Golf Club Review: The University Club

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.

Video highlights from the 1957 Miller Open

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.

Conceptual plan for the new short game practice area (2017)
The new practice facility’s competition wedge range (photo credit: Dylan Hills, University Club of MKE)
4th green on the new short course (photo credit: Dylan Hills, University Club of MKE)
Practice facility short course (photo credit: Dylan Hills, University Club of MKE)

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 new par three 12th at The University Club

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:

Hole 1: Par 4 (386/373/364/364)

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.

Continue reading

A.W. Tillinghast’s Letters to the PGA

In my fifth year as a member of North Hills Country Club in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, I am always on the lookout for additional information on the club’s history and heritage.

Everyone knows there’s a lot of it, but very little has been kept around and what’s left of old newspapers is waiting patiently in microfiche for history enthusiasts to convert it to a form that’s findable.

A friend of mine, Andy Staples of Staples Golf Design, recently turned me on to the letters written by legendary golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast to the then president of the PGA, George Jacobus.

Tillinghast designed some of the greatest golf courses in the history of golf – 265 total –  including:

  • Winged Foot, West (Golf Digest’s #10 course in the US, #14 in the world)
  • San Francisco (#37 US, #81 world)
  • Bethpage State Park, Black Course (#38 US)
  • Baltusrol, Lower (#39 US)
  • Baltusrol, Upper (#61 US)
  • Winged Foot, East (#62 US)
  • Somerset Hills (#64 US)
  • Quaker Ridge (#76 US)

In 1935, “Tilly” was called to North Hills by PGA member John Bird to look at the “troublesome” par three then-sixteenth hole (shown in the header photo):

TillinghastNorthHills1935

Tillinghast’s letter to the President of the PGA concerning North Hills Country Club from November 16, 1935

 

Tilly’s difficult-to-read follow-up letter from 1936

The sixteenth, now the seventh since the front and back nine were flipped, was at that time a 127-yard uphill shot to a putting surface 20 yards short of where it is now above the Menomonee River. Redesigning this par three to have a ribbon green on top of the hill both stretched out the yardage and made the green more susceptible to holding tee shots.

Many competitive matches swing on the seventh hole at North Hills, which is my favorite par three on my home course.

I have my only ever hole-out from the tee on the seventh, and it’s literally a couple thousand feet from our backyard.

Other great “new” material about North Hills Country Club

As luck would have it, when I tried searching Google for the same Tillinghast letters on my laptop I found some great material that always evaded me: Proof that Ben Hogan and Sam Snead competed at North Hills.

The 1940 Milwaukee Open

I’ve heard this story before, and have told it to several guests. If I had to guess, this article points at the same occasion: On the 16th hole of the final round of a PGA tournament, Ben Hogan was tied for the lead on the uphill [now seventh, since the nines have since been reversed] par three. Hogan was on in two and three-putted. At the clubhouse following the event, Ben guaranteed everyone that the first putt he hit would never break that way again. They all walked in the dark (a walk I am awfully familiar with) from the clubhouse with their drinks and lanterns to the now seventh green; Hogan hit putt after putt, and the crowd watched them all fall the same way they did that led to his double-bogey that took him out of contention.

The seventh is my favorite par three on my home course, and is the site of my only ever sort-of-hole-in-one a few months ago. It’s a fantastic par three that, as Hogan proved, can make or break a match with ease.

ChiTribune 08051940

Chicago Tribune – August 5, 1940

Ralph Guldahl of Chicago won the 1940 Milwaukee Open at -16, followed by Ed Oliver (-14) and the great Sam Snead just three strokes back at -13. Hogan would finish fourth with a final score of 272 (-12).

References of the 1940 Milwaukee Open, as found on revolvy.com:

  1. Bartlett, Charles (August 4, 1940). “Bulla cards 131 to take lead in Milwaukee Open”. Chicago Sunday Tribune. p. 6, sec. 2.
  2. “Ralph Guldahl wins Milwaukee Open golf”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). United Press. August 5, 1940. p. 2.
  3. Bartlett, Charles (August 5, 1940). “Guldahl wins in Milwaukee Open with 268”. Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 19.
  4. “Guldahl makes blazing finish”. Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. August 5, 1940. p. 9.
  5. “Johnny Bulla leads Milwaukee Open”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. August 4, 1940. p. 10.

The 1951 Pabst Blue Ribbon Open

Joe Kirkwood, Jr., more commonly known as Hollywood movie star Joe Palooka in those days, won the 1951 Pabst Blue Ribbon Open at North Hills. Joe “beat out Sam Snead by two strokes in a fighting duel for the third biggest prize of the year” ($2,750 for first place).

EugeneRegGuard 07231951

Eugene Register Guard – July 23, 1951

Probably my favorite part of this article is Kirkwood’s celebratory remarks: “‘I’m glad to win for all my friends,’ and left for northern Wisconsin to go fishing.”

There is a photo taken on the 3rd hole (now 12th) at this event situated on the desk in Captain Frederick Pabst’s office at what is now “The Best Place” – a top spot for downtown weddings in Milwaukee.

References to the 1951 Pabst Blue Ribbon Open, as found on revolvy.com:

  1. “Joe Kirkwood cards final round 64 to win Blue Ribbon golf tourney”. St. Petersburg Times. (Florida). Associated Press. July 23, 1951. p. 11.
  2. “Ferrier leads in Milwaukee Open”. Chicago Sunday Tribune. Associated Press. July 22, 1951. p. 6, sec. 2.
  3. “Kirkwood’s 271 wins golf meet at Milwaukee”. Chicago Daily Tribune. Associated Press. July 23, 1951. p. 2, sec. 3.
  4. “Kirkwood edges Snead for first”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). United Press. July 23, 1961. p. 10.

The 1961 Milwaukee Open

Australian Bruce Crampton won the 1961 Milwaukee Open, winning his $4,300 share of the $30,000 purse.

Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus tied for sixth place, which was great for Player but forfeited by Nicklaus as this would prove to be his final golf event as an amateur before turning pro the following week in the Quad Cities.

1961MilwaukeeOpen

Daytona Beach Morning Journal – July 24, 1961

References to the 1961 Milwaukee Open, as found on revolvy.com:

  1. “Massengale, Hawkins knotted”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. July 21, 1961. p. 2B.
  2. “Aussie wins Milwaukee with 272”. Daytona Beach Morning Journal. (Florida). Associated Press. July 24, 1961. p. 9.
  3. “Palmer bypasses Milwaukee event”. Daytona Beach Morning Journal. (Florida). Associated Press. July 19, 1961. p. 7.

 

Prior research on North Hills Country Club

North Hills Country Club, Feherty Interview with Golf Legend Ken Venturi (2015)

Hole-by-Hole Review of North Hills Country Club (2013)