Golf Course Review: Milwaukee Country Club

Milwaukee Country Club Course Rankings:

Golf Digest: #62 US top 100, #3 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #54 US classic

Designer: Charles H. Alison (1929)

This past Wednesday, I had the wonderful privilege of being invited out to a course that very few get the opportunity to play: Milwaukee Country Club.

MCC is the top-rated private course in the state of Wisconsin, and number 77 on Golf.com’s list of the top 100 courses in America. What other courses in Wisconsin are ranked in that list, you wonder? Erin Hills appears at 96, the River at Blackwolf Run at 89, and the Straits at Whistling Straits at number 28.

The perennially number one rated course in the country, and usually in the world, is of course Pine Valley in New Jersey (with Cypress Point, Augusta National, Shinnecock Hills and Pebble Beach rounding out the top five).

Another popular ranker of golf courses nationally, GolfWeek, names Milwaukee as the 43rd best Classic course in the country (also with Pine Valley as number one). I have a couple of friends who have played Pine Valley, by the way, and they say it certainly deserves this recognition. One of those friends is a member at Milwaukee Country Club, and a co-worker of mine, Brett.

Milwaukee Country Club has an undeniable mystique: It is a classic C.H Allison and H.S. Colt design that opened in 1929, and has been widely considered to be the Milwaukee area’s most prestigious club and golfing community, and played host to the 1969 Walker Cup, 1988 US Senior Amateur, and the 2008 US Mid-Amateur.
The clubhouse is massive and elegant, and for the most part very formal. The upstairs features dining rooms and libraries, as well as a bar that requires suit and tie for all entrants. Given the elite membership, my guess is that some pretty big deals have been inked in that setting.
Milwaukee Country Club clubhouse
The clubhouse and staff were friendly and accommodating, and the men’s locker room was unlike any I had ever seen: Like a massive German beer hall, it has high ceilings and a plethora of dining tables, with a bar and old-school double lockers on the inside. Opening the burgundy leather-bound swing-style doors at the entrance to this great room revealed an area that few see, and a sense of great history and German tradition abounds.
Following our morning round, we headed back to the locker room for lunch. A buffet is served daily at MCC. Forget about hot dogs, burgers and brats – they do have those, too – lunch in the men’s locker room at Milwaukee Country Club meant a carving station with pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes, burgers, brats and hot dogs, fruit and vegetables, and some of the best pie I have ever had. They actually have a full-time employee who only makes pies, in fact, and Wednesday’s mixed berry rhubarb definitely hit the spot.
The club also features a pool, tennis courts and other facilities. One of my favorite features was the free snacks at the turn: Crackers and different spreads (cheddar, swiss almond and peanut butter), drinks, etc. As anyone who knows me at work knows, I love cheese spreads. I was in Heaven.
The course itself is wonderful, featuring the best conditions I have ever played on. The tee boxes and fairways were as close to unblemished as I have ever seen, and the greens were smooth and almost entirely without ball marks.
I expected more break in the putting surfaces than there was (much like I always do at Erin Hills), but that doesn’t mean there was anything easy about them. On the greens I have become accustomed to at North Hills Country Club, it is not rare to aim above holes by as much as ten-plus feet (and similar at Tuckaway, Pine Hills, etc.). Everything is pretty much in front of you at Milwaukee, though. Brett, who is a 0.2-handicap, gave me most of my reads, and it surprised me how often it was “Left side of the hole,” “Two cups outside right,” or “Straight on,” and he was always right!
Milwaukee has perfect greens, and everything rolls as it should. Anything ten feet and in was a huge challenge for me, though: When I’d try to firm putts in, they would hit a corner and roll ten feet away; when I’d try to die them in, they’d break at the last possible moment, and leave me a tap-in. I just could not figure them out! I one-putted one hole the entire day, and three-putted many more.
Normally, I am told that any group with guests has to tee off on the tenth at Milwaukee Country Club, but we started on the front.
The first hole tee shot is well downhill to a wide open fairway that is, like all others, perfectly manicured. Sand traps are abundant and deep, but this is probably one of the easier holes on a course that otherwise has a whole lot of bite.
I realized after teeing off that I’d forgotten my camera in my car (and my keys in my locker), so feeling like I shouldn’t hold anyone up, the following is the only picture I got of the first hole:
Hole 1: Par 4 (434/415/393)
The second hole is a long par four that doglegs slightly right, just over 400 yards.
Hole 2: Par 4 (455/401/374)
The first par five on the course, the third is another dogleg right that bends around a forest to the right side. This is the number one handicapped hole on the course, and like with all holes at Milwaukee Country Club is always played best by keeping the ball in front of you and not trying to take on too much. I hit a nice drive on this hole, and was told to hit a 200-yard shot toward the left-side fairway trap, as hitting a high fade could have gotten me in trouble. I miss-hit right anyways, though, and was forced to hit a high fade over the treeline.
Personally, I think there are any number of holes on the way in off the back nine that are more deserving of the number one handicap, but the third is certainly no piece of cake for a relative short (493 yards) par five.
Hole 3: Par 5 (533/493/443)
Milwaukee’s first par three, the fourth is a mid-length one-shotter with deep traps both front-left and right.
Hole 4: Par 3 (199/160/128)
The fifth plays uphill to a green with a huge trap in the front-right. The two fairway bunkers on the right side are definitely in play, but can be flown with a big drive.
Hole 5: Par 4 (438/413/406)
The sixth, a dogleg left par four over 400 yards, provided me with my best par of the day. Okay, it was my only par of the day en route to a 90. Driver can be played to the dogleg, and will leave a lengthy approach to a well-risen green. I unfortunately did not have an opportunity to get a picture on this hole as I was nervous toward the start of our round about taking pictures.
Hole seven was verti-cut that morning, but is obviously a gorgeous hole, otherwise. A massive bunker resides on the right side of the fairway, and must be avoided for any chance at birdie. The hole is a short par five, otherwise, and is quite reachable in two with a good drive and a 225 or less yards approach.
Hole 7: Par 5 (495/471/441)
The eighth is one of the coolest par threes I have ever seen, with tremendously large and deep green-side bunkers protecting an elevated green that breaks hard from the right to left.
Hole 8: Par 3 (174/158/106)
Hole 8: Par 3 (174/158/106)
One of my favorite holes on the entire course, the front nine ends with a gorgeous uphill par four. With the stately clubhouse beyond (I love the way they mow everything as first-cut around the green and up to the clubhouse, and even around all the trees, by the way!), the ninth is played in to a huge hill, and then upward to a short green from back to front. A wide sand trap dissects the driving area, and would make for a tough approach. I wonder how many times players have bladed shots from this trap in to the clubhouse throughout the years?
Hole 9: Par 4 (332/300/262)
Hole 9: Par 4 (332/300/262)
Grab some refreshments and snacks in the clubhouse following the front nine, and get ready for one of the best stretches of holes you have ever seen: The back nine.
The tenth tees off from beside the clubhouse, and alongside the fairway on nine (significantly below nine’s playing surface). With the Milwaukee River on the horizon, this is an absolutely beautiful golf hole, and at 465 yards a very short par five. This is not to say it’s easy, though, as the green is heavily risen and breaks sharply toward the river.
It is at this point that I realized what course Milwaukee Country Club reminds me of: TPC Deere Run, in Silvis, Illinois (the location of the John Deere Classic).
The back nine brings the Milwaukee River in exceptionally well, and sets up a lot of wonderful photo opportunities.
Hole 10: Par 5 (484/465/443)
Hole 10: Par 5 (484/465/443)
The view below the left side of the 10th green
Even with the Milwaukee River running along the right side of the eleventh hole tee boxes and fairway, the defining characteristic of this hole is the awesome fairway bunkering on the left side.
An interesting note about the bunkering at Milwaukee Country Club, and on all Colt and Allison designs: All fairway traps were designed to be substantial while heading towards, but literally disappear from sight within 20-30 yards of passing them. This leaves a consistently clear view back towards all tee boxes, but can also lead to situations where golfers in carts have to be careful about not driving in to them when navigating backwards.
Hole 11: Par 4 (375/360/354)
 
Hole 11: Par 4 (375/360/354)
Hole 11: Par 4 (375/360/354)
The first hole at Milwaukee Country Club that crosses the Milwaukee River, the twelfth is a considerably longer and more daunting par three than it reads on the scorecard, with a green that is heavily bunkered in front. With the blue tee boxes back for our round, it played from 180 yards with at least 30 or 40 to carry the river. I somehow hit a towering, drawn six-iron on this tee shot to the front of the green, and have to admit I was a little proud of the accomplishment!
Crossing the river is very cool, too. Brett was telling me he takes his son fishing there on occasion, and they catch a lot of small-mouth bass, etc. Within the month, salmon will be abundant on their way upstream. We mostly saw large carp in the water below, but as an underwater enthusiast I could literally stand on that bridge and watch for fish for hours.
Hole 12: Par 3 (190/130/113)
Brett, me and Mark on the bridge crossing the Milwaukee River
The thirteenth, a dogleg right par four, drives toward a serpentine-like bunker on the right side, before heading home with one of the tallest sand trap faces on the entire course to the left side. I hit probably my best drive of the day on this hole, leaving me a short approach in.
Hole 13: Par 4 (388/376/317)
Hole 13: Par 4 (388/376/317)
Crossing back over the Milwaukee River, the fourteenth hole is a mid-length par four that has the most well-hidden green on the course. Tucked amid the right-side treeline, the left side of the fairway would leave the most direct approach to this green.
I hit my best approach of the day on this hole, telling Brett and Mark that I really wanted one birdie on the day. My 190-yard cut six-iron over trees was left pin high. Brett offered me the line, and I said I thought I had it… I didn’t, and ended up three-putting from fifteen feet… Lesson learned!
Hole 14: Par 4 (442/384/346)
Hole 14: Par 4 (442/384/346)
The fifteenth runs along the Milwaukee River to the right, and is the longest hole on the course at 585 from the tournament tees (515 from the blues that we played). A spattering of sand traps is found on the left side of the fairway, urging players to drive right and closer to the river.
Hole 15: Par 5 (585/515/444)
The longest par four at Milwaukee Country Club, the sixteenth plays to 442 yards from the blue tees, fronted by some of the most perilous green-side bunkers found on the course.
Hole 16: Par 4 (485/442/415)
Hole 16: Par 4 (485/442/415)
The seventeenth continues the treacherous stretch of holes that finishes Milwaukee Country Club, with the course’s longest par three. At 232 yards from the tips, and 188 from the blues, this hole plays considerably longer uphill and with a mean sand trap on the front-right.
Hole 17: Par 3 (232/188/141)
The finishing hole at MCC is also one of its toughest. Tee shots need to be played toward the right side of the fairway for an unimpeded approach to the green, which is probably more slanted from the back to front than any other on the course. Driving toward the left side, like I did, leaves an approach over a gigantic tree and sand trap that fronts the left side. The uphill tee shot has to be hit toward the top of the hill to leave any site of the green at all.
Hole 18: Par 4 (444/391/362)
Hole 18: Par 4 (444/391/362)
Hole 18: Par 4 (444/391/362)

It is hard to go in to a round like this one, with all the expectations that are presented, and not be in some way disappointed. I have to say, though, that I was blown away by the quality of the course and the friendliness at Milwaukee Country Club. The environment, on a Wednesday afternoon anyways, was very warm and inviting, and the conditions of the course were exceptional.

That is not to say it is the kind of course I would feel “At home” at, though. I think I would personally feel very awkward at a club that requires suit and tie for all dining outside of the men’s locker room, for example. I am also not their target market, though!

I can’t think of a better nine holes in the state than the back nine. The way the Milwaukee River is incorporated into the layout is truly charming, and it makes for spectacular scenery and photography.

Currently at 152 percent to my sales budget for the year, I was rewarded with the opportunity to enjoy Wednesday’s beautiful Fall morning with two of our company’s vice presidents, and having had that opportunity I can only hope to get back again next season… Talk about motivation – that’s certainly enough for me!

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: River Hills, WI
Yardage: Back-7,094, Middle-6,444, Forward-5,856
Slope/Rating: Back-136/74.6, Middle-130/71.9, Forward-125/69.5
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: Private

5 comments on “Golf Course Review: Milwaukee Country Club

  1. Pingback: The Country’s Best Golf Courses… That I’ve Played | WiscoGolfAddict

  2. Pingback: Wisconsin’s Top Ten Private Golf and Country Clubs | WiscoGolfAddict

  3. Pingback: MCC Takes Back #1 Spot | WiscoGolfAddict

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