This weekend was our second annual “Friends of Frank” golf trip to the Wisconsin Dells. “Who’s Frank,” you’re asking? Frank is my cousin who lives in the Dells area and is an avid golfer, much like myself. Frank loves great food and courses, and spending quality time with friends and family. Needless to say, we get along well and his golf vacations are must-attends.
This year, we had a group of 20 total golfers between Friday and Saturday, and played Wild Rock and Castle at the Bay. We got in 63 holes of golf, and stayed in a beautiful golf course condo at the Wilderness Resort.
Wild Rock was almost exactly as I remembered it: An absolutely breathtaking golf course with amazing scenery, one of the best clubhouses I have ever set foot in, and an incredibly challenging track that requires every club in the bag. The one thing that did change, however, was the staff and customer experience. In their defense, a number of our players showed up not completely ready to start, and we were a bit disorganized with regards to who was playing with who, and at what time. The staggered arrivals caused a reduction to four tee times, and two guys showing up after everyone had already teed off. Two other canceled last minute. This caused us to have to split up in to one twosome and a threesome to avoid having a fivesome together (17 total golfers). The marshall followed us the majority of the front nine to make sure we did not group up, even though we saw a sixsome playing several times on neighboring holes.
The beverage cart girls were rude to several of our groups, and made people close out their tabs by the 13th hole, implying they would leave without paying their bills. When we set out to play the Woods executive course afterwards, we were warned sternly by one staff member that if we “even approached the first tee of the regular course we would be charged the full rate.”
To a person, everyone was aghast at the poor level of customer service. My brother said he felt as though we were a tremendous burden on the staff for being there. I asked the bartender, who was actually terrific, afterwards if she heard of anything bad going on with our group, and she said no. There was a wild bachelor party playing earlier than us, though, and she figured that might have given us a bad image. There were also a couple of guys who played before us who she said were drunk and rude in the bar, but they were also not part of our outing. Either way, it was disappointing.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s get to the golf! Wild Rock was in magnificent shape, and was just as beautiful and challenging as I remembered it. We had a perfect day for golf – 75 degrees and sunny, with about ten mile per hour winds swirling. Everyone agreed it is one of the best golf courses they have ever played, if not the best. The course conditions were absolutely perfect, with the greens rolling lightning fast, and true.
Sometimes it is interesting playing a course again that I give high ranks. Sometimes I remember things differently. Not here. Not the awe-striking par five sixth hole – it is still one of the best par fives I have ever played. And definitely not the awesome par three fifteenth – I still contest it is my favorite par three in the state of Wisconsin.
I will give the staff the benefit of the doubt with regards to their service level. Maybe the rude groups before us put them in a bad funk, or maybe I do not really know what happened with the groups before mine, even though everyone claimed to have been well-behaved.
After our Wild Rock experience, Castle at the Bay could not have been more satisfying. The staff was accomodating and friendly, we had another gorgeous May day for golf, and even the breakfast was fantastic. I got the tall stack of blueberry pancakes before hitting the range.
As we always do, my foursome got in 36 holes on Saturday. The Castle Course is the kind of place that I cannot get enough of, and that was certainly the case this weekend.
So what was everyone else’s takes on the courses? The majority of our players agreed that Wild Rock is a better course, but that Castle is incredibly fun and also a fantastic track. The favorite holes at Wild Rock were the par three fourth and fifteenth, as well as the par five sixth and par four seventh and thirteenth holes.
Everyone loved the classic “Island Hole” at Castle (TPC Sawgrass number seventeen), of course, but agreed that the third (Augusta sixteen) and seventeenth are also outstanding par three holes. Most people also mentioned the thirteenth, which is not a replica but is one of the most charming holes at Northern Bay. Other holes receiving high acclaim were the par five eleventh (Augusta twelve) and of course the finishing hole that replicates the eighteenth at Bay Hill.
The course is already in excellent shape, although the fairways seem as though they have just recently been aerated. I did not have an issue with it, but one of my friends who hit the first nine fairways said a number of times he felt penalized for hitting great drives and ending up in sandy, aerated lies.
There were some really tough pin placements on Saturday. None were tougher than the back-left hole location on the third hole, shown here.
The hole that played the toughest at Castle was the Island hole. In true Tin Cup fashion, I put three in the water off the tee before finally moving on to the drop zone. I shot a great front nine, and followed it up with a nine on the tenth hole. Ouch!
I learned my lesson our second time around, and after donating one ball to the pond moved on to the drop zone (after putting a “just for fun” ball ten feet from the pin, of course).
You will notice my “awesome” teal Puma pants. I found them on the clearance rack at GolfSmith and could not pass them up. Rickie Fowler was wearing the same pants at the Player’s Championship on Saturday, which brought some laughs and the obligatory, “What’d you guys call eachother this morning?” No, but it made my outfit and presence as a walking cliche feel somewhat validated.
From past visits and correspondence with the general manager, I do not think the level of customer service that we received at Wild Rock was representative of the course, which I have come to know as friendly and accomodating. I am hopeful that if we go back next year, we will see a return to the level we should expect. As it was, our experience felt a bit rushed and stressful, although we managed to have a great time in spite of their efforts. Have you ever had any issues with customer service at Wild Rock?
Altogether, it was a wonderful weekend in the Dells, and I am already looking forward to next year’s third annual Friends of Frank golf weekend.
For my original reviews of both Wild Rock and Castle at the Bay, please check out the following links: