Pioneer Pointe: Madison’s New Par 3 Experience

The Madison area’s newest golf course, Pioneer Pointe is a par three lover’s dream.

Designed by Lohmann Quitno and debuted for preview play in the Fall of 2021, the course features 13 terrific par threes, ranging from 95 yards on the “Short” eighth to 275 on the long, uphill eleventh.

This is anything but an ordinary pitch and putt, stretching out club selection to a full bag and featuring a diverse layout of fun and challenging golf holes that hail from modern times back to the game’s Golden Age.

Developed by Jeff and Kyle Haen of Haen Real Estate, the course is a sister property to Hawk’s Landing Golf Club in Verona, which is a short five- to ten-minute drive away.

Jeff and Kyle, along with Membership Director Brooke Ferrell-Parisi, met up with my friend, Will and me on a bitterly cold, high-30’s early morning at Pioneer Pointe this past October to discuss the course’s design and development.

Previously home to an 18-hole track named Tumbledown Trails, the site’s redevelopment could not support a fully redesigned 18-hole championship course along with the planned subdivision and its drainage needs, so the decision was made – with consultation from Lohmann Quitno – to embrace one of the game’s most significant current trends as a non-championship golf experience.

“It’s always interesting how ideas come together. The initial influence to go with a par 3 concept at Pioneer Pointe was really more based on site constraints (after housing and drainage needs), which pushed us to think differently.

But then the idea of a 12 (or 13) hole par 3 course took on a life of its own rather quickly as we realized that this was a product the Madison market didn’t really have, and, by having a smaller footprint (only 30+/- acres to maintain), it would use less resources. Both are considerable wins.”

– Todd Quitno, VP & Senior Architect at Lohmann Quitno

As a non-traditional course, Pioneer Pointe could institute world-class green architecture and avoid many of the demands of a championship course setup, like having to keep a perfectly uniform flow or adhering to a particular par or cadence within its hole configuration, or even in finding ways to fit long holes into areas that don’t support them.

Non-traditional courses also require less resources to maintain and time for players to play (one of the biggest reasons golf enthusiasts don’t play more these days), and will typically cost less than their 18-hole championship counterparts.

These savings in time and financial requirements can open the tee sheet to a larger customer base and welcomes players with varying levels of golf skill and experience.

This is one of the key places golf is heading: More quicker-hitting golf experiences that are accessible to all interested in the game of golf, regardless of their playing ability.

As I’ve written about extensively in recent years, I love that.

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Brooke, a former UW Badger who holds the team’s all-time single-season scoring record of 72.3 and career scoring average record at 74.0, was a two-time All Big Ten player (plus two-time second-team selection) during her career at Madison. She was on her way to the LPGA when chronic wrist injuries put an indefinite hold on her Tour dreams. While she accompanied Will and me for our 13-hole round, she’s still unable to swing a club and it wasn’t hard to see how much that pained her.

Like Will and me, Brooke is a die-hard golf enthusiast, and working for a club like Hawk’s Landing with so many other avid golfers is obviously invigorating for her. Despite not being able to show us how it’s supposed to be done that day, her passion for the game and property came through in spades, and we couldn’t have enjoyed her company and our conversations more.

Hawk’s is well-known to have some of the state and area’s best conditions, headlined of course by flawless, fast green complexes that always roll perfectly. Superintendent Neil Radatz is one of the best in the business, and now shares his time between Hawk’s and Pioneer Pointe. His daft touch with course maintenance has this place growing in beautifully – much better than I could have ever expected on turf less than a year old!

One thing you’ll notice quickly about Pioneer Pointe is that the short grass is almost everywhere. There are no tee boxes to promote match play (perfect for a “short” course, in my opinion), so the low-mowed Kentucky bluegrass is all teeable and individual hole setups can change dramatically from group to group and round to round.

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The course

“Knowing the greens would be the focus at Pioneer Pointe, we drew on some Template architecture for inspiration, and that was fun to do and new for me. As we were building things, Neil [Radatz] kept saying “This is my favorite hole,” and the next time out it would be “No, this is my favorite hole.”

I think that is a testament to the quality of the 13 holes we put together and to the dedication everyone had to making something different. Every hole at Pioneer Pointe has its own personality, and the routing of the golf in and around all the built wetlands and through the rural Wisconsin setting will definitely keep golfers engaged.”

– Todd Quitno, VP & Senior Architect at Lohmann Quitno

Circling through its new, same-named housing development, Pioneer Pointe’s routing does a good job of using the land it’s on without feeling too engulfed by neighborhood.

You can obviously see there are beautiful homes around, but it’s got its own sense of space, too.

I think and hope the photos from my morning round portray that well as I think Lohmann Quitno did a great job keeping the course from feeling too residential.

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The course opens outside the future clubhouse and pro shop, which is targeted for completion this July.

Let me just say, by the way, that if you’re picturing a little mobile home with a few shirts and hats to buy in it that you’re way off! This may potentially be the nicest “par 3 course clubhouse” in the country by the time it’s done.

Link to renderings of the Pioneer Pointe clubhouse

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Pioneer Pointe’s first hole, “Washboard,” features one of the smallest greens on the course with a single pot bunker that distracts players’ attention from everything else happening on this green – there are five distinct zones on this putting surface!

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With a tee shot over water, the second green is a double plateau with raised mounds on each side.

Hit the right distance and chances are you’ll have a long, well uphill putt with a ton of break; there’s not much easy about this hole.

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With a reverse redan green complex, the third is played slightly downhill and over a wetlands area. Use the front-left side of the green here to run shots on from left to right.

A close-up view of the 3rd green complex

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The star of the show on four is one hundred percent the central bunker in this green. How could it be anything different?

Just take a look at the hole location set prior to our morning’s round… While it was in a much more benign spot when we actually played, I would LOVE the challenge of finding a way to par this hole with the pin set just several feet from the back end of the trap.

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Nicknamed “Boomerang,” the fifth has a long front-to-back, and narrow left-to-right green complex that makes hitting the right section of it vital.

This is the kind of hole that’s really fun to have players’ choice for the teeing area. By offsetting the angle you can work to make the shot fit your eye better than aiming straight-on.

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Their version of the Lion’s Mouth template, the sixth is a short par three uphill to a green that’s on a severe front-to-back uphill slope.

The monstrous Lion’s Mouth bunker is situated in front, well below the putting surface, while the back of the green is canted well uphill – in effect creating a bank that can be used to reflect tee shots onward.

This may be a tiny golf hole, but there’s a lot going on!

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Ahhhh, the seventh… This was the hole at Pioneer Pointe I was most excited to see, and it did not disappoint! A magnificent biarritz green, the seventh can stretch to over 200 yards when the pin is past the middle swale that bisects the front and back portions.

Just look at the pictures. It’s perfect.

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The course’s Short hole, the eighth plays just 95 yards uphill to a very wavy green complex. While hitting the green with a lofted wedge should present no issues for most players, it’s unlikely to be an easy birdie hole considering all the different reads they’ll need to make through and around the green’s “thumb print hollow.”

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Modeled after the short, downhill seventh at Pebble Beach, the ninth at Pioneer Pointe is heavily guarded by bunkers on the left, short and mostly to the right. With a false front and steep slope that leads to the center of the green, it’s another par three that requires good touch from players’ distance control.

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Stretching to 225 yards, the long tenth features a punchbowl green that will move most tee shots on or near the putting surface toward the middle.

This hole and the next – the two longest on the course – played dead in to the wind during our round (and in the upper 30’s/low 40’s). Not an easy 1-2 punch!

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The longest hole at Pioneer Pointe, the uphill eleventh is more of a par 4, or at least a 3-1/2!

Tipping out at 275 yards and with an elevated, kidney bean shaped green complex that makes some hole locations almost inaccessible from the fairway (you should have seen my flop shot over the bunker to the tucked pin past the front-left trap!), threes here should take skins every time.

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With a 40-foot drop from tee to green, the twelfth at Pioneer Pointe is modeled loosely after the famed 7th on the Links course at Lawsonia. I say loosely because it’s much longer and a considerably more elevated tee shot, though both holes feature massive mounds (hence the “Box Car” or “Buried Elephant” moniker) and left-to-right slopes for running shots on. 

The view on twelve is worth the price of admission alone: Beautiful.

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Nicknamed “Eden Odds,” the finishing hole at Pioneer Pointe is a mid-range par three with all the earmarks of its inspiration: The Eden 11th at St. Andrews. 

While I’ve yet to play overseas, I’ve done plenty of studying (okay, drooling) online and can certainly see its makings here. Eden holes include all or most of the original template’s four distinct hazards, including the “Strath” bunker front-middle, “Hill” bunker front-left / left of the green, an “Eden” swale or river beyond and cockleshell bunker well short of the green to penalize terrible shots. 

With its severely sloped back-to-front green, the 13th at Pioneer Pointe features the first three of these hazards and is a wonderful finish to a fantastic, short round of golf.

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I love witnessing new courses growing in over time. Whether an extreme, rugged new development like at Sand Valley Golf Resort and its Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes, Sandbox and now Lido courses, or a significant renovation like at The Club at Lac La Belle, it’s amazing how quickly agronomists who know what they’re doing can foster exemplary golf conditions.

That’s what I’m seeing from Pioneer Pointe. The Haen family and Hawks Landing have an unbelievable grounds crew that makes impeccable golf happen on a regular basis, and that this seedling course was already in not only playable, but phenomenal shape is a strong nod to their team’s experience and expertise.

And that’s what you want for a site like this. Lohmann Quitno designed a fantastic little golf course with interesting architecture, and when you have greens as big as some of these are you want to make sure they’re fast and firm, requiring players to hone in on proximity and solid putting. It’s like a miniaturized private golf experience in under two hours, and I’m such a big, big fan.

“I think getting over the ‘Norms’ of 9- or 18-hole golf is still somewhat of a battle among the traditional golfing set, but facilities like Pioneer Pointe that are compelling, feel like real golf, and are quick and fun to play make for great experiences. I look forward to seeing this course thrive!”

– Todd Quitno, VP & Senior Architect at Lohmann Quitno

As the long Wisconsin Winter winds down and we all start planning our in-state day trips, make sure to add Pioneer Pointe to your next visit to the Madison area.

Whether as a [very fortunate] guest at Hawk’s Landing or before or after playing one of the area’s fine public or private courses like The Oaks, University Ridge, Bishop’s Bay or many others, Pioneer Pointe is the perfect way to put an exclamation point on a fantastic Madison day trip.

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Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Verona, WI
Yardage: 2,055 yards (approximate – there are no tee boxes)
Slope: N/A
Par: 40

Pioneer Pointe website

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