What was the golf course like that you grew up playing on?
Mine was a Waukesha County municipal course with a few quirks and a lot of character. It had some holes I could do without, and a lot more I always looked forward to.
It always had good greens. Most are slightly elevated, but nothing too crazy. The design team of Arthur Hills and Billy Sixty, Jr. (and later Bob Lohmann) did a really nice job of designing them with optimal pinnability, and the maintenance crew always kept their surfaces rolling quickly, though they could get a little beaten up from so much play from beginners — like I was. And it seemed like they aerated more than most, with huge punches that made putting feel like a game of Plinko.
I never quite figured out the right clubs to hit on its doglegs. They mostly took driver out of my hands from the white tees, and I was always second guessing irons selections. 30 years later, I still second guess my irons all the time.
My friends David, Dan and I played it a lot. Our parents would drop us off at Wanaki Golf Course in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, and we’d walk the course, learn the game and enjoy the time outside. We were around 10 when Dave and I started playing junior leagues there. He was a much better player than I was, but we were buddies and always had fun golfing together. I still have a hard time taking golf too seriously.
I’d love to get out there with those guys again someday. Dan and I typically play a couple times a year, usually in the Madison area (or last year we had a nice 45-hole day at Medinah) where he and his family live. I haven’t seen Dave in decades, though we keep in touch a little on Facebook. Like Dan, I think he’s a college professor now and lives in Indiana.
It had been a lot of years, probably ~ 20 since the last time I played 18 holes at Wanaki, and yesterday’s round waxed nostalgic for me in all the right ways.
It was a day of opportunity. My friend, Jeff, and I were planning on playing North Hills Country Club at 10:30, but as a social-plus member now I’m only able to play it a handful of times a year and get hit with $122.50 walking (I prefer to walk there with my electric caddy, but still get charged for the cart).
Even with the Weather app calling for 100% chance of rain the entire morning and afternoon, I wanted to get out and give golf a go. I didn’t want to burn one of my rounds at the club, though, and really didn’t want to spend $100-plus on an early-April round I didn’t even know if I’d want to finish if the weather was as terrible as it was supposed to be. $45 with cart at Wanaki sounded much better, and their pro shop said to come on out as the tee sheet continued to clear.
We were planning on playing a quick nine. Public courses can be a bit of a death march on Saturday mornings, and I was happy to get even a few hours away from the madness of our 2- and 3-year-old at home.
Nine turned in to 18, though, as we played hole after hole – all bringing back good memories – quickly and without wait. A group on two let us play through off the tee; we didn’t run in to anyone else until 16. It was awesome.
The signage has been updated, the nines have been switched, their rickety old gas carts have been significantly upgraded for new ones (I remember having to constantly pull the choke to get their carts to run), the bridges have been renewed and their maintenance crew has certainly been busy with tree removal.
Otherwise, it was the same course I remember playing as a kid.
The opportunity to play Wanaki again almost didn’t happen for me. In fact, we almost lost it following the 2019 season when Waukesha County decided to discontinue operations.
Wanaki was losing between $41,000 to $243,000 per year since 2001 (link to report), and needed significant capital investment. It’s always had good bones, though, including a beautifully wooded track of land with rivers and ponds, one of the strongest men’s clubs in the state, high annual rounds and played home course to multiple school teams. Losing Wanaki would have made a significant impact on the Milwaukee area golf community.
#SaveWanaki rallied local golf enthusiasts, and eventually stirred up a legitimate bid from a new ownership group to stave off redevelopment. Together with Scott Schaefer of the Milwaukee Brat House, the good folks at Storms Golf were able to acquire Wanaki with the agreement that it continues to operate as a golf course.
This is a dream ownership group for the property, combining longstanding golf-related operations experience and expertise with terrific food and beverage savvy. Scott’s culinary niche couples well with golf where brats, hot dogs and other quick bites play perfectly. The hot dog and pretzel bun yesterday was awesome, by the way.
Wanaki is a solid test of golf, playing host fairly regularly to State Am and Open qualifiers. Its par threes, especially, are really tough – three of them measuring over 200 yards from the back tees. And the greens were in great shape – much better than we expected this early in the season.
A grand re-opening party is scheduled at Wanaki for April 18, 2021, which will include a free pig roast, live music and [rubber] duck races down the Fox River. If you haven’t had a chance to play it yet lately [like I hadn’t], get over there and check it out.
I for one know my next visit to Wanaki won’t take nearly as long to happen as the last one did, and I’m really excited to see what other changes new ownership has in store for this course that holds so many good memories for me.
A few more overhead drone shots from my early-Spring round yesterday at Wanaki Golf Course:
Location: Menomonee Falls, WI
Slope/Rating: Blue-127/71.4, White-123/69.6, Gold-117/67.0
Yardage: Blue-6560, White-6206, Gold-5629