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 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


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

America’s Best On-Site Non-Course Golf Facilities

One of the trends I’ve loved witnessing over the past few years has been the addition of non-course golf facilities at top-ranked resorts. These value-added venues give players fun options when they’re off the tee sheet to settle bets, enjoy the land, be social and bond especially during trips to remote golf destinations.

One of the first of these I ever had the pleasure of checking out is still my favorite: The Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford designed H-O-R-S-E Course at The Prairie Club in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.


One of an infinite number of potential tee boxes on the Horse Course at The Prairie Club



“Routing” for the Horse Course – there are no actual teeing locations, and the next green can always be anywhere


Like in a game of basketball H-O-R-S-E, the player in charge calls a teeing location and green. From there, the competition usually goes one of two ways: Closest to the pin or fewest strokes to hole out.

Even with no official tee boxes or routing, the Horse Course at The Prairie Club was ranked the #10 Most Fun Course in America by Golf Digest in 2015.

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

Medinah CC No. 3 Course Rankings:
Golf Digest: #48 US, #3 Illinois
GolfWeek: #85 Classic #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.


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


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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A [Small] Sneak Preview of Mammoth Dunes at Sand Valley

This past May (therefore, a small sneak peak), I spent the weekend on Petenwell Lake in Adams County, Wisconsin, for my friend Scott’s bachelor party. Our buddy Kyle and I headed up to Sand Valley Golf Resort a few hours before our group’s scheduled tee times for a sneak preview of the second championship course on site, Mammoth Dunes.

I love Sand Valley. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed the original course there expertly: It’s fun, challenging, unique, FAST, rugged and tremendously beautiful. It also makes visitors feel as if they’re hundreds if not thousands of miles from what they know to be Wisconsin.

I’ve written quite a bit about Sand Valley, but have yet to post anything about David McLay Kidd’s upcoming Mammoth Dunes. We were able to walk six holes [with a guide and without clubs – it was still an active construction site], and they looked spectacular:


Hole 1: Par 4 (413/394/358/324/221/198)


1st hole green complex at Mammoth Dunes


Hole 2: Par 4 (410/406/360/330/286/236)


Target area off the tee on 2


From the central fairway bunker on 2


A look back toward the tees on 2

If you visited Golf Digest’s website any time during 2016, chances are you noticed an interesting reader competition: “The Armchair Architect.” 532 entries were received and reviewed by David McLay Kidd, Mike Keiser and Ron Whitten, and the winning entry was by computer gamer Brian Silvernail of Rockledge, Florida.

Silvernail’s proposed hole is a split-fairway downhill par four where flying three traps on the right side will propel tee shots downhill and left, making it a potentially drive-able par four.

14th Hole - Brian Silvernail

Brian Silvernail’s winning “Armchair Architect” entry (linked to Golf Digest article)

I never submitted my entry for the competition, but after working on it with the topographic map that was provided I can see in person that my hole design probably wouldn’t have worked. My concept was to have distinct risk/reward areas where the smartest shot is a shorter one to a plateaued fairway on the left.

The right side would lead to longer drives and shorter approach shots, but those approaches would be made more challenging by uneven and tight lies, a blowout trap that obstructs the player’s view on that right side, tricky green contours that would make holding those shots difficult, and a more rugged path, in general. Meanwhile, a downhill shot from the plateau to the left would allow the smart player to hit a wide open green from an even lie, unobstructed view and receptive putting surface.

In person, I don’t think the area allotted has enough space to make something like that happen, and plus there’s a distinct possibility that the concept would look gimmicky, contrived and probably not be considered anyway.


The par four 14th – subject of Golf Digest’s Armchair Architect contest – being roughed in



Hole 15: Par 5 (522/509/448/398/365/325)


Hole 15: Par 5 (522/509/448/398/365/325)


A beautiful, natural location for the 15th green complex

I had been drooling over pictures of the par three 16th for quite some time – it looks as good in person as it does online:


Hole 16: Par 3 (180/164/134/134/113/113)


The massive green complex for the par three 16th

The tee shot on seventeen brings players back out in to the wide open area used for the course’s first two holes:


Hole 17: Par 4 (432/427/363/352/260/237)

The fairway on 18 is shared in parts by the first, 17th and 18th holes. Miss this fairway and you’ve got some real accuracy issues.


Hole 18: Par 5 (536/511/488/473/438/360)


The approach on 18 heading back to the Mammoth Dunes clubhouse


A look back from the 18th hole green


View from the patio of one of the suites in the Mammoth Lodge

The new clubhouse and lodge at Mammoth Dunes was done beautifully, featuring common spaces and private lodging in the rustic farmhouse design style that’s swept the nation stemming from HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.”

The Mammoth Bar and clubhouse are now finished and fully operational, but earlier this summer they looked like this:


View of The Clubhouse from the first hole tee boxes – it has since been completed

One of my favorite things great golf resorts do is to add non-championship golf, golf-related facilities. Keiser created “The Punchbowl,” as well as the 13-hole Bandon Preserve par three course at Bandon Dunes; Paul Schock added the Gil Hanse designed “Horse Course” at The Prairie Club; World Woods has a wild, 2-acre putting green and practice holes; to a lesser degree, Streamsong has a fun par three bye hole.


If Coore/Crenshaw’s design work on The Sand Box is comparable to their work on Bandon Preserve, visitors to Sand Valley will be in for a real treat

What do these things all have in common? They’re great places to spend extra time and especially initiate camaraderie through one-off competitions (aka gambling).

Sand Valley is finishing their first add-on golf facility: A 17-hole par three track designed by Coore/Crenshaw. The initial plan was to name it “Quick Sand,” but in conversation with Craig Haltom of Oliphant yesterday at Lawsonia it sounds like they’re now leaning toward “The Sand Box.” The short course is one of the things I’m most looking forward to checking out next season, and I don’t think they can go wrong with either name even though I love Quick Sand.


The sandy area to the far left in this image is the site used for the Sand Box


Sand Valley GM Glen Murray in the Mammoth Dunes pro shop, then still under construction

Preliminary plans are in the works for a weekend buddies trip to Sand Valley next Spring, and to say I’m looking forward to that trip is an understatement. Now we’ve just gotta make it through another long and cold Wisconsin winter…

Have you made your first pilgrimage to Sand Valley yet? If so, what were your impressions, where do you think the courses will stack up against the country’s best destinations, and what are you most excited for?

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Rome, WI

Sand Valley Golf Resort Website

The 117th US Open at Erin Hills: Preview

When shovels first entered the ground that is now Erin Hills Golf Course in 2004, a long and tumultuous journey was initiated that was aimed at one goal: Hosting a US Open.

After thirteen years, multiple changes in routing and hole designs, new ownership and many, many demands met, one of Wisconsin’s newest and greatest golf destinations is finally fit for the prime time. The entire golf world is converging on small-town Erin, Wisconsin, and the course and America’s heartland are ready for their moment in the sun.

The journey that has gotten Erin Hills to this point has been well-documented, but never as well-written as it was recently by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Columnist Gary D’Amato in his recent 7-part series, “The Making of a US Open Course: Erin Hills,” linked here:

The Making of a US Open Course: Erin Hills, by Gary D’Amato (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Only two days remain until the opening round of the 117th US Open, and I am excited to spend tomorrow there watching practice rounds as well as Friday to witness round two.

I have been actively involved with Erin Hills throughout the years, including several media days and playing a number of other rounds to review and photograph the course (my number one course in the state of Wisconsin) and of course to enjoy challenging rounds with friends on what is certainly one of the country’s greatest golf courses.

A few links to articles I’ve written on Erin Hills include:

Recap of the 2015 US Open media day at Erin Hills




Still looking for tickets to this year’s US Open? There is still limited availability to be had on the US Open website. Gallery tickets (allowing basic access to the event) start at $60 for Wednesday’s practice rounds, and are going for $110 for Thursday and $125 for Sunday. Friday and Saturday are already sold out.

There are several other, slightly more expensive, ticket options available for Wednesday’s practice rounds, as well as for the final round on Sunday, but they have been selling out quickly and are sure to be gone soon.

This is the first time the US Open has ever been played in the great state of Wisconsin, and I couldn’t be more excited to be there to watch the action and cheer on state competitors Steve Stricker and Jordan Niebrugge.

Will Phil make it to Erin by his 2:20 tee time on Thursday? Will Stricker or Niebrugge represent Wisconsin well on the leader board? Will Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Bubba Watson, Jon Rahm or any other huge hitters be able to overpower the shear length of the nearly 8,000-yard course?

Weather will certainly be a factor, with rain and thunderstorms in the forecast for much of the coming week. It is my hope that the weather will not define Erin Hills’ chance to shine, although high winds in otherwise dry conditions would make for amazing theater – players looking to score will need to avoid the long, thick fescue at all costs.

My top three picks for the 117th US Open: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia

My underdogs: Steve Stricker, Peter Uihlein, Kevin Chappell

My top amateur prediction: Brad Dalke

Keep an eye on my Twitter (@wissportsaddict) and Instagram (WiscoGolfAddict) feeds for on-location photos from my time at the US Open, and let’s all pray for the rain and thunderstorms to stay away.