here, I don’t think there was a single player who hadn’t at some point mentioned the attractiveness of the course’s drink vendors. Blackstone Creek may not be a top ten course in the state of Wisconsin, but when it comes to attractive bartenders and beer cart girls, it runs the show.
Best League to Play With:
West Bend Area Golf Association (WBAGA)
A great group of guys and aggregate scoring, including majors throughout the season. The WBAGA plays a different area course roughly every other weekend, and is complete with photographers and videographers who capture and share all the action on Facebook and at an end-of-the-season striping ceremony.
Favorite New Equipment:
Bushnell Neo GPS range finder
Most Anticipated Wisconsin Course for 2012:
Sentry World (Stevens Point, WI)
From what I hear, my top ten list of par threes will be quickly breached by Sentry World’s highly acclaimed “Flower Hole,” pictured below (picture taken from Sentry World’s website).
2. Erin Hills (Hartford, WI)
Site of the 2011 US Amateur Championship, I am told Erin Hills will be featuring slightly reduced rates for early-season golf in 2012.
3. Whistling Straits, Straits Course (Kohler, WI)
It is not a for-sure thing, but I am hoping 2012 will be the year I make the pilgrimate to one of the world’s true greatest golf courses: The Straits Course at Whistling Straits. Host of the 2004 and 2010 PGA Championships, and future site of the 2015 PGA Championship and 2020 Ryder Cup, the Straits is $350-plus, making it the kind of round that needs to be planned in advance.
Most Anticipated Golf Weekend for 2012:
Upper Penninsula, Michigan (Harris, MI)
Utilizing a stay-and-play package through the Island Resort and Casino in Harris, we will be playing three of the Midwest’s best golf courses (Timberstone, Sweetgrass, and the Greywalls of Marquette) for $329 total, including lodging. I am obviously hoping for some good nights on the tables to help with funding.
From the pictures I have seen, and the rave reviews I have gotten from friends, this is sure to be an epic golf weekend.
2. Northern Illinois
ThunderHawk, Shepherd’s Crook, and the Highlands of Elgin
3. Lake Geneva, WI
Hawk’s View, Geneva National, and Grand Geneva.
2011 Courses Played and Frequency:
Silver Spring Country Club, Island (5 rounds)
Fairways of Woodside (5 rounds)
Castle at the Bay (3 rounds)
Broadlands (3 rounds)
Washington County (3 rounds)
Brown Deer (3 rounds)
Lawsonia, Links (2 rounds)
Lawsonia, Woodlands (2 rounds)
Wild Rock (2 rounds)
The Bull at Pinehurst Farms (2 rounds)
Muskego Lakes (2 rounds)
Ironwood (2 rounds)
Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys (2 rounds)
Silver Spring Country Club, Falls (2 rounds)
Oakwood Park (2 rounds)
44 courses (1 round each)
It is with a heavy heart that I say farewell to the 2011 golf season, and begin this new season of longing. The snow will soon start falling, but as sure as I am typing this blog, it will melt come March or April, bringing us a new season of spectacular Wisconsin golf and the feeling of optimism that is sure to accompany it.
I wish you and yours all the very best in health and prosperity this winter, and will try to post some creative writing articles and interesting re-posts from time to time.