As we wind down the 2019 Wisconsin golf season it’s safe to say the most anticipated new course for 2020 is also one of the state’s oldest: The Club at Lac La Belle in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
With 123 years of championship tradition, new ownership including Matt and Tyler Morse of the Prestwick Golf Group is well in to the back nine of a massive renovation project that will be unveiled to the public via 9-hole preview play starting this Monday, September 9, 2019.
The original course, as Carnoustie historian David Mackesey presented at a recent night hosted at the property, was dreamed up in the late 1880’s to early 1890’s by Washington Park Club leaders and grain industry moguls Charles Schwartz and John Dupee, Jr.
Schwartz and Dupee, of Chicago, were part of a large magnate of wealthy Chicagoans who frequented the Oconomowoc area of Wisconsin, especially in Lac La Belle.
The wealth in the area at that time was staggering. From listening to stories from my aunt who grew up house- and baby-sitting in the area, leaders of industry like Frederick Miller (Miller Brewing), John Rockwell (the town’s founder and original leader), Gustav Pabst (Pabst Beer), Philip Armour (meatpacking, banking), Montgomery Ward (department stores) and many others made the lakes of Oconomowoc their homes away from home.
These folks built palatial estates on one of the Midwest’s nicest lakes, drove the best cars and boats, had the most money and the greatest opportunities and amenities for unmatched leisure.
One of these estates, for example, was this 15,000-plus square foot mansion that once belonged to Montgomery Ward and was recently purchased by Pittsburgh Steelers and former University of Wisconsin football star TJ Watt.
It was in that vein of having all the finest things that the original Country Club of Oconomowoc was borne, and its championship pedigree began with its first PGA Professional, Alex Smith.
Last Tuesday was a monumental one for me. I turned 40.
I haven’t been able to play much golf this year, so I wanted to make sure I took the day off of work and spent it on the course. It’d been seven years since I last played Hawk’s Landing in Verona, and I’d been wanting to get back for a while. I put together a tee time and called my buddy, Dan, who has been a good friend of mine for about 35 of these years and now lives in the Madison area.
It’s crazy to think about time now, and how quickly it’s flying by especially since I met my now wife, Kelly, and [even more] especially since we had our first child, Charlie, who was born in July, 2017, and then our daughter, Quinn, born just over six months ago. But, I digress.
I think Hawk’s Landing is one of the most underrated golf courses in the state of Wisconsin.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfectly kept public course in the state, and its conditions certainly rival those of Wisconsin’s elite private clubs. Neil Radatz and his team there do a fantastic job keeping their semi-private course in private club shape.
Hawk’s Landing has had some great improvements since the last time I was there in 2012. The enhancement I noticed most but didn’t get to experience was the addition of Better Billy Bunkers – I somehow managed to not hit a single greenside trap, but they looked beautiful.
I’ve played out of Better Billy Bunkers before, though, most recently at SentryWorld, and can attest to their great feel. More importantly, though, for Radatz, his staff and the members and guests at Hawk’s Landing, they are nearly washout-proof and provide a consistently high-end bunker experience.
The most significant enhancement to the Hawks Landing facility is not on the course, but is rather their clubhouse which is undergoing a massive renovation and addition.
Coinciding with that improvement, Hawks Landing now contracts out their food and beverage experience through Dahmen’s. Dahmen’s at Hawks Landing features a beautiful view over the course and its finishing hole and provides a really enjoyable menu including some of the best wings I’ve had in a while and the pound-plus soft pretzel appetizer: The Dahmenator.
One upgrade that I brought to Hawk’s Landing this year that I didn’t have in 2012 is my DJI Spark drone. I’m still learning how to use it, but did take a few videos that I’ll include below.
It had been since March 2012 since I last played The Bog in Saukville, Wisconsin, and every year at the Milwaukee Golf Expo I’d see Andy and the guys and tell them I’ll find my way back to re-photograph and play the course in more ideal conditions.
It’s been one of those reviews that bothered me, and for good reason: When you type in something like “The Bog golf course review” or anything similar, my article and those barely-out-of-Winter pictures were the first or second result that came up.
I finally returned to The Bog last weekend, and let me say mid-July conditions show a big improvement over the course aesthetics in March. As a prime example, imagine this scene on the 18th tee with no leaves…
Without further adieu, here is my updated review of The Bog in Saukville. Enjoy!
For my money, there’s probably no better spot in the state of Wisconsin for 36 holes than Lawsonia. An hour and fifteen minutes from Milwaukee, Lawsonia offers two distinct golfing experiences: The all-world Langford/Moreau classic Links course, and the tree-lined, scenic Woodlands course.
I made this year’s first pilgrimage to Lawsonia two weeks ago, and this time brought with me a new gadget.
My friend, Troy, had been telling me how easy it is to use the DJI Spark drone, and he let me borrow his to try out for a couple of weeks.
Like any golfer, I’ve always salivated over amazing drone footage of great golf holes. No one I’ve seen recently has done that better than Andy Johnson of The Fried Egg. For a terrific example, see his video from Lawsonia here:
Despite having no drone or video editing skills, I fumbled around enough to take a couple nice shots I wanted to share. The first is one of my favorite par fours: The second hole on the Woodlands course.
A view from the sky shows the strategic value in playing off the tee to the fairway right of the quarry: A clear shot to the green.
Another great par four on the Woodlands course is the curvy, up-and-down fourteenth (click image for video):
Finally, a video of Phillip’s tee shot on the famous par three seventh on the Links course (click image for video):
As an aside, I didn’t realize until after this trip that I haven’t updated my review and photos of the Links course since it was deforested in 2014. I’ll aim to re-shoot the course and update photos sometime during the 2019 season.
And, finally, to all the dads out there… Happy Father’s Day!
The journey of Mistwood Golf Club over the past 20 years has been well documented and for good reason: This is a fantastic public golf destination and an incredibly well run operation.
The first thing you’ll notice at Mistwood is its facilities. The bag drop is just outside the pro shop, downstairs from their Scottish-style restaurant, McWethy’s Tavern, and separated by a rustic courtyard from the grand hall.
String lighting supports the ambiance above the the courtyard, perched over the course, and an outdoor area highlighted by picturesque stone bridges crossing a man-made canal patrolled by massive carp.
It takes no imagination to envision Mistwood’s potential as a wedding venue. The views from the grand hall, outdoor courtyard and restaurant are stunning, and its clear the entire property was designed with intent – the operations run out of Mistwood serve the Chicago area’s only true year-round golf experience as well as one of its premiere banquet and catering outfits.
Owner Jim McWethy has invested millions in to the Mistwood experience over the past handful of years, both at the flagship course and at its sister properties like the Mistwood Golf Dome and McWethy’s Sports Bar.
The golf dome, located in nearby Bolingbrook, features TopTracer technology on all 30 of its hitting bays, and employs four cameras per bay that allow every swing in its 60,000 square feet of heated range to be analyzed within several feet of reality.
The Mistwood property boasts every bit as good of practice facilities, highlighted by the Mistwood Performance Center. This state of the art 5,000 square foot prairie-style building features a world-class putting lab with TrackMan and Quintic ball roll technology, 11 heated hitting stations, a full-service bar, club repair room, and teaching stations set up with TrackMan and Foresight GC2.
Nothing’s done half-hearted at Mistwood – their teaching and fitting stations are competitive against the very best and they’ve been consistently named one of “America’s 100 Best Clubfitters” (Golf Digest) and a “Top 50 Public Facility” (Golf Range Magazine).
As the site of the Illinois Women’s Open for 25 consecutive years, I knew Mistwood’s golf course would be really good. It far exceeded my expectations, though, in regards to playability, challenge and aesthetics.
Course architect and USGCA member Ray Hearn of Raymond Hearn Golf Course Designs, Inc. originally designed Mistwood Golf Club leading up to its 1999 opening, and was later brought back by owner Jim McWethy for renovations.
This renovation work included the addition of 19 sod-walled bunkers, the deepening of three sizable internal lakes (especially the massive St. James Loch, which shapes the 14th thru 17th hole stretch nicknamed “Kelpie’s Korner”), a complete renovation of the third hole, major renovations and additions to the property’s facilities (eg: The MPC, pro shop, bar/restaurant, practice facilities, river and bridges), and general betterment of every hole on the course.
McWethy’s reinvestment in the property was very well received… So well received, in fact, that it earned Golf Magazine’s honor of being the country’s “Best Public Course Renovation” for 2014.
There are a lot of really good holes at Mistwood, but what you won’t find are any bad ones.
First on my list of the best holes on the course is the par five eighth. With St. James Loch lining the entire right side of the hole, a central fairway trap splits the fairway and provides the perfect line for a guy like me whose accuracy only guarantees my drive usually won’t go exactly where I’m aiming.
The green here has been recently renovated, adding some shortly mowed collection areas toward the back. Our day’s back-right pin was diabolical and probably unplayable during peak season, but was a fantastic example of how a course this versatile can set things up as challenging as is needed.
The club’s signature hole is the par three 14th. The two back tees feature a carry of 175-plus, while the forward tees have the lake to the left.
The hole reminded me a lot of the par threes at another great Illinois course: No. 3 at Medinah Country Club. Elevated tees show only water and what appears to be a sliver of a green – it’s an intimidating tee shot, to say the least.
Some of my other favorite holes included the par five 3rd, par three 7th, par three 9th, the drivable par four 10th, the short par four 13th, challenging par five 15th, and the “sporty” par four 16th.
Slideshow of additional Mistwood Golf Club photos:
There are a number of different ways to play Whistling Straits, and none of them are cheap. Playing it during the early Spring and late Fall, though, will save money.
Normal folks like myself have a hard time dishing out $600 for a round at the Straits, so one of the most common questions I get asked is how and when to play it.
The answer: Whenever you can afford it and have a good group to go with. The more economical answer, though, depends on the year. Kohler’s current promotion has early-season deals through Friday, May 9, which include:
Whistling Straits, Straits course: $190
Whistling Straits, Irish course: $80
Blackwolf Run: River course: $130
Blackwolf Run: Meadow Valleys course: $80
The next round of deals goes up significantly, making this week the perfect time to play it. Golf Kohler rates from May 10 to June 3:
Whistling Straits, Straits course: $300
Whistling Straits, Irish course: $130
Blackwolf Run, River course: $210
Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys course: $130
Now here’s where early-season rates get tricky…
There’s a fine line between taking advantage of early-season rates on one of the top five courses in the country and playing it on soupy, brown terrain. I won’t pretend to know everything about fescue grass, but a combination of the Straits course’s turf type and its proximity to the lake can mean a less than beautiful setting during some early Spring seasons.
The trick is to get as close to the final day of the early-season rates as possible, and to consult the course ahead of time if you’re concerned about how it’ll look and play.
For example, here is the second fairway on the Straits course during the final week of the initial early-season rates during two very different years:
In stark contrast, the course greened up very quickly this year, and in fact the conditions right now are legendarily good. In other words, if you can get a tee time on the Straits course this week(by May 9, 2019),book it. If you can’t and are on a budget, book it before June 3.
As you can see, the big difference between what the course looks like right now versus what it looks like during peak season is in the fescue off the fairways – it just hasn’t grown in yet.
Additional photos from Sunday’s round on the Straits course:
It should be mentioned that the Blackwolf Run and Irish courses are much less volatile than the Straits, so if you’re looking for a world-class round of golf on one of them, feel confident in booking it that the conditions will be worth the investment.
Just like your game probably won’t be in mid-season form yet, though, don’t expect perfection quite yet – that’s why they’re offering early-season deals. The greens will probably still be a little choppy and on the slower side, the native grasses won’t be grown out yet, and tee shots probably won’t get as much run as they will in July… But chances are you’re still going to love the round.
By Nick Zellmer, WiscoGolfAddict Contributing Writer
A number of friends have asked me about my recent fitting experience at Club Champion, so I wrote up a little review for them and thought I’d also share it here.
What they want to know most is if it’s worth the price and if I learned anything I didn’t already know. The short answer is yes, I thought it was worth it and I did learn some things along the way.
I think the highlight for me was the availability of all types of exotic shafts. Eric was my fitter and he obviously has more knowledge of the clubs/shafts than I do so that was extremely helpful.
Club Champion emails a questionnaire prior to the fitting to find out a few things. They ask if you are loyal to any brands so they can ensure you hit those brands during the fitting. They also gauge the kind of player you are based on index and your answers to several quick questions.
I did a full bag fitting simply because it was 50% off (new store discount) and I thought it would be a fun way to spend 3.5 hours in the heart of a winter snow storm. The full bag fitting includes irons, driver, wedges, fairway wood, hybrid and putter.
I started by warming up with a 7-iron, then moved on to the 6-iron that’s currently in my bag (gamer). These swings provided a baseline for the TrackMan data. I have the TaylorMade PSI’s in my bag, so Eric grabbed the TM 790’s first since they’re most like the PSI. They only have 6-iron heads at the store and will have you try several head/shaft combos. You’re only hitting 6-irons to allow for accurate comparisons of data between different manufacturers.
Eric analyzes every swing and pays attention to what the ball is doing relative to the baseline data from the club you’re gaming. He’s looking at ball speed, club head speed, smash factor and spin. Eric can tell quickly if a club isn’t working out, so you can eliminate it from the hunt. All the while you’re trying to find that perfect shaft/iron combination. I had a giant blister on my hand by the end of the fitting, but we eventually found the combination that best suited me. Eric added it to the quote and we moved on to the driver and repeated the process.
I tried several drivers but hit the Srixon head the best with the PADERSON KINETIXX LOADED. I am currently gaming the Srixon Z-785 so I was pleased that I had good results with that head and only needed to change the shaft. I had never heard of Paderson before stepping in to the store that day. The drivers I hit were from TaylorMade, PXG, Ping, Cobra, Srixon and Callaway.
Gamer driver/shaft combo: Srixon Z-785 with Project X HZRDUS Black Handcrafter 65 Graphite (stock) Club Champion driver/shaft combo: Srixon Z-785 with Paderson KB Driver KG65-D30
Eric put tape on the bottom of my wedges and asked me to hit a few 60-75 yard shots. He looked at the bottom of the tape and saw the impressions were right in the center. According to Eric, this was desirable, so we didn’t spend much time on wedges other than discussing the Vokeys’ grinds. I looked in to the grinds when I got them at the end of last season and am happy with my current wedge setup. He didn’t disagree based on the swings I took so we moved on after seeing a few other wedge options
Gamer wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 Jet Black – 50.08 F-Grind, 56.08 M-Grind, 60.10 S-Grind Club Champion wedges: No changes
It’s been some time since I’ve posted anything, and for good reason: I’m a new dad again! On January 29, my wife Kelly and our son, Charlie, and I welcomed our daughter Quinn Caroline to this world.
Life’s been very busy in the Seifert household, but I’m looking forward to getting back to writing golf-related articles for you all soon. I’m also looking forward to featuring interesting contributing writers… More to come on that soon.
We can all be happy Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring this year, but I’m not sure I’m buying it after witnessing a mild holiday season that led to massive snow storms and unbearably cold weather. Actual air temperatures hit -30 degrees while we were in the hospital with Quinn, and the wind chill dipped to 60-below! It was bad.
I’m excited for the golf season to get here, though, and look forward to playing more new courses this year. I’m especially hoping to check out and review new (for me) private clubs like the Legend courses, Oconomowoc, Blue Mound and others. With two kids under two I know I’ll have to be selective and strategic about my rounds… Challenge accepted.
I hope you’re all doing well, enjoying the off-season and maybe even getting in some non-Wisconsin bonus golf. There’s a lot to look forward to, that’s for sure. Happy 2019!
Combining two of my favorite things, golf and data, Arccos has quickly become my favorite piece of golf equipment… And if you’re still looking for the perfect gift for a golfer in your life, ensure your spot as their favorite person by letting them open up Arccos Caddie (fka Arccos 360) or Arccos Caddie Smart Grips this holiday season. It’s what my favorite person got me for Christmas last year 🙂
In its simplest form, Arccos is an unobtrusive game improvement system that helps golfers improve their skills and enjoyment of the game through artificial intelligence and next-gen data analysis. It puts all the information – historical data, predictive analysis, weather and geographical factors, … – all at players’ fingertips so they’re well-informed before, during and after rounds.
At $199.99 for the system (including 13 club grips and one for the putter), I can’t imagine a better golf investment.
So how’s it work? With Arccos Caddie, quarter-sized sensors screw in to the end of each grip (there is a special one for the putter). They’re easily paired using the system’s intuitive smartphone app, and with it opened during play, collect and analyze an endless number of data points.
Through a strategic partnership with Microsoft Azure, Arccos Caddie leverages artificial intelligence using the world’s largest database of golf shots, course knowledge and weather conditions. Sensors are activated when upright (not in a golf bag) to preserve battery power, and they track shots via Bluetooth (GPS location, club used, etc.) using your cell phone’s microphone.
The Caddie system makes recommendations based on past behavior and course conditions, using inner (60%) distances that disregard values in the 0-20th and 80-100th percentiles. Distances are given to the front, middle and back of each green, along with wind speed and changes in elevation.
Even though a lot of people think I’m a long hitter, I know I don’t hit the ball like Dustin Johnson does. You probably don’t, either. Rather than dwell on what you think you should hit the ball, wouldn’t you rather know the distance you actually do hit it?
How far do you hit your 7-iron? Most younger, lowish-handicap players will default to saying between 165-180, which is what I figured for myself. With one season of using Arccos under my belt, I can tell you that I hit mine between 145 and 164, and average 154. The max (an outlier) this year was 188. If I’m on a par three over water that needs at least 165 to carry, I am armed with information most players are not.
Arccos Caddie also provides “plays like” shot yardage, factoring in actual yardage along with various weather, wind and elevation elements. If I’m on the par three seventh at North Hills Country Club, and it’s 174 yards to the pin and obviously well uphill, all I knew before was I’d need to hit my tee shot more than 174 yards.
Using Arccos Caddie, I’m provided all the data and even a club selection that takes every factor in to consideration. Some of that specific functionality needs to be turned off during competitive play, of course, but it’s invaluable during practice rounds and competitive preparation.
I also know the holes I need to rethink my strategy on. For example, below is my statistical history at North Hills since getting Arccos:
The third, fifth, tenth, 14th and 17th are really tough holes, but why am I having issues on the first? Especially when I hit the green in regulation 61.1% of the time?
Another cool feature is that Arccos allows players to relive their favorite rounds and golf holes. For example, I had this beauty at Streamsong Blue in February:
331 down the pipe on a 474-yard par four finishing hole was a great way to end my trip. I can actually go through all the rounds I played last year and relive all my shots. I love that.
Even if you’re not a data junkie like me, you can probably appreciate this next fact: Players who purchased Arccos Caddie in 2017 improved by an average of 3.55 strokes per 18 holes.
My game was inconsistent at best this year, getting to play just over 20 total rounds, but the handicap Arccos kept for me (8.7) was consistent with my official USGA one.
The only negatives I’ve come up with so far are that A) I had a sensor fall off and get lost, B) The Bluetooth app can drain my cell phone’s battery life, C) It can be a little uncomfortable having my cell phone in my pants pocket while golfing, and D) While the putting sensor is more accurate than I expected it to be, it still needs some checking to make sure the right number of putts are calculated.
Great products have great solutions, and Arccos can remedy three of these issues. Regarding the lost sensor, Arccos’ customer service was easy to work with and quickly sent me a replacement sensor (they’re available on their website for $19.99 each).
For the phone issues, Arccos’ 2018 updates included smart watch functionality, taking the phone out-of-pocket and working instead with the Bluetooth in your watch. I haven’t gotten a smart watch yet, but it’s on my list of potential purchases in 2019.
I always confirm the number of putts following my rounds, and it’s really not a big deal.
If you have a golfer on your Christmas list, Arccos Caddie or Arccos Smart Grips (sensors are built in to the grips) are a can’t-miss gift idea. Or, if you’re looking for a sure-fire way to help improve your own golf game this year, get it for yourself. Either way, I cannot say enough how much I enjoy using Arccos Caddie, and how highly I recommend implementing it in to your own golf routine. The more I use it, the more valuable data I get… And the more interesting it is to dig in to all the nuances of golf that make the off-course part of the game so much fun.
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:
Comparatively, here was the same view last month toward the height of a weeks-long deluge:
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.