Glenway Golf Course was the home track for my freshman golf team, a municipal facility just down the street from my high school. At the time, it was a relatively unnoteworthy, short 9-hole layout, despite being located on a scenic wooded property. That said, even though the original layout wasn’t very compelling, it was still a wonderful place to continue learning the game at a younger age.
I remember the course for its unusual length and par, as well as some of the smallest greens I’ve ever played. At a par of 32, Glenway was just long enough to justify not giving it the “executive” label, but still too short to think of as a full-length regulation course.
The course first opened in the 1920’s, making it one of the oldest in the area. The Madison municipal golf operation features four properties totaling 72 holes, making the game more accessible in the area and providing a great entry point for youngsters and beginners. It is intended to be a self-sustaining enterprise, not funded directly out of taxpayer revenues. Over the years, the courses have become outdated and in need of significant maintenance and overhaul. That, combined with waning demand for golf through 2019, had led to a dismal financial situation with the courses losing significant money each year. The city has mulled plans to close one or more courses to shore up the operation’s finances, and has since tentatively decided to close 18 of its holes.
Madison-area resident Michael Keiser, Jr., son of Bandon Dunes mastermind Mike Keiser and known for his own role in the development of Sand Valley, got wind of the situation and offered to help financially to keep Madison’s municipal scene viable over the long term. Glenway seemed like low-hanging fruit for this effort, given the small size of the property, its advantageous location in the middle of Madison’s near west side, and the potential to create something special on the picturesque site. He and his wife, Jocelyn, ended up contributing $750,000 to overhaul the course, an offer the city couldn’t refuse.
Keiser enlisted some of the top minds in the industry for the project. Craig Haltom took a lead design role, installing his signature large, undulating greens and open, connected fairways. Also involved were Brian Schneider of Renaissance Golf, and Sara Mess, former design associate for Tom Doak. Architects Jay Blasi, Andy Staples and Andy North also volunteered time and helped develop some concepts. There were a lot of cooks in the kitchen, but they were great cooks and collaborated to produce a very cohesive set of improvements to the track.
Another goal of the project was to make the property accessible to non-golfers by creating walking paths and opening up areas of the course for non-golf activities. This model of shared land was borrowed from Scotland, where many golf properties are enjoyed by the whole community as multi-use outdoor spaces, rather than solely being used for golf. The city has started non-golf programming on the course at select times during the week, including concerts, recreational activities and outdoor movie screenings. Installing walking paths on the golf course is also part of the plan, although I did not see any new walking paths at the time I played it.
The course opened this summer re-branded as The Glen Golf Park, and I found it to be a dramatically different track than the one I played growing up, one that prioritizes fun over challenge. The routing is nearly identical to the original with only a couple minor exceptions, and plays to a par-32/33 (the 5th hole is officially a par five on the scorecard from the middle tees). Postage stamp greens have been replaced by giant, undulating ones, some of which drew influence from famous holes of classic links courses. A large, dramatically mounded putting course was also added by the clubhouse, another signature of Craig Haltom.
The Glen Golf Park
Architects (redesign): Craig Haltom, Brian Schneider and Sara Mess (2022)
Par 32/33, 2372/2202/1855/1312 Yards
Hole 1 – Par 4, 261/254/239/146 Yards
The first hole is a short, drivable par 4 that bends gently to the right around mature trees. While attempting to drive the green carries some risk with trees and OB right, a downhill slope will propel good tee shots toward the green, making driver not even necessary for longer hitters to get home in one. The gargantuan green (which will be a recurring theme) slopes from front-to-back, making precision on the approach shot essential.
Hole 2 – Par 3, 185/164/145/106 Yards
The second hole is a long- to mid-iron shot playing to a very unique two-tiered green. The lower tier on the front-right side is highly accessible, while the back-left tier hides behind a mound. The pin was in the left location when I played, where tee shots hit to the correct tier will have trouble holding the green while safer drives to the right side will lead to very difficult two-putts.
Hole 3 – Par 3, 155/138/112/79 Yards
The third plays slightly downhill to another large green surrounded by native grasses and forest. The green slopes front-to-back, placing a premium on club selection. A steep slope to the right of the green will snag slight misses and lead to a difficult chip.
Hole 4 – Par 4, 389/353/292/157 Yards
The fourth hole was the first notable routing change on the track. After teeing off over a gulley and through a narrow chute of trees, the fairway emerges from the forest to a wide open fairway that joins up with the fairways of #1 and #5 in true Haltom style. This used to be a featureless, straightaway par 4, but now doglegs to the right to a vast, wildly undulating green modeled after the famous 14th at Royal Dornoch. We played to a left pin at the bottom of a punchbowl that set up well for a low running approach shot.
Hole 5 – Par 4/5, 443/421/341/261 Yards
The fifth hole has the other notable routing tweak from the original course. Whereas the original was a straightaway hole, the redesign pushed the tee further left, creating a slight dogleg that direction. This long hole, with its narrow corridor leading up to the green, demands two excellent shots to get home in two. The approach plays over a depression to an elevated green with a false front. This is the toughest hole on the course and five is a decent score.
Hole 6 – Par 3, 127/117/99/77 Yards
The sixth hole has the signature view on the property. A short iron or wedge is all that’s needed to carry a ravine and reach a green surrounded by bunkers. The green complex is situated in a grove of towering oak trees next to deep forest. This is a good birdie opportunity, in addition to being a quality photo-op.
Hole 7 – Par 4, 344/323/285/228 Yards
The seventh is a short dogleg right par 4, bending around forest to the right. While it may be possible to cut the dogleg with a high, booming fade, such a move would carry a lot of risk as the trees right would offer little chance of escape. The changes to the course could not be more obvious than on this hole. The original green was one of the smallest I’ve ever seen, a postage stamp the size of a small tee box. The new design features an incredibly deep putting surface with two distinct tiers separated by a middle swale in Biarritz-like fashion. Needless to say, finding the correct location of the green on the approach shot is important to ensure par or better.
Hole 8 – Par 3, 128/106/96/65 Yards
The eighth is a picturesque, sharply downhill hole that will require no more than wedge. A “coffin” bunker guards the front right side, a fitting touch with a cemetery in the background. There is still plenty of room to find the green, and a well-executed shot should set up a great opportunity for birdie.
Hole 9 – Par 4, 340/326/246/193 Yards
The ninth hole plays over a large hill to a blind fairway. One remaining relic of the original property is a stoplight located at the base of the hill. Golfers must wait for a green light to tee off, then hit a switch before approaching the green to give the all-clear to the group behind.
For some reason, this tee shot always used to get to my head back in high school, and after 23 years I returned for more punishment by blocking my drive OB right. Painful closing double bogey aside, this is a solid finishing hole, one where good tee shots will ride a downhill slope to a short approach distance into a punchbowl green.
Amenities and CLOSING THOUGHTS
The Glen Golf Park’s amenities are very spartan, featuring a tiny clubhouse. The putting course is a fantastic, unique addition. There is no driving range, and the course is walking only.
The course was in suboptimal shape when I played it just two weeks after its reopening, with bumpy and slow greens. While that can be expected as the new surfaces grow in and also during a dry July, I hope that the city devotes enough resources to maintain this gem to the level it deserves after its high-profile redesign effort.
As a high-single-digit handicap, I didn’t find the course to be significantly challenging, especially compared to the tighter version of the track that I played in high school. Nonetheless, the track was very enjoyable with ample birdie opportunities and interesting modern architecture.
The Glen Golf Park is the perfect place to go for a laid-back, affordable nine holes, especially for those newer to the game. This track is now a great complement to the golf-rich scene we enjoy in the Madison area, and I hope it serves as an example of the potential to re-invigorate municipal golf across the country.