The reigning “official” top 10 list of public golf courses in the state of Wisconsin on my website dated back to 2011. Obviously, it’s time we update that!
This is no longer a post from 2011, but a page that will be dynamic over time… Not that there will likely be much in flux. While Wisconsin has been blessed with great new and renovated golf courses more than most states, there are few public tracks I’ve yet to play and/or review. Of those, the ones I can see being contenders for this ranking include:
- Troy Burne (Hudson)
- Trapper’s Turn (Wisconsin Dells) *
- The Legend at Bergamont (Oregon) *
- Abbey Springs (Lake Geneva)
- St Germain (Saint Germain)
- Eagle Springs (Eagle)
- The House on the Rock (Spring Green)
- Brown County (Green Bay)
- Grand Geneva, Highlands (Lake Geneva)
- Old Hickory (Beaver Dam) *
- Royal St. Patrick’s (Wrightstown)
* Denotes that while I have played the course, it was before I started writing about golf in 2011 so I have yet to photograph/review it
The Top Ten Public Golf Courses in Wisconsin
1. Erin Hills (Erin)
Designer: Michael Hurdzman, Dana Fry, Ron Whitten (2006)
Yardage: Black-7731, Blue-7147, Green-6742
Slope/Rating: Black-145/77.9, Blue-139/75.0, Green-135/73.2
Located in the middle of nowhere, Southeastern Wisconsin, Erin Hills found itself the center of the golf universe as it played host to hundreds of thousands of spectators for the 2017 US Open.
With its fine fescue fairways and bent grass tees and greens, the design team of Hurdzan & Fry used elevation, natural prairie features and deep, craggy bunkering stunningly at Erin Hills.
2. Whistling Straits, Straits Course (Haven)
Designer: Pete Dye (1998)
Yardage: Black-7790, Blue-7142, Green-6663
Slope/Rating: Black-152/77.2, Blue-145/74.2, Green-141/71.9
Host of the 2004 PGA Championship, 2007 US Senior Open, 2010 PGA Championship, 2015 PGA Championship and the much-anticipated 2020-21 Ryder Cup, the Straits course is perennially rated as one of the top five public courses in the country, alongside legends like Sand Hills, Pebble Beach, Pacific Dunes and others.
The Straits course features eight holes running alongside the shore of Lake Michigan, and offers one of the most beautiful (and windy) settings for golf in the world.
3. Blackwolf Run, River Course (Kohler)
Designer: Pete Dye (1988)
Yardage: Black-7404, Blue-6865, Green-6507
Slope/Rating: Black-151/76.2, Blue-144/73.7, Green-139/72.1
One of the top modern tracks in the country, Blackwolf Run’s Original Championship course (half River, half Meadow Valleys) has hosted numerous professional events including the 1998 and 2012 US Women’s Opens, and in the mid-nineties the Arthur Andersen World Golf Championships (WGC).
The River course is Pete Dye’s quintessential parkland layout, and features a tipped out slope/rating of 151/76.2, making it one of the most challenging (“Dye-abolical”) golf experiences in the country. It’s also one of the most beautiful.
4. SentryWorld (Stevens Point)
Designer: Robert Trent Jones, Jr. (1982, 2015)
Yardage: Black-7145, Blue-6630, White-6110
Slope/Rating: Black-139/74.7, Blue-131/72.3, White-125/69.8
Home of the famed “Flower Hole,” SentryWorld is much more than just one beautiful par three. The course is a classic Robert Trent Jones, Jr. parkland design in central Wisconsin, and has been a perennial top ten to fifteen course in the state for nearly 30 years (including number one until Kohler entered the scene).
Following a major renovation in 2015 by the design team of RTJ, Jr., Bruce Charlton and Jay Blasi, the reimagined SentryWorld is now better than ever. Its improved routing and added length have updated the course for the times and technology, and have simultaneously made it more challenging for the low-handicapper and more fun for the weekend warrior.
5. Sand Valley, Sand Valley Course (Rome)
Designer: Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw (2017)
Yardage: Black-6938, Orange-6535, Sand-6050
Slope/Rating: Black-134/73.2, Orange-130/71.4, Sand-127/69.6
Coore & Crenshaw’s original layout at the now world-famous Sand Valley Golf Resort in Rome/Nekoosa provides a unique and challenging golf experience in a restored Midwest desert landscape that feels time zones away from anything else in Wisconsin.
Wonderful lodging, terrific hospitality and 53 holes of world-class golf has quickly made Sand Valley the state’s top golf destination.
6. Lawsonia, Links Course (Green Lake)
Designer: William Langford, Theodore Moreau (1930)
Yardage: Blue-6853, White-6494, Gold-5889
Slope/Rating: Blue-130/73.0, White-128/71.5, Gold-124/68.8
The most legendary public course in the state, the Links is a perennial top 100 course in the United States, and Wisconsin’s most true-to-form links-style setup. Dramatically elevated green complexes, brilliant use of elevation, manipulation of site lines and devilish berms and bunkers have maintained the Links course as one of the state’s best tests of golf for over 90 years.
7. Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes (Rome)
Designer: David McLay Kidd (2018)
Yardage: Black-6988, Orange-6587, Sand-5975
Slope/Rating: Black-132/72.4, Orange-124/70.5, Sand-117/68.0
David McLay Kidd’s big, bold layout at Sand Valley has quickly risen to top-tier status in both state and national rankings with some of the most imaginative and memorable holes you’ll find in Wisconsin or the Midwest.
Par threes like the 8th, 13th (pictured below) and 16th put a premium on quality iron shots as anything short or off at all will find a sea of sand.
8. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys Course (Kohler)
Designer: Pete Dye (1998)
Yardage: Black-7165, Blue-6735, White-6236
Slope/Rating: Black-144/74.6, Blue-138/72.6, White-132/72.1
With half of Blackwolf Run’s original 18 holes (“The Original Championship Course”), the back nine of the Meadow Valleys includes probably my favorite hole in the entire state of Wisconsin: The magnificent par four fourteenth, known as “Nature’s Course.”
9. The Club at Lac La Belle (Oconomowoc)
Designer: Alex Smith (1896), Craig Haltom (2020)
Yardage: Black-6906, Blue-6321, White-5870
Slope/Rating: Black-135/73.2, Blue-129/70.5, White-125/68.5
Recently reopened following significant renovations led by Craig Haltom and the Morse family, I expect The Club at Lac La Belle to rise quickly in these rankings as time progresses and its greens and overall course conditions level out over time.
10. Whistling Straits, Irish Course (Haven)
Designer: Pete Dye (2000)
Yardage: Black-7201, Blue-6750, Green-6366
Slope/Rating: Black-146/75.6, Blue-141/73.5, Green-137/72.0
The Irish at Whistling Straits is Wisconsin’s next best thing to its $400-plus big brother Straits course next door. Striking vistas of Lake Michigan and a perfectly curated layout make the course quite memorable.
Carved alongside the Straits’ championship venue, the Irish features much of the same charm that makes Whistling Straits such a fantastic tournament venue: Roaming herds of sheep, huge cliffs and changes in elevation, and lightning-fast bent-grass greens and fairways that roll beautifully. Even the restrooms built into the hillsides add to the rustic charm that is Whistling Straits.
11 Wild Rock (Wisconsin Dells)
Designer: Michael Hurdzan & Dana Fry (2008)
Yardage: Quartzite-7414, Granite-6953, Shale-6393
Slope/Rating: Quartzite-141/76.5, Granite-135/74.5, Shale-134/70.8
The one word that comes to mind when trying to describe Wild Rock is “Majestic.” Drastic changes in elevation, beautiful conditions and terrific variety to its hole design make it, in my opinion, one of the most underrated courses in the state.
12. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms (Sheboygan Falls)
Designer: Jack Nicklaus (2003)
Yardage: Black-7354, Blue-6867, Green-6424
Slope/Rating: Black-147/76.3, Blue-144/73.8, Green-138/71.7
The Bull is beautiful, to say the least, with fun but penal hole layouts. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the course is spread out over 400-plus acres of former farm land, and beautifully incorporates the Onion River, dense forests, rolling hills, deep ravines, large ponds and significant elevation changes.
The course rolls out one signature hole after another, especially in the stretch of the fifth through eighth holes, which is one of my favorite four-hole stretches of all time.
13. University Ridge (Verona)
Designer: Robert Trent Jones, Jr. (1991)
Yardage: Black-7259, Blue-6610, White-6053
Slope/Rating: Black-144/74.9, Blue-139/72.0, White-129/69.3
A Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design, U-Ridge is home to the Wisconsin Badgers golf team and host to the PGA Champions Tour’s American Family Insurance Championship.
The back nine has some exceptional holes cut through the woods, starting with the thirteenth and continuing through sixteen, which is one of the coolest golf holes I’ve ever played.
14. Geneva National, Gary Player Course (Lake Geneva)
Designer: Gary Player (1991)
Yardage: Black-7008, Gold-6417, White-6014
Slope/Rating: Black-141/74.3, Gold-133/71.5, White-130/69.7
My favorite of the three layouts at Geneva National Golf Resort, the Player course has some incredible golf holes including the ultimate drivable par four fifth (pictured).
With limitless risk/reward scenarios, Player allows golfers to risk disaster for the potential reward of more manageable approaches and two-putt birdie opportunities.
15. Brown Deer Park (Milwaukee)
Designer: George Hansen (1929)
Yardage: Black-6759, Blue-6306, White-5847
Slope/Rating: Black-133/72.9, Blue-129/70.6, White-124/68.5
Brown Deer Park has one heck of a past, having held numerous Greater Milwaukee Opens, US Bank Championships, three USGA Pub Links tournaments and the Symetra Tour’s annual PHC Classic. It was even the first course Tiger Woods played at in his professional career – he aced the par three 14th.
16. Washington County (Hartford)
Designer: Arthur Hills (1997)
Yardage: Black-7048, Blue-6587, White-6198
Slope/Rating: Black-134/73.6, Blue-130/71.5, White-126/69.7
Consistently ranked one of the top 50 municipal golf courses in the country, Arthur Hills’ Washington County is a wonderful inland links with great length and fantastic greens.
17. Grand Geneva, The Brute (Lake Geneva)
Designer: Robert Bruce Harris (1968)
Yardage: Blue-7085, White-6554, Red-5244
Slope/Rating: Blue-136/73.8, White-131/71.9, Red-129/70.0
Everything you need to know about The Brute at Grand Geneva is said in its name. This course is immense: Huge bunkers, huge water features, huge greens, huge elevation, even huge on-course art sculptures.
18. The Oaks (Cottage Grove)
Designer: Greg Martin (2003)
Yardage: Scarlet-6763, Black-6310, Blue-6011
Slope/Rating: Scarlet-134/72.6, Black-129/70.6, Blue-126/69.2
The Oaks made its way to being one of my favorite golf courses in the state by way of its lightning quick and undulating greens, its unique mix of six par threes and five par fives and always terrific pace of play.
19. Glen Erin (Janesville)
Designer: Greg Martin (2003)
Yardage: Orange-6849, White-6342, Green-5786
Slope/Rating: Orange-126/72.4, White-121/70.3, Green-116/67.7
One of the most recently developed courses in the state, Glen Erin is a beautiful linksy track with great greens and a sporty, strategic layout.
20. The Bog (Saukville)
Designer: Arnold Palmer (1995)
Yardage: Black-7221, Gold-6709, Green-6351
Slope/Rating: Black-143/75.3, Gold-138/72.9, Green-133/71.1
An Arnold Palmer signature course, The Bog is the Milwaukee area’s toughest championship test at 7,200-plus yards from the tips. Tight fairways and wild greens add to a challenge that can overwhelm the weekend warrior.
21. Wildrige (Eau Claire)
Designer: Greg Martin (1999)
Yardage: Black-7034, Gold-6607, Blue-6175
Slope/Rating: Black-136/74.6, Gold-134/72.3, Blue-130/70.5
Wild Ridge has incredible elevation and a great collection of par fives, including the behemoth 650-plus yard par five 3rd. This was an awesome and fortuitous stop on the way back from the Twin Cities, just off I-90/94 in Eau Claire.
22. Geneva National, Arnold Palmer Course (Lake Geneva)
Designer: Arnold Palmer (1991)
Yardage: Black-7171, Gold-6638, White-6057
Slope/Rating: Black-140/74.7, Gold-134/72.2, White-128/69.4
The Palmer Course at Geneva National Golf Resort features some of the most unique hole layouts in the Lake Geneva area. The par five seventeenth is ranked as one of Arnie’s “Dream 18” holes, and is one of mine, as well.
23. Hawks View (Lake Geneva)
Designer: Craig Schreiner
Yardage: Black-7074, Blue-6595, White-6210
Slope/Rating: 133/73.1, Blue-128/71.0, White-124/69.2
Hawks View has one of the best collections of par threes in the state, and is a really fun, challenging golf course. The former site of the Mt. Fuji ski hill, the back tee boxes on the par three 17th provide an 87-foot drop.
24. Bullseye Golf Club (Wisconsin Rapids)
Designer: Leonard Macomber (1922)
Yardage: Blue-6633, White-6385, Gold-5749
Slope/Rating: Blue-131/73.6, White-129/72.3, Gold-125/69.5
Recently turned semi-private, Bullseye is a classic parkland style course that’s a great, affordable complement to nearby Sand Valley Golf Resort.
25. Northern Bay/Castle at the Bay (Arkdale)
Designer: Matt Mootz (2005)
Yardage: Black-7223, Blue-6769, White-6419
Slope/Rating: Black-131/74.4, Blue-129/72.9, White-125/72.7
I always have a hard time deciding which of the replica holes at Northern Bay is my favorite: Oakmont’s uphill church pews, Firestone, Amen Corner, Bay Hill, Augusta 16… Probably TPC 17. The Castle course is one of the state’s most fun tracks.