Boasting a 6,600+ yard par 70 course with pristine conditions, wide forgiving fairways, large greens and a clubhouse with gorgeous views of the north shore of Wisconsin’s largest inland lake, North Shore Golf Club in Menasha, Wisconsin is one of the state’s top hidden gems.
North Shore, which hosted the Wisconsin State Amateur in 2016, has for a long time flown under the radar.
I think this is partially because it’s in a part of the state that’s not very well known for golf. While the Fox Valley has a lot of big business and is known to be a terrific area to live, it doesn’t have the same cache of courses that the Sheboygan, Milwaukee, Madison or even nearby Green Bay regions do. It’s market is much smaller in that way, and it feels like North Shore GC doesn’t mind.
Opened in 1930, the course was originally designed by a course architect I hadn’t heard of until researching Bullseye Golf Club in Wisconsin Rapids, Leonard Macomber.
I think Macomber was a bit underrated as a course architect, and North Shore definitely is.
Both North Shore and Bullseye are parkland courses with a lot of trees (though Bullseye is a bit tighter) and long, beautiful views of the water – the powerful Wisconsin River at Bullseye, and the colossal Lake Winnebago at North Shore – and these courses have a lot else in common like fairly wide fairways (again, a bit less restrictive at NSGC), really well contoured, oversized greens and terrific par threes.
Prior to my round there, I reached out to quite a few golf enthusiast friends, wondering if they’ve played it before and their general thoughts. None of them had, although one of my buddies’ dad did recently and can’t stop talking about how good it is.
I’ve since joined him in that boat.
While North Shore might not have the name recognition [in the Milwaukee market] as Milwaukee, Blue Mound, Pine Hills, Oconomowoc, West Bend, Kenosha, Racine and other top-tier, Golden Era private courses, they are definitely the high-end club in the Appleton / Fox Valley market, and that comes through quickly when on-site.
Founded by Kimberly-Clark paper executives (both John R. Kimberly and C.B. Clark are listed among the club’s first Directors), the clubhouse has an understated elegance with tall, airy rooms and windowed partitions, large fireplaces and generally grand features.
The clubhouse opens up in back to a beautiful patio and pool area with amazing vistas of the lake, and they’re doing a great job of eliminating excess trees in front to open site lines to the course.
It’s a clubhouse I’d enjoy spending time at.
Beginning in 2001, Bruce Hepner and Renaissance Golf Design have worked with the club to modernize their golf experience, including updating its bunkers, improving tee grounds and, of course, undertaking significant tree removal.
Whenever I play a new course, I find myself playing the “Where does this course remind me of?” game. For me, North Shore felt a bit like Course 1 at Medinah Country Club. It didn’t occur to me until well afterwards that that’s probably not purely coincidental as both courses have been recently renovated by Renaissance Golf Design (Course 1 by Tom Doak, and North Shore by Bruce Hepner).
Having been thoughtfully studied and worked on by the same general brain trust, it’s no wonder their golf experiences can look and feel somewhat similar at times. Both courses have outstanding par threes and are fairly similar in their bunkering styles, fairway widths, angles and a little in their green complexes, even without any overlap in their late 1920’s/early ’30’s design teams (Course 1 was originally designed by Tom Bendelow).
The front nine starts with a nice par four that gives players a feel for what to expect at North Shore: Tree lines that are visible but not overly penal, wide fairways in between them, large and smooth, elevated greens that are moderately undulating, and nicely designed sand traps.
Grab a par on one and cross the train tracks that separate the north and south sections of the club’s property. The southern tract, which includes the clubhouse, driving range, pool and other social amenities, generally consists of holes that shoot out north from Lake Winnebago (holes 1, 10 and 17) or return south to it and the clubhouse (9, 16 and 18).
This southern section’s terrain is fairly subtle, relying on a little tighter tree lines, green run-offs and strategically placed bunkers to protect scoring.
The northern property features more severe terrain, including significant changes in elevation – especially on several raised greens, a pond and river that affects six holes.
The first of these holes on the northern tract of land is the par four second. With a tee shot that begs for a draw, the fairway has a sharp dogleg left with an approach shot carrying a deep valley, bisecting river and a massive, elevated green complex that needs to be held.
Anything short to this green will repel down its false front, and anything left, right or long will find deep collection areas.
Another dogleg left par four, the third returns near the second tee box to create an oval around a central plat of trees. The third hole, though, tees off downhill before playing back up to another perched green fronted by the river.
While the two hole layouts may sound and appear similar, they play very differently and make for a fun one-two punch early in the round.
The fourth is probably my favorite par three on the course. A 166-yard downhill shot from the tips (142 from the first tees in) with a massive green, the tee shot carries the river and must avoid deep greenside bunkers on each side. Once landed, balls will generally roll right-to-left on its back-to-front green.
The first par five on the course, the fifth is a great opportunity for birdie – a dead straight hole that’s reachable at just over 500 yards from the tips, and well under from the first tees in.
If you can’t tell from my photos, the fairways and overall course conditions at North Shore are absolutely impeccable.
One of the tightest holes on the course, the sixth has some really great looking bunkering left of the green and a great play-on angle toward the middle/right.
The front-middle pin we had for our round was a fun one that incorporated some nice internal kicker slopes.
The seventh is another great downhill par three. The green, situated in a valley below the tee boxes, is elevated about six feet above the collection areas that surround the entire putting surface. The hole location we had for our round was tucked about as far front-left as it could be pinned – borderline unfair, yes, but also fun.
An interesting design element Hepner and his team recently installed at North Shore that the club looks to perpetuate to other areas of the course is seen on the par four ninth and tenth holes, where the collection area near the ninth green leads directly to the tenth hole tee box, easing the golfer in to the back nine.
It’s a design feature that reminds me a lot of one of the state’s top private clubs, Blue Mound Golf & Country Club in Wauwatosa (which has also been recently worked on by Renaissance).
Teeing off over the pond, the twelfth is a long par four that brings players to the far northwest corner of the club’s property. At over 450 yards from the back tees, this was one hell of a challenging par four – I think we both hit 4-iron or longer in.
The second in a set of long back-to-back par fours, the fairway on thirteen is canted hard toward the right side as it nears the river. The approach shot, over water, is to a crowned green that’s likely one of the hardest to hold at NSGC.
With the most demanding par three tee shot on the course, the fourteenth plays over the pond to a great green complex that kicks balls hard from the left side toward the middle/right, almost like a reverse Redan.
While the 14th has probably the most nerve-wrenching par three tee shot on the course, the sixteenth is the longest at 213 yards from the tips (190 from the first tees in), playing directly toward the front of the clubhouse.
With a really well elevated green complex, the fourteenth has a spattering of bunkers that flank the front half of both the left and right sides.
The course then finishes with par fours running in opposite directions. The seventeenth is a short-ish dogleg right, playing to a narrow, two-tiered green with sand on each side.
Heading back toward the lake and clubhouse, the 18th has one of the most challenging green complexes on the entire property to hit. After a glorious drive, for example, I put a lazy swing on my 52-degree wedge and pushed it right.
Let’s just say that’s not the best place to be as I had to climb (using both feet and hands) the elevated green just to be able to see where I should aim my recovery flop shot.
I loved the guest experience at North Shore, and would like to express a great big “thank you” to my host for the day, Jeremy.
The course has all the feels of a terrific everyday course that’s got plenty of wow factor to impress guests, but is overall consistently strong without anything goofy or gimmicky that’ll linger in your head following the round.
I loved the pool area adjacent to the lake and the clubhouse and overall feel of the club, and they seem to be doing a lot to consistently improve the golf experience.
While it may not be a household name now, I think North Shore Golf Club in Menasha could be a real up-and-comer in the state’s top golf courses lists, including in mine where it debuts as #9 private.
Golf Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Menasha, WI
Yardage: Black-6530, White-5794, Green-5246
Slope/Rating: Black-132/73.2, White-125/67.9, Green-118/65.4