Golf Course Review: The Oaks

This weekend was one of my best friend’s bachelor party in Wisconsin Dells. We had 11:00 tee times at Coldwater Canyon at Chula Vista to get things started. It was bound to be a long weekend, and my friend Dan and I figured we wouldn’t mind making it a little bit longer.

Getting up at 4:30 on Friday morning, we arrived at the Oaks in Cottage Grove for a 6:30 tee time on a beautiful summer morning. Most people know the Oaks as the nice looking course off of Highway 94 on the way to Madison.
The Oaks is one of my new favorite golf courses. Bent grass from tees to greens, it is beautifully kept up and has some extraordinarily interesting hole layouts. The course has an interesting mix of six par threes and five par fives, resulting in a par of 71.
The distances for the par threes are all fun. The longest, hole seventeen, is a monstrous 215 yards from the black tees, while the rest are more accessible between 148 and 161. Elevation plays a big role in the majority of them, while deep sand traps and very quick greens provide tough defense against easy scoring.
I am told that Steve Stricker plays the Oaks often, as one of the area courses with greens that most closely mirror PGA Tour speeds. Their green speeds closely mirror those at Hawk’s Landing, another wonderful Madison area course that I enjoy.
I was very impressed with the level of customer service at the Oaks, as well as the friendliness of the staff. PGA Director of Golf Jeremy Udovich runs a very classy operation, and this was noticed in all interactions with his staff.
The length of the Oaks is a bit deceiving. At only 6,310 yards from the black tees (6,763 from the maroons, 6,011 from the blue, and 5,615 from the whites), the six par threes obviously play a major role in this.
The course looks wide open from the highway. Especially on the back nine, though, it is anything but. The first hole starts by the clubhouse and sets up with a tee shot that bends left to right. At 353 yards, a soft fade set up a comfortable 52-degree wedge from the middle of the fairway.
Hole 1: Par 4 (372/353/349/311/290)
The greens were not as quick as I expected early in the morning. The dew slowed them down considerably, and left us both comfortably one- and two-putting most holes to start. This changed drastically as the morning ran on, and putts that previously would have rolled ten feet were suddenly traveling 25. Those one- and two-putts were quickly turning in to two- and three-putts, and even one four. Save the Links course at Lawsonia or Hawk’s Landing, these were probably the most challenging greens I have played in the past couple of years. I had 40 putts, in fact, while Dan finished with an 83 and 42 putts.
The second hole is the first of the Oaks’ par threes, and is one of my favorites. With a tight flight area and a long pond stretching down the right side of the fairway, the green is well-protected by huge sand traps on the right side, and trees everywhere else. To the left of the green is a steep hill that can be cheated toward for a favorable greenward approach. The green is narrow from left to right, but runs back to front quite long and is heavily sloped from back to front. I thought the back-left pin location on two was one of the most challenging greens on the course, which says a lot.
Hole 2: Par 3 (155/148/122/118/97)
The third is the start of a back-to-back set of par fives. At 525 and 526 yards, respectively, the third and fourth play in opposite directions, and both fairways can be used off the tee to set up second shots. The third plays downhill, while the fourth plays upward and slightly right.
Hole 3: Par 5 (552/525/520/487/446)
Hole 3: Par 5 (552/525/520/487/446)
Hole 4: Par 5 (534/526/459/459/401)
The fifth is the second of the Oaks’ six par threes, and is much tougher than the 149 on the card represents. The green is well elevated, and the green is absolutely huge with a lot of break. Take at least an extra club on this wide open hole.
Hole 5: Par 3 (171/149/149/126/104)
The driving area of the sixth hole plays to a stream that divides the approach area. Feel free to hit driver here, as it is probably close to 350 out from the tees. The sand traps that run along the right side of the fairway are the biggest trouble that can be found from the tees.
Hole 6: Par 4 (467/434/413/409/381)
At 175 yards from the black tees, the seventh is the second longest of the par threes at the Oaks and plays straight toward the clubhouse. Another large green, the left side is well shrouded in fescue, while the right side is littered with sand traps. I found myself above one of these, and had a very tricky downhill flop shot with little to no room for error.
Hole 7: Par 3 (192/175/170/157/150)
The eighth is one of the most wide open holes on the course. Anything in the fairway should run favorably downhill and leave a comfortable approach distance. The green on eight is small, and well defended.
Hole 8: Par 4 (421/390/361/357/323)
Hole 8: Par 4 (421/390/361/357/323)
Hole 8: Par 4 (421/390/361/357/323)
If you are playing the Oaks for the first time, make sure to heed this suggestion: Do not hit at the white aiming stake on the ninth hole. The stake actually resides on the left side of the fairway, and unless you hit it to the right of it will probably result in a lost ball. The large oak tree over the right side of the rough gives a much more playable angle, and will give you a shot at hitting this green in two. The second shot should be played to the right side of the fairway, which should help filter toward the green. The left side drops off to fescue and woods, and should be avoided at all costs.
Hole 9: Par 5 (518/492/489/443/422)
“Aiming Post” on Hole 9: Par 5 (518/492/489/443/422)
Hole 9: Par 5 (518/492/489/443/422)
The back nine starts with a downhill par three of 148 yards. The whole distance needs to be carried, so take enough club to hit the middle or back of the green.
Hole 10: Par 3 (174/148/144/125/108)
The eleventh and twelfth holes run along the highway, and are fairly straight forward. Stay out of the fairway bunkers, and try to keep from snap hooking your drive in to traffic.
Hole 11: Par 4 (431/415/409/319/295)
The twelfth should be played over the right side of the rough (aim over the right-side sand traps). The false front should be considered, as the green is much longer than it appears from the fairway. Anything short will fall off and leave an uphill chip.
Hole 12: Par 4 (403/380/377/350/309)
Another par three, the thirteenth is best defended by its huge green and drastic slope. This is the hole I four-putted. With the morning dew gone, I found myself on the back side of the green and had almost no chance of stopping the putt anywhere near the pin.
Hole 13: Par 3 (187/161/154/147/120)
Hole 13: Par 3 (187/161/154/147/120)
Fourteen is a phenomenal par four. The driving area plays over a huge fescue area with woods to the left. The distance is drivable, especially if you can play a draw. A drive to the left side of this fairway can leave a long approach over a second waste area that leaves 30 yards to the green. Cheat right, if you can, as that side is fairly open while the left side is all but unplayable. The fourteenth is really a wonderful golf hole.
Hole 14: Par 4 (435/403/352/347/307)
Fifteen is the fourth of the Oaks par fives, and at 481 is the shortest. The green on fifteen is small, and a multitude of bunkers virtually splits the fairway about 40 yards out from the green. The putting surface is two-tiered, and a top tier pin location will require some real heft to climb.
Hole 15: Par 5 (528/481/475/437/365)
Hole 15: Par 5 (528/481/475/437/365)
Sixteen is another nice par four. At 405 yards, keep from the fescue right of the fairway for any chance of hitting this green in regulation. Longer hitters can aim over the right-side sand trap for the best possible approach.
Hole 16: Par 4 (436/405/400/363/334)
Seventeen is the longest of the six par threes at the Oaks, and is definitely the toughest. At 215 yards from the black tees, stay out of the deep bunkers that run the right side of the green area. Finding one of these will result in a long sand shot that needs to be played with considerable loft.
Hole 17: Par 3 (240/215/185/181/159)
Eighteen is a fabulous finishing hole. The last of the par fives, the fairway runs slightly downhill and is probably the widest on the course. The hole bends left and over a large waste area, with woods left. Beyond these woods is about 30 yards of open fairway and sand traps, while the right side of the approach area will result in a lost ball or deeper bunkers. Play to the left side of the green for your best chance of staying safe. I found myself with a five-iron in, which I pushed right and in to all kinds of trouble. Getting up to the green, though, I was shocked to see how wide open that left side actually is. This is one of the most challenging approach shots I have found, and makes for a challenging finish to a fantastic golf course.
Hole 18: Par 5 (547/510/483/479/460)
Hole 18: Par 5 (547/510/483/479/460)
Hole 18: Par 5 (547/510/483/479/460)
Hole 18: Par 5 (547/510/483/479/460)
The next time you are visiting the Madison or Wisconsin Dells area, I strongly recommend working a stop at the Oaks in to your itinerary. Bring your A-game, and make sure to spend plenty of time warming up your putting stroke. You will be hard pressed to find another course that is as well maintained, and with as fun a variety of hole layouts.
Course Wrap-up:
Location: Cottage Grove, WI
Yardage: Scarlet-6,763, Black-6,310, Blue-6,011, White-5,615, Green-5,017
Slope/Rating: Scarlet-134/72.6, Black-129/70.6, Blue-126/69.2, White-123/67.4, Green-123/69.3
Par: 71
Weekend Rates: $66 (with cart)

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