Golf Digest released their new 2015/2016 rankings for the country’s best golf courses, and I can’t say enough how excited I was to see some of the courses that made the new lists.
For starters, I will say that I am proud of our home state of Wisconsin for having one more course on the list of the top 100 public courses this year: The Links course at Lawsonia. The Links course, opened in 1930 as a true masterpiece by William Langford and Theodore Moreau, is one of my real loves in the golf world: The number 52 ranked classic course in the entire country, it broke back in to the top 100 of public courses again this year at number 85.
Whistling Straits, Straits course dropped this year from the number two public course in the country to number four – that’s still really good. 2015 will be a huge year for the Straits course, hosting the PGA Championship for the third time.
Erin Hills, my number one course in the great state of Wisconsin, moved up two spots in the ranking this year with the 2017 US Open on the horizon, to number eight.
The River course at Blackwolf Run dropped from number 14 to number 16 in the ranking of the country’s very best public courses (number 91 overall). As Pete Dye said, there could not be a more beautiful piece of land to construct a golf course on, and I could not agree more.
The Irish course at Whistling Straits remained in the top 50 of the United States’ very best public golf courses, this year at number 47.
The Bull at Pinehurst Farms moved up significantly this year, from number 77 to number 70. One of the most challenging courses in the state with a slope of 147 from the tips, The Bull is oftentimes the least thought-of course for visitors to the Kohler area although it certainly stands toe to toe at a much lower round rate.
The Meadow Valleys course at Blackwolf Run also dropped considerably this year, from number 62 in the country to number 72. With a back nine that is so good that only the Milwaukee Country Club can even compare, I feel like this is a bit of a sleight against the Meadow Valleys, but the 72nd best public course in the country is certainly nothing to be upset about.
In addition to these seven Wisconsin public courses, the Milwaukee Country Club was also named as the number 62 overall rated course in the entire country (the Straits course was ranked number 22, and Erin Hills number 42).
There were plenty of other courses named that I have also reviewed. For example, I thought it was insane that The Prairie Club in the Sand Hills of Nebraska was not better represented. The new rankings changed that very well, with the Dunes course at the Prairie Club being named the number 35 best public course in the country.
The Pines course at The Prairie Club also broke in to the top 100 rankings, being named number 75 this year.
My beloved Chambers Bay, nestled along the coastline of the Puget Sound in University Place, Washington, is my all-time number one favorite course I have ever played. Readying for the 2015 US Open, Chambers Bay moved from number 25 to 26 on the list of the country’s best public courses.
The Harvester, in Rhodes, Iowa, whose photos are being held captive on my broken-down laptop and I have not gotten to do my review on yet, moved up this year from number 46 to 42. I have some stunningly beautiful pictures of this course, and am hoping to have them for you all before the 2015 season opens.
Cog Hill Number 4, Dubsdread actually moved up this year from number 64 to 53, representing one of the biggest leaps made by an established course on the entire list. Dubsdread, which no longer hosts any PGA events since the BMW started its rotation, is one of the toughest courses in the entire country, with a slope of 151 and rating of 77.8.
One course that I cannot wait to get back to again this year came in at number 57: The Wilderness at Fortune Bay. I played this course the weekend it opened ten years ago, during my brother’s bachelor party in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota.
We simply noticed there was a nice looking golf course nearby our houseboat and the casino at Lake Vermillion, and decided to play it on a Saturday morning. Little did I have any idea the quality of this track; that changed when I looked out at the awe-striking 649-yard opening par five with tree-lined fairways split by rock walls. Umm, WHOA.
Not knowing it was literally a world-class golf course, and tremendously challenging, I purchased one sleeve of golf balls with my rented clubs, and figured if I lost those I would find more along the way – fail.
The course is beautiful beyond words, and challenging enough that even after “borrowing” balls from friends I still was not able to finish 17 on account of nobody in my group having golf balls left to play. The scenery alone was worth the venture, and I hope to return this year for a full and well-deserved review.
Another of my all-time favorite courses, and another Minnesota gem, the Classic at Madden’s Resort moved up four spots this year to number 63. The caddy experience at the Classic was the best I’ve ever had, and the course was the great north woods exemplified. This is another spot that I hope to get back to this year, and I have been asked to write a paragraph blurb about it for an upcoming issue of Midwest Golfing Magazine.
My favorite course to play when I am in Florida is the Pine Barrens at World Woods. One of the great mysteries of golf to me is how the course can maintain a slope of 133 from 7,237 yards from the tips – I will never understand it, even though their club pro tells me it is because water (of which the course has almost none of) is two times more penal than sand (of which the course has an incredible amount of!). The Pine Barrens was named by the PGA as one of the ten most beautiful courses in the world, and to the extent of my knowledge I will not disagree. With actual elevation changes, the Pine Barrens is unlike any other course in the state of Florida.
People who are not like me, who truly love the game of golf, do not understand how big of a deal it is when these rankings are released.
As the former Chairman of the Wisconsin State Golf Association and a 25-year veteran of the Golf Digest rating system (and co-creator of the slope system), Gene Haas, told me sincerely: “Wisconsin’s best course is the one I’m playing.” I agree with that whole-heartedly, but the rankings give credence to the measure of greatness when it comes to a state like ours’, that is blessed so indefinitely with some of the country’s very best golf tracks.
I gave a speech recently to 125 members of the Wisconsin Senior Golf Association entitled “The History of North Hills Country Club and the State of Golf in Wisconsin.” While the economy has caused play to drop dramatically in both the state of Wisconsin and around the country in the past 10-15 years, the state of golf in Wisconsin is one of excitement: This year, we will host the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, and in 2017 we will host the US Open at Erin Hills – the first time our country’s greatest tournament will be held in Wisconsin.
Having SEVEN courses now in the top 100 public rankings only helps bolster my opinion that Wisconsin is truly one of the greatest golf states in the nation.
Just imagine when SentryWorld’s renovated course gets the recognition it deserves, and then when the new Sand Valley courses being designed by Coore/Crenshaw and David McLay Kidd come to fruition in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Wisconsin is already and will be a mecca of the United States’ very best golf destinations. The state of golf in Wisconsin is in very good shape, indeed.