Designed by William Langford and Theodore Moreau and opened for play in 1922, Ozaukee Country Club in Mequon, Wisconsin is one of the Milwaukee area’s oldest and most prestigious private golf clubs.
A classic parkland track, the course is not overly long but has teeth, placing a premium on shot-making around the greens and demanding a solid short game.
Entering its 100th year, the club has worked tirelessly to honor its Golden Age heritage while investing in its future and modernizing what is an already terrific golf experience.
To celebrate their centennial anniversary, Ozaukee will be showcasing their club at the 2022 Suter/Ward Wisconsin State Open in August. If it’s anything like the State Amateur hosted there in ’14 it should be a stern test of golf for the Dairy State’s top players as only five rounds were played under par the entire tournament. Alex Gaugert of Grand Geneva took home the Sinnissippi Cup in that contest with a +6 cumulative score over 72 holes.
Ozaukee’s putting surfaces are far from postage stamps, its fairways are plenty wide and the tree lines have been maintained well over the years. A number of willow trees, especially, have been recently removed and the course is far from overgrown – in fact, its conditions have been impeccable every time I’ve played it.
So why is Ozaukee such a challenge to score on? One reason is its par 70 layout, which includes only three par fives and five par threes.
While a little more traditional than the 5/3/5/3/5/3 sequence on the 9th through 14th of the Links course at Lawsonia, for example, a par of 70 is uncommon for championship golf courses, and having one less five “than normal” to make up a stroke on (as well as an extra par three which are typically more challenging to) helps protect scorecards from red numbers.
And its greens, in typical Langford/Moreau fashion, are diabolical.
Ozaukee has their putting surfaces dialed in like few in the area, coring them every four years (depending on weather) and, in the off-years, utilizing the Air2G2 system’s high-pressured air to break up organic matter beneath the green surfaces. AirG2G features a high-tech, low-impact system (to the putting surfaces) that keeps greens literally playing fast enough to host club tournaments the day after, like the day we visited. A day after aerification, these putting surfaces were pure.
The facilities at Ozaukee are updated and stately, with a massive swimming pool and cabanas out back, an airy locker room with dark, oversized wooden lockers, a great outdoor dining space and patio overlooking the course and an iconic statue that helps frame the clubhouse:
There’s a lot to like about Ozaukee, and that includes a stellar reputation built on the backs of its world-class golf course and stalwart leadership.
Starting in 1965, the legendary Bobby Brue served as Head Golf Professional at OCC for 22 years. Brue played in over 100 PGA Tour and 300 Champions Tour events (the “Senior Tour”) during his professional career, won the Wisconsin State Open five times, the WPGA Section Championship five and the WPGA Match Play Title eight times, and earned over $1.2 million in career winnings. He was a renowned trick-shot artist long before YouTube or TikTok, and was one of the state’s most beloved and well-respected golf figures prior to his passing in 2017 at the age of 82.
When it was time for Brue to retire from Ozaukee in 1989, he was succeeded by a leader with almost as much clout, Rich Tock. Tock led the club as Head Golf Professional for 21 years before taking on leadership roles at Erin Hills, where he’s served in numerous capacities including as PGA Ambassador to this day.
The Wisconsin PGA’s 2021 Merchandiser of the Year and five-year Head Pro, Jason Rasmussen, continues this strong tradition of excellence at the helm of Ozaukee to this day. Rasmussen, like Tock and Brue, is a terrific competitive player, has a congenial and engaging personality and easy way with members. When we met, it took me hearing only a few sentences to grasp his passion for Ozaukee, for his service to the club and greater game of golf. You’ll hear the same from their membership, too: He’s a terrific leader and steward of the game.
“I am most proud of our commitment to our members, and likewise our members are committed to the staff. It’s a shared respect from both ends that makes our club special.
We are very proud of our history in golf as well as the footprint we have at Ozaukee. From the clubhouse to our golf course, we have a special setting and our membership embraces it.
Each year I look forward to creating an experience for our members in which at the end of the season they are wanting more, and that keeps them engaged for the upcoming year.”
Head Golf Professional, Ozaukee Country Club
That commitment and mutual respect is palpable at Ozaukee Country Club. I’ve played the course a few times, and during each visit I’ve felt privileged to be there yet incredibly welcomed. The golf staff is always friendly, and outwardly excited to chat golf with me. If you know me, you know I love that. I find my enjoyment and appreciation for this club and their course to grow more with each subsequent visit.
Similarly, I seem to notice and appreciate something new and different on the course each time, and I think that’s a big part of the magic of Langford/Moreau, in general. So much of what they designed takes time and new experiences to appreciate: While much of their architecture is bold and in your face – picture your favorite of the duo’s dramatic green complexes – subtleties abound, jumping out at players from different lies and vantage points.
There’s a lot designed into a Golden Age gem like OCC, and it’s the details that grow on and hook you.
I had it as my number 12 or 13 best private course in the state coming into the 2021 season, in fact, and its since moved into the top ten for ’22 (linked below):
The golf course
The front nine tees off adjacent to the bag drop, with a straightaway par four leading to a crest in the fairway and finishing downhill.
This is a tough start, with trees on both sides of the fairway and a challenging putting surface.
The green was pinned in the back-right the first time we played it last season, and my two perfect opening shots were quickly spoiled by a three-putt that started out as an eight-foot uphill sidewinder. These putting surfaces break a ton, and I learned quickly that leaving an uphill first try several feet above the hole is practically a death sentence.
It can be a little confusing for first-time guests to discern where to go following the first hole, but rest assured the second tee is to the left and slightly behind the first green.
The first of three par fives at Ozaukee comes early on the second hole. Its wide fairway is inviting, with the right side being preferred to set up a better opportunity at hitting this green in two.
The approach plays to the left and has to carry several traps to get home safely.
Heavily mounded along the right side of the fairway to keep tee shots from hitting beautiful course-side homes, the third is a mid-length par four that veers slightly leftward. The green area is especially interesting on this hole, with a steep mound front-right and shallow traps left.
The first of five par threes at Ozaukee, the fourth is not your run-of-the-mill 155-yard one-shotter. The green is slightly uphill, but is massive and breaks hard from left to right, eventually to a large drop-off back-right. Back pin locations are especially challenging.
The second of three par fives at OCC, the fifth is the longest hole on the course and the one visible from Mequon Road. The drive is pretty straight-forward with out-of-bounds left and plenty of fairway to target.
The fairway on five is heavily sloped in many areas, rolling up and down and to the left and right. Some areas, in fact, are so depressed they require a blind approach shot.
One of the shallower putting surfaces on the course, the barn on the horizon serves as a solid target toward the green.
The fairway on five runs out 75 to 100 yards before the green complex, dropping low to create a trough that climbs back to the putting surface. This is one of the smallest greens on the course, which can make those downhill lie wedge shots a tremendous challenge to hold.
The longest par three on the course, six plays to 209 yards from the back tees, and 184 from the whites. Falling heavily downhill, the green is canted sharply from back to front, making holding it easy as long as you take enough club to clear the front green-side bunkers. I’ve yet to figure that out.
Eight is a tremendously difficult golf hole, with an uphill dogleg right that plays to a well-defended green set in a hollow of trees. The green complex is extremely deep running from back-to-front, and back pins are nearly impossible to get near as the right side drops heavily to deep rough, putting a premium on the approach shot.
The green on nine is deceptive from the tee, especially for such a short par three. I thought hitting over the wide front-left bunker would result in a solid green in regulation, for example, and was astounded to see my ball well left of what might be the smallest green on the course, and with a gnarly downhill lie.
Fittingly for such a short golf hole, the green here is wild. While it’s tricky to first-time players, it’s certainly one of those holes that grows on you.
Following a downhill tee shot, the approach on ten will almost always be hit from a downhill lie to a green protected short and right by water. This is another really tough, sharply contoured putting surface.
With a mostly blind tee shot, eleven plays back up the hill that was used for the fairway on ten. With one of the biggest greens on the course, the eleventh plays toward the clubhouse and its massive US flag.
The fourteenth is Langford/Moreau golf course architecture at its best. At 200 yards from the back tees, or 160 from the whites, the tee shot plays significantly longer with its uphill climb.
Intense mounding on this par three is reminiscent of the famous seventh on Lawsonia’s Links course and features a hard-running putting surface when hit.
The final par five at Ozaukee, the fifteenth shows short on the scorecard at 497 yards from the tips, but plays longer.
The sand traps in the distance are a good target from the tees, and lead to a 90-degree dogleg left that will require great care if laying up on the second shot.
A stream runs the left side of this second part of the fairway, and bisects the approach area as it unfolds.
The sixteenth at Ozaukee reminds me a bit of the fifth at another Milwaukee area country club, Tuckaway, with its all-carry tee shot over water to an elevated green that slopes really hard from back to front. Deep bunkers front the left and right sides of this green complex.
Teeing off alongside the Milwaukee River, which further south flows through the back nine of the Milwaukee Country Club, the seventeenth is slightly intimidating from the tee boxes with the river right and a tree line left.
The fairway runs softly to the left, with one large oak tree guarding the flight zone from the short-left side of the fairway.
Over 400 yards and uphill, the eighteenth at Ozaukee is a solid par four finishing hole. The wide fairway is easy enough to hit, but is unlikely to roll out, leaving a lengthy uphill shot to a green that’s primarily hidden from view on the approach.
Ozaukee is fantastic. With a wonderful Golden Age golf course that’s being improved regularly, terrific facilities and a great golf staff, I’d even put it in the top three of the most prestigious private clubs in the Milwaukee area behind MCC and Blue Mound.
At under 6,800 yards, I know a lot of folks will be expecting low numbers at this year’s State Open, but don’t sleep on Ozaukee – this course has sharp teeth and greens that make getting close to pins a major challenge. Will the winner finish at +6? Probably not, but I’ll be surprised if anyone finishes with an aggregate score under par.
Location: Thiensville, WI
Yardage: Blue-6765, White-6381, Gold-5806, Red-5400
Slope/Rating: Blue-130/72.9, White-125/71.0, Gold-121/68.5, Red-116/66.8