Golf Club Review: Kenosha Country Club (WI)

One of two Donald Ross designed golf courses in the state of Wisconsin, Kenosha Country Club boasts an almost 100-year-old private course with a rather unique variety of hole layouts, thoughtful use of elevation and fun, tiny [but expanding] green complexes that my host, Gregg, described perfectly as “playful.”

This was my first ever round on a Donald Ross design, and since playing I’ve found myself thinking a lot about it: Different options off its tees (I’d definitely change how I played 15!), how different pin locations could dramatically change several holes, how I could have optimized where I left my bag around certain greens, how I’d love to have both those restrictive tee shots on two, three, five, ten, eleven and fifteen, as well as those “Swing as hard as I can in the right general direction” shots on six, seven, twelve, thirteen and sixteen to look forward to again…

Basically, how Kenosha Country Club is the kind of golf course that would really grow on you.

KCC is a great everyday golf club. Its holes are laid out with terrific variety, allowing players to wail away at will then reining them back in. It’s perfectly walkable with short transfers between greens and tees, and the green complexes are really interesting.

It’s an easy walk minus a few steep hills, but for the most part the hills can be climbed without your full bag (grab your driver or next club selection before walking uphill on 3, 5 and 14, for example, and leave the rest of your equipment to grab on the way down).

Originally designed and opened for play in 1921, Kenosha Country Club has experienced a lot of the same changes and challenges as many other Golden Age golf courses.

1921 Donald Ross layout for Kenosha Country Club (courtesy of the Donald Ross Web Library)

It started with a great strategic design (above) by a master at his craft, Donald Ross, and over time matured and morphed in to something different, albeit recognizable. It’s how recognizable it is compared to its originally designed intentions that’s helping make its current and next steps truly special.

A return to its roots

Kenosha Country Club has been working with ASGCA architect J. Drew Rogers since 2015 to help undo some of the changes that have happened both naturally and intentionally over the last 99 years.

Chief among these updates are significant tree removal, realignment of fairways, recovery of bunkers that have been filled in, and – most importantly if you ask me – a reclamation of green surfaces that have shrunken over time.

Evidence of these green surface changes can be found across the course today. Blue/green dots outline where putting surfaces will be re-expanded to, and it’s easy to picture the positive impact that will be made by recouping so much short grass.

The green on ten, for example, will be expanded to include high slopes on either side that were meant to help push balls toward the center of the green, protecting its outside pins.

Approach shot on the dogleg right par four 10th at Kenosha

Some greens’ redemptive surfaces are less structural (not re-incorporating humps or slopes, for example), but their impact when expanded will be immeasurable through the addition of pinnable areas.

For several holes on the course, it’s that adding of pinnable space that will make all the difference. The par three 17th, for example, can now only be pinned in the upper-right. Surely this was not Ross’s original intent, but it is a natural and unfortunate by-product of golf course evolution.

The uphill par three 17th at Kenosha CC, pinned back-right

Most putting surfaces will be moved out a few feet in each direction, which will be very noticeable on a course with such small greens.

The course and a few of my favorite holes

The smallest of the greens at Kenosha Country Club is on the short, way uphill par three 3rd. I wish I would have walked the length and width of this green, because if I had to guess from memory and photos I’d say it’s 40′ x 20′, and probably 30-40′ uphill.

It is just a 130-yard shot, though, and it was my first birdie of the day, so I thought the small green size fit the hole just right.

The tremendously uphill par three 3rd and its tiny green at Kenosha Country Club

We let the threesome behind us play through on three, and one of their guys went left of the traps off the tee. His only option was a flop shot over the back-left trap to a downhill green running hard away. Not easy, and understandable that he left it short and ended up in his pocket.

Uphill approach shots are a key trend at Kenosha Country Club, and the third is the first hole there where elevation could alter club selection by several clubs.

Other holes that play several clubs longer because of elevation changes include the par four 5th, par four 11th, par four 13th, par four 15th and the previously mentioned par three 17th.

The par four 5th at KCC plays high-low-high across a valley
Back tee boxes on the beautiful par four 11th at KCC, suggesting a draw
Approach shot from the fairway on the par four 13th at KCC
A view from atop the tiny green on the par four 13th
The challenging, uphill par three penultimate hole at Kenosha (17th)

While it’s unusual to see more than one hole on a golf course with such a dramatic low-to-high difference in elevation approaching the green, it simply works at KCC.

In general, Ross’s use of the terrain at Kenosha is thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing. Starring in this category is the all-world par four 15th.

Drew Rogers calls the 15th at Kenosha one of Ross’s all-time greatest hole designs (Ross is accredited with designing ~ 400 courses, by the way), and it’s easy to see why.

There are options galore off this tee. My host hit a wedge safely in front of the river. I elected, twice, to hit driver from the elevated tee boxes, with a wind coming in and to our right. I put two balls well over the trees on to the highway, then – feeling lucky to have avoided hitting anything –

Tee shot on the magnificent par four 15th at Kenosha CC
A look back toward the tee on 15 at Kenosha

Fifteen was the hole I wanted most to get drone photography of. Unfortunately, though, a massive storm hit about 20 minutes after our round and I was ushered back to the clubhouse before I got that far out. I’m definitely hoping to get aerial footage the next time I visit Kenosha, though.

While there are quite a few holes at Kenosha Country Club that feature uphill approach shots, there are also downhill approach shots that must be negotiated on the par four 7th, par four 9th, par three 14th and par four 18th.

The downhill par three 14th at KCC

The finishing holes on each nine are great round enders. Both are significantly downhill with really well protected greens.

The eighteenth has a terraced fairway that if hit well off the tee should leave just a short iron or wedge to get home:

Approach shot from the top terrace of the fairway on 18 at KCC
A look back over the par four 18th at Kenosha Country Club

The ninth is similarly as good, and challenging, to close out the front nine. A view from its higher fairway:

The par four 9th at Kenosha is a challenging end to the front nine

Probably my favorite green on the course is on the par four seventh.

The par four 7th at Kenosha, as seen from above
The extremely canted left-to-right green on 7

Gregg played this half-punch bowl green perfectly, hitting a long approach shot all the way to the left side and watching it climb the edges, roll toward the back and then back around toward the right-middle hole location.

I saw that and was excited for my turn, which was a short approach shot under 100 yards from the right side of the fairway. I wanted to play the same angle and enjoy the view as it filtered toward the hole.

Then, I pushed it right of the flag and in to a small collection area off the back-right of the green. That was a swing I’d love to get back.

Summary

As I said, this is the kind of golf course I could play every day. The fairways are forgiving enough that it won’t overly penalize players for having a bad driving day; the greens and hole layouts, in general, are varied and fun, and it would be a terrific walk that won’t completely wear you out.

Kenosha Country Club is a prime example of a Golden Age course that’s getting better and better over time. Even visiting on a Monday afternoon, the course was active with men and women of all age groups. They obviously have a very avid golfing membership, and one that is in growth mode having added over 50 new members in 2020.

While part of their single-year growth is likely because of the COVID-19 pandemic and folks needing something to do and be a part of, I’m sure the majority of it can be attributed to the excitement building around a course and membership that’s receiving new life through the returns from its investments – a revival in design and architecture that will once again see Kenosha Country Club played as one of the game’s all-time greatest designers meant for it to be played.

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Kenosha, WI
Yardage: Blue-6530, White-6277, Gold-5680, Red-5107
Slope/Rating: Blue-130/71.9, White-127/70.8, Gold-122/67.9, Red-121/69.4
Par: 70

Kenosha Country Club Website