Tall, tree-lined fairways, great greens and private club conditions are a little of what’s to expect at Central Wisconsin’s Bullseye Golf Club.
Bullseye’s Wisconsin Rapids location makes it a terrific companion course option for visitors of Sand Valley Golf Resort, along with the Lakes and Pines courses at Lake Arrowhead, the Castle Course at Northern Bay, and – when it reopens again in 2021 – SentryWorld in Steven Point.
Paired with Sand Valley, Bullseye allows players from out of town to experience great golf in the state’s [otherwise unique in Wisconsin] sand barrens, and also in more of a natural [for Wisconsin] Northwoods setting.
Turned semi-private in 2020, Bullseye’s 98-year-old property was originally designed by Leonard Macomber and renovated by Larry Packard in 1968.
Bullseye is a quintessential example of a great classic golf course with incredible potential. With a little tree clearing, I feel like some widening of the playing corridors would make it more player-friendly to the public players they’re now trying to attract. The course has plenty of land – holes rarely abut one another, and dense forest creates a sense of alone-ness. The ups and downs of the topography are subtle, and the routing with its short walks between greens and tees would also make for a nice walk in nature.
Dramatic vistas of the Wisconsin River are exaggerated from the air. I’d love to see them opened up more along the fairways, especially near the dam. I can’t think of many courses with as dramatic of waterfront property.
As an aside: I’m told the club has been working with the FERC (federal agency) and the paper company they lease the land from to clear out that tree line and open up those stunning views long-term.
There aren’t many courses available to the public with as good of greens, either. Bullseye makes a point of cutting and rolling their putting surfaces to run between 11.5-12 Wednesday to Sunday.
While we didn’t have a chance to eat and drink there – we had the morning’s first tee time and I had to get home to my family after a couple days away – I’ve consistently heard their food and beverage service is top-notch, and that’s definitely what I remember from a 2015 Sand Valley media day hosted there.
What’s the connection between Bullseye and Sand Valley, you ask? Bullseye is managed by Oliphant Golf Management, led by Craig Haltom. Craig (red sweater, above) is the Craig of “Craig’s Porch” at Sand Valley – he found and introduced Mike Keiser to the land, and still owns all construction contracts at the nearby resort.
He’s also made headlines recently with high-profile course design work at The Club at Lac La Belle and Stevens Point Country Club.
But, I digress. Let’s talk about the golf at Bullseye!
Tee shots at Bullseye can be a little nerve-wrecking, in general.
Maybe the best example of that is on the club’s first hole: Adjacent to the clubhouse, the back tees on one are built in to the same higher ground, alongside the cart path. It’s a tight spot, especially for a first tee, and can see it garnering some spectators.
Fortunately for me, I always hit my first drive of the day well, so I got up there and ripped a soft draw down the left side of the fairway. We were off and running.
The first hole gives players a lot of what they’ll need to know about scoring at Bullseye: There’s a definite emphasis on driving accuracy, the greens are fairly average in size and they feature a good amount of break. They’re also fast and roll beautifully – a real treat for a course that allows public play.
The first few holes have solid green complexes and straightaway routings.
If you’re curious what a tree lined fairway looks like at Bullseye, the first hole is a terrific example. I’ve played tighter parkland courses, and I’ve definitely played wider ones, but not a lot that are (overall) consistently as good.
The tee shot on five presents a risk/reward opportunity: Hit a high fade over the trees and enjoy a short uphill approach shot, or hit less than driver to the bend in the fairway and be left with a long iron in.
One of the signature holes at Bullseye, the 8th is a beautiful mid-range par three over water. Teeing up from 192 yards from the tips, or 165 from the whites, the tee shot needs to carry the front-left trap and, of course, stay left and long of the pond. This is one of the larger greens I can recall on the property.
The ninth is one of the hardest par fours I’ve played in a long time. The tee shot needs to hit the elbow, more than likely with less than driver, and there’s still a long way in to a very elevated, very slippery putting surface that runs back-left to front-right.
The false front on nine runs hard down and right. Par here is a great number.
The 13th is the first hole on the course that borders the Wisconsin River. A left-to-right par four, the hole has gorgeous views of the nearby dam:
I’m told the 14th has caused mild consternation with the membership at Bullseye. A dogleg left around trees, a natural-looking ravine area was added several years ago that, while aesthetically pleasing, is unique to the rest of the course. I’ve heard some members complain about that fact, but I personally liked it.
Featuring one of the narrowest greens on the entire course, the 14th is a tough par five.
My favorite par three on the course, the 15th is a wonderful little hole played to an elevated green. Uphill the whole way, teardrop bunkers protect the green’s front-right; a general left-to-right sloping of the terrain can also influence golfers’ strategy and perspective.
One of the prettiest holes on the course, the seventeenth is a long par four with a slight dogleg left. Just imagine that view if the left-side tree line was opened up!
The eighteenth is the last of several sharp left-to-right doglegs at Bullseye, and probably the most challenging. Find the fairway on the first shot to set up an approach over sand to an elevated green set before the clubhouse.
Bullseye Golf Club is a terrific course to add to the itinerary of a trip to Sand Valley Golf Resort, but as a “Pro tip” I highly recommend playing it before playing Mammoth Dunes. It would be hard to find two more diametrically opposed golf courses than those two.
Mammoth Dunes is wide and forgiving, and tee shots are almost unlosable. No tree lines restrict flight paths, and the greens are massive. Bullseye, on the other hand, is a classic parkland course played through tree lines with considerably smaller greens.
If you get used to playing a course like Bullseye before Sand Valley, chances are you’ll play great at Mammoth Dunes. If you tune your game at Mammoth before Bullseye, on the other hand, shots you hit at Mammoth probably won’t translate well at Bullseye. Of course, there are people who have something called ‘Accuracy’ – just not always me.
Like my home course of North Hills, Bullseye is the kind of club where “handicaps travel well.” In other words, if you play to a low number at Bullseye, you’ll probably be really tough to beat at other clubs. It’s the kind of course that makes players better.
If you’re a fan of classic parkland courses, Bullseye is well worth the greens fee. The tees, fairways and greens are beautifully manicured, the putting complexes are interesting and quick, and there’s just something about being amongst tall trees and wilderness that’s good for the soul.
Location: Wisconsin Rapids, WI
Yardage: Blue-6633, White-6385, Gold-5749
Slope/Rating: Blue-131/73.6, White-129/72.3, Gold-125/69.5
Weekend Rates: $65 (including cart)