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.

——————   ——————   ——————   ——————

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)

Golf Course Review: Ozaukee Country Club

Established in 1922, Ozaukee Country Club is one of the oldest and most premier private golf clubs in the Milwaukee area. A classic Langford/Moreau design, the course is not long but certainly has teeth, placing a premium on shot-making around the greens and demanding a good short game.

Host to the 2014 Wisconsin State Amateur, this par 70 course plays tough! In fact, only five rounds of under-par golf were recorded by the entire field, which was won by Alex Gaugert of Grand Geneva Resort and Spa with a score of +6. Robbie Ziegler of University Ridge was the only other player in the tournament to be in single digits over par, at +8.

The facilities at Ozaukee are spectacular, and the club is well known for providing an excellent food and beverage experience. They have a massive swimming pool with plenty of cabanas and lawn chairs for laying out on during the summer, and a massive clubhouse with what has become a very iconic statue framing the front:

Statue in front of the Ozaukee Country Club clubhouse

Statue in front of the Ozaukee Country Club clubhouse

Ozaukee’s reputation really took off during the 21 years that Rich Tock served as Head Golf Professional. Tock, now the Director of Marketing for Erin Hills, brought the club to truly elite status in the Mequon and greater Milwaukee area.

Ozaukee starts with a tough opening hole: A 400-plus yard par four with trees to the left. The right side is out of bounds, and with a fairly tight fairway it is one of the more challenging opening holes I have seen on a local private golf club.

Hole 1: Par 4 (438/412/406/406)

Hole 1: Par 4 (438/412/406/406)

Probably one of the key reasons that scores at last year’s US Amateur were so high is that Ozaukee’s par 70 course features only three par fives, compared to its five par threes.The first of the three par fives at Ozaukee comes early, on the second hole. The wide fairway is inviting, with the right side being preferred to the left to set up a better opportunity at hitting this green in two.

The approach shot plays to the left and has to carry several traps to get home safely.

Hole 2: Par 5 (505/491/485/457)

Heavily mounded along the right side of the fairway to keep tee shots from hitting beautiful course-side homes, the third is a mid-length par four that veers slightly leftward. The green area is especially interesting on this hole, with a steep mound front-right and shallow traps left.

Hole 3: Par 4 (392/385/376/342)

Hole 3: Par 4 (392/385/376/342)

The first of five par threes at Ozaukee, the fourth is not your run-of-the-mill 155-yard one-shotter. The green is slightly uphill, but is massive and breaks hard from left to right, eventually to a large drop-off back-right. Back pin locations especially play tough.

Hole 4: Par 3 (173/155/145/128)

The second of three par fives at Ozaukee, the fifth is also the longest hole on the course. The drive is pretty straight-forward, with out-of-bounds left and plenty of fairway to target.The fairway on five is heavily sloped in many areas, rolling up and down, to the left and right. Some areas, in fact, are so depressed that it will require a blind approach shot.

One of the shallower greens on the course, the large barn in the background serves as a pretty good target toward the green.

Hole 5: Par 5 (548/535/502/451)

Hole 5: Par 5 (548/535/502/451)

The longest par three on the course, six plays to 209 yards from the back tees, and 184 from the whites. Falling heavily downhill, the green is tilted sharply from back to front, making holding the green easy – as long as enough club is used to clear the fronting green-side bunkers.

Hole 6: Par 3 (209/184/167/148)

The seventh hole is where my round got really interesting. After hitting the fairway trap on the right side off the tee, I hooked my second shot out of the sand to underneath a tree short and left of the green by about 30 yards.I found the ball just off the tree trunk, with less than a foot of vertical clearance to stay underneath. My friend, Mike, was laughing at how awful of a lie it was.

I gave it a shot anyways, making maybe a little too clean of contact on the ball and driving it in to the heavy slope of the green-side mounding, popping high up in to the air and landing in the hole for birdie. It was even more hilarious because it was a rollover hole in our game. I’ll take it!

Hole 7: Par 4 (416/391/379/343)

Hole 7: Par 4 (416/391/379/343)

Eight is a great golf hole,with an uphill dogleg right that plays to a well-defended green in a hollow of trees. The green is long from front-to-back, and deep pin placements would take a lot of effort to get to. The right side of the green falls off heavily to deep rough, putting a real premium on the approach shot.

Hole 8: Par 4 (442/425/328/325)

Hole 8: Par 4 (442/425/328/325)

Hole 8: Par 4 (442/425/328/325)

The green on nine is very deceptive from the tee. I, for example, thought hitting over the sand trap would result in a solid green in regulation. I was shocked to see my ball well left of what might be the smallest green on the course (fitting for the shortest hole), with a gnarly downhill lie.

Hole 9: Par 3 (176/148/130/122)

The tenth is an interesting hole at Ozaukee, and on the whole feels different from most of the course. Following a downhill tee shot, the approach is almost bound to be from a downhill lie to a green that is protected short and right by water. This is another really tough, sharply contoured putting surface.

Hole 10: Par 4 (435/424/418/413)

With a mostly blind tee shot, eleven plays back up the hill that was used for the fairway on ten. With one of the biggest greens on the course, the eleventh plays toward the clubhouse, and specifically toward its gigantic US flag.

Hole 11: Par 4 (411/392/290/287)

Hole 11: Par 4 (411/392/290/287)

A long dogleg left par four, driver is not always the best play on twelve.

Hole 12: Par 4 (446/429/365/360)

My approach after over-hitting the bend in the fairway on twelve:

Hole 12: Par 4 (446/429/365/360)

A really awesome par four, the thirteenth bends hard left and downhill before coming back uphill just past the large oak tree. This roller coaster of a par four plays long, but can allow for long drives if the right side of the fairway is hit.

Hole 13: Par 4 (449/425/410/340)

The fourteenth is Langford/Moreau golf course design at its very best. At 200 yards from the back tees, or 160 from the whites, the tee shot plays significantly longer with the uphill climb.Similar to the seventh on the Links course at Lawsonia (Langford and Moreau’s most well-known course in Wisconsin, of course), the mounding on this par three is truly intense with a really hard-running putting surface when hit.

Hole 14: Par 3 (200/160/145/120)

Hole 14: Par 3 (200/160/145/120)

The final par five at Ozaukee Country Club, the fifteenth, shows on the scorecard as being fairly short at 497 yards from the tips, but plays significantly longer. The sand traps in the distance are the target area from the tees, and lead to a 90-degree dogleg left that will require great care if laying up on the second shot.A stream runs the left side of this second part of the fairway, and cuts through the approach area as the hole unfolds.

Hole 15: Par 5 (497/475/465/449)

Hole 15: Par 5 (497/475/465/449)

The sixteenth at Ozaukee reminds me a bit of the fifth at another Milwaukee area country club, Tuckaway, with its all-carry tee shot over water to an elevated green that slopes really hard from back to front.Deep bunkers front the left and right sides of the green complex.

Hole 16: Par 3 (188/150/140/120)

Hole 16: Par 3 (188/150/140/120)

Teeing off alongside the Milwaukee River, which further south flows through the back nine of the Milwaukee Country Club, the seventeenth is slightly intimidating from the tee boxes with the river right and a tree line left.The fairway runs softly to the left, with one large oak tree guarding the flight zone from the short-left side of the fairway.

Hole 17: Par 4 (404/382/310/306)

Hole 17: Par 4 (404/382/310/306)

Hole 17: Par 4 (404/382/310/306)

Over 400 yards and uphill, the eighteenth at Ozaukee is a solid par four finishing hole. The wide fairway is easy enough to hit, but is unlikely to roll out, leaving a lengthy uphill shot to a green that is primarily hidden from view on the approach.

Hole 18: Par 4: 436/418/345/306)

Hole 18: Par 4: 436/418/345/306)

Hole 18: Par 4: 436/418/345/306)

After finishing my hole-by-hole review of Ozaukee Country Club, I realize that I have left out a lot of editorial on what makes this course really special: Its greens.True to Langford and Moreau’s portfolio of golf course architecture, Ozaukee has fantastic greens that run fast and break in all directions. Short game is pivotal at a course like Ozaukee, and especially being able to hit targets on approaches.

I am not able to include more germane information on specific greens in most of this review, though, because it’s been six and a half months since I played it (and have so far only played it that one time).

I am really looking forward to hopefully getting back again, though, during the 2015 Wisconsin golf season.

Langford and Moreau courses have a way of “Growing on people.” Their linear work and great mounding, bunkering, subtle breaks and the way they require a strategic approach to score is really addictive, and leads to more insight the more they are played. I suspect that my next round of golf at Ozaukee Country Club will feel that way for me.

Course Wrap-Up:

Location: Thiensville, WI
Yardage: Blue-6765, White-6381, Gold-5806, Red-5400
Slope/Rating: Blue-130/72.9, White-125/71.0, Gold-121/68.5, Red-116/66.8
Par: 70

Weekend Rates: N/A (private club)

Ozaukee Country Club Website

Wisconsin’s Best Public Golf Courses

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, 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.

My Top Ten List:

1. Erin Hills (Erin, WI):

Golf Digest: #8 US public, #42 US top 100, #56 US toughest, #2 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #139 US modern, #31 US resort, #5 Wisconsin public #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.

Hole 18: Par 5 (660/637/620/539/506)

2. Whistling Straits, Straits Course (Haven, WI):

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 #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.

Hole 18: Par 4 (520/487/424/420/380)

3. Blackwolf Run, River Course (Kohler, WI):

Golf Digest: #16 US public, #32 US toughest, #4 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #56 US modern, #17 US resort, #3 Wisconsin public #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.

Hole 4: Par 3 (219/195/185/146/117)

4. Whistling Straits, Irish Course(Haven, WI):

Golf Digest: #47 US public, #91 US top 100, #6 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #172 US modern, #35 US resort, #6 Wisconsin public #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.

5. SentryWorld (Stevens Point, WI):

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.

Hole 12: Par 3 (161/139/123/86/76)

SentryWorld Website

6. Lawsonia, Links Course (Green Lake, WI):

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.

Hole 13: Par 5 (568/556/489/489)

7. Wild Rock (Wisconsin Dells, WI):

Golf Digest: #15 Wisconsin

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.

Hole 15: Par 3 (179/166/148/130/118)

8. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys (Kohler, WI):

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.

Hole 14: Par 4 (423/409/384/376/293)

9. University Ridge (Madison, WI):

GolfWeek: #7 Wisconsin public

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.
Hole 6: Par 5 (623/570/534/442)


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.

Hole 17: Par 5 (573/530/485/421/406)
The Next Ten:

11. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms (Sheboygan, WI):
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.
Hole 8: Par 5 (568/556/500/487/435)

12. Castle at the Bay (Arkdale, WI):

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.
View from the club house of hole 10

13. Hawk’s Landing (Verona, WI):

Featuring some of the truest, fastest greens in the state, Hawk’s Landing is a beautiful golf course with incredibly challenging par fives and great par threes.

Hole 9: Par 5 (587/550/533/469)

14. Lawsonia, Woodlands (Green Lake, WI):

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.

Hole 2: Par 4 (341/329/315/315)

15. Geneva National, Gary Player Course (Lake Geneva, WI):

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.

Hole 5: Par 4 (354/310/283/257/255)

16. Hawk’s View, Como Crossings (Lake Geneva, WI):

With one of the best collections of par threes in the state, Como Crossings takes great advantage of its rolling Lake Geneva land and former Mt. Fuji ski hill.

Hole 17: Par 3 (169/153/136/120/91)

17. Grand Geneva, The Brute (Lake Geneva, WI):

Everything you need to know about The Brute at Grand Geneva is said in its name. This course is huge: Huge bunkers, huge water features, huge greens, huge elevation… Make sure to bring your A-game!

Hole 1: Par 4 (424/395/255)

18. The Bog (Saukville, WI):

Golf Digest: #14 Wisconsin

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.

Hole 9: Par 5 (543/521/493/467/401)

19. The Oaks (Cottage Grove, WI):

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.

Hole 7: Par 3 (192/175/170/157/150)

20. Wild Ridge (Eau Claire, WI):

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.

Hole 12: Par 3 (184/153/141/127/127/107)

Notable Media Rankings:

GolfWeek’s Top Ten Public Courses in Wisconsin (2013)’s Top 15 Public Courses in Wisconsin (2012)

Golf Digest’s Top 10 Golf Courses in Wisconsin (2014)