This weekend’s been surprisingly warm in Wisconsin, and the near future looks like it will heat up even more with sun and 50’s next weekend.
Could this be the start of the 2017 golf season? For my friend John and me, yes. I saw several guys walking the course with clubs yesterday, and today a few out for leisurely walks. North Hills sets up “winter greens” before the first snow, which involves converting one of the least used tee boxes on each hole to a temporary putting surface to keep players off the greens in case the course becomes golf-able during the off-season.
The wind was howling today! While my weather app told me it was 27 mph from the west, I’m sure the gusts were much stronger. John and I met up at my house, walked to the sixth tee and mapped out potential cross-country holes. When greens are off the menu, it’s all about finding hole layouts that will be as interesting as possible, and I think we did a great job with that.
According to the Wisconsin State Golf Association’s BlueGolf website, the longest a single consecutive hole can be at North Hills is 1,458 yards if starting from the fifth tee and going to the ninth green. We started on the sixth, though, and played to the right-side sand trap of the second hole.
We chose the second hole as our first destination for several strategic reasons:
- There are four possible routes over the Menomonee River, making strategy for how to cross key
- The cluster of trees behind and along the second tee that requires you to hit your approach up three or down 16
While our first hole was only 1,063 yards as the crow flies, it played more like 1,085 if going up the third fairway, or 1,107 if going up the sixteenth fairway and then over the trees behind the second tee boxes to the bunker right of the second green.
We both teed off hoping to hit huge, high cuts over the tree line right of the sixth fairway, but the wind got the better of us and pushed our drives down six. We both then played great fairway woods over the tree lines toward the fifteenth tees, and played up that hole. We were both hitting great cross-wind shots and each played up the sixteenth fairway before heading straight right toward the second green.
John got me by a stroke or two, so he got to call the next hole. For the second hole of the day, we played from just off the second green to the blue/white tee box on eleven. The shot here is over trees no matter which route is taken, and I hit a gem over several tree lines with a long, high cut. John hit the dreaded straight ball, setting up an interesting angle in to a tight temporary green. We both took fives on this 346-yard par four.
My favorite cross-country hole at North Hills has always been this one: The black tee box on eleven over the tree line that separates the tenth and 18th holes up the 18th fairway. This sets up an awesome “Road hole,” goading players to bite off as much of the tree line as they can with the risk of hitting the woods if it’s not carried.
With the eighteenth green off-limits, we chose the tiny alternative tee box to the side of the first hole tees. If the greens at Old Macdonald average 14,600 square feet, this one is closer to 150. I hit a solid approach shot and won the hole 4 to 5.
Our next hole was our first par three from just left of that temporary green to the temporary green that is usually the women’s tee box on ten. John lasered it at 131 yards, with one really big, really tall tree to carry – and, again, a green that was less than 200 square feet.
The wind was at our back, and John hit a beautiful high fade that sailed over the green in to the ninth fairway. I took note and hit a gap wedge that hit the up-slope of the tee box/temporary green and bounced all the way over the green! It was an easy, short next shot, though, and both John and I hit our approaches close and took threes.
Here’s where the round got interesting…
The course’s distance almost maxes out if going from this temporary green to the women’s tees (small and elevated temporary green) on five, measuring around 1,341 yards.
The distance is nothing compared to the challenge of finding a route to that green! The fourth hole at North Hills, a short, picturesque and narrow 490-yard par five, is only made tighter by having to find a way in between the tree lines that doesn’t begin at the fifth hole tee box.
John’s tee shot from the tenth went toward the first hole, while mine had a sharp cut and stayed in the tenth fairway. It would have been a remarkable tee shot if we were playing the tenth, but we weren’t.
John and I were taking completely different routes for a few minutes – he was playing toward the third hole tee boxes and down that fairway, and I was playing down the tenth, across the seventeenth toward the sixteenth, then across that tree line to the third where we finally met back up.
In case you want an idea of how difficult a shot it is crossing the Menomonee River from the third fairway over the fourth tee box:
I hit a low punch just left of the fourth tees, leaving as clean of a shot as can be hoped for over the river, up the hill and toward the fourth hole green area that leads to the fifth hole tees.
I hit my first bad fairway wood shot of the day, topping it in to the river from position 1-point-something. Ouch.
John kept hitting big three-woods and then a great chip shot under the trees and on the green. Meanwhile, I hit two trees dead-center before hitting a lower punch shot to the fringe. Here was my path:
Our final hole of the day was from just left of the ladies’ tee box on five to the women’s tee/temporary green on six. The wind was perfectly at our backs, so the plan was to aim toward the half-way house behind the thirteenth green, hopefully leaving a clean wedge between the trees.
John got a little snappy, then hit a ridiculous shot over several tree lines that wound up just past the temporary green. I hit an amazing drive, then hit a crappy wedge that wound up just left of John’s nearly perfect shot. A +2 handicap, he somehow found a way to beat me on our last hole even with my dramatically better tee shot! Some day I’ll beat him…
All good times to come to an end. John forgot to take the baby seat out of his car, and my wife had Johnsonville bratwursts in the slow cooker. It was time for us both to go home.
John, a graphic designer, put together this diagram of our hole layouts for the day, including each of our [circuitous] routes from tee to green:
One of the best things about playing at a private golf club is the pace of play, and today was fantastic – “we practically had the course to ourselves.” We did, although we saw a handful of folks out hiking the cart paths.
I came in to the day with the tee shot from the eleventh tee heading toward the 18th green being my favorite cross-country hole, but I think now my new favorite is from ten to five. There are so many demanding shots that I can’t wait to try it again.
Cross-country golf is great, but I’ll admit I’m most excited for the regular season to get here.