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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golf balls

“Roll” Back

USGA Executive Director Mike Davis recently met with Jack Nicklaus and what was there main topic of conversation?… Rolling the golf ball back. Jack stated, “I’m happy to help you, I’ve only been yelling at you for 40 years.” His golf course designs are fantastic, one of my favorites being The Bull at Pinehurst Farms in Sheboygan, but I very much disagree with his stance on the golf ball. New golf courses have gotten much longer, yet your average golfer isn’t gaining 10, 20 or more yards per year. The golf companies sure try to tout that with each new driver launch, every half year, you will gain more distance. But your average golfer isn’t changing physically like the players on tour now are. The era of Tiger and intense strength training, along with golf club technology, is accentuating the newer golf ball distance. 

The average drive of your every day male golfer is 214 yards, with his swing speed coming in around 93 mph. The leading driver of the ball on the PGA tour is Tony Finau at an average of 327 yards with a swing speed of 124 mph. His backswing is also about as short as a 80 year old golfer. If golf’s governing bodies (USGA and R&A) were to roll back the golf ball, this would effect your daily golfer much more than your long hitting tour pros. Even across the PGA tour, you are going to continue to reward your long hitters more as they are still going to be able to reach long par fives. They might have to use a longer iron or possibly even a 3-wood, but all of your moderate and short hitters on tour are now no longer going to be able to hit that par 5 in two. 

Mike Davis made the statement, “Throw Dustin (Dustin Johnson (DJ)) an 80 percent golf ball and say, ‘Let’s go play the back tees,’ and guess what, it would be a great experience for him.” If Dustin is hitting the ball 315 yards and he then uses an 80 percent golf ball and is only hitting it 252 yards. Your average male golfer at 214 yards is still significantly behind DJ and no where near the caliber of player. How is that going to be a great experience for Dustin? We would all love the opportunity to play with a PGA Tour player but there is nothing saying it makes it any less fun playing a different set of tees. 

I love seeing pros shoot low scores. Even though the US Open is an amazing golf tournament, the fact that they like trying to keep the score around even par to me is not as much fun to watch. I would much rather see birdies being made versus players nearly breaking their wrists in six inch thick rough and only advancing the ball 30 yards. When you hear announcers and tournament organizers talk about normal golfers being able to relate to making a bogey, par, par, bogey, bogey… sure maybe they can relate to the overall score or barely advancing the golf ball, but its not because of the extreme conditions. Its because your average golfer is that much different than a tour pro. 

Golf course architects keep talking that the only solution is to lengthen courses. But take a look at this week and last week on tour. Both Riviera and PGA National (Jack’s course) are playing at less than 7400 yards with water, bunkers, rough and narrow landing areas all keeping the long ball in check. Both of these courses could do even more to shrink down and force long hitters’ hand when putting the ball out there that far. If you look at last year’s US Open at Erin Hills, playing at around 7800 yards, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson were the only players in the top 25 shooting under par (with an average drive of less than 300 yards). All of these players scored because they were in the top ten of Fairways Hit, Greens Hit or Average Putts. An 80% golf ball would have not allowed these players to reach some of the holes they were reaching, and would also have made them have to come in with a longer iron or wood most likely making them less accurate.

I am not saying that I am against golf governing bodies making a change, I just don’t think the golf ball is where it should be done. 

Golf Equipment Review: Snell My Tour Ball

During last year’s Wisconsin vs. Illinois Writer’s Cup at Sand Valley Golf Resort in Rome, Wisconsin, I was introduced to a new golf ball that I’d heard of in passing: Snell Golf’s My Tour Ball.

The brainchild of Dean Snell, the MTB is a top of the line Tour ball at direct to consumer pricing. As the company says on their website:

“The team at Snell Golf has one solitary mission: To bring tour caliber equipment to the amateur golfer at an affordable price.”

Snell owns 40 patents in golf ball technology and is revered as one of the premier minds in the industry. During his seven years with Titleist and FootJoy Worldwide, he co-designed the original ProV1, Titleist Professional, Tour Prestige, HP2 Tour and HP2 Distance before moving on to Vice President of Research and Development for TaylorMade. While at TaylorMade, he designed the TP Red, TP Black and Penta (golf’s first five-layer ball), as well as the Noodle, Burner, RocketBallz and Project (a) lines.

All this to say Dean Snell knows golf balls better than probably anyone else in the world.

I cannot claim to know a half percent of what Dean does about golf balls, but I do know the results of playing the Snell My Tour Ball. I have shot all my best rounds over the past two years with them and the control, distance and feel have all been as good or better than anything else I’ve been playing. Their performance has been most commonly compared by those more in the know to the Titleist ProV1 (comparable specs) and the Callaway Chrome Soft.

ProV1’s list for $47.99/dozen, though, and Chrome Softs for $39.99/dozen. The My Tour Ball, on the other hand, ships free for $31.99/dozen.

Affordable top-of-the-line golf balls are not a new concept these days – Snell, Vice Golf and Kirkland have all made recent headlines – but Snell has made solid progress in the market and looks to continue growing.

I wholeheartedly recommend trying out the My Tour Ball. For additional information and to purchase your own (including their new limited edition run with American Flag logos), visit Snell Golf’s website here.

Callaway Apex Pro Irons

Club Review: Callaway Apex Line

If you have read my Meet the Writer post you can see that I am playing primarily a Callaway set of clubs. This is 100% because I have done my research and hit most of the brands. Callaway has consistently won my respect for feel, look, and performance. Most people that know me know that come late winter, I am testing new clubs at my local Golf Galaxy or R.I.P. Golfsmith, just to see if there is something that might give me a new edge for the coming season. When it comes to irons, I have been playing Mizuno for the last 13 years; the Callaway Apex Pro’s have stolen the show.

Callaway’s Apex line of clubs consists of the Apex CF (cup face) 16 irons, Apex Pro 16 irons and the Apex Hybrid. The Apex CF is a game improvement iron with Callaway’s cup face technology to really get the ball to fly off the face. The cup face increases ball speeds and is said to have higher forgiveness across the face. If you aren’t able to play a muscle back blade, but also aren’t into playing that oversized game improvement iron, this might be the iron for you.

Callaway Apex Pro Iron Fade

Callaway Apex Pro (4-PW)

I played the Apex Pro 16 irons all last season and will play them again this season. Callaway did an amazing job when they created this iron. The iron has a tour inspired shape and is a quadruple net forged head without the cup face of the Apex CF. The main technology behind this set of irons lies in the progressive weighting, optimizing the center of gravity (CG) in each club. In the longer irons (3-5) the iron has a touch more offset and a tungsten insert to lower the CG and get a higher ball flight. In the shorter irons (6-A) the CG gets higher for a more controlled, penetrating ball flight. The 1025 mild carbon steel, along with Callaway’s forging process, gives this one of the softest and best feels I have ever felt when striking the ball.

Many people often look past how important picking a shaft is when buying any golf club. All of the technology in these irons will somewhat be wasted when not getting a shaft that matches your swing. Callaway offers many premium shafts by multiple different companies, and since we all have different swing types and speeds, all the more reason to take advantage of this when buying a new set.

Callaway Apex 3 Hybrid

Callaway Apex 3 Hybrid 20º

Callaway Apex Hybrid Top View

Callaway Apex Hybrid Top View

I don’t carry a 3-iron because of the invention of the hybrid. For a long time now, I have not been overly happy with my consistency and flight with a hybrid. Most hybrids perform too much like a fairway woods and not like an iron, which doesn’t allow for much stopping power on the green. Callaway’s Apex hybrid changes that. If you are looking for that fairway wood feel and flight this isn’t the club for you. The face cup technology comes back in with this club to produce higher ball speeds from center and off-center hits. A neutral, more iron like CG allows for control and workability, making this club perform much more like an iron. I love the number of different shots I can hit with this club and for better players this is a great long iron replacement.

Both of these sets of irons (along with the hybrid) are on Golf Digest’s hot list, receiving gold status and 5 stars in performance and sound/look/feel. I think this is spot on and think you should give these a try if you haven’t already.

Accuracy is key, fairways and greens!

Blackwolf Run Hole #7, Kohler Wisconsin

Rules of Golf Gets a Facelift

On the 5th hole of last years’ US Open at Oakmont, Dustin Johnson had begun to move his putter behind his ball; before addressing the golf ball, it rolled slightly back. Seeing that the ball had moved they ended up bringing in a rules official and because Dustin had not grounded his putter addressing the ball, they came to the decision that there would be no penalty assessed. Upon finishing his round, they brought Dustin in to review video footage of the ball moving. Even though Dustin continued to state that he did nothing to make the ball move, nor did he address the ball, officials decided the putter was in the vicinity and deemed Dustin caused the ball to move. They assessed him a one-stroke penalty. Even with this one-stroke penalty, Dustin still won the tournament by three shots.

Under newly proposed rule 9.2, if the ball or ball marker is accidentally moved there is no penalty incurred. This is one of many proposed rule changes just released by the USGA and R&A. The goal of these changes is to make the rules easier to understand and apply. I also feel there is an underlying attempt at speeding up the pace of play. Reading through the proposed rule changes to take effect in 2019, many of which we have just come to accept. I am very excited about what the USGA and R&A are refining.

I was definitely on the bandwagon of people who hated what took place last year with Dustin Johnson at the US Open. So the changing of that rule seems to be a long time coming, as it has been an issue in way more cases than just last year’s US Open.

Other proposals that I am impressed they are taking on:

  • Being able to repair almost all damage on the greens (exceptions being aeration and natural damage). No longer are you going to have to putt over spike marks. But in all seriousness, come on people, either don’t wear golf spikes, learn how to pick you feet up when you walk, or fix your own marks when you create the damage in the first place.
  • Removing the yellow hazards and marking all penalty areas in red with lateral relief. The amount of times I’ve found myself in yellow hazards has been minimal, but when it’s happened I’ve been unsure what kind of relief I’m entitled to.
  • Others may not agree with me on this one, but the allowing of distance measuring devices. As of now they are stating they would be allowed, and local rules could be put in place to not allow. I am all for this; I feel this has really sped up pace of play. It would be interesting watching the next PGA Tour event, seeing caddies no longer stepping yardage off from the closest sprinkler head.

Interesting rules I never really thought of being addressed:

  • Dropping the ball must take place at least one inch above the ground, no longer from shoulder height. Personally I feel like this takes some of the game of golf away, as it will now be much easier to drop in a wanted area. Gone would be the days of dropping and having it roll into the six inch deep rough a foot away.
  • No longer being penalized for hitting an unattended flagstick while putting on the putting surface. An interesting first take on this one is that if you choose to not take out the flagstick, putt your ball, and it hits the stick and doesn’t go in, you have still not finished the hole and will have to count that stroke to hole out. You are still better off taking the flag stick out when you get close than trying to use it as a backstop.

Rules that I think are going to get some backlash:

  • Search time for a lost ball going from 5 minutes to 3 minutes. I have been part of many a search where we have found it within the 5 and would not have inside of 3. I am okay with this change but we will see how others address this.
  • Suggested no stroke should take more than 40 seconds. I am not sure how this rule will come to fruition. Will competitors be calling this on each other? That could be an issue. As of right now it’s written as recommended but it will be interesting how this gets written in the official rules. The intent of this rule is understood, reducing the overall pace of play, which is needed.

Funniest rule change:

  • Allowing the use of a damaged club. All I can think of when reading this rule is Woody Austin rapping his putter against his head after only getting a 40-foot putt half way to the hole. Just last year, Zac Blair also bent his putter while banging it against his head and was disqualified for then using that putter to finish the hole. In all seriousness the rule this is addressing is quite complicated and if you’re actually still able to use the club you damaged, it does make sense.

These are just a few of the newly proposed rule changes. You can find all of the new rules at:

http://www.usga.org/rules-hub/rules-modernization/text/major-proposed-changes.html

The USGA and R&A are also asking for people to give their feedback. This is so great that they are asking the people that play the game every day for their opinions. You can find that survey at:

https://www.snapsurveys.com/wh/s.asp?k=148674720575

Winter Rules golfing in snow in Wisconsin

Winter rules still for us here in Wisconsin

Accuracy is key, fairways and greens!