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.
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 Golf.com 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.
Too often people look at par fives as the holes they need to survive in order to save their score. Not me. As anyone who has golfed with me can attest to, I love par fives. I love that I can have one bad shot, and still have a good chance for par.
Sometimes it is the challenge that makes par fives great. Sometimes it is the options the hole provides. Sometimes, it has such a spectacular layout and looks so great that my score the first time I play it doesn’t even matter.
Some courses are chocked full of great par fives. Courses like University Ridge, Castle at the Bay, Wild Rock and Horseshoe Bay were built for great par fives. They churn out one after another. Other courses have one or two that are truly spectacular. There is definitely an art to making a great par five, and this article is an ongoing examination of the best.
You will notice that this listing changes often. It is listed as “posted on” October 25, 2011, but will be ever-changing. It is my intention to edit this as often as a great hole is found that deserves to be included.
This list is dedicated to the par five holes that provide the best challenge and options, and oftentimes for me the most memorable experience on the course.
From the moment you step up to the tee, the sixteenth at U-Ridge is one of the most fun golf holes in Wisconsin. A large oak tree provides your first choose-your-own-adventure experience: Aim to the right of the tree to hit the lower fairway, but risk finding the woods or fescue if the drive cuts. Aim to the left for a slightly safer play, but doing so will add more yardage to the hole and bring in to play thirteen centrally placed sand traps on the approach.
The second shot will be long regardless of the side you choose, but each has a bailout fairway to help take the bunkers out of play. Aim over the traps for your only chance at hitting this green in two and putting for eagle.
Driving along the coastline of Lake Michigan, “Endless Bite” is a beautiful, demanding par five with the lake as a backdrop to a green perched opposite a multitude of recessed sand traps and waste areas.
While this is the shortest of the par fives on the Straits course, the green is quite possibly the toughest to hit in two, as the left side all slants toward the lake.
Walking off the green of the gorgeous par three 16th hole on the Palmer course at Geneva National, you walk alongside the shore of Lake Como to tee boxes that when looked over cannot help but make you think of the famed 18th hole at Pebble Beach.
One of Arnold Palmer’s “Dream 18” holes of his course designing career, the 17th presents a formidable task: Getting off the tee. Lake Como lines the entire left boundary of the hole, while out of bounds lines the right side. Several large oaks give you a line, while strong winds off the lake make this initial challenge even more difficult.
The hole flows down the shoreline and finishes with a flurry of sand traps. This is the signature hole on the Palmer course, and one of the most beautiful holes I have found in the state.
The most awe-inspiring tee shot on one of Wisconsin’s most majestic courses is Wild Rock’s par five sixth hole. The view from the quartzite tees overlooks Baraboo and more than 30 miles of the Wisconsin Dells surrounding area.
Being in or around the fairway is essential, as anything right is dead, and there is little room to work with left. The fairway narrows as the sixth plays uphill, and a blind shot to the green becomes guess-work as the approach drops downhill, then into oblivion both long and right. The pin location has been in the midst of a severe slope each time I have played it, making a two-putt much to ask for.
While it looks fairly elementary from the tee boxes, the eleventh hole at the River is anything but. The views from the second and third shots are picturesque, to say the least, while the distances over the Sheboygan River are deceivingly long.
Do yourself a favor and avoid looking at the hole flyover prior to teeing off. The optimal tee shot is the left side of the fairway, although a sand trap is found left 260 yards out. The river runs the full distance of the right side, and narrows the fairway between it and the reservoir found to the left at about 300 yards. The second shot will bring the river in to the equation no matter where the tee shot is played to, and the distance to safely carry the river can be tough to judge.
To me, the eleventh is the most scenic hole on the River course, which is a bold statement. I am told that it is Herb Kohler’s favorite, as well.
Thirteen is one of the most awe-striking par fives you will find anywhere. The tee shot is pretty self-explanatory: Try to find the fairway and set up your second shot. From there, it gets interesting.
The mounding on this hole is absolutely beautiful, and is the quintessential example that should be used for any American links-style course. The second shot has to be long, and absolutely needs to be in the fairway. Why? The finish is surrounded by woods, and features a massive depression that falls steeply from the fairway. It then climbs again for 150-plus yards to the green, which looks heavenly from the fairway depression before being mounded even higher for the green itself.
The eighteenth at Erin Hills is one of the most beautiful finishing holes I have played, and at 620 yards from the green tees (660 from the tips), it is also one of the longest.
Listening to Director of Golf, Rich Tock, tell me about this hole before our round got me excited to play it. With a good drive, the fairway bends right at around 250-300 yards out. Trying to hit the green in two from this area will inevitably result in a lost ball in the forced carry over fescue that serves as a wetland. The second shot has to be played far right toward the central fairway sand trap. The fairway on eighteen extends considerably in that direction, and leaves a wedge in to a green that is risen and lined on the left with deep sand traps. Long and left runs off the green quickly.
The view on this approach is breathtaking, with the clubhouse, village, and American and Erin Hills flags in the near distance, and Holy Hill on the horizon. It is so memorable that a friend of mine from my Thursday night golf league hired a painter to capture the vista with him on the eighteenth green.
It was a great decision by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. not to change much on the par five fifth hole at the renovated SentryWorld.
Driving over water, the fairway meanders around the lake and finishes on a peninsula well under 400 yards from the tee boxes, but is completely unreachable. While this crescent-shaped layout provides a wealth of risk/reward options, the smart play is to make sure the fairway is hit off the tee, then “Walk the line” greenward.
Keeping it as the fifth hole does not mean improvements were ignored: The new fifth has an opened up driving area, and less trees in the fly zone over the inland lake means long hitters will now be further provoked to try daring approaches over and along the shoreline.
All you need to know about this hole can be seen in the aerial layout. With water seamingly everywhere, the tee shot needs to be played to the fairway. The parallel rivers separate split fairways on the second shot, and the green is mercilessly small and breaks relentlessly. While the fairway on the left side makes for the easiest setup, the one in the middle allows the greatest margin for error on the approach. Choose your own adventure on this spectacular par five.
The longest par five on the Meadow Valleys course, the sixteenth is nicknamed “Rolling Thunder.” The tee shot from the tips requires a whole lot of length to clear the hill that fronts the fairway and landing zone, then fires right green-ward. Stay well right of the small barn off the tee. Be smart on the second shot to avoid the largest sand trap at all of Blackwolf Run, and maybe the largest greenside bunker in the state, lingering short-right and along the entire right side of the elevated putting surface.
The opening hole on the back nine of the Player course features highly-elevated tee boxes with woods to the left and a hugely downhill drive.
Find the fairway on the drive and get great roll to set up a chance at hitting this green in two. The shot over the pond is long, and the landing area is largely populated with sand. The finish of this hole reminds me of the 18th from Castle at the Bay, requiring a long shot over water and staggered bunkers. The green is multi-tiered, as many of the greens at Geneva National are.
The back nine at Big Fish is absolutely beautiful, and is highlighted by this phenomenal par five. Following a straight tee shot, the setup is played over a gigantic crest in the fairway that drops significantly toward a lower fairway before playing back uphill to a small green guarded by several pot bunkers left, and a line of trees to the right.
The seventh at Washington County is a brutal par five. At over 500 yards, water lines almost the entire left side of the hole, and the fairway funnels toward it. The tee boxes are in line with the pond, so it is essential to stay right.
The approach is over a small creek / waste area, and fescue runs along the right side of the rough by the cart path.
The eighteenth at Brown Deer begins with one of the most demanding tee shots I have ever played. From the tips, this hole plays at 557 yards, and the tee shot needs to be at least 225 and straight to cross the pre-fairway stream.
Heading uphill, the hole is lined with trees. A former PGA Tour event finishing hole, it is fun to think to yourself on the tee boxes: “What would Tiger do?”
With elevated tee boxes driving downhill, out of bounds left and tons of sand traps and OB right, this is a tight driving hole that can reward straight shots with a lot of roll-out. The par five fifth at Hawk’s Landing plays downhill to a green that has to be run on to.
After parking the cart and walking back to the tee boxes, there is a carry to the tee shot of a little over 100 yards to the fairway. The right side drops about 15 feet off the playing surface, so if you land there then take your medicine and re-find the fairway. The setup shot is played over an inland stream and uphill to one of the most beautiful green areas I have ever seen. Littered with sand and an almost impossibly sloped green, a par here would feel like a birdie on almost any other hole.
The Firestone replica sixth hole at Northern Bay tees up from 625 yards of tree-lined fairway. The fairway is tight, and the setup shot aims downhill to a creek that starts on the right side and builds in to a pond before the green. The green is next to impossible to hit in two, so play it smart to avoid this blow-up hole waiting to happen.
Ten is Hawk’s View’s longest par five, and my favorite hole at Como Crossings. The tenth sets up similarly to the eighteenth hole at one of my favorite Wisconsin courses, The Oaks. The fairway sets up laterally with hundreds of yards to short grass to hit from the tees. The farther left you drive, the shorter the drive will be.
If the tee shot is long and left, there will be a chance to hit the green in two, but it will likely be 200 yards or more. If the middle or right side of the fairway is hit off the tee, the only option will be to lay up before Como Creek. A beautiful wooden bridge crosses the creek and leads to a short layup area that fronts an elevated green. This is an awesome par five that for almost all players will require three shots to hit.
The eighteenth at The Oaks is a fantastic finishing hole. The last of their five par fives, the fairway runs slightly downhill and is probably the widest on the course. The hole bends left and over a large waste area, with woods left. Beyond these woods is about 30 yards of open fairway and sand traps, while the front-right side of the green area will result in a lost ball or deeper bunkers.
Play to the left side of the green for your best chance of staying safe, and realize that there is plenty of fairway and layup area left of the green over the trees that front the approach area.
Seven is my favorite hole on the Woodlands course, and one of my all-time favorite par fives. The tee shot is nearly impossible: A large sand trap and woods on the left, forest on the right, and well within distance is a mammoth pond surrounded by tall, thick fescue. Stay safe off the tee and your second shot will be to a wide enough area uphill to set up the approach.
The green is two-tiered, so make sure you find the right level. Anything on the wrong level almost guarantees a three-putt, while a top-level hole location is still liable to carry any putt to the lower level (or off the green, altogether). Take a minute to enjoy the look back at this gorgeous hole layout before moving on to the eighth hole.
The tenth at Fire Ridge has one of the most exciting par five approach shots in Wisconsin. At over 500 yards, a forest lines the left side of the hole, and the fairway is wide enough with the exception of a large tree that can lock out shots cut right.
The approach carries a wide river (shown below), then flies a long sand trap that fronts this kidney bean-shaped green.
When you look at any of the key “Top 10” lists in the state of Wisconsin, there is certainly a lot of parity. My list is not much different from others, but I do like to think that I tend to be more subjective than the major media (GolfWeek, Golf Digest, Golf.com). How some state courses are consistently left out of the major top ten lists (ie: Wild Rock, SentryWorld, Geneva National, etc.), for example, is beyond me.
Golf Digest: #8 US public, #42 US top 100, #56 US toughest, #2 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #139 US modern, #31 US resort, #5 Wisconsin public
Golf.com: #96 US top 100, #22 US public
Located in the middle of nowhere, Southeastern Wisconsin, Erin Hills is looking forward to hosting hundreds of thousands of spectators for the 2017 US Open.
With fine fescue fairways, and bent grass tees and greens, Erin Hills is one of the most finely manicured courses in the country, and certainly in the state. Elevation is used stunningly, and craggy, deep sand traps abound the fairways and green complexes. The US Open will be the longest in history, around 7,700 yards.
With a slope of 145 from the championship tees, Erin Hills is one of the most challenging courses I have played, and also one of the most picturesque.
Golf Digest: #4 US public, #22 US top 100, #48 world top 100, #6 US toughest, #1 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #6 US modern, #4 US resort, #1 Wisconsin public
Golf.com: #28 US top 100, #6 US public, #49 world top 100
Host of the 2004 PGA Championship, 2007 US Senior Open, 2010 PGA Championship, 2015 PGA Championship, and the much-anticipated 2020 Ryder Cup, the Straits course is perennially rated as one of the top five golf courses in the country, alongside legends like Sand Hills, Pebble Beach, Pacific Dunes and others.
The Straits course features eight holes that run alongside the shore of Lake Michigan, offering one of the most beautiful (and windy) natural settings for golf in the world.
Golf Digest: #16 US public, #32 US toughest, #4 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #56 US modern, #17 US resort, #3 Wisconsin public
Golf.com: #89 US top 100, #14 US public
Absolutely breathtaking. I loved, too, that I could play it on Tiger Woods Golf the night before playing it for real! The 47th ranked modern course in the country, the River has been the site of many professional golf events, including the 1998 and 2012 US Women’s Opens, and in the mid-nineties the Arthur Andersen World Golf Championships.
The River is Pete Dye’s quintessential parkland course, with a championship tees slope of 151, making it one of the 30 toughest courses in America, and certainly one of the most beautiful.
Golf Digest: #47 US public, #91 US top 100, #6 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #172 US modern, #35 US resort, #6 Wisconsin public
Golf.com: #89 US top 100, #79 US public
The Irish course at Whistling Straits is the next best thing to its $400-plus big brother Straits course. Striking vistas of Lake Michigan, and a perfectly curated layout make this course quite memorable. The 10th hole (shown below), nicknamed “Shepherd’s Post,” provides one of the most visually stunning tee shots I have ever taken.
Hole 11: Par 3 (208/193/177/169/125)
Carved alongside the site of the 2004 and 2010 PGA Championship Straits Course, the Irish features much of the same charm that makes the 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 the Whistling Straits.
Golf Digest: #5 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #4 Wisconsin public
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).
SentryWorld is scheduled to reopen in the Spring of 2015, after a major course renovation was executed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and his course design team led by Bruce Charlton and Jay Blasi.
The new SentryWorld is better than ever. The improved routing and added length have successfully updated the course for the times and technology, while making the course more challenging for low-handicap players and more enjoyable for the weekend warrior.
It is my prediction that SentryWorld: Reimagined will find it’s way back on to every major golf course ranking provider’s top ten list in 2015.
Golf Digest: #85 US public, #12 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #71 US classic, #2 Wisconsin public
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. Highly elevated green complexes, huge elevation and devilish sand traps make it a fantastic test of golf.
The one word that comes to mind when trying to describe this course is “Majestic.” How each hole seems to somehow outdo the last one is mind-boggling to me. The drastic changes in elevation, and the ridiculous length of this course is staggering, too (7,418 yards from the Quartzite tees). Wild Rock is a bit pricy, but well worth the $89 rate.
Golf Digest: #72 US public, #10 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #10 Wisconsin public
With nine of Blackwolf Run’s original 18 holes, the Meadow Valleys includes my number one favorite hole in the state of Wisconsin: The magnificent par four fourteenth, known as “Nature’s Course.” This is just one of many beautiful layouts on the Meadow Valleys. I recommend not trying to play the Meadow Valleys from the tips, like we did on July 20, 2014. At 7,250 yards, there are par threes with forced carries of 227 and 230. Yikes.
The split-fairway sixteenth hole is one of the coolest holes I have ever played. U-Ridge is a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course, and is the home of the Wisconsin Badgers golf team. The back nine has some exceptional holes cut through the woods, starting with the thirteenth and continuing through sixteen. Recently renovated for 2013, U-Ridge now features the same 007 Bentgrass greens as at the Olympic Club, Augusta, and other select world-class courses.
My favorite of the three courses at Geneva National, the Palmer Course features some of the most unique hole layouts I have found in the state. The par five seventeenth hole is ranked as one of Arnie’s “Dream 18” holes, and is one of mine, as well.
Golf Digest: #70 US public, #9 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #9 Wisconsin public
The Bull is beautiful, to say the least, with outstanding hole layouts. But, it is also incredibly tight and penalizing. 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.
A primarily replica course, my only complaint about Northern Bay is that it’s too damn far away! I have a hard time deciding which of the replica holes is my favorite: Oakmont’s church pews, Firestone, Amen Corner, Bay Hill… Probably TPC 17. It helps that I seem to play well here, but Castle at the Bay is the most entertaining course I have played on.
One of Wisconsin’s most beautiful Fall-time courses, especially, the Woodlands at Lawsonia is in stark contrast to its world-famous sister course, the Links. With exceptional holes like the second, third and seventh on the front nine alone, the Woodlands is half of what makes Lawsonia one of my favorite Wisconsin golfing destinations.
My close second favorite of the Geneva National layouts, the Player course has some great hole layouts, especially on their par fours. With a number of holes offering extreme risk/reward scenarios, Player allows golfers to risk disaster for the potential reward of more managable approaches.
An Arnold Palmer signature course, The Bog is assuredly the Milwaukee area’s best overall public golf course (since the PGA Tour stopped coming to Brown Deer after 2009), and best championship test at 7,200-plus yards from the tips.
The Oaks made its way to being one of my absolute favorite golf courses in the state this past year. Their greens are lightning quick and undulating, and its unique mix of six par threes and five par fives make it a wonderful test for anyone’s short and long games.
Wild Ridge was a perennial top ten course in the state of Wisconsin before the building boom of the 1980’s and ’90’s that introduced such tracks as Blackwolf Run, Whistling Straits, the Bull and Erin Hills. Wild Ridge has awesome elevation and a great collection of par fives. This was a great stop on the way back from the Twin Cities, just off of I-90/94 in Eau Claire.