I first visited The University Club (fka Tripoli) three years ago with Golf Course Architect Andy Staples (link to original article). Andy had been hired to put together a 10-year strategic plan for renovating the now 99-year-old course: Updates that will help usher the club in to and beyond it’s centennial anniversary.
The University Club has a rich history, having played host to the 1956-1960 Miller Opens (video below from the year Ken Venturi won in 1957) and the 1970-1971 Greater Milwaukee Opens, won by players like Venturi, Cary Middlecoff and Gene Littler.
Recent Renovations: Starting with a terrific competition golf course and outstanding facilities/amenities, Staples’ work and suggestions have been far from a total redo.
Heightened private club competition on the north side of Milwaukee, though, meant critical changes needed to be made to address a few quirks and especially upgrade the club’s practice facilities.
The previous practice facilities consisted of a tight chute of land between N 43rd Street and the first tee with a handful of hitting spaces. It’s a small area that allows players to work out some kinks before teeing off, but little else.
Enter Staples, who is highly regarded for his practice facility expertise (link to portfolio), and enter a strategic partnership between the University Club and the Marquette University Men’s Golf Team.
This joint venture worked with Staples to upgrade the U-Club’s practice facilities significantly, including designated short game areas, practice greens (one perfectly level to practice speed and line), a competition wedge range with cement targets (to sound when hit) and a 4-hole practice course.
Level and uneven lies, uphill and downhill shots, required lobs, awkward sand shots, approaches from fairways and long rough can all now be simulated on the 10-acre parcel of land.
To make room for this state-of-the-art practice facility, some physical changes needed to be made to the golf course.
The par three twelfth was moved from running north-south to east-west, was lengthened slightly and given a terrific green complex that’s modeled after the original twelfth.
Much simpler re-routing was achieved on the tee areas of the thirteenth and sixteenth holes, helping create more well-defined fairways and, in the case of the sixteenth, a safer golf experience.
Significant tree removal has been undertaken (and is still underway) across the property, some mowing lines have been adjusted and numerous forward tees have been added.
The Course: The University Club is not an overpoweringly long course on the scorecard, tipping out at 6,588 yards and with blue tees at 6,269, but it plays significantly longer. The back nine, especially, features a tremendously challenging stretch of holes from twelve to sixteen.
None are more challenging than the par four sixteenth, which regained its bite and now fully earns its number one handicapped hole status.
The par threes are mostly on the shorter side, which I appreciate at a classic course with tough greens.
The new twelfth is the longest of the four and is unquestionably the hardest. It plays about 200 yards slightly uphill, regularly in to the wind and to a fairly narrow, well-protected green.
The great green complexes at The U-Club start right out of the gate on the first hole. A downhill drive from the clubhouse to a tree-lined fairway, this raised Bendelow putting surface is nicely canted back-to-front:
The second is where players start to see noticeable updates from the renovation. This area, running parallel to Good Hope Road, includes the second hole fairway and its green surrounds, the sixteenth tee area and the twelfth hole.
It’s not often I re-post press releases on my site, but this one’s special to me as it pertains to the Head PGA Golf Professional at our home club, North Hills CC in Menomonee Falls, Eddie Terasa.
I’ve had the pleasure of playing a number of rounds with Eddie since I first joined North Hills in 2013. I’ve never seen a smoother, more consistent swing or approach to the game of golf.
Congratulations, Eddie, on being named the PGA Wisconsin Section’s Senior Player of the Decade!
WISCONSIN GOLF PROFESSIONALS HELMINEN AND TERASA EARN PLAYER OF THE DECADE HONORS
West Allis, WI (April 30, 2020) – The Wisconsin Professional Golfers’ Association (WPGA) announces Players of the Decade. Earning the prestigious honor for the decade spanning 2010-2019 are Ryan Helminen, PGA of Ridgeway Country Club (Neenah) in the member race and Eddie Terasa, PGA of North Hills Country Club (Menomonee Falls) in the senior race.
“Helminen’s journey to the member honor featured ten years of consistently great play,” said Joe Stadler, Executive Director Wisconsin PGA / WPGA Junior Foundation. “Terasa’s senior resume during the ten years was just as impressive as Helminen’s on the member side with an impressive list of major tournament victories over the course of this 10-year stretch.”
The process for determining these awards is based on a point system with players receiving points on how each individual finished in the Player of the Year standings annually from 2010-2019. On a yearly basis the system provides certain point values to each of the top twenty players in the member contest and the top ten players in the senior contest.
Player of the Decade – MEMBER Ryan Helminen’s Journey
In the past decade, Appleton-native Helminen has won the WPGA Member Player of the Year award five times, finished second twice and finished third twice. These finishes helped him earn 213 points and win the award by an impressive 55-point margin. Highlights during Helminen’s run included the 2014 Wisconsin State Open Title, four WPGA Professional Championship victories and seven one-day WPGA Classic wins. Helminen has been a Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) member since 2007. He will be recognized at an upcoming WPGA Tournament.
“Being a member of the WPGA is a great honor and I feel very privileged to be a part of it,” said Helminen, PGA Teaching Professional at Ridgeway Country Club. “The opportunity to have been able to compete on all our wonderful courses is very much appreciated. I look forward to the new decade and the challenge of continuing to have success in our great game, in our great state.”
Player of the Decade – SENIOR Eddie Terasa’s Journey
Madison-native Terasa turned 50-years-old in June 2010 entering him into the senior standings for the upcoming decade. Just one year later Terasa started a run of four consecutive years of achieving the Senior Player of the Year Award. Terasa’s list of victories included the 2010 Wisconsin State Open, 2010 WPGA Match Play Championship, 2016 Wisconsin State Senior Open, two WPGA Professional Championships (2011 & 2013), and three WPGA Senior Professional Championships (2011, 2013 & 2014). Terasa has been a PGA member since 1987. The WPGA acknowledged Terasa as the Senior Player of the Decade at the WPGA Spring Membership Meeting Reception held on March 2, 2020 at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in Green Bay.
“It’s all about the journey,” said Terasa, Head PGA Professional of North Hills Country Club. “I enjoy competing with my fellow PGA friends. The awards and accolades are the cherry on top.”
Located just 45 miles west of Chicago, outside of Aurora, is a little slice of Heaven developed by attorney and real estate developer, Vince Solano, Jr.
One of four men’s only clubs in the state of Illinois (which makes up about a fifth to sixth of the total in the US), Solano developed Black Sheep to provide its membership a true home-away-from-home, with a comfortable but well-appointed, functional open clubhouse with a locker room, pro shop and a great room / bar area. It has everything it needs, and little it doesn’t.
There is no pool. No tennis courts. No dining room. No dress code.
There are no menus and no kitchen. The dining options are burger or chicken sandwich from the grill out back, or their famous peanut butter and jalapeno sandwich (there may have been a few pre-made options in the refrigerator that I missed).
There is no waitstaff. In fact, there are very few employees, in general, although those who are there including PGA Head Golf Professional Kevin Healy are tremendously helpful and accommodating, and will help throughout the clubhouse.
All of this adds up to an intimate experience with low overhead. That means members get an elite, top-100 club with the lowest dues of any private course in the Chicago area (just over $7k/year, although initiation is ~ $35k), no food and beverage minimums, and no reliance on outside cash flow. With no need to host outside events on Mondays, for example, the course is open to membership seven days a week.
Black Sheep has 27 holes of fantastic David Esler designed golf that ebbs and inhales across a vast 285 acres of Illinois prairie land.
The holes Esler laid out will test every club in the bag, and will reward players who can pull off drawn and cut shot shapes while allowing for straight and steady play down its forgiving fairways.
The golf course at Black Sheep is one of the best competition courses I’ve ever played.
In fact, it played host this day to our 2019 Illinois vs. Wisconsin Writer’s Cup match.
The first and tenth holes tee off adjacent to the clubhouse, but while the first hole heads west, the tenth leads players downhill and to the north.
One of my favorite holes on the course is the lightning bolt shaped par five 11th. The fairway runs out from the tee, and helped turbo-charge my 275-ish yard drive well over 300.
Any 200-yard shot at the green in two, though, will need to carry a ton of greenside bunkers and would be ill-advised, at best. There is a ton of room short and left of the green for laying up and leaves a great angle in.
The course uses elevation well, especially on the par threes. My favorite is the short 25th, measuring just 135 yards to a postage stamp sized green that slopes hard from back to front.
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.
They probably have the most legendary winner, too: Gene Serazen at the inaugural 1933 PGA Championship:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 seventh at Blue Mound is the course’s Short hole and features one of the property’s prettiest backdrops: Mt. Mary University.
The eighth is probably the course’s signature hole, featuring a well-elevated Punch Bowl green.
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.
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.
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.
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 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):
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.
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:
Tree removal made the course too easy
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:
2017: Brooks Koepka
1933: Gene Sarazen
2004: Vijay Singh
2010: Martin Kaymer
2015: Jason Day
US Senior Open
2007: Brad Bryant
Erin Hills and Blue Mound (alternate site for stroke play)
Let’s be honest: This has not been the best Wisconsin golf season.
We didn’t get started until mid-May, September was spent largely underwater and it has all the looks and feels of a season ending way too early in October.
While an early Winter is depressing to think about, Fall golf in the Midwest is stunningly beautiful and I was able to get out last weekend for a round that started out cold and dim, but ended up with bright blue skies and gorgeous Fall colors.
I had to snap a few pics on my cart ride home:
A look back from the green on the par four 3rd hole at North Hills CC in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin
View from the tee on the par five 4th hole at North Hills
Comparatively, here was the same view last month toward the height of a weeks-long deluge:
The par five 4th hole at North Hills flooded by the Menomonee River during September, 2018
Speaking of underwater, here was the unintentional island green on the par four 6th. Not only was half of the course unplayable, the rotting smell and subsequent weeks–long mosquito infestation was almost unbearable.