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.

01-_76A3882

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

01-_76A3885

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.

_76A3888

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

_76A3891

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.

03-_76A3892

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

03-_76A3895

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.

Continue reading

Golf Course Review: The Preserve at Oak Meadows (IL)

Each year golf writers from Wisconsin and Illinois emerge at the course of the hosts’ choosing for an epic 27-hole battle: The Writers’ Cup.

IMG_0152

Team Wisconsin (red) and Team Illinois (blue) before teeing off at The Preserve at Oak Meadows for the 2017 Writer’s Cup

IMG_0150

2017 Team Wisconsin

After sending our neighbors to the south home beaten from Sand Valley in 2016, Illinois welcomed us to their newly renovated gem in Addison, The Preserve at Oak Meadows.

Closed down for the 2016 season, The new Preserve course has been beautifully redesigned by Greg Martin as a single 18-hole championship course (pared down from 27 holes) that is now not only a more functional golf facility but also better serves its expanded role of providing water retention/flood control for the Wood Dale/Addison area.

As a golf course architect, Greg Martin is not yet a household name but I believe he will be. Martin, based out of Illinois, recently ended his two-year term as President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA). He’s highly revered within the industry for his work ethic and talent; you’ll never talk to a golf course architect with anything bad to say about him and his work.

Martin’s most notable project to date is one that few will ever experience: Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Illinois. The story goes that billionaire Jerry Rich wanted to be a member at Augusta National Golf Club – who wouldn’t? When he was turned down, he decided to build an Augusta-class course on his own property, leading to the development of Rich Harvest Farms.

This passion project at Rich Harvest Farms has done well enough to host the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Championships in 2017, the 2015 Western Amateur, the 2009 Solheim Cup and countless regional events.

Combined, that is probably as many players as the course sees on a seasonal basis. From what I’ve heard from media friends who’ve played it, the course sees a few foursomes a day while employing a massive staff to ensure perfect course conditions and customer service. It is the type of place where nothing is overlooked and the golf experience is second to none. I’ve heard they have 30 members (including Michael Jordan) and over one hundred employees.

It’s this attention to detail and professionalism that I’m sure won over DuPage Golf for the $17 million remodel project at The Preserve at Oak Meadows. Martin’s work impresses with well thought out teeing locations, terrific greens and strategic shot value.

I’ll claim it’s an effort to avoid spoiling all the surprises, but reality is that the downpour during much of our round was so torrential I didn’t even take my camera out. I hope to get back sometime to add in the first through third holes, though, to complete my course review.

We’ll start out with the short par four fourth, a terrific risk/reward layout: The 302 yards the scorecard shows from the blue tees is indicative of playing down the fairway, so it’s shorter and very reachable.

Anything aimed at the green will need to fly a whole lot of fescue, so while the reward is high, the risk can be substantial.

04-IMG_0191

Hole 4: Par 4 (352/337/302/273/255)

04-IMG_0191

Hole 4: Par 4 (352/337/302/273/255)

The fifth is a right-to-left par five playing uphill and to the right through a chute of trees. Just left of the right-side fairway bunkering is the perfect line off the tee.

05-IMG_0192

Hole 5: Par 5 (529/514/497/483/384)

05-IMG_0194

Hole 5: Par 5 (529/514/497/483/384)

The narrowest hole on the course, the sixth is perfectly straight, slightly downhill and well bunkered short-right of the putting surface.

Continue reading

Golf Course Review: Kiawah Island, Cougar Point (SC)

My wife and I fell in love with Charleston and Kiawah Island, South Carolina during our October 2016 honeymoon, and since then we’ve been in a hurry to get back.

Renting a huge, fabulous home on the marsh side of the island with our friends Tom and Lindley from Atlanta, our days were filled with beaches and swimming, golf, shopping, good food and cocktails. Other than only playing one round of golf, it was perfect!

After playing the Ocean Course and Osprey Point the last time we were in Kiawah Island, I’d been hearing great things about Gary Player’s renovation of his original design, Cougar Point.

The second through fourth and eighteenth hole are all visible from Kiawah Island Parkway – the main drive when entering Kiawah – and I always thought they were part of the River Course which is one of the island’s two private tracks that I was originally supposed to play while there.

My round at the River Course unfortunately fell through, but fortunately for me those amazing golf holes and conditions I thought were of the River Course were actually of Cougar Point. The holes seen from the parkway look so good, too, with big orbital sand traps surrounding the green on two, a continuous teeing area that looks like it runs about a hundred yards long, and the fifth hole past the fourth playing adjacent to the picturesque Kiawah River.

Tom and I were in for a treat at Cougar Point.

The clubhouse at Cougar Point is currently under construction, so operations are being run out of a makeshift building until Spring 2019. The new clubhouse will be very southern in style, and the renderings look beautiful.

The course begins with a handshake: A short, straightaway par four with very little trouble. I put one out there about 265 yards off the first tee, leaving just 70 in and my first three-putt/bogey of the day. We’ll blame that one on rust.

IMG_0670

Hole 1: Par 4 (372/342/330/282/243)

IMG_0677

Hole 1: Par 4 (372/342/330/282/243)

The second hole has a bit more bite: A mid-length par three with a tough green and intimidatingly large sand and water features. This is a hole I’d salivated over playing often while driving along Kiawah Island Parkway. It is a beaut.

IMG_0683

Hole 2: Par 3 (171/158/142/126/100)

The path from two to the third hole is a little confusing – just a heads up – but it’s worth it when you get there.

A sharp dogleg left par five, the third has a wonderful risk/reward finish over water to a tight green that begs players to try for that perfect shot.

Continue reading

Golf Course Review: Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes

I have been very fortunate to take part in a handful of Sand Valley media events, and the recent May 1 media day for the opening of the Sandbox was a great one.

Along with playing Bill Coore and Ben Creshaw’s par three course on the day it debuted, we were also treated to a golfing experience that blew my mind: David McLay Kidd’s Mammoth Dunes.

A 6-hole loop was available for preview the last time I was on site, so having the opportunity to see the rest of the project was highly anticipated to say the least. 16 holes were made available to a few of us media guys, which was better than I expected considering the most recent snowfall (a blizzard) was just a week before.

The Wisconsin weather warmed up quickly, though, leaving playable albeit soft and slightly off-colored turf at Mammoth Dunes. I can tell you from experience that this course will green up nicely and will play fast. Really fast.

Growing up in Scotland, David McLay Kidd is the son of long-time Gleneagles course Superintendent, Jimmy Kidd, who taught him all about golf course architecture and conditioning. His fascination with great golf led him to the pursuit of a career in golf design, and things really took off when he partnered with Sand Valley developer Mike Keiser for the flagship course at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in 1999.

Bandon was the development that changed everything for Keiser, for Kidd, and for the golf industry, and a resort like Sand Valley would never have been possible if it was not for the tremendous success they had there.

Mammoth Dunes is the third course at Sand Valley Golf Resort, and has now been open to the public since May 31. The first course, Sand Valley, debuted last year to great acclaim, paving the way for more championship golf in the prehistoric sand dunes of central Wisconsin.

The land at Mammoth Dunes is more rugged than at its sister course, Sand Valley. There are fewer clean lines and the scale of its features – the fairways, greens, sand blowouts and changes in elevation – are nothing short of mammoth. The scale of this course is staggering; every hole is memorable, every shot makes you think and typically provides at least a couple of options.

I caught myself constantly saying, “Oh wow,” and “Jeez, this is beautiful,” and other equally cheesy and obvious comments that I couldn’t hold back. Mammoth Dunes is an exhilarating, wonderfully pure golfing experience that will quickly take the world of golf by storm.

The opening tee shot is to one of the widest fairways I’ve ever seen – easily 100 yards in width. The green area is mostly without bunkering, but like the majority of the course features mounding that helps or hinders shots played along the ground.

01-IMG_0324

Hole 1: Par 4 (417/394/358/324/221/198)

A central blowout bunker dictates some of the ground game in the approach area:

01-IMG_0328

Hole 1: Par 4 (417/394/358/324/221/198)

Hole two is a spectacular par four. A sea of sand lies between the teeing grounds and fairway, lengthening the carry the further right you aim.

02-IMG_0334

Hole 2: Par 4 (405/402/360/330/286/236)

Keep in mind the fescue turf at Sand Valley plays very, very fast, so expect a lot of run-out when the ball hits the fairway. This should affect your aim as you won’t want to land your drive anywhere near traps like these ones:

02-IMG_0343

Hole 2: Par 4 (405/402/360/330/286/236)

Kidd’s green on two is all-world – massive in size with spines, valleys and a left-side mound that hides much of its contouring:

02-IMG_0349

The first par five on the course is a good one. Like on two, make sure to choose the right line over the sand – anything short will leave a tough recovery and a challenge to get to this green in regulation.

Continue reading

Golf Course Review: The Sandbox at Sand Valley Golf Resort

In Wisconsin, we’re lucky to be in a golf environment that is not just surviving, but thriving. Even though our seasons seem shorter every year, we live in one of the best golf states in the entire country.

2016 saw a record low ten new courses open across the United States. 2017 had several more, but not significantly. Highlighting 2017’s portfolio of new tracks were the flagship design at Sand Valley, Gil Hanse’s Black course at Streamsong Resort, the new AT&T Byron Nelson host Trinity Forest, and the reversible Silvies Valley Ranch in Seneca, Oregon (have you seen the CNN video about their Seamus Goat Division caddie program?).

2018 will see two new courses open in Wisconsin, both at Sand Valley. The first, which opened May 1 and I will be discussing now, is the 17-hole Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw designed Sandbox. The other new project, of course, will be David McLay Kidd’s massive masterpiece Mammoth Dunes (post upcoming), set to open tomorrow!

A fun and unique golfing experience, the Sandbox serves as an homage to the golden age of golf course design. Green styles that otherwise exist only at North Berwick, the National Golf Links of America, The Old Course at St. Andrews, Shoreacres, Fishers Island, Chicago Golf Club, Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (link shows their similar project, Bandon Preserve at BDGR), Lawsonia Links and other [mostly] pre-Depression Era gems can be found on this wonderful short course that measures under 1,700 total yards.

Biarritz, redan, double-plateau, short, Eden, lion’s mouth and other classic greens are not just old in age, but are generally very challenging for the everyday player to get access to. Golfers get to experience those classic designs in the Sandbox, though, neatly packaged in a fun, time-extensive journey that tests golfers’ metal on all manors of awkwardly-distanced tee shots.

Each hole has three sets of tees, sensibly marked by colored sand shovels. The back shovels stand perpendicular to the sandy turf with red handles (the Crenshaw tees – Ben has been long regarded as one of the greatest putters in the history of golf), followed by yellow- (Coore tees) and then blue-handled shovels. The blue tees are meant for putting and/or short chip-and-run opportunities.

Creativity abounds in the Sandbox. While distances max out around 165 yards – most are considerably shorter – many half- and three-quarter-club yardages mean you better have a lot of confidence in distance control… Or be ready to read every single piece of turf leading to the pin.

I will mercifully avoid giving my thoughts on strategy (remember: Those who can’t golf, write about it!). Because I think it’s such a unique golf experience, though, I do want to provide a little about the short course and some of its wonderful nuances.

The 17-hole Sandbox course starts with a fun little downhill par three, measuring 105 yards from the red shovels, 88 from the yellows and 57 from the blues. I was apparently too busy chatting with our hosts and friends to take a picture of it – sorry!

From 145 yards, the second hole is one heck of a test. The entrance to the green is narrow, and large traps pock the front-left and right sides.

As an entirely fescue facility, Sand Valley is built to play fast and furious, so if you ever don’t think you can fly sand traps on any of their courses… Get creative!

02-IMG_0621

Hole 2: 145/104/51

The third features a green design that is probably one of the most rare in all of golf: The double plateau.

The double plateau requires absolute precision off the tee to hold shots on the correct mound. Hit the opposite side and it’ll be like putting across a deep biarritz.

I love how the double plateau allows a single golf hole to play as many. This green can be set up an endless number of ways to create different par three experiences – from these tees, for example, a high-left pin requires flying the central sand trap while a high-right pin can be played in the air or on the ground.

There are always options at Sand Valley.

IMG_0624

Hole 3: 89/78/46

Walking off the third green, we crisscrossed between the 12th and 13th holes and noticed local legend and two-time US Open Champion, Andy North, playing the Sandbox with a couple of friends including Aaron Rodgers. No big deal.

Continue reading