Golf Course Review: The Bog
Please note that while this article is dated March 2012 (date of the original post), it was updated July 21, 2019
An Arnold Palmer Signature Course, The Bog is the Milwaukee area’s top rated public track, rolling through the Cedarburg Bog amid a hilly and stunningly beautiful landscape.
Regularly playing host to some of the state’s top amateur events, the course is a shot maker’s paradise, placing a premium on accuracy and sound decision-making especially off the tee.
Palmer’s design at The Bog is as good a test of golf as there is in the area: It requires every club in the bag, sound execution and, even then, is bound to inspire a mental fit or two.
Unless you are ridiculously accurate off the tee, this is not the course to hit driver on every hole. This is instead a course where you’ll need to have a game plan on every tee box.
Take the shortest par fours on the course, for example: The second and twelfth.
Pre-round, golfers might think of the second as being a chance to attack. At around 225 yards, the fairway gets very narrow especially on the right side, though, with an infringing treeline (trees/out of bounds line the entire left side, too).
Hit the ball too far down the right side and have a lost ball or be forced to hit a wedge over the out-of-bounds tree line on your approach.
Hit driver straight and the fairway runs out in to a swale below a risen left-to-right green complex. This would be ideal, of course, or something short off the tee to set up a high iron in.
While good course management can help navigate strategic landmines like this one, playing smart is hard to do!
The one criticism I hear from other golfers about The Bog is the excess of blind tee shots. I believe there are three or four, but if checked out beforehand they are not overwhelmingly difficult and typically play well to a soft fade.
The first hole, for example, is best played right of the large birdhouse in the left-side tree line.
Similarly, the par four opening hole on the back nine has a birdhouse in the treeline to help with aiming:
What I think The Bog is best at is crafty par fours. The twelfth, for example, is an outstanding short par four. Using a mid-iron to hit the corner of the fairway (aim left of the large tree) will leave a wedge to a well-guarded, narrow green fronted by a creek, backed by a pond and surrounded by woods.
While new ownership has opened up the green area slightly, it is a tight target to hit. This is a tough short par four.
Not short, but the par four sixth has a lot of character, too. The barn on the left side of the fairway is in play, and I’ve actually seen a friend carom off its roof to set up a decent approach.
Regardless of the tee shot, the approach is bound to be long, and will need to stay right to avoid the woods… But left to stay clear of the huge tree.
Understandably, this is the number one handicapped hole on the course.
The finishing holes on both the front and back nine are strong. Nine is my favorite. With the majority of the fairway filtering downhill and left, this is a par five that is intimidating from the tee but actually offers a lot of room.
An abundance of bunkers are short, right and long of the green, and a boggy area to the left makes this tiny putting surface very difficult to hit in two. A front pin is especially tricky with such a narrow entrance to the green.
The terraced tee boxes on the 18th are equally impressive. The fairway runs left to right, and anything over the large fairway tree should leave a short iron to an elevated green.
The green on 18 is massive and tricky, breaking hard especially toward the back: A strong finish on a tough course that’s used often to challenge the state and area’s best players.
The Bog has other excellent par fives, too. While the reachable first hole is easy to score on, the fourteenth and seventeenth are anything but.
The fourteenth features an elevated tee shot to what looks like a sliver of a fairway running right to left and downhill.
The fairway is bottle-necked around 300 yards, meaning if your tee shot is not in the fairway then chances are you’ll be playing a layup of some sort – a high iron over the trees if you’re short/left of the fairway.
The green always seems further away than it appears. Palmer designed the approach area here to play games with the golfer’s mind, as you will see from the picture below of the actual green complex. Especially from an uphill lie, it looks like the green abuts the central fairway bunker, but it’s actually well past it.
I think the seventeenth is as hard a golf hole as you’ll find anywhere.
The left side long has been opened up slightly to allow long players to try cutting out the initial part of the fairway, but if I had to guess it probably requires 275 in the air to reach it.
The right play is likely a hybrid or long iron off the tee, well right of the encroaching bog from the left side, to set up a mid-to-long iron to the second fairway uphill and left.
Palmer designed some really nice par threes at The Bog, my favorite of which is the thirteenth. This one-shotter plays over a ravine high above much of the course, and features a wide green from left to right.
Playing over wasteland, the eighth is the longest par three on the course tipping out at 220 yards.
Another long par three, the fourth tips at 210 but plays to a more manageable 184 from the green tees we were on.
A common theme at The Bog, the fronting bunkers are used to throw off the golfer’s depth perception, making the green appear closer than it is.
As you can see from the second picture (below), there is more space between the traps and the green that it first appears.
In stark contrast to those beasts, the eleventh is the shortest hole on the course with the smallest green:
It had been years since the last time I played The Bog in March 2012, and I have to say I was incredibly impressed with the course conditions – save for a couple tee boxes, the course was in immaculate shape, especially the greens.
New ownership has also made significant improvements to The Bog’s infrastructure since 2012, highlighted by a gorgeous new event facility: The Barn at The Bog.
Rustic yet elegant, The Barn serves as a beautiful wedding and events venue overlooking the eighteenth green.
If I had to compare The Bog to another Wisconsin golf course, it would probably be University Ridge. The two courses have a lot of similarities: Great use of elevation, excellent maintenance, fairways that roll naturally with the terrain, and very challenging layouts that force players to think before teeing off.
The Bog’s reputation as the top public course in the greater Milwaukee area is well deserved.