For the first couple of years I wrote my blog, I did a write-up at the end of each year to put the season in to words, and to commend the courses I felt were the best that year in multiple categories.
As my site has continued to grow, this has become less academic, especially since I joined a private club a few years back and am obviously playing a much smaller sample of different courses each season.
It doesn’t hurt to write a little review, though, especially for my own pleasure to look back at in the future at what was the golf season of 2015.
The winter of 2015 extended a little longer than normal, with most golf courses opening in early April. This was a couple weeks earlier than in 2014, but months behind some years. I am already praying that 2016 will see course openings back in the February timeline again… Fingers crossed.
With last night’s first snow of the Winter, I figure this is as good a time as any to wrap things up… Not that I won’t be out there if/when the weather warms up and the grounds are healthy enough to play!
Most of my rounds this year were played at my home course of North Hills Country Club, which under the tutelage of Randy DuPont was in exceptional shape again all year round. My season was a roller coaster of sorts, starting out with an index of 12.1 and getting down to 9.0, shooting consistently for a while in the low 80’s.
Then I became a bad nine, right around September first, shooting 87-89 and losing money in my Saturday games. In games where the total monetary payout ranges from $3-5, I actually lost $45 one day. Ouch.
That is enough about my game, though – what about the courses from 2015?
2015: Best Public Golf Course Played
Rated the number two public course by Golf Digest, number two modern course by GolfWeek, and number one public course in the country by Golf.com, Pacific Dunes is coastal golf at its very best. Designed by Tom Doak and opened in 2001, Pacific Dunes blends perfectly rugged Bandon landscape with ingenious hole layouts and execution.
Just a few years old, the Red course at Streamsong has already amassed an incredible number of accolades, including the number 18 public course in the United States.
Coore and Crenshaw’s minimalistic design strategy at this remote central Florida destination blends beautifully in to the rugged landscape of a former phosphate mine turned mega resort, and has resulted in Streamsong being the hottest new golf resort in the world.
A tribute to C.B. Macdonald, Old Macdonald is Tom Doak and Jim Urbina’s homage to one of the greatest golf course architects in the history of the golf world.
With insane bunkering, out-of-this-world elevation changes, and ever-present coastal winds, Old Macdonald is Scottish/Irish links golf at its American best.
Site of the 2017 US Open, Hurdzan/Fry/Whitten’s masterpiece in the middle of nowhere (yet only 45 minutes from downtown Milwaukee), Wisconsin is one of the toughest tests of golf in the Midwest.
The pilot course at the Bandon Dunes golf resort, Bandon Dunes was the brainchild of Chicago businessman Mike Keiser and designer David McLay Kidd.
Kidd, born and raised in Scotland, made Bandon Dunes his best rendition of Scottish golf in the United States, and the course and its brilliant design led to the tremendous expansion and success of the Bandon resort and Kidd’s acute ascent in the world of golf course architecture.
2015: Best Private Golf Course Played
1. Shoreacres Golf Club (IL) – not reviewed
Considered to be one of Seth Raynor’s most unique course designs, Shoreacres features ingenious routing, spectacular conditions and one of the best nine-hole stretches I have ever played on the back nine.
Site of the 2015 Wisconsin vs. Illinois Writer’s Cup, the Chicago Highlands Club in Westchester, IL is the newest of the Chicago area private clubs, having been opened in 2009.
Currently rated as the number 149 best modern course in the country, Arthur Hills’ open design at Chicago Highlands stretches to nearly 7,500 yards from the tips with a ridiculous 76.4 course rating.
Perhaps best known as the site of Tiger Woods’ third and final US Amateur championship, the Witch Hollow course at Pumpkin Ridge is a fabulously laid out Bob Cupp design with small greens and tree-lined fairways.
Numerous par four/par five stretch holes make this layout extremely interesting for both the everyday and tournament player, and its great course conditions are second to none in the Portland, Oregon area.
2015: Best Golf Vacation
Bandon Dunes is, quite simply, Disney World for guys.
Hours from any metropolitan area, Bandon is far from easy to get to but well worth the travel. The golf is the best I have ever played, the accommodations are perfect for buddies’ trips, and there are numerous restaurants and bars throughout the facility for after-hours entertainment.
Bandon Dunes was a bucket list trip for me earlier this year, but now that I have been there I cannot wait to get back again.
Developed on a former phosphate mine, the common question when going to Streamsong is this: Where is it around? The answer is that it is an hour and a half from Tampa. There is nothing metropolitan closer, and golf purists would not have it any other way!
Streamsong breaks the rules of Florida golf. There is no houses left/house right, houses left/water right, water left/houses right, water left/water right through a housing development – it is simply pure golf hole after hole on two wonderful, natural feeling courses by Coore/Crenshaw (Red course) and Tom Doak (Blue course).
The Black course, being designed by Gil Hanse, is underway and slated to open to the public in September, 2017.
The resort, food and amenities at Streamsong are first class all the way, making it completely safe to bring your spouse or significant other (my girlfriend, Kelly, had a great time laying out by the pool while I golfed, and the food and beverage and spa experience was exceptional!) along for the vacation.
With eight signature golf courses located along 32 miles of beautiful white sand beaches of the Gulf Shores, Alabama region, Gulf Shores is the perfect Spring buddies’ destination for both golf and night life.
Kiva Dunes, now undergoing a several million dollar renovation with the goal of getting the course back to its previous number one public course rating in the state of Alabama, is the undisputed king of courses in the Gulf Shores area, but especially do not miss Peninsula Golf Club while in the area for fantastic conditions and fun hole layouts.
2015: Best Buddies’ Golf Trip
Helping make this buddies’ golf trip as amazing as it was is the accommodations we had: An incredible 4-bedroom condo on the thirteenth floor of the Turquoise Place.
I have stayed at some very nice hotels and condos in my time, but the Turquoise Place takes beach-front luxury to a whole new level.
2015: Best Par 3 Hole
The signature hole of all signature holes, the seventh on Tom Doak’s Blue course at Streamsong is said to be the most photographed hole in golf, and there’s good reason why!
A smart, short- to mid-length par three on the Pacific Ocean, the eleventh at Pacific Dunes plays over wasteland and to a right-to-left green perched high above the beach below.
Coore/Crenshaw are probably the best in the world at creating tremendously challenging, short par three holes.
Carrying the crevasse and three bunkers that front this massive, undulating green is step one… Then comes putting.
2015: Best Par 4 Hole
William Langford’s design genius is on full display on the front nine at West Bend Country Club, especially on the seventh and eighth (a short, spectacular par three with one of the most diabolical greens around) holes.
Finding the right side of the fairway sets up the best opportunity for hitting this green in two…
… But take an extra club, or four, to account for elevation on the approach!
The most awe-inspiring tee shot at the country’s most awe-inspiring golf destination, the sixteenth at Bandon Dunes is reachable off the tee with a strong wind at the back and a great tee shot.
The smart play, of course, is to the fairway left, but we didn’t travel all the way to Bandon, Oregon to lay up!
One of the prettiest tee shots in the state of Wisconsin, highly elevated tees provide a gorgeous view on the fifth hole on the River course, nicknamed “Made in Heaven.”
It’s easy to see why, with the Sheboygan River running parallel to the fairway on the right side, a wide and forgiving fairway and trees and sand everywhere else.
A highly elevated green will leave a 20-30 foot high flop shot to any missed approaches right.
2015: Best Par 5 Hole
One of my all-time favorite par fives, the eighteenth on the Red course at Streamsong is a great finishing hole.
The sand dunes framing the whole provide a beautiful back-drop, while the strategy in its design outshines even all of this glory.
Bill Coore told me during the Sand Valley media day that the dramatic false front-right and right side of the green complex on eighteen was kept only after a brief but paramount conversation with Streamsong’s superintendent:
Bill: “Can you and your team mow this?”
Superintendent: “Yeah, we can mow this.”
If he’d replied anything else, this tremendous finishing green complex would not exist as it is today.
The seventeenth on the Blue course at Streamsong is vintage Tom Doak hole design.
Wide and forgiving driving area. Beautiful cross-bunkering that requires players to make calculations and take risks. One of the most heavily contoured greens on the entire property. I love this hole.
The River course at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisconsin has maybe the greatest collections of par fives in the country, and the eleventh [to me] is the star.
The tee shot is straight out toward an elbow in the fairway, before turning hard right with the Sheboygan River.
Distances are especially tough to gauge when trying to cut off the river – it always seems to be much farther than you think.
2015: Best Tournament Played
A tournament for true golf enthusiasts, the format for the Langford Shield lends itself to two-man teams with skill:
- Holes 1-6: Better ball
- Holes 7-12: Combined score
- Holes 13-18: Alternate shot
This is not a drunken scramble where everyone tries to hit out of their shoes all the time.
And the winners? Their names are forever engraved on the wooden Langford Shield.
This year’s Writer’s Cup was the 20th annual border battle between golf writers and media members from Wisconsin versus our counterparts from Illinois.
This year was Illinois’ turn to host the tournament, and they provided a fantastic venue at The Chicago Highlands Club in Westchester, IL.
With freakishly fast and firm conditions, this course is no pushover – even though Team Wisconsin was as we were annihilated in this year’s event.
The Pussy Cat tournament pays tribute to the old days of North Hills Country Club, when legendary past members would hold this tournament featuring payouts exponentially higher than those at the Greater Milwaukee Open or any other local PGA events.
A blind draw calcutta, the Pussy Cat is a two-day annual event that is always highly anticipated.
2015: Best Media Event
This summer’s media day sneak peak at Mike Keiser’s highly anticipated new project in Rome, Wisconsin found six lucky media members on Coore/Crenshaw’s front nine holes.
Slated to open to 129 “Founders” in 2016, the front nine’s routing and design variety is spectacular, and has golf media around the world projecting it to open in 2017 as not only one of the best golf courses in the state and nation, but perhaps as high as top ten in the world.
This year’s US Open media day at Erin Hills was the best yet, featuring a presentation/Q&A with Governor Scott Walker as well as with the three designers of Erin Hills: Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten.
The golf course was in the best condition I have ever seen it, and played fast and furious to the max. Oh, and I had a great group including Erin Hills Assistant Golf Pro Nick Krattiger and
When I asked Kris Halsrud, writer of the Kristazio on Golf blog in the Minneapolis, MN area, to paint a scene of me on the 17th tee of the Straits course at Whistling Straits, he said he’d be happy to do it for a couple rounds of golf during a visit to Wisconsin.
We had a legendary Fall day to enjoy the River course at Blackwolf Run, and took full advantage of it playing 36 holes between Blackwolf Run and my home course of North Hills Country Club. It was a day of great company and spectacular golf, and this wonderful painting will be a centerpiece in my home for many, many years to come!
2015: Most Challenging Par 3
The most challenging par three we played on our entire Gulf Shores buddies’ golf trip, the 17th at Kiva Dunes is a beast! Playing cross-water, the wind was howling in to our faces and a little to the left, and there was seemingly everywhere to miss and from 200-plus yards what looked to be a sliver of a green to target (AKA pray for a miracle).
Given my proclivity to draw longer clubs, especially my hybrid which was the right club for this shot, the tee shot here was what I shared with my playing partners one of the most intimidating ever. The wind for sure had a lot to do with it, but this is a big-time par three!
Maybe the toughest green on the entire course, the “Redan” putting complex on the twelfth hole drops off on all sides, and features a huge laterally running ridge across the middle.
The sand traps in front of the tee boxes help hide the false front, and some of the green’s contours. This Redan hole is modeled after the 15th at North Berwick.
Another classic William Langford design, the green on this mid-range par three at Ozaukee is heavily raised with many hidden contours and drop-offs on all sides.
2015: Most Challenging Par 4 Hole
The hardest hole on the entire course, the thirteenth plays dead in to the teeth of the wind. During our round on Sunday, this was not very substantial, but boy did that change come Monday!
The driving area is actually quite spacious, and neither my buddy, Greg, or I had any issues either day hitting the fairway. Something about this green, though, is especially challenging to hit, and the putting complex slants heavily with all misses seemingly ending up in the deep, gnarly sand trap right of the green along the hillside.
The ninth hole on the Ghost Creek course at Pumpkin Ridge might be the hardest par four in the history of the world. Playing straight in to the wind, the tips play to 469 yards, and the entire left side of the approach area is shrouded in water.
Ghost Creek, invisible from the tee boxes, comes in to play on the right side of the initial fairway.
There were no white caps on the pond during our round, but the wind was absolutely howling in our face. I flushed my driver off the tee, and was still left with about 220 in. My next shot I could only play to be safe – I hit hybrid well right, leaving a chance for par but assuredly bogey. I was playing too good of a round to try three-wood over the water!
Westmoor Country Club and The Bog are said to be the two most consistently challenging golf courses in the entire state, and no tournament at Westmoor has ever been won under par.
Holes like the long par four second play a big part in that. Well over 400 yards (467 from the tips, 442 from the first tees in) from the tee, the drive has to be straight and needs to avoid sand. The approach, then, is going to be very long and well uphill to a harshly canted putting surface from back to front, and surrounded to the left and right by deep bunkers.
2015: Most Challenging Par 5 Hole
If there is any wind at all, forget about par on this hole. Forget about par, either way! Just finishing with the same ball you started with is a good goal on what is one of the most gorgeous golf holes in the entire state of Wisconsin.
The driving area on seventeen is very tight, and requires a pretty good carry to set up a second shot. The green, then, is situated on a small peninsula as the hole meanders around the shore of Lake Como.
This is one of the coolest holes in Wisconsin, and also one of the toughest.
A wide open fairway (like most holes at Old Macdonald) starts the journey that is the sixth hole.
The fairway goes straight out toward Hell Bunker, shown below, then juts left before correcting itself back to the right again, ending at a large, risen green with all kinds of undulations.
It did not help that my second shot hit this bunker, which should be known as “Hell’s Other Bunker”:
This hole is going to make or break a lot of players in the 2017 US Open… So how does the USGA plan on playing the 18th hole on Sunday to make sure the nearly 700-yard par five promotes an exciting finish? The answer that I have been told is that it will play as is.
The great challenge on 18 will be to hold on. Par will be a fantastic score. Only PGA Tour Pro Mark Wilson, I’m told, who holds the course record from the tips with a 77, has been able to get pin-high in two on this breathtaking finishing hole with the “Village” and Holy Hill in the background.
2015: Best Drivable Par 4 Hole
To me, the greatest “Wow” moment of the entire Bandon Dunes trip was in making the walk from the fifteenth hole green (as if it could get any better?!) to the sixteenth tee at Bandon Dunes.
I was floored!
The perfect drivable par four, sixteen played with a strong wind at our backs, slightly uphill and 345 yards from the first tees in. High above the beach, it is instantly obvious that missing right is out of the question.
There are options galore here, as the fairway starts on the left side and meanders uphill and right to the perched green. The putting surface is not overly long from front to back, which might also influence the decision on whether or not to go for it off the tee.
We didn’t travel to Bandon to lay up on a drivable par four like this, though, so Greg and I both took dead aim at the green, and were of course penalized by coming up just a little short and in a horrible waste area to the right side.
At 276 yards from the white tees, and seemingly straight up toward the heavens lives the ninth hole green. An intimidating principal’s nose bunker is situated half-way between, but everything else is fairway and it all rolls in one direction: Down.
The entire hole might as well be a false front, although the actual false front on this green is as dramatic as any other on the course.
Hit driver as hard and as far as you can here – just don’t expect it to stay close.
A shuttle picks up golfers after putting out on the thirteenth, giving them reprieve from the uphill walk to the elevated (an understatement) tee boxes of fourteen.
Stepping off the shuttle and walking out on to the tee boxes of fourteen reveals one of the greatest vistas on the entire Bandon Dunes Golf Resort property, and I am told the spot at which Mike Keiser knew he was building an inland course onsite.
Fourteen is a polarizing golf hole. Some reviewers have been harsh on it, saying the green complex is too difficult for the point of being difficult. It is domed and the false fronts on each side are cut short and run off to tough collection areas.
At just over 300 yards, though, and teeing off from what seems to be 100 feet over the green, this is another of those holes where you just have to grab the big stick and say: “I did not travel all the way to Bandon to lay up!”
Hit driver. Do it.
2015: Best Greens
What can you say? Superintendent Randy DuPont and his team do an exceptional job on the course conditions at my home course, which is well known to have the best greens in the area.
I fall more and more in love with the Links course at Lawsonia every time I play it, and I’ve played it quite a bit throughout the years.
The Links course at Lawsonia is perhaps Langford/Moreau’s greatest design work, and ongoing renovations have ensured that it continues to be played the way it was meant to be played: Fast.
Large and undulating greens with such quick speeds place an absolute premium on players’ putting games, which can amass hands full of three-putts pretty quickly on Wisconsin’s most historic public course.
Huge, flawless greens with tons of contouring… And 13’1″ stimp meter reading. What else needs to be said?
Doak courses tend to be easier off the tee than his Coore/Crenshaw counterpart, but considerably more challenging on and around the green complexes.
So is the case at Streamsong Resort: Wide, forgiving fairways that lead to fast greens with a ton of break. I loved them.
While Kiva Dunes was the most exciting and beautiful course we played in the Gulf Shores of Alabama, Peninsula Golf Club had the best overall conditions, and fantastic greens.
2015: My Favorite New Golfing Partner
While my girlfriend, Kelly, is not a golf nut like I am (yet!), we had a blast this summer getting out on the course on Saturday and/or Sunday afternoons when the course was mostly empty. We usually grab a drink or two, as well as a cart, and she plays as much or little golf as she wants.
Secretly, I think she just likes having something new to shop and accessorize for 🙂 … And, of course, spending time with me.