What can I say about the Brute at Grand Geneva that isn’t already covered by its name? The Brute is long and tight, and everything about it is “Brute-ish.”
Have you ever seen that beer commercial where the guys are at the tee box and one friend is about to tee off when his buddy says, “Hold on,” and uses his fingers to tighten the fairways and enlarge the sand traps? That is how every hole seems to be on this course. The sand traps are massive, the water features are prominent, and it has a very mature, demanding feel that can be quite intimidating.
I first played and reviewed the Brute 12-15 years ago with a friend of mine, Dane, who used to work there. He was telling me that Jim McMahon and Rollie Fingers always played it barefooted, so we did, too. I remembered it being very nice, but was nowhere near the golf enthusiast I am today, and it was like a whole new experience for me with virtually no recollections of that round and how to play it.
As a side note, it’s hilarious how many times I’ve had people mention Rollie or Jim McMahon as barefooted golfers during rounds with new golf partners.
While WiscoGolfAddict contributing writer John Ziemer and I did not play the course barefooted, we did experience it in a new way: GolfBoarding.
Grand Geneva is currently the only golf destination in the state offering GolfBoards for players to use during their rounds. While the surcharge to use them is minimal – $20 over the standard cost that includes cart – the experience is fun, unique and well worth the added charge (my previous post about GolfBoarding can be found here).
The Brute is one course that I cannot say enough is worth playing from the recommended tee boxes. Similarly to another of my Wisconsin favorites, Wild Rock, everything about the Brute seems massive and accentuated. The course has an awesome look and feel.
Also similarly to Wild Rock, the greens can be really quick and challenging. Many of the greens are crowned, making for really tough downhill putts and a lot of challenging two-putt situations.
The Brute starts with a beautifully elevated par four that, like most holes on this course, features water, sand and a long approach.
The Brute uses elevation wonderfully, and especially generously on their par fives. The second hole, for example, features an approach area at least 100 yards long that goes uphill and to the left without any fairway to lay up to. Compounding the challenge of this approach is that the green on two is probably the smallest on the course.
The majority of their par fives are similar, and [at least from the back tees] I would not consider any of them to be easily reachable in two. The sixth hole has a very similar approach area, and both feature greens that are several stories above [and well over 100 yards past] their playable fairways.
The third is a gorgeous downhill par four that narrows to about 15 yards wide between two ponds before going back uphill between greenside bunkers. The water is actually farther away than it at first appears, but driver is likely longer than the landing area will allow.
The fourth is one of those par threes that seems to play much longer than the distance. The elevation is relatively flat overall, but goes downhill from the tee boxes over water, then back well uphill to a very wide green complex.
The most prominent features on the par four fifth are the fairway sand traps. Hitting the one on the right side of the fairway will make for a hellish approach, while about 75% of the area surrounding the green is sand, as well.
The sixth is a mid-length, but still likely a three-shot par five. The ideal drive is drawn over the corner sand trap, but will leave well over 200 yards in to a green that is elevated probably 30-40 feet with no fairway to lay up to.
The seventh looks fairly elementary from the tee boxes, but has one of the course’s most challenging greens. Running right-to-left from elevated tees, a good drive here shouldn’t leave more than a short iron in. The false front here is the green’s main protection.
The eighth is a mid-length par three that plays from a high point on the course over a large front-side bunker to a green that runs hard from back-to-front, and in both directions from the middle-right portion. This is one of the toughest putting surfaces on the Brute course.
The ninth is a fantastic finishing hole on the Brute. At 432 yards from the back tees, the water is certainly reachable on the left while the fairway narrows toward the green. The green complex is elevated, and on the left side cants toward the pond.
The back nine starts out with what I consider to be the hardest driving hole on the Brute course. Playing in to the wind during the rounds I’ve been there, the driving zone on ten features a narrow strip of fairway on the opposite side of a creek that’s sidelined on both sides by water. This hole will mess with your mind off the tee.
The eleventh is a charming par five that finishes high above the fairway. The fairway slopes hard from right to left, so aim over the right-side sand traps to try to stay on the short grass. As is the case with the Brute’s other par fives, the green is found well above the fairway, and there is no such thing as an even lie.
If there is an easy par four on the Brute, it may be the twelfth. A long drive can leave a short wedge to the green, which is heavily guarded by sand and a straight drop-off on the back side.
The thirteenth is a short downhill par three that was measuring just 115 yards during our round. All downhill, the challenge is to find a club short enough to come in softly but long enough to fly the enormous bunker that fronts the putting complex.
The fourteenth requires a choice off the tee: Hit well less than driver straight away, or cut something big and bold around the left side of the trees.
I chose the latter, bending a huge drive to about 20 yards in front of the green. I wish I could do that intentionally more often [and not just when I’m trying to hit the ball straight].
At 606 yards from the championship tee boxes, find the fairway on fifteen for a shot at getting home in three. The large fairway bunker left is the spot you’ll want to avoid off the tee, while the littering of fairway bunkers on the left side post-river will have to be kept out of mind on the second and/or approach shots.
A mid-length par three, the sixteenth tips out at 190 but plays just 166 from the first tees in. Well elevated, the actual distance is considerably shorter.
Like on the thirteenth, the tee shot here has to carry a really sizable front-side bunker.
The seventeenth and eighteenth holes are phenomenal and feature some of the most demanding tee shots on the course. The fairway on seventeen filters slightly right, so aim for the left-side bunker for your best chance at a manageable approach over the front-side creek.
Eighteen is a wonderful finishing hole, as well, and plays slightly less intimidating than the onboard GPS shows. The bunkers lining the right side of the fairway should help keep tee shots out of the water, but there will still be a long way to go. With the pin residing on top of a huge crown in the middle of the green, the eighteenth provides a tremendous putting challenge for finishing your round at the Brute at Grand Geneva.
The Brute at Grand Geneva is a challenging and really fun golf course. I recommend playing it when you’re feeling pretty good about your swing, and I also recommend playing it on their new GolfBoards – it’s a unique experience you can’t currently find anywhere else in the state.
While I haven’t had the opportunity to play it yet, Grand Geneva also has a second course: The Highlands. The Highlands was originally coined The Briar Patch when it debuted in 1969 as one of Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus’s first and only course design collaborations, and has since been worked on by both Bob Cupp and Bob Lohmann. I’ve heard all good things about the Highlands course and hope to check it out the next time I’m in Lake Geneva.
There is certainly a ton of history at the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, and an undoubted treasure trove of buried secrets from the days when Hugh Hefner entertained guests on the property. The one mystery I’ve always been curious about: What’s with the sculpture by the sixteenth and seventeenth holes on the Brute course?
Location: Lake Geneva, WI
Yardage: Blue-7,085, White-6,554, Red-5,244
Slope/Rating: Blue-136/73.8, White-131/71.9, Red-129/70.0
Weekend Rates (riding): $155