Golf Club Review: Blue Mound Golf and Country Club

Rich in history, Blue Mound Golf and Country Club in Wauwatosa is one of the most prestigious and well-respected private clubs in the state of Wisconsin.

Designed by one of the world’s all-time greatest golf course architects, Seth Raynor, Blue Mound originally opened for play in 1926 and is one of only four courses in the state to have hosted a major golf tournament.

Bronze bust of Seth Raynor near the 1st tee at Blue Mound Golf & Country Club

They probably have the most legendary winner, too: Gene Serazen at the inaugural 1933 PGA Championship:

Gene Sarazen winning the 1st PGA Championship in 1933 at Blue Mound

History aside (I added a full list of Wisconsin major tournament sites, years and winners toward the bottom of this post), the team and membership at Blue Mound should be proud of the way they’ve shepherded it in recent years. Anyone even adjacent to the golf industry has noticed the tremendous challenges Golden Age courses have faced, including but not limited to:

  • Endlessly fighting the results of excessive post-war tree planting (and now the Emerald ash borer)
  • Resisted some, and allowed then peeled back other 1990’s-era updates
  • Surviving and recovering from the ensuing financial collapse
  • Refocused on their rich heritage and invested in a future that includes strategic restorations and property enhancements

Continually doing all of this and more have brought Blue Mound full circle to where things began in 1926, with a…

Perfectly maintained golf course with superior design elements and the state’s best greens.

Anyone could live with that.

Even the first time I played it this year, following a few days that stockpiled over three inches of rain (you can see some still standing in bunkers), Blue Mound’s course conditions were better and faster than expected.

That said, the conditions the second time I played it were off-the-charts good. The fairways were spry and ran out, and the greens were just perfect.

No area course has better, more interesting green complexes than Blue Mound, and only Milwaukee CC can stand toe-to-toe with its decorated history and the mystique that coexists at upper-echelon private clubs.

Where does that come from? In the case of Blue Mound, it started and still lives with Raynor.

One of my coworkers who joined us for my first round there enjoys playing golf, but told me afterwards he didn’t follow our conversations about template holes. He especially didn’t understand why the club would want to raise a perfectly good fairway like on the Alps fourth when the hole is fine as is.

I had to admit it’s a geeky golf guy thing that goes against [real] common sense, but I love everything about Golden Age golf and especially when it’s related to Macdonald/Raynor and their template holes. These guys were masters, and that’s proven out over time, course and tournament history. The onus to keep the course within their parameters has long been passed, and Blue Mound has been running in full stride.

Raynor built some beautiful golf holes at Blue Mound, highlighted as I mentioned by incredible green sites. I’ll touch on a few of the most memorable to me here, and will also give a couple general opinions.

The first really remarkable green at Blue Mound is their Double Plateau second. At over 10,300 square feet, this is the largest and most pinnable surface on the entire course with three distinct levels.

Part of the green on the par four Double Plateau 2nd at Blue Mound

While I haven’t had a chance to fly my drone at Blue Mound, @putt4dough24 on Instagram does on a regular basis. I highly recommend following him for great images of Blue Mound and other top national private clubs, including this pic of Blue Mound’s Double Plateau.

Link to @putt4dough24 on Instagram (Blue Mound member, golf/drone photographer)

The first of Blue Mound’s par threes, the third is a terrific Raynor Biarritz. I thought it was interesting at first that they do not mow the first/high shelf section of the green. After doing more research, though, I’ve come to understand that this is how Raynor and Macdonald actually intended it.

The long Biarritz par three 3rd at Blue Mound
View from the back section of the Biarritz 3rd, showing the swale and unmowed front

Most Biarritz-style greens I’ve played were not actually designed by Raynor or Macdonald. The Sandbox at Sand Valley, Old Macdonald, Streamsong Red, Bandon Trails and Sweetgrass all have Biarritz-style greens, for example, but all were designed/implemented by modern day architects.

Shoreacres (Lake Bluff, IL) is the only other true Raynor course I’ve played and, according to Golf Club Atlas and The Fried Egg, is the exception to the rule that the front section of Biarritz greens should be mowed to fairway length. In fact, GCA mentions that the front section of Shoreacres’ Biarritz sixth lacks the cinder subsurface that serves as a base for the rest of the putting surface.

That said, I’d prefer the front section be mowed. There are few shots in golf more fun to watch than when your tee shot hits the front section of a Biarritz green, disappears in to the swale and reemerges rolling toward a back hole location.

My buddy, Greg’s tee shot on the 8th at Old Macdonald, for example (click for video) – a solid 12 seconds of watching the ball fly, run out, climb and curl in.

Greg’s tee shot on the Biarritz-style 8th at Old Macdonald

Some other Biarritz-style greens I’ve played and took pictures of:

The Alps fourth hole is one that may garner interest in the near future because of potential renovation plans. The club is looking at raising the fairway surface near the green to make the approach shot completely blind, like it is on the original Alps hole at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland.

The par four Alps 4th hole

The seventh at Blue Mound is the course’s Short hole and features one of the property’s prettiest backdrops: Mt. Mary University.

Blue Mound’s downhill Short par three 7th

The eighth is probably the course’s signature hole, featuring a well-elevated Punch Bowl green.

Tee area on Blue Mound’s Punch Bowl 8th
A closer look at the Punch Bowl on 8 at Blue Mound

I love the view from the tee on nine. With the clubhouse as the backdrop, the tee shot needs to carry the deep Ravine the hole is named for. The three fairway bunkers on the right side look gnarly but are not in play for most golfers. The biggest miss to avoid here is anything snappy and left.

The par four Ravine 9th, with a forced carry off the tee

With a back pin location, the green on nine is one of the toughest on the course to get to, but it pales in comparison to the seemingly straight-forward opening hole on the back nine.

Ten, appropriately nicknamed Prize, is a shining example of how an ingenious green complex can make an otherwise innocuous golf hole great.

There is nothing for the golfer to worry about off the tee. Given the size of the green, though, chances are there are at least a few clubs that can provide enough distance but just one that will leave a good chance for a two-putt par.

Tee box on the par four Prize 10th, one of the course’s best competition holes

Featuring one of the most scenic teeing areas on the course, the par four twelfth is the course’s Hog’s Back template.

The tee boxes set up alongside a pond and play to a crested fairway that cants from right to left. Even if just for the views alone, this is a really memorable par four.

Joe’s tee shot on the par four 12th, Hog’s Back
The long par four Hog’s Back 12th from the forward tees

There are actually two standard right-to-left Redan greens at Blue Mound. The first is on the course’s par four opening hole, and the second is this gem that I’d imagine took incredible physical labor to manufacture:

The beautiful Redan par three 13th at Blue Mound

The fun in any of Raynor or Macdonald’s Redan complexes is in the way the right side can be used to influence approach shots toward the middle or back of the putting surface.

The thirteenth has a long, narrow green with an expansive approach area above and short-right of the putting surface to funnel balls greenward.

I can’t imagine the amount of land that was moved to elevate the playing surface here. To illustrate my point, here’s a view of the outside border toward the back-right (from the tees):

The Redan green complex’s dramatic edge on 13

Every great golf course needs a solid finishing hole, and the 18th at Blue Mound is perfect. Measuring 560 yards from the tips, the 18th is by far the longest hole on a par 70 course with just two par fives, and offers ample width off the tee and on subsequent long shots.

The par five Long finishing hole at Blue Mound

Both times playing here I was able to smack a 3-wood as far as I could on the second shot. Neither made the green, but being able to haul off on a long club without worrying too much about tree lines, water or other hazards is good fun and brings strategy in to play. Both times I put myself in no man’s land too close to the green and would have been better off laying up to a more comfortable distance with a full wedge, but that’s not quite as satisfying.

As with the rest of the course, Blue Mound is all about the second shot and putting. And the true genius in CB Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s work can be found in the give and take. While there is always a best-case, sporty shot to hit, there’s also one for the smart, consistent player (not me) to count on for a great look at par.

Any ultra-exclusive club is going to have outside naysayers. It’s how the world and people who want to feel important work. Over the past five to ten years, I’ve heard two common negatives about Blue Mound:

  1. Tree removal made the course too easy
  2. The membership is old and stuffy

Having not played Blue Mound previously, I pictured in my mind a landscape as barren as Washington County, or the Links course at Lawsonia… Scorched earth.

I was actually surprised by how many trees do come in to play, and I think if anything they could probably take out more. Their team certainly did not overdo it, though, and any challenge taken away was never intended to be there (by their ingenious course designer) in the first place.

From what I’ve seen, the second generalization is also unfounded. I half-expected to be having lunch and tea in a rollback leather chair with old bronze casters while old men read newspapers in their pajamas all around me, maybe slipping silverware in their pockets when nobody was looking.

In actuality, I’ve played with some really fun younger guys and have met a dozen or so others pre- and post-round by the range, men’s locker room bar and fire pits. I’d be excited to golf with any of them.

From what I’ve seen and heard, the club is getting younger and flourishing, and a bright future is comforting to see at a course so rich with history and charm.

In case you’re wondering about all Wisconsin courses to have hosted major golf tournaments/events (with year(s) and champion(s)), here is the full list:

  • US Open
    • Erin Hills
      • 2017: Brooks Koepka
  • PGA Championship
    • Blue Mound
      • 1933: Gene Sarazen
    • Whisting Straits
      • 2004: Vijay Singh
      • 2010: Martin Kaymer
      • 2015: Jason Day
  • US Senior Open
    • Whistling Straits
      • 2007: Brad Bryant
  • US Amateur
    • Erin Hills and Blue Mound (alternate site for stroke play)
      • 2011: Peter Uihlein
  • Ryder Cup (yes, I’m including it)
    • Whistling Straits
      • 2020: To be decided
  • US Women’s Open
    • Blackwolf Run
      • 1998: Se Ri Pak
      • 2012: Na Yeon Choi

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Wauwatosa, WI
Yardage: Black-6667, Blue-6313, White-5632
Slope/Rating: Black-131/72.1, Blue-127/70.6, White-124/72.5
Par: 70

Blue Mound Golf and Country Club Website

Course Preview: The Club at Lac La Belle

As we wind down the 2019 Wisconsin golf season it’s safe to say the most anticipated new course for 2020 is also one of the state’s oldest: The Club at Lac La Belle in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

With 123 years of championship tradition, new ownership including Matt and Tyler Morse of the Prestwick Golf Group is well in to the back nine of a massive renovation project that will be unveiled to the public via 9-hole preview play starting this Monday, September 9, 2019.

Aerial view of the Club at Lac La Belle’s clubhouse and “Carriage House”

The original course, as Carnoustie historian David Mackesey presented at a recent night hosted at the property, was dreamed up in the late 1880’s to early 1890’s by Washington Park Club leaders and grain industry moguls Charles Schwartz and John Dupee, Jr.

Carnoustie Historian and Diablo GC President David Mackesey presenting

Schwartz and Dupee, of Chicago, were part of a large magnate of wealthy Chicagoans who frequented the Oconomowoc area of Wisconsin, especially in Lac La Belle.

The wealth in the area at that time was staggering. From listening to stories from my aunt who grew up house- and baby-sitting in the area, leaders of industry like Frederick Miller (Miller Brewing), John Rockwell (the town’s founder and original leader), Gustav Pabst (Pabst Beer), Philip Armour (meatpacking, banking), Montgomery Ward (department stores) and many others made the lakes of Oconomowoc their homes away from home.

These folks built palatial estates on one of the Midwest’s nicest lakes, drove the best cars and boats, had the most money and the greatest opportunities and amenities for unmatched leisure.

One of these estates, for example, was this 15,000-plus square foot mansion that once belonged to Montgomery Ward and was recently purchased by Pittsburgh Steelers and former University of Wisconsin football star TJ Watt.

It was in that vein of having all the finest things that the original Country Club of Oconomowoc was borne, and its championship pedigree began with its first PGA Professional, Alex Smith.

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Golf Course Review: Mistwood Golf Club (IL)

The journey of Mistwood Golf Club over the past 20 years has been well documented and for good reason: This is a fantastic public golf destination and an incredibly well run operation.

The first thing you’ll notice at Mistwood is its facilities. The bag drop is just outside the pro shop, downstairs from their Scottish-style restaurant, McWethy’s Tavern, and separated by a rustic courtyard from the grand hall.

A look up at the pro shop/restaurant, courtyard and grand hall from the performance center

String lighting supports the ambiance above the the courtyard, perched over the course, and an outdoor area highlighted by picturesque stone bridges crossing a man-made canal patrolled by massive carp.

The view from one bridge to the next at Mistwood

It takes no imagination to envision Mistwood’s potential as a wedding venue. The views from the grand hall, outdoor courtyard and restaurant are stunning, and its clear the entire property was designed with intent – the operations run out of Mistwood serve the Chicago area’s only true year-round golf experience as well as one of its premiere banquet and catering outfits.

Owner Jim McWethy has invested millions in to the Mistwood experience over the past handful of years, both at the flagship course and at its sister properties like the Mistwood Golf Dome and McWethy’s Sports Bar.

The golf dome, located in nearby Bolingbrook, features TopTracer technology on all 30 of its hitting bays, and employs four cameras per bay that allow every swing in its 60,000 square feet of heated range to be analyzed within several feet of reality.

The Mistwood property boasts every bit as good of practice facilities, highlighted by the Mistwood Performance Center. This state of the art 5,000 square foot prairie-style building features a world-class putting lab with TrackMan and Quintic ball roll technology, 11 heated hitting stations, a full-service bar, club repair room, and teaching stations set up with TrackMan and Foresight GC2.

Nothing’s done half-hearted at Mistwood – their teaching and fitting stations are competitive against the very best and they’ve been consistently named one of “America’s 100 Best Clubfitters” (Golf Digest) and a “Top 50 Public Facility” (Golf Range Magazine).

A look in to the teaching studio bays at Mistwood’s Performance Center

As the site of the Illinois Women’s Open for 25 consecutive years, I knew Mistwood’s golf course would be really good. It far exceeded my expectations, though, in regards to playability, challenge and aesthetics.

Course architect and USGCA member Ray Hearn of Raymond Hearn Golf Course Designs, Inc. originally designed Mistwood Golf Club leading up to its 1999 opening, and was later brought back by owner Jim McWethy for renovations.

This renovation work included the addition of 19 sod-walled bunkers, the deepening of three sizable internal lakes (especially the massive St. James Loch, which shapes the 14th thru 17th hole stretch nicknamed “Kelpie’s Korner”), a complete renovation of the third hole, major renovations and additions to the property’s facilities (eg: The MPC, pro shop, bar/restaurant, practice facilities, river and bridges), and general betterment of every hole on the course.

McWethy’s reinvestment in the property was very well received… So well received, in fact, that it earned Golf Magazine’s honor of being the country’s “Best Public Course Renovation” for 2014.

There are a lot of really good holes at Mistwood, but what you won’t find are any bad ones.

First on my list of the best holes on the course is the par five eighth. With St. James Loch lining the entire right side of the hole, a central fairway trap splits the fairway and provides the perfect line for a guy like me whose accuracy only guarantees my drive usually won’t go exactly where I’m aiming.

Hole 8: Par 5 (596/566/566/535/431)
Hole 8: Par 5 (596/566/566/535/431) showing the split fairways

The green here has been recently renovated, adding some shortly mowed collection areas toward the back. Our day’s back-right pin was diabolical and probably unplayable during peak season, but was a fantastic example of how a course this versatile can set things up as challenging as is needed.

The club’s signature hole is the par three 14th. The two back tees feature a carry of 175-plus, while the forward tees have the lake to the left.

The hole reminded me a lot of the par threes at another great Illinois course: No. 3 at Medinah Country Club. Elevated tees show only water and what appears to be a sliver of a green – it’s an intimidating tee shot, to say the least.

Hole 14: Par 3 (239/200/200/157/116) from the back tees
Hole 14: Par 3 (239/200/200/157/116) from the forward tees

Some of my other favorite holes included the par five 3rd, par three 7th, par three 9th, the drivable par four 10th, the short par four 13th, challenging par five 15th, and the “sporty” par four 16th.

Slideshow of additional Mistwood Golf Club photos:

Mistwood Golf Club website

Early Season Golf at Whistling Straits & Golf Kohler

There are a number of different ways to play Whistling Straits, and none of them are cheap. Playing it during the early Spring and late Fall, though, will save money.

Normal folks like myself have a hard time dishing out $600 for a round at the Straits, so one of the most common questions I get asked is how and when to play it.

The answer: Whenever you can afford it and have a good group to go with. The more economical answer, though, depends on the year. Kohler’s current promotion has early-season deals through Friday, May 9, which include:

  • Whistling Straits, Straits course: $190
  • Whistling Straits, Irish course: $80
  • Blackwolf Run: River course: $130
  • Blackwolf Run: Meadow Valleys course: $80

The next round of deals goes up significantly, making this week the perfect time to play it. Golf Kohler rates from May 10 to June 3:

  • Whistling Straits, Straits course: $300
  • Whistling Straits, Irish course: $130
  • Blackwolf Run, River course: $210
  • Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys course: $130

Now here’s where early-season rates get tricky…

There’s a fine line between taking advantage of early-season rates on one of the top five courses in the country and playing it on soupy, brown terrain. I won’t pretend to know everything about fescue grass, but a combination of the Straits course’s turf type and its proximity to the lake can mean a less than beautiful setting during some early Spring seasons.

The trick is to get as close to the final day of the early-season rates as possible, and to consult the course ahead of time if you’re concerned about how it’ll look and play.

For example, here is the second fairway on the Straits course during the final week of the initial early-season rates during two very different years:

The fairway on 2 at the Straits course on May 8, 2014 – soupy, soggy, brown, slow

In stark contrast, the course greened up very quickly this year, and in fact the conditions right now are legendarily good. In other words, if you can get a tee time on the Straits course this week (by May 9, 2019), book it. If you can’t and are on a budget, book it before June 3.

The fairway on 2 at the Straits course on May 5, 2019 – really good

As you can see, the big difference between what the course looks like right now versus what it looks like during peak season is in the fescue off the fairways – it just hasn’t grown in yet.

The fairway on 2 at the Straits course on August 10, 2014 – perfect

Additional photos from Sunday’s round on the Straits course:

It should be mentioned that the Blackwolf Run and Irish courses are much less volatile than the Straits, so if you’re looking for a world-class round of golf on one of them, feel confident in booking it that the conditions will be worth the investment.

Just like your game probably won’t be in mid-season form yet, though, don’t expect perfection quite yet – that’s why they’re offering early-season deals. The greens will probably still be a little choppy and on the slower side, the native grasses won’t be grown out yet, and tee shots probably won’t get as much run as they will in July… But chances are you’re still going to love the round.

WiscoGolfAddict review of Whistling Straits: Straits course (2014)

WiscoGolfAddict review of Whistling Straits, Irish course (2011)

WiscoGolfAddict review of Blackwolf Run, River course (2012)

WiscoGolfAddict review of Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys course (2014)

Golf Course Review: Grand Geneva, The Brute

What can I say about the Brute at Grand Geneva that isn’t already covered by its name? The Brute is long and tight, and everything about it is “Brute-ish.”

Have you ever seen that beer commercial where the guys are at the tee box and one friend is about to tee off when his buddy says, “Hold on,” and uses his fingers to tighten the fairways and enlarge the sand traps? That is how every hole seems to be on this course. The sand traps are massive, the water features are prominent, and it has a very mature, demanding feel that can be quite intimidating.

I first played and reviewed the Brute 12-15 years ago with a friend of mine, Dane, who used to work there. He was telling me that Jim McMahon and Rollie Fingers always played it barefooted, so we did, too. I remembered it being very nice, but was nowhere near the golf enthusiast I am today, and it was like a whole new experience for me with virtually no recollections of that round and how to play it.

As a side note, it’s hilarious how many times I’ve had people mention Rollie or Jim McMahon as barefooted golfers during rounds with new golf partners.

While WiscoGolfAddict contributing writer John Ziemer and I did not play the course barefooted, we did experience it in a new way: GolfBoarding.

Grand Geneva is currently the only golf destination in the state offering GolfBoards for players to use during their rounds. While the surcharge to use them is minimal – $20 over the standard cost that includes cart – the experience is fun, unique and well worth the added charge (my previous post about GolfBoarding can be found here).

The Brute is one course that I cannot say enough is worth playing from the recommended tee boxes. Similarly to another of my Wisconsin favorites, Wild Rock, everything about the Brute seems massive and accentuated. The course has an awesome look and feel.

Also similarly to Wild Rock, the greens can be really quick and challenging. Many of the greens are crowned, making for really tough downhill putts and a lot of challenging two-putt situations.

The Brute starts with a beautifully elevated par four that, like most holes on this course, features water, sand and a long approach.

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Hole 1: Par 4 (424/395)  Photo credit: John Ziemer

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Hole 1: Par 4 (424/395)  Photo credit: John Ziemer

The Brute uses elevation wonderfully, and especially generously on their par fives. The second hole, for example, features an approach area at least 100 yards long that goes uphill and to the left without any fairway to lay up to. Compounding the challenge of this approach is that the green on two is probably the smallest on the course.

The majority of their par fives are similar, and [at least from the back tees] I would not consider any of them to be easily reachable in two. The sixth hole has a very similar approach area, and both feature greens that are several stories above [and well over 100 yards past] their playable fairways.

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Hole 2: Par 5 (544/509/409)  Photo credit: John Ziemer

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Hole 2: Par 5 (544/509/409)  Photo credit: John Ziemer

The third is a gorgeous downhill par four that narrows to about 15 yards wide between two ponds before going back uphill between greenside bunkers. The water is actually farther away than it at first appears, but driver is likely longer than the landing area will allow.

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Hole 3: Par 4 (374/351/327)  Photo credit: John Ziemer

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Hole 3: Par 4 (374/351/327)  Photo credit: John Ziemer

The fourth is one of those par threes that seems to play much longer than the distance. The elevation is relatively flat overall, but goes downhill from the tee boxes over water, then back well uphill to a very wide green complex.

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