Each year, when the Wisconsin State Golf Association opens registration at 8:00 in the morning for the season’s events, there are a few tournaments that sell out within three to ten minutes. This usually includes top private clubs and the most highly rated public courses that are featured. In 2014, for the first time this also included the State Mid-Amateur, to be hosted by Bishop’s Bay Country Club in Madison.
I’d heard of Bishop’s Bay, but did not know much about it. My buddies, Dan and Nick and I all signed up for it, and were looking forward to the September inaugural event.
The first thing you will notice about Bishop’s Bay is that it is not a walking course. For me, if I am going to play one course I will want the ability to walk it. What it lacks in walkability, though, it more than makes up for in a golf experience that makes golfers feel like they are completely out there on their own.
Very few holes run alongside one another, and the layout sprawls out over a massive property – so massive that most course designers could probably use the same land to create two eighteen hole courses. Bob Lohmann certainly had a lot of property to work with!
The clubhouse is absolutely beautiful, as are the practice facilities save for the small driving range. There are several practice putting greens, though, and a really nice chipping and sand facility.
The course starts out with a short par four around an inland lake. Risk/reward at its best, the closer the tee shot goes toward the green, the more of the lake that will have to be taken on. The smart play during a tournament like this, of course, is to play to the elbow of the dogleg and leave an approach of around 150 yards in.
A long cart ride away, the second hole is a little scary off the tee for first timers. The play is just left of the sand traps on the right side of the fairway, and if hit well should get a nice run out toward the approach area.
A back-left pin is tough to hit, as the swale front-left of the putting surface will swallow up anything else, and anything to the right side of the green is bound to stay there or fall off further right.
The first of four par threes on Bishop’s Bay, the third is a mid-length to long par three that falls heavily from back to front. I managed to get two great shots to within ten feet during my two rounds of the State Mid-Am on this hole, and was not able to make either birdie attempt.
The fourth is a beautiful golf hole, and is the first of the par fives at Bishop’s Bay. Uphill all the way, this hole has arguably the hardest green on the entire course.
Another long cart ride away, the fifth hole brings golfers to an entirely different feeling golf experience. Teeing off high above the fairway, five is a long, 602-yard par five that is a driver’s delight. Left is in the woods, and extremely long can out-hit the playing area (as I did during round one), but most tee shots straight or just right of center will result in great positioning.
After the elbow in the dogleg, there is a large pond on the left side of the fairway and ton of fescue to the right. The approach is long on this hole, making it almost inevitably a three-shot hole.
With a heavy break through the middle of the putting surface, accuracy on the approach is key here to have any chance at birdie or even two-putting.
The sixth ends the streak of back-to-back par fives with a long par four, measuring at 443 yards from the tips. Other than being long, this is a very straight-forward uphill par four that finishes with a large, and like all others fast, green.
The seventh is a great golf hole, and like the first is chocked full of risk/reward. If you can hit the ball really long and really high, then going over the corner of the treeline is a great option. If not, probably take less than driver and keep the ball in the fairway to avoid out-driving the main level of play (the right side falls from the fairway, otherwise, leaving a blind approach).
The seventh has one of the smallest greens on the entire course.
One of my two favorite par threes at Bishop’s Bay, the eighth is a delightful little one-shotter with a diabolical green complex. Day two’s front-left pin location made a close approach next to impossible.
Playing in one of the final groups of the day, it was nice being able to watch some of the leaders on this hole – they all hit solid shots, but none were able to hit the ridge that would keep the ball on the front-left section.
The ninth was a tough hole for me during the State Mid-Am, carding terrible scores both days. We started on this hole for day one, when I hit the trees on the left side before finding the fairway and hooking the ball toward the trees left of the green. Day two was not much better for me.
The approach on this hole is a great challenge, with sand right and a steep incline from the front to back.
The tenth hole is about as far away from the clubhouse as the course gets, but does offer a half-way house with drinks and food.
It is also a wonderful par three – my favorite on the entire course, in fact.
Playing over a ravine to a heavily undulating green that is close to the same height as the tee boxes, themselves, make sure to take enough club on ten to reach the green. The putting surface slopes from the back-left down to the front-right, and quickly.
The eleventh is a great driving hole. From elevated tee boxes, the tee shot is played between or over the two oak trees that frame the driving flight zone. Just right of the left-side fairway traps is ideal, and should set up an ideal short- or mid-iron approach to this beautifully back-dropped, undulating green complex.
Probably my favorite hole on the entire course, the twelfth is an awesome par five. With split-fairways around the central tree, the rough area between them was played for the tournament as ground under repair.
While I failed to get a photo from the tee boxes, the image below is of the split fairways and ground under repair. The second, lower fairway makes for a very wide driving zone and creates a great margin for error. From 525 yards, this is a great opportunity for birdie, but would require a very long approach over a bevy of sand traps to an elevated, short from front to back, green complex.
The thirteenth is a mid-length par four that plays to a fairway that veers from left to right. The traps on the right side are far enough out to only be out-hit by the longest of hitters, and the smart play is left of them with less club to avoid out-driving the playing surface. As one of my playing partners found out in our second round, hitting too far on the left side of the fairway is likely to bound down the hill, far into the fescue and gone.
The most beautiful hole on the entire Bishop’s Bay Country Club is undoubtedly the par four fourteenth. With some of the most elevated tee boxes I have seen in the entire state, this gorgeous tee shot looks out over Lake Mendota and runs slightly left to right. Find the fairway and watch the tee ball bound quickly to the bottom. Miss it and anticipate a long recovery shot to get close enough for a wedge in.
The green on fourteen is probably the largest on the course, and runs from back to front, and left to right, with a large sand trap on the left side.
Fifteen is an interesting golf hole. A short par four, it plays from 340 yards from the tips and just 311 from the next tees in. While really long hitters might be tempted to go for it here, water runs the entire right side of the fairway making less than driver the responsible decision in tournament format.
With a shallow green from front to back, the green on fifteen turned out to be quite a challenge.
The sixteenth is the toughest par five at Bishop’s Bay Country Club, playing to 579 yards from the tips. The elbow directly in front of the tee boxes is littered with sand traps, and past these a pond runs the rest of the right side of the fairway leading up to and past the green.
I had a 240-yard shot in to this green during our second round, and hit what I thought was a flushed three-hybrid. It hit before the green, bounced straight right and into and over the front-right sand trap that protects the pond. Being my second-to-last hole of the tournament, I was disappointed to say the least!
Seventeen was my nemesis during both days of the State Mid-Am tournament. I hit my first shot in the water on day one, and on day two hit a ball in to the wind so high and right that it plugged just on the OB line on the other side of the pond. Taking an unplayable lie and hitting it over the pond and subsequently over the green, I think I carded a seven on this 193-yard par three in both rounds.
If I never have to play the seventeenth hole here again, I think that will make me happy. That, or if I can play it again and finally get the tee shot safely on the green, I guess that would be better.
Eighteen is a fantastic finishing hole at Bishop’s Bay. While the tee shot is rather unexciting – only a heavily left-to-right shaped cut would play well and really advance the ball better than a fairway wood – the finish is absolutely beautiful. Framed by the State Capitol on the other side of Lake Mendota on the horizon, the eighteenth is likely to leave a long approach shot for most.
One of the most hazard-laden green complex on the course, traps are found left and right of this elevated green, and of course anything incredibly long could perhaps reach the lake (very unlikely, though).
Of the 112 players who started the event, nine did not hand in cards. That is not my style, so I signed mine and submitted it, not looking forward to finding out what place I would finish in. I knew it would not be good, but didn’t know it would be as bad as it was!
On my way home, my buddies Jeff and Mike text messaged me to find out how I did: “Well, I took 101st out of 102 and beat the last place finisher by one stroke.” Mike’s response: “Yeah I actually just read about the player you beat – great story about a player in a wheelchair participating in such a big event!”
I am obviously hoping for redemption at next year’s event at Lawsonia, if I am able to play in it. I registered at 8:08 and was wait-listed, so we’ll just have to wait and see!
Location: Middleton, WI
Yardage: Gold-7160, Blue-6740, White-6163, Red-5397
Slope/Rating: Gold-132/74.8, Blue-128/72.8, White-123/70, Red-122/71.4
Weekend Rates: N/A (private club)