My Top 50 Golf Courses in America

When my brother and his wife bought me a golf ball cabinet about ten years ago, I started collecting logo balls from all the different courses I played. I hadn’t started my foray in to golf writing at the time so its contents grew slowly but steadily, consisting primarily of muni tracks around Waukesha County.

I started WiscoGolfAddict in 2011, and during that year played 59 different courses including three of my first private clubs. With 2012 came my first out-of-state golf trips: Myrtle Beach with my cousins Frank and Jeff, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with a group of friends. It was also the year I played my first Tour courses, including Erin Hills, Blackwolf Run’s River course, Chambers Bay, University Ridge and Cog Hill No. 4 Dubsdread. I played 126 rounds in 2012 at a total of 52 different courses.

While I’d consider 2012 to be the year that opened my eyes to world-class golf, I’d also consider it to be the year that opened my eyes to the way golf can drain my bank account. An audit of my post-season golf charges that year was just shy of $10,000.

My first media event invites started coming in 2013, first for a pre-event media day at the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run, and soon after a weekend trip to Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake in Brainerd, Minnesota. Exciting things with my golf writing were starting to snowball, and they have only continued to this day.

Through my writing I have experienced amazing public and private golf courses around the country, built out a wonderful network of industry experts and friends, and am continuously learning about all the things that make golf great – especially from the design and architectural side.

The experts (Doak, Fazio, Coore, Crenshaw, Jones, Staples, Trent Jones, Jr, …) may score 80-95 on a scale of 100 for their course design knowledge. I can’t claim to know more than 10-20, which is probably still generous, but the path to learning is filled with playing new styles of courses and constantly picking up on the both subtle and not-so-subtle nuances that architects institute in their designs. It’s an adventure I hope to enjoy for years to come.

While Golf Digest, GolfWeek and Golf.com release their best courses in the US lists on an annual or semi-annual basis, I have just one: This running list of the 50 tracks I consider to be the best in the country… out of the hundreds that I’ve played.

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1. Pacific Dunes (Bandon, OR)

Architect: Tom Doak (2001)
Yardages: Black-6633, Green-6142, Gold-5775
Slope/Rating: Black-142/73.0, Green-133/70.7, Gold-129/68.6

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The Top 50 Golf Courses in America (click here for the list)

Golf Course Review: Medinah Country Club, Course No. 3

Medinah CC No. 3 Course Rankings:
Golf Digest: #48 US, #3 Illinois
GolfWeek: #85 Classic
Golf.com: #44 US
Architect: Tom Bendelow; Rees Jones

This past May, I had the good fortune of being invited to the unveiling of Rees Jones’ newly renovated Course Two at Medinah Country Club. Since the course was not yet ready to be played, we were treated to a round on a championship course that I’ve dreamed of playing for years: Medinah No. 3.

Most recently the site of the 2012 Ryder Cup, No. 3 has played host to a plethora of golf championships, including that Ryder Cup, three Western Opens (now the BMW Championship), the 1988 US Senior Open, three US Opens (1949, 1975, 1990) and two PGA Championships (1999, 2006).

Currently ranked the 48th best golf course in the country (public or private), No. 3 has a heritage that is unmatched in the Midwest.

The course starts out with a relatively straight-forward par four. Tee it high and let it fly – anything that flies the hill should get a good roll forward down the hill, leaving a short iron or wedge in.

From the first green on, players are introduced to some terrific Tom Bendelow designed greens. The back-right pin location we had moved a ton.

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Hole 1: Par 4 (433/383/357/357)

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Hole 1: Par 4 (433/383/357/357)

The first in a fabulous set of par threes, the second hole plays entirely over water. While all the tee boxes are adjacent to the lake, the required carry and especially the angle in changes dramatically depending on tees.

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Wisconsin’s 18 Toughest Par 3 Holes: The Long Holes

The Beasts (> 185 yards from the first tees in):

1. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys #15 (227/196/189/150/103):

Depending on the distance, this is the hardest par three maybe in the world! From the back three tees, this signature par three on the Meadow Valleys course at Blackwolf Run tees up from well over 180 yards usually straight in to the wind and over a massive prairie with one of the widest multi-sectioned greens outside of Lawsonia’s Links course!

From 227-plus yards from the tips, this is as hard of a par three as it gets.

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Hole 15: Par 3 (227/196/189/150/103)

To make the challenge of hitting 3-wood or more off the tee more palatable, the forward tees have probably the most breathtaking view of any hole in the state of Wisconsin to look back on:

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A look back from the forward tees on the 15th at the Meadow Valleys course at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, WI

2. Whistling Straits, Straits #17 (249/223/197/165/131):

This hole has decided the outcomes of PGA Championships!

At over 240 yards from the tips, and with Lake Michigan bordering the entire left side, there is nothing simple about this Alice Dye created hole – a large mound protects the right side of the green and one of the most ridiculous volcano bunkers outside of the Pete Dye Course at French Lick means absolutely anything errant is punished to the enth degree.

Dead zone lies between the tee and green, and anything other than hitting the green leads to bogey or worse.

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Hole 17: Par 3 (249/223/197/165/137)

3. Blackwolf Run, River #13 (231/205/192/150/101):

Blackwolf Run’s River course boasts one of the most demanding tee shots in the entire state of Wisconsin: From over 200 yards, it’s all carry over the Sheboygan River with a draw, or else one hell of a high fade over the tall oak trees that front the green on the thirteenth hole.

To add to the difficulty level, fly fishermen regularly fish this stretch of the river and pay little to no attention to golfers, making players hopeful that if their tightly drawn shots are miss-hit that they’ll at least not hurt anybody.

Fortunately for us during the below round, there was only one fly fisherman in the river, and none of us hit him (see below photo).

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Hole 13: Par 3 (213/205/192/150/101)

4. University Ridge #17 (250/192/164/130):

The seventeenth at University Ridge tees up from 250 yards from the tips (one of the most popular tournament courses in the state, as well as the University of Wisconsin’s home course and site of the PGA Champion’s Tour American Family Championship), and plays directly over a pond that not only includes all-carry, but also has out-of-bounds directly left and right.

There is literally nowhere to miss on this hole, and even from the first tees in is a ridiculously challenging one-shotter.

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Hole 17: Par 3 (250/192/164/130)

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2015 Golf Season in Review

For the first couple of years I wrote my blog, I did a write-up at the end of each year to put the season in to words, and to commend the courses I felt were the best that year in multiple categories.

As my site has continued to grow, this has become less academic, especially since I joined a private club a few years back and am obviously playing a much smaller sample of different courses each season.

It doesn’t hurt to write a little review, though, especially for my own pleasure to look back at in the future at what was the golf season of 2015.

The winter of 2015 extended a little longer than normal, with most golf courses opening in early April. This was a couple weeks earlier than in 2014, but months behind some years. I am already praying that 2016 will see course openings back in the February timeline again… Fingers crossed.

With last night’s first snow of the Winter, I figure this is as good a time as any to wrap things up… Not that I won’t be out there if/when the weather warms up and the grounds are healthy enough to play!

Most of my rounds this year were played at my home course of North Hills Country Club, which under the tutelage of Randy DuPont was in exceptional shape again all year round. My season was a roller coaster of sorts, starting out with an index of 12.1 and getting down to 9.0, shooting consistently for a while in the low 80’s.

Then I became a bad nine, right around September first, shooting 87-89 and losing money in my Saturday games. In games where the total monetary payout ranges from $3-5, I actually lost $45 one day. Ouch.

That is enough about my game, though – what about the courses from 2015?

2015: Best Public Golf Course Played

1. Pacific Dunes (OR)

Rated the number two public course by Golf Digest, number two modern course by GolfWeek, and number one public course in the country by Golf.com, Pacific Dunes is coastal golf at its very best. Designed by Tom Doak and opened in 2001, Pacific Dunes blends perfectly rugged Bandon landscape with ingenious hole layouts and execution.

Pacific Dunes hole 4

Pacific Dunes hole 4

Pacific Dunes Website

2. Streamsong, Red Course (FL)

Just a few years old, the Red course at Streamsong has already amassed an incredible number of accolades, including the number 18 public course in the United States.

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Wisconsin’s 18 Toughest Par 3’s: Mid-Length Holes

In a very discussion-intended way (imagine being on GolfWRX’s course forums pages), I think it’s fun to rank courses and holes in a way that lays out my reasons, and asks users to respond in the way of both agreement and disagreement.

For my list of the state of Wisconsin’s toughest par threes, I decided to lay them out as follows, each in their own post:

The Mid-Range Holes (160-205 yards from the first tees in):

1. Pine Hills Country Club #5 (195/182/175/167/165):

It is not enough that the fifth at Pine Hills is a visually intimidating tee shot, but it also features one of the largest, most undulating green complexes on the entire course. A massive ridge runs laterally through the green’s surface, and a swale is created toward the middle/back-left.

The fifth is on the border of mid-range and long par threes – the uphill tee shot adds at least one to club selection.

Hole 5: Par 3 (195/182/175/167/165)

Hole 5: Par 3 (195/182/175/167/165)

2. Blackwolf Run, River #4 (219/195/185/146/117):

Like most holes on the River  course, this par three at Blackwolf Run takes guts. From the tee, it appears you have a 200-yard tee shot with about five yards of room to miss from left-to-right. In actuality, it’s more like fifteen.

Just don’t miss right in to Swan Lake, or left in to the fescue. Other than that, nothing to worry about.

Hole 4: Par 3 (219/195/185/146/117)

Hole 4: Par 3 (219/195/185/146/117)

3. Whistling Straits, Irish #11 (208/193/177/169/125):

The eleventh on the Irish course is a great golf hole. With a tremendously long green, there is very little room to miss from left to right without being in sand or some other precarious situation. The wind typically howls on this hole and the others that abut the Straits course and Lake Michigan, playing havoc with club selection.

Hole 11: Par 3 (208/193/177/169/125)

Hole 11: Par 3 (208/193/177/169/125)

4. Wild Rock #15 (179/166/134/130/118):

One of my favorite golf holes in the entire state of Wisconsin, the fifteenth at Wild Rock can play as easily or challenging as you want it to. The tee box shown here has more of a direct line toward the green, while the others are set to the right of it with longer carries directly over the quarry.

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Hole 15: Par 3 (179/166/134/130/118)

5. The Bull #6 (193/183/173/163/153):

Part of a great and challenging stretch of holes on The Bull at Pinehurst Farms, the sixth plays over a ravine that protects the green from the front and left side.

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Hole 6: Par 3 (193/183/173/163/153)

6. Washington County #14 (197/175/147/92):

A perpetual tournament course for the Wisconsin State Golf Association (and one of the top 40 county courses in the country), chances are that anyone who plays competitive golf in Wisconsin has gotten to this golf hole and stood over the ball thinking: “Don’t miss left.”

The small pond left pushes tee shots right, which is the right miss, but this long green from front to back provides little relief as it slopes left toward water.

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Hole 14: Par 3 (197/175/147/92)

7. North Hills Country Club #7 (183/167/152/125):

With a new, deeper tee box added in 2015, the seventh at North Hills is no pushover from start to finish. About a one-club difference from the back tee boxes, and two from from the lower ones, the seventh requires a climb up the steep hill beyond the Menomonee River, and then a prayer to be on the right portion of the green.

Legend has it that Ben Hogan was tied for the lead in a 1940’s tournament at North Hills when he got to the seventh. His putt for bogey broke opposite of his read, leading to a three-putt and losing the tournament by one stroke. At the dinner and party that night, he guaranteed people that putt would never break that way again. A crowd ventured out to the [then sixteenth] green with drinks and lanterns, and putt after putt broke the same way. For probably the largest green on the course, it’s also very tricky.

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Hole 7: Par 3 (183/167/152/125)

8. Bishop’s Bay Country Club #17 (217/193/171/134):

This hole destroyed me in last year’s WSGA Mid-Amateur event, scoring a seven during one round and an eight on the other.

Wind plays a factor at all times at Bishop’s Bay, and the main miss is left to stay as far away from the pond as possible.

Hole 17: Par 3 (217/193/171/134)

Hole 17: Par 3 (217/193/171/134)

9. Geneva National, Palmer #16 (218/204/177/156/141):

With Lake Como on the horizon, this 200-yard par three asks for a long iron or hybrid, and penalizes anything left or right with sand while anything long is likely to find the lake.

Hole 16: Par 3 (218/204/177/156/141)

Hole 16: Par 3 (218/204/177/156/141)

10. Westmoor Country Club #14 (184/167/158/153):

The fourteenth at Westmoor seems to always play dead in to the wind. While it shows 184 or 167 from the tees, it seems to always play 200-plus with water in front (which can be completely ignored) as well as right to the shared green on ten.

The safest play here is toward the sand traps left of the green.

Hole 14: Par 3 (184/167/158/153)

Hole 14: Par 3 (184/167/158/153)

11. Fire Ridge #8 (197/190/169/137):

The eighth at Fire Ridge seems to always play straight in to the wind. From the highest point of the course’s property, the small trap front-left begs golfers to club up while anything long is gone in to the woods beyond the green complex.

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Hole 8: Par 3 (197/190/169/137)

12. Castle at the Bay #3 (194/170/164/160/158):

A replica of the sixteenth hole at Augusta, the third at Northern Bay plays over a long pond to a heavily canted green from back to front. While flying the water is mission A, still staying below has got to be mission B.

Especially finding the traps above the hole will make for an almost impossible par on this mid-length one-shotter.

Hole 3: Par 3 (194/170/164/160/158)

Hole 3: Par 3 (194/170/164/160/158)

13. University Ridge #3 (242/174/170/135):

Playing at 242 yards from the tips, the third at U-Ridge has one of the widest greens in the state of Wisconsin. The tee shot has to carry a vast wasteland and bunkers front-left.

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Hole 3: Par 3 (242/174/170/135)

14. Hawks Landing #17 (200/177/157/137)

One of the best designed mid-range par threes in the area, the fourth at Hawk’s Landing requires a perfectly struck tee shot to carry the front traps and stay on the right portion of the green.

Hole 4: Par 3 (200/177/157/137)

Hole 4: Par 3 (200/177/157/137)

15. Morningstar #14 (222/207/169/159/136):

Downhill all the way, the pond right and sand traps long make the fourteenth at Morningstar a par three that requires perfect club selection for any chance at par.

Hole 14: Par 3 (222/207/169/159/136)

Hole 14: Par 3 (222/207/169/159/136)

16. Fox Hills, National #11 (173/158/148/141/114):

All carry over water, the eleventh on the National course at Fox Hills in Mishicot has Pete Dye-like railroad ties protecting the front of the green area, followed by sand and a well-contoured green.

Hole 11: Par 3 (173/158/148/141/114)

Hole 11: Par 3 (173/158/148/141/114)

17. Kettle Moraine #7 (178/168/153):

A tremendous false front and trees right work in harmony with this mid-range par three at Kettle Moraine Golf Course to create an incredibly challenging par three hole.

Hole 7: Par 3 (178/168/153)

Hole 7: Par 3 (178/168/153)

18. The Bog #13 (195/175/157/142/110):

Carrying a wasteland, this par three on one of the most popular tournament courses in the state of Wisconsin plays slightly uphill and has traps front, left and long. On one of the highest points on the property, wind can play a key factor on the thirteenth.

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Hole 8: Par 3 (195/175/157/142/110)