Golf Course Review: Cog Hill No.4 Dubsdread (IL)

Cog Hill No. 4, Dubsdread Course Rankings:
Golf Digest: #53 US public, #11 Illinois
GolfWeek: #134 US modern, #1 Illinois public #34 US public, #1 Illinois public
Designer: Dick Wilson (1964), Rees Jones (2008 reno)
The top-rated course in the state of Illinois, Cog Hill Number Four Dubsdread is a big-time golf course with the reputation to match.
The entrance to Cog Hill Golf Club
Host to dozens of PGA and USGA events throughout its storied history, Number Four Dubsdread opened in 1964 as the beloved brainchild of Joe Jemsek, who was widely dubbed the “Patriarch of Chicago Golf.”
Most recently, Dubsdread played host to the Western Open from 1991-2006, and then the 2007 and 2009-2011 BMW Championships on the PGA Tour. It is also the third course I have played that at some point hosted the US Amateur (the others were Erin Hills and Chambers Bay). Matt Kuchar won the prestigious event here in 1997.
Because of last week’s Ryder Cup being held at nearby Medinah Country Club, the 2012 BMW Championship was moved to Crooked Stick in Carmel, Indiana, but may be back to Cog Hill in 2013.
In 2008, a $5.2-million Rees Jones renovation was performed on Number Four to “Put the dread back in Dubsdread.” The rework was received with mixed reviews. Some players, most notably Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker, were not fans of the redesign and were quite vocal, while the majority of the course’s regular players [and professionals] loved it, even though 80 percent regularly shot higher than they typically did on the original course.
The bulk of the renovation resulted in drastically improved bunkers and green complexes, and made the course more suitable for long hitters. An underground SubAir system was also implemented to manage the subsurface moisture levels and provide favorable turf growing conditions – the results of this endeavor are obvious in the course’s pristine fairways and greens.
A great example of the results of Rees Jones’, also known as the “Open Doctor,” work at Number Four can be seen here (from the Rees Jones website):
Before and after photos of Rees Jones’ renovation of hole 6 (par 3)
Jones added significant structure to Number Four’s renowned sand hazards, which are placed strategically in nearly every possible location that a non-fairway drive can land. The greens are tough. They are kept at a ten on the stimp meter, I was told by long-time PGA Head Professional Jeff Rimsnider, but they honestly felt much quicker. This lightning fast perception was aided by significant undulation and dubious Sunday pin locations. I kept telling myself I was happy we got to play Dubsdread the weekend before the course aerates.
Recently ranked the 18th toughest course in the country by Golf Digest, I personally rank Dubsdread as the second most difficult course I have played. The only track to give my game more trouble was Erin Hills, primarily because of the day’s strong, swirling winds, and its narrow fairways and deep fescue.
The practice facility at Cog Hill resides along the entrance to the course’s facilities, and is huge. Range is included in the $155 greens fees, and Kentucky bluegrass rough is provided with a wealth of target greens to hit out at. I would have liked to see their beautiful bentgrass fairway grass to hit from, but that would not have been relevant to what was to come, anyways, as I would hit only three total fairways during my round. One of them was an adjacent fairway on the front nine. I was happy with the result of that drive, though, as the short grass was very nice to approach from.
Practice range at Cog Hill
All Callaway Hex range balls at the Cog Hill practice facility

Tiger Woods holds the course record with a 62 in the third round of the 2009 BMW Championship en route to a -19 victory. Don’t worry, Tiger, your record is still intact.

Following the driving range, we spent a lot of time at the chipping and putting greens, and finished our warm-up regimen with what I am told was voted the Chicago area’s best hot dog. I haven’t had many in this great city, but certainly concurred with the nomination.

As an aside, I would not recommend spending much time in the practice bunker at Cog Hill. The course is perhaps best known for its 98 sand traps, but they are drastically different from this one – the sand there is shallow and tarp-lined within an inch, forcing wedges to strike the bottom and oftentimes blade the golf ball. The bunker experience on the course is far different, with sand that is soft and much more playable. The well-fortified high lips on Dubsdread’s sand traps, though, and especially the short-sided outs that often result, make them a tremendous test to the layman’s golf game.

Sunday was cold and a little windy, but mostly sunny. We each donned Nike golf mittens with hand warmers in them, helping us keep our fingers functional between shots (Eric and I both have right hand ulnar nerve damage from past sports injuries, which makes the pinky and ring fingers stiffen and numb in cold weather). I sported an Under Armor top and similar collared overshirt, Tiger Woods pants and heavy socks, which helped keep me relatively comfortable throughout the round.

While the pros tee it up at Number Four from a distance around 7,550 yards, my friend Eric and I played from the blues, which we hoped would be a more manageable 6,750.

The first hole is a great example of what to expect on the front nine: A 425-yard dogleg left par four with bunkers surrounding both sides of the fairway, the green is risen and drops off in every direction to even more sand. Finding the front-right trap on my approach, it was quickly made evident how important it is on this course to aim for the middle of the greens. With a front-side hole location, the green on one rises sharply from the front to the back.
Hole 1: Par 4 (458/442/425/407/385/382)
Hole 1: Par 4 (458/442/425/407/385/382)
Two is the first of Dubsdread’s par threes, and plays to 182 yards from the blue tees. The left and right sides of the putting surface are separated by a substantial drop-off, and as is the case with all holes at Number Four, has virtually no green bail-out areas.
Hole 2: Par 3 (224/208/182/161/158/141)
The third hole features a tight driving area that plays to a narrow fairway that runs left and uphill to one of the most challenging green complexes I have ever played. The right side of the green area has very little sand, so the bailout area is found there. With a back-right hole location, though, the green raises in tremendous fashion to a plateau that must be held for any chance of a two-putt.
Hole 3: Par 4 (443/427/407/389/386/308)
Hole 3: Par 4 (443/427/407/389/386/308)
Four is a beautiful par four that plays to 397 yards from the blue tees. Large bunkers are found in the rough area on both sides at around 250 yards, and the raised green is fronted by two very tough traps.
Hole 4: Par 4 (462/427/397/367/348/285)
Five is an awesome par five. Short by most standards at 479 yards, the fairway rounds from left to right and must be hit for any chance of hitting the green in two. A long approach shot, though, will flirt with a bevy of greenside traps.
Hole 5: Par 5 (507/495/479/463/433/414)
A downhill one-shotter, the sixth hole at Number Four Dubsdread is a deceptively long par three. With a deep hole location, the hole played to about 205 yards into the wind, and required a normally 215-yard shot to hit. My three-hybrid hit the front-right false front and caromed sharply right in to one of a handful of traps that surround the putting surface.
Hole 6: Par 3 (240/216/194/173/137/117)
One of the most intimidating tee shots on the course, the seventh hole has one of the front nine’s only water hazards. A large pond makes up the right side of the driving area, and must be played left of to have any chance of hitting this green in two. Trees left of the fairway, and bunkers long, force players to hit less than driver off the tee to stay safe. The green complex is risen high and falls toward the front-right, which is heavily defended by some of the course’s most extreme greenside bunkers.
Hole 7: Par 4 (431/399/385/363/304/277)
Hole 7: Par 4 (431/399/385/363/304/277)
At 341 yards from the blue tees, the eighth hole tee shot should be played just right of the left-side fairway bunkers for the least impeded approach shot. I had a different plan in mind, as my drive actually went so long and left that I had a clear approach from the fifth hole fairway. The right side of the actual fairway forces players to carry about fifty yards of sand on the way uphill to the green.
Hole 8: Par 4 (379/360/341/319/316/296)
At 569 yards and tree-lined on both sides, the ninth hole is one of the toughest par fives I have ever played. Find the fairway off the tee and hit your longest club that you can hit straight. A back-left hole location makes for a tricky approach, as the rise fro the front to the middle of the green drops off toward the back-left of the putting surface.
Hole 9: Par 5 (613/600/586/550/521/486)
Hole 9: Par 5 (613/600/586/550/521/486)
The back nine begins with a short par four of 353 yards from the blue middle tees. While the left side is lined with tall trees, the right side is heavily bunkered and leads to a green that is tough to hold. I hit the middle of this green on my approach, only to find myself in the back-side trap with a delicate out that was next to impossible to hold on its way downhill.
Hole 10: Par 4 (383/369/353/336/333/306)
Crossing the street to the eleventh hole is, to me, where Dubsdread gets really special. The elevation found on the remainder of these holes, and the incredible variety of the layouts, provides one of the most awe-inspiring golf experiences anywhere.
A long par five of 547 yards from the blues, the eleventh plays between parallel sand traps that line the fairway, then softly fades left and uphill to one of the most beautiful green areas on the course. While the back side of the risen green complex falls off to a depressed fairway basin, the view of the surrounding Lemont area on the horizon is absolutely breathtaking.
Hole 11: Par 5 (607/565/547/525/483/436)
Hole 11: Par 5 (607/565/547/525/483/436)
A long downhill par three, the twelfth hole is a magnificent par three. The prevailing left to right winds helped our tee shots, and left Eric and me with our most make-able birdie putts to this point. Neither of us made them, unfortunately, but the tee shot on this hole sets up awesomely. Long on this hole is dead, with a deep bunker that is unseen from the tees on the back side of the green that precludes a sharp drop-off in to the woods.
Hole 12: Par 3 (216/202/194/178/154/151)
The sixth handicapped hole on the course, the 383-yard par four thirteenth is for my money the toughest hole on the Number Four course. The fairway is mercilessly surrounded by angled sand traps, while the right side is one of the only true out-of-bounds areas on the entire course. The approach sets up much like the approach on the fifteenth hole at the Bull at Pinehurst Farms: A deep ravine leads to greenside bunkers and an uphill approach to a small green that is hard to hold. The ravine is deep, as can be seen below, and ends in a small creek that is unplayable from.
Hole 13: Par 4 (480/446/383/371/368/312)
Hole 13: Par 4 (480/446/383/371/368/312)
One of the most popular sites for fans during championship events, the par three fourteenth features a large hill that can be used for spectator seating, and a long tee shot to a huge green that appears almost as an island in a sea of sand. The approach area to the green is clear, but must then be played significantly uphill to a green that ascends in the front to one of the deepest greens on the course. Stay below the hole on this green complex to keep from one of the most delicate downhill putts on the course.
Hole 14: Par 3 (215/194/184/174/171/108)
Hole 14: Par 3 (215/194/184/174/171/108)
Hole 14: Par 3 (215/194/184/174/171/108)
A 482-yard par five, the tee shot on fifteen plays between woods to a fairway that has sand traps on both sides, while a strategically placed tree cozied to the right side of the approach area can make this short par five very difficult to hit in two.
The short right side of the driving area is more open than it appears from the tees, and the fairway approach area before the green is found well left, leaving a short pitch that will take the surrounding bunkers out of the equation.
Hole 15: Par 5 (523/509/482/462/425/410)
Hole 15: Par 5 (523/509/482/462/425/410)
Sixteen is one of the prettiest holes on the course, and plays downhill and left to a wide fairway. The left side should be favored for a shorter approach to an elevated green that is nestled in to the tree line. The left side of the fairway, and left of the green, falls off the playing surface to out-of-bounds.
Hole 16: Par 4 (456/419/381/362/359/342)
Hole 16: Par 4 (456/419/381/362/359/342)
Hole 16: Par 4 (456/419/381/362/359/342)
Seventeen is finally a hole that plays nicely for my faded drive. With sand traps built in to the hillsides left, and trees right, the fairway doglegs right and leads to a green that is backed by woods, and again surrounded by sand hazards.
Hole 17: Par 4 (423/407/399/381/378/299)
Eighteen is one of the most gorgeous and intimidating finishing holes in golf. The hole runs straight ahead, but narrows considerably around 300 yards where the pond comes in to play on the left. The hole finishes over this pond, with a severely undulating green that plays to the edge of the water. A front-left hole location would be extremely exacting, while the back-right location we had on Sunday presented a tabled pin that resided opposite of a sizeable crest running midway through the putting surface. Two angled sand traps built in to the rough just right of the green would present an even bigger challenge, as hitting out and actually holding this downhill pitch on the green would be a huge test.
Hole 18: Par 4 (494/459/431/401/374/371)
Hole 18: Par 4 (494/459/431/401/374/371)
Hole 18: Par 4 (494/459/431/401/374/371)
Following my round, I received a handful of text messages asking about the course, which promotes intrigue to golf enthusiasts around the country. I can best describe it like this: The front nine is like a supercharged version of Milwaukee’s Brown Deer (former site of the US Bank Championship and Greater Milwaukee Open), with more substantial sand traps and less water.

The back nine is much more difficult to classify: It has a bit of everything, and everything is done really well. While some elements still remind me of Brown Deer, the most similar on-course experience I can relate is Torrey Pines. Elevation is used generously on the back nine, with risen green complexes that are surrounded by some of the deepest traps I have ever seen.

I loved the squared bentgrass tee boxes, too, and especially the visual they provide when looking back from fairways and par threes.

Having played Cog Hill Number Four Dubsdread for the first time, my appreciation for the unbelievable talent of the PGA Tour’s top players is certainly heightened, and it is easy to see why Golf Digest would name it as one of the twenty toughest courses in the United States. I hope the PGA’s penultimate tournament, the BMW Championship, will make it’s way back to this historic location in 2013, as I’d sure love to see now how these difficult holes are best approached.

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Lemont, IL
Yardage: Black-7554, Gold-7144, Blue-6750, White-6382, Green-6033, Forward-5441
Slope/Rating: Black-151/77.8, Gold-144/75.8, Blue-138/73.9, Combo-136/72.9, White-134/71.9, Green-130/70.2
Par: 72
Weekend Rates (with cart): $155

Golf Course Review: The River Course at Blackwolf Run

Blackwolf Run, River Course Rankings:
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
Designer: Pete Dye (1988)
A true Pete Dye masterpiece, the River at Blackwolf Run is unanimously the second rated course in Wisconsin, Golf Magazine’s 11th”Best Course You Can Play,” and GolfWeek’s 47th rated modern course in the United States.
Host to the 1998 and 2012 US Women’s Opens, Blackwolf Run is perhaps best known for the ’98 Open won by Se Ri Pak, whose victory at the Original Championship course (comprised of the original eighteen holes at Blackwolf Run – nine apiece from the River and Meadow Valleys courses) brought women’s golf to a whole new level, and resulted in an insurgence of professional golfers from South Korea and other Asian countries. At the time, Pak was the only South Korean golfer on tour. In 2012, she is one of 45. And television sales to South Korea are the number one source of revenue for the LPGA.
While Pak put Blackwolf Run on the international map, the course was introduced to rave reviews in 1988, being named the number one new course in the United States.
A product of the American Club Resort – owned by Kohler Company – and one of only 36 resorts worldwide to be designated both Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond, the River features beautifully manicured memorial bentgrass fairways and tees, Kentucky bluegrass and fescue rough, and the same seed of A4 bentgrass found on the greens at Augusta.
These greens are the most formidable of many challenges facing golfers at the River. Currently rolling at an eleven and a half on the stimp meter, they were sped up to a blistering fourteen for the Women’s Open this past July. Pete Dye’s signature parkland course features not only lightning fast greens, but large and dramatically undulating putting surfaces that roll true but are about as difficult to read as a mid-nineteenth century Dickens novel.
There are few subtly breaking putts on the River Course. The slopes are extreme, and putting up and downhill proved to take more touch than I had brought to the course. The most disappointing of these situations was on the par five eighth hole – after finding the front of the green in two, I was excited to have a 50-plus-foot uphill putt, only to four-putt it for bogey.
This weekend was the best possible time to play the River course: The leaves on the trees are in bright shades of yellow, orange and red; the wind was minimal, peaking around eight miles per hour, and the mid-to-upper sixties temperatures were ideal for golf. As Pete Dye says on the opening page of the yardage guide: “There could not be a better natural setting for golf.”
Fall colors from the 8th hole tee box
Large salmon swimming in the Sheboygan River on 9
Beautiful views of the Sheboygan River come early and often. The opening hole is lined on the left by this substantial river, while a twenty-foot hike through the brush behind the second hole championship tee boxes yields a view of a dammed waterfall that is used unsuccessfully by the salmon to continue their adventure upstream.
The dam behind the 2nd hole tee boxes
Fly fishermen are seen frequently in the shallows of the Sheboygan River, most notably at the thirteenth on the River, and fourteenth on the Meadow Valleys. Fly fishing seems unnecessary at this time of year, as a large net seems like it would work just as well. Then again, golfers don’t walk their ball to where they would want it to be and drop it there, only to then walk it to the next spot they would like to be at until they drop it by hand in to the cup. Similarly, fly fishing is a much more sporting challenge.
The salmon are only part of the wildlife found at the River. Three of its most renowned natural population include the two stately swans normally found on Swan Lake, and the red fox that traverses the fairways and clubhouse area surrounding the fourteenth hole. I am told the swans are currently relocated to the Meadow Valleys since the US Women’s Open, while the red fox is aging and often seems a bit out of sorts, but still visits the clubhouse area on occasion.
I was disappointed in July to attend the US Women’s Open and not see these majestic swans, especially since I told readers in my listing of the top ten par three holes in the state that I expected them to be featured predominantly prior to and following commercial breaks. They really are amazing to watch: When golfers are on the tee boxes, they swim near the tee boxes; when they go to the green, they swim near the green. They seem to be genuine golf enthusiasts. Fortunately, there is plenty of great golf to be found on the Meadow Valleys, too.
Blackwolf Run’s swans at the Original Championship course in 2010
A defining characteristic of Pete Dye’s courses is his way of forcing golfers to use every club in their bag, and every shape of shot. I have never seen this be more evident than it is at the River. Holes like nine, thirteen and seventeen oblige players to draw their tee shots from right to left – a skill that remains unrefined in my game. Towering trees on the ninth and twelfth leave little opportunity for other shot shapes, although they can be flown with a long and lofted tee shot on nine. Twelve is just next to impossible.
At 7,404 yards from the championship tees (6,865 from the blues, 6,507 from the greens that we played, 6,110 from the whites, and 5,115 from the reds), the River course is long, too. In fact, the Original Championship course at Blackwolf Run was set up for the 2012 US Women’s Open at 6,954 yards – the longest course ever played at sea level in the 60-year history of the event. The Andersen Consulting World Championships of Golf played in the mid-nineties played the Original Championship course at a considerably longer distance. As an aside, that event was last won here by my favorite PGA Tour golfer, Ernie Els, in 1997. But, I digress.
One of the most frequent discussions about the River is how it compares to the Straits course at Whistling Straits. While the Straits’ splendor revolves primarily around Lake Michigan and the course’s rugged terrain, Blackwolf Run’s stunning beauty is found in the forests, river and wildlife that abounds. That being said, I have only seen parts of the Straits while there for PGA Championship events and playing the Irish course.
From what I have seen so far, the two courses are alike only in their course architect (Pete Dye) and owning entity (Kohler Company), their stellar international reputations and high standards for immaculate course conditions. Oh, and both are really expensive!
The River course is featured on both sides of the entranceway in to Blackwolf Run, and Swan Lake resides just outside the entrance to the clubhouse. The vines encumbering the rock walls that terrace this clear inland lake are now bright red and provide a pleasing contrast against the white stone, tall golden fescue, clear blue skies and water, and the green grasses and foliage. The clubhouse has old-world log cabin charm. The detail that goes in to Blackwolf Run makes it a truly special golf experience.
Left of Swan Lake from the clubhouse is Blackwolf Run’s practice facility, which features natural grass hitting stations and a chipping green with fairway approach areas and a deep sand trap. Even the chipping green rolls fast. It can be used accurately for putting, although there are obviously dents on the surface. The putting practice green is on the opposite side of Swan Lake and allows for a smoother warm-up experience.
Driving range at Blackwolf Run
On the way to the first hole of the River course you will pass by a very seldom used tee box. This is the tee box used for the first hole of the Original Championship course, and when used sets up one of the most demanding par four holes I have played. Outside of tournament times, though, it is unused and leads to the green of the ninth hole of the Meadow Valleys.
The first hole of the River course runs adjacent to the Sheboygan River on the left, and is heavily mounded on the right. The tall fescue that lines the rough areas envelops anything errant – balls hit into it should not even be searched for. This opening hole is a medium-length par five from the green tees, at 526 yards, and can be hit in two with a couple of long shots. The green area is bunkered on the left and runs toward the river.
Hole 1: Par 5 (610/564/526/501/411)
Two is one of the narrowest holes on the River course, but is otherwise fairly straightforward. With woods lining the left side of the fairway and fescue to the right, a soft fade works nicely to set up a short iron in on this 355-yard par four. The approach area is crowded by five large sand traps, the two worst of which are found before the green.
Hole 2: Par 4 (377/370/355/345/310)

Three played as one of the most challenging holes on the course during July’s Women’s Open. A par four of about 400 yards, the opening to the right-side of the fairway seemingly drops off the face of the earth to a deep sand trap prior to the large tree found in that direction.

I witnessed several women hitting this awful location while there for the final round, although at 185 yards from the green tees it did not come in to play for my friend, Mitch, or me. The fairway runs left to right, and tee shots favoring the right side will leave the shortest approach. A 150-yard long sand trap lines the right side of the hole, though, and should be avoided at all costs.

Hole 3: Par 4 (468/410/395/389/295)
Crossing the driveway of Blackwolf Run after the third hole brings in to view the magnificent Swan Lake and the fourth and fourteenth holes. Four is one of the most harrowing par three tee shots found anywhere: Water runs the entire right side of the hole, and the green and approach area are narrow and abut the lake. It also doesn’t help that this hole is a healthy 185 yards from the green tees, but at least it’s not the 219 from the blacks. This was the most popular hole watched at this year’s Women’s Open.
Hole 4: Par 3 (219/195/185/146/117)
Hole 4: Par 3 (219/195/185/146/117)

While four is a beautiful par three, five is a magnificent par four. This is the first hole played on the River course that is not part of the Original Championship track – the Original Championship skips five through thirteen and instead rounds Swan Lake to fourteen as its fifth. Three times leading up to our round I was told about the tee shot on five, and it did not fail to impress!

With highly elevated tee boxes, five is nicknamed “Made in Heaven.” Having played the River many times on Tiger Woods Golf for Playstation 3, I should have known what was coming, but was still awe-struck by such a majestic driving scenario.

Hole 5: Par 4 (427/400/388/376/275)
The drive on five is to a wide fairway that is bordered long and left, as well as on the right side by a large sand trap, and right of that trap by the Sheboygan River. The tee shot is relatively simple on this hole. The approach, however, is not. High uphill, the approach plays to a plateau that is cut out of the tree line and drops straight down twenty feet on the right side. This drop is reminiscent of the right side of the green on the “Boxcar Hole” at Lawsonia’s Links course, if that helps you picture it.
Hole 5: Par 4 (427/400/388/376/275)
Six is a very deceiving tee shot. The hole layout looks to favor a drive to the left side of the fairway. Hitting one of my best baby fades of the day, I marked an “F” on my scorecard for fairway hit, then drove up the fairway only to find that the left side actually falls downhill and then left into a deep woods and ravine that leaves errant (even though I thought it was perfect) shots unfindable. Had I checked the yardage guide prior to this tee shot, I would have seen that the trees are just 238 yards from the green tees, and would have hit a three-wood or hybrid. I hope you will learn from my mistake.
Hole 6: Par 4 (388/361/333/308/265)
The seventh hole is another tee shot that is best attacked with less than driver. At just 374 yards from the green tees, a 225-yard shot to the middle of the fairway will allow a manageable play in, while hitting driver brings in to play out of bounds long and to the right, and a deep and expansive sand trap to the left. The sand trap runs to 247 yards from the green tee boxes, and leads to a vertical wall that rises about eight feet. If flown with driver, the narrow fairway area beyond it runs to two smaller sand traps. What I am implying here is that driver is again not the smartest play.
Hole 7: Par 4 (426/401/374/352/293)
Hole 7: Par 4 (426/401/374/352/293)
The eighth hole on the River course is nicknamed “Hell’s Gate.” With an elevated tee shot downhill and over trees, the fairway can handle a drive as long as 275 yards. Hit a gentle cut to make this allowable distance longer, but beware the sand traps and tall fescue that are found long. The fairway splits at around 150 yards out, and results in a higher and lower level. The higher level is narrow and is bordered by a drop-off to the river, while the lower level is less intimidating but leads to sand traps and a significantly uphill wedge shot.
Hole 8: Par 5 (532/524/492/470/401)
If the fairway is hit off the tee, the eighth is very reachable in two. My drive to the rough in front of the middle fairway bunker, for example, left just a five-iron in. While excited about the prospects of having a [long] eagle putt, the green proved to be unyielding in its 32-yard long journey uphill.
Hole 8: Par 5 (532/524/492/470/401)
Nine is the River course’s exemplary risk/reward hole. A short par four, the green can be reached off the tee with a drive of 305 yards. The approach area is littered with deep bunkers, though, and the river borders the entire right side. Tall trees protect against straight drives, making the smart shot a long iron left of them. I lucked out with a four-hybrid over these trees, finding the fairway prior to the central pot bunker and an approach of just 85 yards in. I tried to get a little too cute with the wedge, though, and shaved under the ball en route to yet another five. With a front-right pin location, the green slopes heavily from front to back, and towards the river.
Hole 9: Par 4 (361/337/316/302/238)
Hole 9: Par 4 (361/337/316/302/238)
After just one par three on the front nine, the back begins with the first of three on the way in. A sizable marsh makes up the majority of the right side of the fly zone, and is bunkered beyond and to the left. Sand traps are found short, left, long and right of the green, making this long par three a much bigger challenge than it appears from the tees.
Hole 10: Par 3 (227/204/194/175/147)
While it looks fairly elementary from the tee boxes, the eleventh hole on 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. This is a phenomenal, and phenomenally difficult, par five hole.
Do yourself a favor and do not look at the hole flyover prior to teeing off. The optimal tee shot should be played to 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 over the river proved to be quite difficult to judge. What I thought was a six-iron over, for example, turned out to be 236 yards. Take a lot more club than originally expected to attack this approach over water.
Hole 11: Par 5 (621/560/538/522/446)
Hole 11: Par 5 (621/560/538/522/446)
Hole 11: Par 5 (621/560/538/522/446)
To me, the eleventh is the most scenic hole on the River course, which is an awfully bold statement. I am told that it is Herb Kohler’s favorite, as well.
The twelfth hole tee shot plays over water, and requires 203 yards from the green tees to carry the pond and long sand trap found beyond it. Two centrally placed bunkers are in the middle of the fairway, and proved to be easily hit. Long hitters can aim for the left side of the fairway, requiring about 230 yards of carry but resulting in a much shorter approach.
Hole 12: Par 4 (486/465/423/372/333)
Hole 12: Par 4 (486/465/423/372/333)
Thirteen is possibly the hardest par three I have ever played. At 192 yards from the green tees, the wind played toward the Sheboygan River and left no room for error. The hole’s layout and the tall timbers for which the hole is named made a right-to-left shot necessary, as the trees are too tall and far away to carry with a long iron. I was warned of that earlier by the starter, Tim, but found out for myself when I had very little confidence in my draw. Adding to the degree of difficulty was a fly fisherman in the shallows of the river, directly in line with my tee shot and the green.
Hole 13: Par 3 (231/205/192/150/101)
Heading back to Swan Lake, the fourteenth hole at the River plays over the pond and to a narrow fairway that is heavily mounded at 231 yards from the green tees. At 304 yards, the green is drivable, but would require almost 300 yards of carry. Mitch almost made it, but came up about ten yards short. The middle of the green slopes heavily upward and left, making a back pin location challenging to reach.
Hole 14: Par 4 (346/310/304/294/228)
Hole 14: Par 4 (346/310/304/294/228)
Fifteen is aptly named “The Sand Pit.” One of the largest sand traps outside of the Meadow Valleys course awaits anything hit left under 250 yards, while another trap is found on the right at 228. The green is found in a valley twenty feet below the fairway, and is fronted by another, almost as deep greenside bunker that lies far beneath the putting surface.
Hole 15: Par 4 (374/354/346/329/290)
Hole 15: Par 4 (374/354/346/329/290)
“Unter der Linden,” or under the Linden, is the moniker for the sixteenth hole on the River course. A left-to-right tee shot can be played long, and will roll downhill and toward the right side of the fairway. The second shot needs to be strategic to allow for an approach either to the left, over, or to the right of the statuesque Linden tree that guards the green from easy approaches. The left side of the green plays all the way up to a wall that drops fifteen feet straight down to the river.
Hole 16: Par 5 (620/560/540/511/483)
Hole 16: Par 5 (620/560/540/511/483)
Hole 16: Par 5 (620/560/540/511/483)
At the US Women’s Open, I was watching the action on the par three seventeenth when Lexi Thompson hit a tee shot to the upper-right side fringe. Her playing partner then hit the water, forcing her to use the drop zone, which was on the right side of the tee box – not much relief, huh? Lexi walked over by me, and I said “Nice shot, Lexi.” She turned around and looked me in the eyes, smiled and said thank you, to which I replied, “You’re, uh, um, you’re welcome, Lexi.” Then I felt like a creepy old guy.
After playing this hole, though, I can say with certainty that her shot was awfully impressive! Sure, it looks great from the tee, but the seventeenth forces another drawn tee shot that is very difficult to hold. Right of the green is playable, although polluted with deep swales that will require a flop shot to get to the green. The back of the green drops off to a narrow playable area that is six feet below the green’s surface, and the left side or short leads to lost balls in the pond that makes up the entire approach zone of this scenic par three.
Hole 17: Par 3 (181/175/168/153/131)
Eighteen is a gorgeous finishing hole. During tournament play, the sand area that runs almost 400 yards of the fairway on the left side is typically flooded to more heavily penalize bad tee shots. As it is for normal play, though, this trap is penalizing enough as getting out can be a tough task. This final fairway plays right to left to the base of the clubhouse, and shares an incredibly long green that is used for the eighteenths on both the River and Meadow Valleys. The fairway will run on to the green from the right side, but be mindful to not over-hit the approach as anything hit too long can leave putts as long as one hundred feet back.
Hole 18: Par 4 (510/470/440/415/351)
Hole 18: Par 4 (510/470/440/415/351)
Hole 18: Par 4 (510/470/440/415/351)
With a mind-boggling slope of 151 and course rating of 76.2, the River at Blackwolf Run is one of the most challenging, and beautiful golf courses I have ever played.
If you have the money and are looking for the most spectacular golfing experience possible during the Wisconsin Fall season, I highly recommend booking a tee time at the River. A course made famous by the pros who have walked it for decades, the River provides a combination of natural splendor with pristine course conditions that is unrivaled in our great state.
Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Kohler, WI
Yardage: Black-7404, Blue-6865, Green-6507, White-6110, Red-5115
Slope/Rating: Black-151/76.2, Blue-144/73.7, Green-139/72.1, White-132/70.3, Red-121/66.3
Par: 72
Weekend Rates (with cart): $280

Erin Hills: Teeing It Up for the 2017 US Open By Paul Seifert

Hot off the presses for GolfWisconsin:

Erin Hills: Teeing It Up for the 2017 US Open By Paul Seifert

As a side note, I am very happy with the way this article turned out. All of the behind-the-scenes work creates a nice blend of experiential writing and background. It is my hope that for years when people are curious about the site of the 2017 US Open (“Erin Hills – where’s that?”), they will find this article and it will give them all the info they’d been hoping for.

I hope you all have a great weekend!
– Paul

Golf Course Review: Erin Hills


In rural Southeast Wisconsin is one of the state’s true golfing gems: Erin Hills.

The rugged terrain of Erin Hills looks and feels like the most natural land in the world. The course and its layout, though, are far from natural. In fact, the past seven years have brought radical changes to this beautiful piece of land.

It has always been the goal of current owner, Andy Ziegler, and the course’s former owner, Bob Lang, to host a championship event at Erin Hills. That dream has been realized in the past year, when following a rigorous selection process Erin Hills was named the site of the 2017 US Open.

Championship events are no new thing for Erin Hills. In 2011, it was the site of the US Amateur. Watching it on ESPN for four days whet my appetite to experience this amazing course for myself, and it did not disappoint.

The grand entrance to Erin Hills

I had the privilege of spending several hours with Rich Tock, Director of Operations for Erin Hills, prior to my round. Rich is a legend in Wisconsin golf, having previously been the Head PGA Golf Professional at Ozaukee Country Club for 21 years. He is also one heck of a golfer, holding the record for low round at a number of great Wisconsin courses, including the Milwaukee Country Club. Rich is a man who knows golf, and his passion for the sport and the future of his course is unequivocal.It was a real eye-opener hearing about all the details that go in to making a course tournament-ready. When Ziegler purchased the course from Lang in November of 2009, the wheels were in motion to secure the event. Narrowed down from a group of eight contending courses, Erin Hills was chosen for the US Open over Shinnecock, Cog Hill and five others.

Its vast landscape, championship event specific features like a virtual highway (which will support camera crews and logistical teams, and runs around and through the heart of the course), and the ability to handle the 75,000 fans per day that are expected tee up Erin Hills beautifully for the demands by Mike Davis and his USGA governing body.One of the first tasks for new ownership was the removal of all paths and gravel, which were subsequently seeded for fescue. The course simultaneously removed 325 trees and built a new maintenance building, practice facilities and entrance road. They then moved the one home on the course to the property’s outer limits [and donated it to a worthy cause], resulting in a lack of any homes or manmade structures other than integral course facilities.

The fairways at Erin Hills, like those at the Straits Course at Whistling Straits, are fine fescue that is closely shorn and roll like nothing I had ever played on. There is still a small amount of poiana grass in the fairways, but it is being phased out to provide an entirely fescue experience. Some areas of the fairways are slightly browning, and I was interested to learn that this is dormant fescue (not dead grass).

The greens and tees are entirely bent grass. The greens normally run at an eleven to eleven and a half on the stimp meter, but are sped up to twelve to thirteen for tournament play.

Because of the fine fescue on the course, motorized and pull carts are not allowed at Erin Hills. The eighteen-hole trek is eight and a half miles walking down the center of each fairway. Had I been wearing a GPS tracking device, it would have shown significantly more mileage for my round.

In the past three years, the course has ripped out and reseeded every bit of fescue on the course. This was not only done in the fescue areas just off the fairways, but on the hillsides and meadows, as well.

The hillsides of the moraine landscape at Erin Hills have been covered in glacial rock for centuries. Liz, who provided us with a tour of “The Village,” worked on the maintenance crew from the age of 13, coming by the course after school to clear stones from the fields and hillsides. It is this type of commitment and attention to detail that has helped secure the most prestigious of all golf events for Erin Hills. It is also the demands and suggestions by the USGA that have not only closed the course down for several extended periods of time, but have drastically changed the course’s play.

The beautiful ninth hole, for example, was previously the course’s “Bye hole.” It was the nineteenth hole that was played to settle up bets in square matches, and was not part of the course’s original eighteen because it was felt that it did not fit well with the rest of the course. Adding this wonderful hole (Rich’s favorite on the course, and certainly one of mine), and removing the previous tenth hole (which consisted of all blind shots), played a part in bringing the course’s par score down from 73 to 72.

Other changes played a part, including turning the seventh hole in to a par five (previously a par three with a blind tee shot), and changing ten from a par five to four. Other “minor changes” included adding a new bunker on three, a new back tee to extend eight, and adding a new tee on five.

Following the removal of most trees in 2010, the course reworked the edges of all their bunkers, reestablishing steeper and more structurally fortified fronts. Their perimeters jut in all directions, and are almost never circular in shape, requiring tough stances to get bunkered shots out.

Not only is the land at Erin Hills set up ideally to host a large-scale event, but the course itself is adaptable to be played at an unlimited number of lengths and levels of difficulty. The swirling winds in such an open area can make stretches of holes either unbelievably difficult, or thankfully more playable. Eleven through fifteen for us were straight into the teeth of the wind. With accuracy at a premium, they were challenging to say the least.

With five to six sets of tees on each hole, the multitude of length combinations at Erin Hills is staggering. The 2011 US Amateur played to 7,750 yards, but the course can be extended to over 8,000. This will be the longest course played in the history of the US Open. For average players like myself, the 6,700-yard green tees were challenging enough.

Do not expect to score what you would at a “normal” golf course here. Erin Hills is far from a normal course, and if you are going to spend the money, make sure you enjoy it, too.

Three of the four players in our group employed caddies. What does that cost, you ask? A caddy costs $50 per person, plus tip. I expected a good tip to be around $25, but the minimum is $45.

Our caddies, Tyler and Blaine, were excellent. Not only do they have a wealth of local knowledge, but they are invaluable in the short game. The greens roll perfectly true. Not only are they fast, but they have a lot of break. Downhill putts are slippery, and uphill putts require a bit of extra oomph. After making my initial read, I would ask and the caddies would tell me the right line within seconds. Within inches, they were right each time.

Erin Hills has a world class practice facility, including a huge driving range that features an abundance of practice greens, and laser rangefinders to help lock in distances. As my cousin, Frank, said, “You know you’re at a nice course when the range balls don’t have lines on them.” With the range balls being brand new TaylorMade Pentas, this is a very nice place.

The championship range we used today is the same that will be used for the US Open. Standing room and grandstands will abound in the long fescue area that backs the tee area, and there is a third teeing area on the far side of the driving range for players who are looking to get away from the crowds. The everyday practice tees are located to the right of the championship ones. The course rotates stations frequently to consistently provide fresh grass to warm up on.

Part of the practice facility
To the left of the championship tee boxes is a vast chipping area, complete with bunkers and fairway to approach from to practice shots inside one hundred yards. I did not have time to use this area, but would love to spend hours on it any other day. The practice green is large, and features a variety of slopes that will be found on the course. The only practice greens I have found that compare in size and variety of putts were at Torrey Pines and Whistling Straits (both championship event sites).

Dial in your shots on the range, because the course requires precision. Starting with the first hole tee shot, the fairways are tight – they will be drawn in even tighter for the US Open – and anything off the fairways can get awfully difficult. The rough is long, and the plethora of craggy fairway bunkers look brutal to hit out of.The course is right now as it will be for the 2017 US Open. Erin Hills made the aforementioned changes required to host this event in just three years what would have taken any other course five to seven.

The first hole is a medium-length par five that plays to 539 yards from the green tees. The tee shot should be played to the right side of the fairway, and the second shot over the central fairway bunker. The approach plays shorter than it looks. Playing to the left brings in the marsh area and a steep drop-off from the green, while hitting short to the right can filter on.