2015 Golf Season in Review

For the first couple of years I wrote my blog, I did a write-up at the end of each year to put the season in to words, and to commend the courses I felt were the best that year in multiple categories.

As my site has continued to grow, this has become less academic, especially since I joined a private club a few years back and am obviously playing a much smaller sample of different courses each season.

It doesn’t hurt to write a little review, though, especially for my own pleasure to look back at in the future at what was the golf season of 2015.

The winter of 2015 extended a little longer than normal, with most golf courses opening in early April. This was a couple weeks earlier than in 2014, but months behind some years. I am already praying that 2016 will see course openings back in the February timeline again… Fingers crossed.

With last night’s first snow of the Winter, I figure this is as good a time as any to wrap things up… Not that I won’t be out there if/when the weather warms up and the grounds are healthy enough to play!

Most of my rounds this year were played at my home course of North Hills Country Club, which under the tutelage of Randy DuPont was in exceptional shape again all year round. My season was a roller coaster of sorts, starting out with an index of 12.1 and getting down to 9.0, shooting consistently for a while in the low 80’s.

Then I became a bad nine, right around September first, shooting 87-89 and losing money in my Saturday games. In games where the total monetary payout ranges from $3-5, I actually lost $45 one day. Ouch.

That is enough about my game, though – what about the courses from 2015?

2015: Best Public Golf Course Played

1. Pacific Dunes (OR)

Rated the number two public course by Golf Digest, number two modern course by GolfWeek, and number one public course in the country by Golf.com, Pacific Dunes is coastal golf at its very best. Designed by Tom Doak and opened in 2001, Pacific Dunes blends perfectly rugged Bandon landscape with ingenious hole layouts and execution.

Pacific Dunes hole 4

Pacific Dunes hole 4

Pacific Dunes Website

2. Streamsong, Red Course (FL)

Just a few years old, the Red course at Streamsong has already amassed an incredible number of accolades, including the number 18 public course in the United States.

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Painting by Kris Halsrud: The 17th at Whistling Straits, Straits Course

Kris Halsrud is a talented writer, golfer and IT professional. Like me, he has blogged about golf for years, and over the past five or so years we’ve built a friendship through our golf writing and love of the game.

While most of my writing revolves around the Wisconsin golf scene, Kris’s is more focused on Minnesota with his Kristazio on Golf blog.

When I went remote for my sales job back in July of last year, I turned what was my second bedroom in to my office and have been working on getting some cool artwork including photographs and paintings (ie: This caricature by Gene Haas), and have always wanted something big and impressive for the corner accent wall.

Kris, who is a Systems Engineer in the Twin Cities area, has always had a passion for painting and artwork. While he does not sell his work professionally, his artwork is amazing and he has made quite a few pieces over the years for charity auctions and other events.

After playing the Straits course in perfect weather last August, I finally had a scene I wanted to have done for the coveted accent wall in my office:

Photo of Kyle teeing off on the 17th of the Straits course at Whistling Straits

Photo of Kyle teeing off on the 17th of the Straits course at Whistling Straits

While the above picture shows my friend, Kyle (I took it), he was able to work with other pictures found on my blog to paint me in to the setting.

The 17th on the Straits course is one of the most famous par three holes in the world, and is every bit as beautiful as it is treacherous. Be short and find trouble; be right and find some of the most ridiculous bunkers in the world; be left and you’re in Lake Michigan.

And who would raise up a huge berm front-right on a 200-plus yard par three just to have an awkward-shaped bunker that will leave a blind shot downhill toward the lake? Only Pete Dye.

The story is that with every course Pete Dye designs, his wife (Alice) is given artistic integrity on one par three. This was Alice’s par three on the Straits course, and she must have been in a real bad mood that day!

Kris did an incredible job on the painting, even matching the frame’s finish to other artwork in my office, and this beautiful 36 x 24 oil painting now hangs proudly on the pavement gray accent wall that I see a hundred times or more per day:

Painting by Kris Halsrud (http://kristaziogolf.blogspot.com) of me on the 17th of the Straits course at Whistling Straits

Painting by Kris Halsrud (http://kristaziogolf.blogspot.com) of me on the 17th of the Straits course at Whistling Straits

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Golf Course Review: Whistling Straits, Straits Course

Whistling Straits, Straits Course Rankings:

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

Designer: Pete Dye (1997)

Currently rated the number two public golf course in the United States, and number four overall behind just Sand Hills, Pacific Dunes and Friar’s Head, the Straits course at Whistling Straits has amassed a big-time resume in a very short period of time.

As one of the truly elite golfing destinations in the world, the Straits has hosted the 2004 PGA Championship, 2007 US Senior Open, 2010 PGA Championship, next year’s PGA Championship, and the much-anticipated 2020 Ryder Cup.

I remember sitting in the rough off of the 16th fairway with my friends Mike and Jason for the final round of the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, thinking to myself, “I have got to play this course sometime,” and “This place looks absolutely impossible.”

It was in that rough that I almost had my head taken off by Chris DiMarco’s errant tee shot on the 16th (I literally heard it whiz by my head). He led the tournament at that time, and the TV cameras and crowds swarmed our area. Being one year out of college, I was hung over on that Sunday, and it was warm and I’m sure I thought it was an inconvenience to move out of the way so the impending doom that was about to occur next to us could take place: DiMarco’s next swing duck-hooked toward Lake Michigan, along with his hopes for a PGA Championship and $6.25 million. Vijay Singh would go on to win the PGA Championship in a playoff against DiMarco and Justin Leonard that year.

The 2010 PGA Championship delivered even more excitement when Martin Kaymer won his first major championship in a three-hole playoff over Bubba Watson. Maybe the most memorable moment of the 2010 tournament, though, involved Dustin Johnson, who missed taking part in that playoff after grounding his club on the 18th hole in one of the 967 bunkers on the Straits course. This “Bunker” was little more than a patch of dirt that had been trampled over for days by tournament attendees. Under a Local Rule that was instituted for the event (and will stay in place for the 2015 PGA Championship), Johnson was assessed a two-stroke penalty and therefore was disqualified from the playoff.

Of course, big tournaments are nothing new to Whistling Straits or to Kohler golf courses, in general, including:

  • 1995 Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf, US Championship at Blackwolf Run, River course (Winner: Mark McCumber)
  • 1996 Andersen Consulting WCG-US, River (Greg Norman)
  • 1997 Andersen Consulting WCG-US, River (Ernie Els)
  • 1998 US Women’s Open, River (Se Ri Pak)
  • 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Straits course (Vijay Singh)
  • 2007 US Senior Open, Straits (Brad Bryant)
  • 2010 PGA Championship, Straits (Martin Kaymer)
  • 2012 US Women’s Open, River (Na Yeon Choi)
  • 2015 PGA Championship, Straits
  • 2020 Ryder Cup, Straits

The Straits course delivers world-class excitement in one of the most beautiful natural settings in the world for a championship golf course: On a two-mile stretch of coast on Lake Michigan in Haven, Wisconsin.

Designed to have the look and feel of the legendary links courses of Scotland and Ireland, the Straits is a fine fescue facility from tee to green, with great use of elevation and sand and wasteland all around. A stream runs through parts of the course, and several inland ponds make its one inland par five, aptly nicknamed “Snake,” one of the toughest holes on the course.

Over 800,000 cubic yards of local sand and dirt were moved in the construction of the course, transitioning it from what was in the 1950’s “Camp Haven” (an anti-aircraft training facility complete with missile silos and an airfield) in to the present day pinnacle of the Kohler golf mecca.

While tons of dirt were moved to create the terrain, it could not look and feel more natural.

From the tees, fairways look miniscule and impossible to hit. They are typically quite wide, though, and the fine fescue rolls out well. With tips around 7,800 yards, you will hear some people say it plays longer because of the ever-present winds off the lake. Meanwhile, others say it plays shorter because of the roll-outs. It depends on the day and wind conditions, of course, but I actually lean toward it playing slightly shorter.

My foursome played the course from 7,142 yards, and none of us found the distance to be overwhelming. Our second group played it from the tips at 7,790, and said the same, although only two of them broke 90.

Me, Jeff, Mark, Kyle and Jason on the 7th tee

We had a rather calm day, which is not normal for the Straits. With the wind howling, I can imagine it would play considerably longer.

The Straits course starts off on both one and ten very similarly to the way the Irish starts: Both heading out from the clubhouse on one, with the lake on the horizon. The tenth on each course is sharply uphill toward the lake, with fairways running right to left.

One is a fairly simple par four, with a narrow looking fairway that leans slightly left. The green, like most on the course, is flanked by deep sand traps and mounding that make precise points of entry a must.

Hole 1: Par 4 (493/405/370/361/325)
Hole 1: Par 4 (493/405/370/361/325)

Two is a fantastic par five, measuring 597 from the tips and 533 from the blues. With the lake running parallel to the fairway, it is an intimidating tee shot that actually has much more room for error than it looks from the tees. Keeping the ball left of the largest mound right of the fairway should ensure a clear look at the second shot, which can be laid up well right of the green to stay safe. The infinity look of the green against the lake is beautiful.

Hole 2: Par 5 (597/533/521/508/447)
Hole 2: Par 5 (597/533/521/508/447)
Hole 2: Par 5 (597/533/521/508/447)

The first par three on the Straits course, the third is named simply “O’ man.” You wouldn’t believe it from seeing the following picture, but this might be the easiest par three on the course – there are probably more spots to miss-hit to than on any others.

Hole 3: Par 3 (188/180/166/154/111)

The second of six par fours measuring over 400 yards from the blue tees, the fourth continues a wonderful trek along Lake Michigan’s shoreline to the southernmost point of the Straits course, ending uphill with wasteland and sand traps seemingly everywhere, and with the lake on the left. The large trap on the hillside beyond the green that looks like the state of Texas is the best aiming point off the tee.

Hole 4: Par 4 (494/451/414/404/354)

The fifth is the only hole on the Straits course that I don’t completely love. Bringing in to play the course’s two ponds, “Snake” is a tough par five with a ton of bite, meandering inland with a double-dogleg around water and finishing on a small point.

The reason I say I don’t love it is that it has a very different feel and character from the rest of the course. To me, it doesn’t fit. It certainly does require players’ attention on each swing to avoid putting up big numbers, though.

Hole 5: Par 5 (603/563/543/527/459)
Hole 5: Par 5 (603/563/543/527/459)

The greatest feature of the sixth hole is the fly zone above the approach. The green is heavily raised, and falls off in all directions but left. The front-left sand trap that my friend Kyle found, especially, can be brutal.

Drive the left side of the fairway and have a good look at the green, but from anywhere else it’s pretty much guesswork with a blind approach.

Hole 6: Par 4 (409/378/360/352/282)
Hole 6: Par 4 (409/378/360/352/282)
Hole 6: Par 4 (409/378/360/352/282)

Kyle posted a similar picture to Facebook with one word of commentary: “#screwed.” Yup.

Hole 6: Par 4 (409/378/360/352/282)

The second par three on the course, and the second longest, the seventh is a wonderful one-shotter nicknamed “Shipwreck.” With the lake enveloping the right side of the hole, the smart play is to the front-left of the green.

Hole 7: Par 3 (221/205/185/172/132)

Robert getting us a distance of 205 on the seventh:

Hole 7: Par 3 (221/205/185/172/132)

The eighth is a tough driving hole, with sand traps lining the left side of the fairway and wasteland and side-ward lies inviting drivers to hit right. Find the fairway, and aim to lay up to the front-left of the green to roll on safely.

Hole 8: Par 4 (506/470/429/405/355)

Kyle hitting another bomb in the fairway:

Hole 8: Par 4 (506/470/429/405/355)
Hole 8: Par 4 (506/470/429/405/355)

The front nine finishes with a very cool downhill par four, nicknamed “Down and Dirty.” The driving area is not overly difficult to stay within, but the rough is hellish. I just missed the fairway, for example, and was buried deep in the grass. My next shot then pulled the club face closed and fired in to the sand, underneath the back lip. That barely got out in to the deepest fescue I’d ever seen, and from there I was simply lucky to get the ball 10 yards to the right back in to the fairway.

This is pretty common for the Straits course: Keep the ball moving in front of you; when it starts heading off to the sides, chances are that hole will finish with a crooked number.

Hole 9: Par 4 (442/412/384/371/347)
Hole 9: Par 4 (442/412/384/371/347)

The back nine starts with a tough driving hole: Like on the tenth at the Irish course at Whistling Straits, it is uphill and leaning left. A draw is definitely preferred, if you can play it.

Hole 10 on the Irish course: Par 4

Long hitters are rewarded heavily on this hole, as anything beneath the huge swell in the fairway is mostly blind to the green, while anything above it has a great look.

Hole 10: Par 4 (391/376/334/320/304)

Jeff and Kyle’s tee shots did not make it to the crest of the hill:

Hole 10: Par 4 (391/376/334/320/304)

My tee shot in green light position above the crest:

Hole 10: Par 4 (391/376/334/320/304)

To me, the eleventh might be the hardest overall hole on the Straits. A viciously long par five, the layup areas are fraught with hazards and the green area is uphill and challenging to hold.

Hole 11: Par 5 (645/563/544/519/479)

When it comes to adding charm and character to a golf course, can you imagine any better way than to populate it with the Scottish blackheaded sheep that populate the courses the Straits was built to mirror? Indigenous to Scotland, flocks roam freely on the Straits and Irish courses, and make for a very cool experience when they visit your group.

Hole 11: Par 5 (645/563/544/519/479)

Kyle putting with a herd of Scottish blackheaded sheep in the background:

Hole 11: Par 5 (645/563/544/519/479)

Greg, Michael, Ross and Dan playing up on eleven:

Hole 11: Par 5 (645/563/544/519/479)

Maybe my favorite par three at the Straits is one very rarely talked about: The twelfth. This green is massive from front-left to back-right, allowing for all kinds of variations on length and pin placements.

Let’s hope for a back-right shore-hugging Sunday pin next year!

Hole 12: Par 3 (163/138/118/99/89)
Hole 12: Par 3 (163/138/118/99/89)

Michael hitting to the twelfth green from the black tee boxes (on the horizon, taken from near the thirteenth hole tee boxes):

Hole 12: Par 3 (163/138/118/99/89)

Appropriately named “Cliff Hanger,” the thirteenth is a fantastic par four that directly abuts the shoreline. The green is below the fairway, begging players to run their approach shots on.

Hole 13: Par 4 (402/389/364/336/319)
Hole 13: Par 4 (402/389/364/336/319)

The easiest non-par three on the course, fourteen comes back inland with a much simpler yardage of 360 from the blue tees. A dogleg left par four, make sure to make par here before getting to a much longer fifteenth!

Hole 14: Par 4 (396/360/346/332/271)

Hopefully you enjoyed the wedge in on fourteen, because unless it’s your third or fourth shot, that experience will not be repeated on fifteen!

When the PGA Championship was last played on the Straits course, the fifteenth was at the time the longest par four ever played in a major championship. At 503 yards from the black tees, that makes sense.

I hit driver to the left side of the fairway during our round, followed by a flushed three-hybrid that luckily rolled to about five feet from the pin, and made it. Our caddies, Mark and Robert, said it was the first birdie they’ve seen on that hole this season.

Hole 15: Par 4 (503/464/429/402/367)
Hole 15: Par 4 (503/464/429/402/367)

Probably the coolest picture taken of the day: Jason, Robert, Kyle and Jeff approaching the fifteenth green and a crossing group of Scottish blackheaded sheep:

Hole 15: Par 4 (503/464/429/402/367)
Scottish blackheaded sheep herd passing us on 15

My leave from 237 out is just left of Jeff’s putt – thankfully it went in! #GolfFlow

Hole 15: Par 4 (503/464/429/402/367)

Heading back to the lake, sixteen is a very famous hole on the Straits course. It has always proved to be a pivotal hole in major championships, including for Chris DiMarco when his ball nearly decapitated me in 2004.

As you can see from the spots that my shots found during our round, there are plenty of bad places to be found on the sixteenth (several of my lies are shown), but there are not many ways to lose a ball unless it is in deep fescue.

The sixteenth, known as “Endless Bite,” forges along the Lake Michigan coastline, and takes on a very difficult green complex for professionals going for it in two.

Hole 16: Par 5 (568/545/535/513/412)
Hole 16: Par 5 (568/545/535/513/412)

My tee shot:

Hole 16: Par 5 (568/545/535/513/412)

… And the next shot…

Hole 16: Par 5 (568/545/535/513/412)

The legend of the seventeenth goes like this: At every course that Pete Dye designs, he allows his wife, Alice, to design one par three. This was the seventeenth for the Straits course, and she must have been angry with him that day!

The seventeenth, quite possibly the signature hole on the Straits course and one of the most beloved par threes in the state of Wisconsin, is a brutally long par three with very few spots to miss. The lake lingers left of the playing area, and huge mounds front the right entrance and entire right side of the putting surface.

The misses here are short and/or long-right, as the mounds right of the green can help carom slightly wayward shots toward the putting surface.

Hole 17: Par 3 (249/223/197/165/131)
 
Jason’s tee shot on seventeen:
Hole 17: Par 3 (249/223/197/165/131)

Kyle’s tee shot on seventeen:

Hole 17: Par 3 (249/223/197/165/131)
Jeff’s tee shot on seventeen:
Hole 17: Par 3 (249/223/197/165/131)

The finishing hole on the Straits could very well be one of the toughest holes in the world. Par on this 520/487-yard behemoth, which is set to be four, should be considered a monumental task, but will I’m sure be required on Sunday of the 2015 PGA Championship for whoever hopes to take home the Wanamaker Trophy.

Nicknamed “Dyeabolical,” after Pete Dye, of course, the eighteenth is 520 yards from the black tees, which are located behind and well below the blues, shown here:

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

The tee shot from the blue tees on eighteen:

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

The long approach from anywhere on the upper-right fairway is best targeted right of the clubhouse in the distance. Anything left of that is likely to find the stream or wasteland (better shown in the second and third pictures below):

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

Michael, Greg (great hat wave!), Ross and Dan following a “Triumphant round” playing the tips:

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

[From my original review of the Straits Course, which I decided to wait out on until I had a chance to play it during better conditions:

The weather was supposed to be amazing last Thursday, May 8. The sun was shining and temperatures reached the low-to-mid 80’s in Menomonee Falls, where I live, and my hope was that it would be similar lake-side by Sheboygan. I checked the extended forecast every day for weeks leading up to our round, and it looked like we were going to luck out.

As my friend, Norm, and I neared the course, we started noticing huge swarms of gnats above the back roads that lead to the Kohler property, making us nervous that even though we got a good day we would be hit hard with another natural impediment: Bugs.

The bugs were almost nonexistent on the course, but the weather was far from perfect. While three out of the four in our group wore shorts, the caddies wore windbreakers, gloves and winter hats. They must have thought we were nuts on this 50-degree day lake-side.]

As a volunteer for next year’s 2015 PGA Championship at the Straits, I did get the opportunity to play this legendary course again, on August 10, 2014 – exactly one year from the opening round of the 2015 PGA Championship.

The Straits was in nothing less than brilliant condition, and certainly provided a far better golfing experience.

I was very impressed with the Straits’ caddy experience during our May round, but felt a little ripped off even though I was paying about half of what it would normally cost to play the course during regular season. Considering the shape the course was in, it almost shouldn’t have even been played on in May. I am very happy we were able to replay it at a reduced rate, as I can see now how tremendous of a golf course Whistling Straits truly is.

If you are curious about volunteering for the 2015 tournament: When you sign up you are also allowed heavily discounted tee times, which include $150 for the Straits course (plus caddy for $60/player and tip), $100 for the River course at Blackwolf Run (including cart), and $80 apiece for the Irish and Meadow Valleys courses (both include cart). All of these are tremendous deals.

It does cost around $200 to register as a volunteer, but includes the week’s access, all the equipment/apparel needed, and access to these discounted greens fees for up to two foursomes during specific time frames leading up to August of next year. Unfortunately, this year’s time frame did end this past weekend (we played the Straits on the last day of the deal, and the other three during previous weekends).

While on-site, I certainly recommend also checking out the Straits’ sister course, the Irish, which runs alongside and inland of the Straits track. If you have not had a chance to check out my review on the Irish yet, please do so here:


Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Haven, WI
Yardage: Black-7790, Blue-7142, Green-6663, White-6360, Red-5564
Slope/Rating: Black-152/77.2, Blue-145/74.2, Green-141/71.9, White-137/70.4, Red-129/66.4
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: $370 (plus $60 for caddy and $40 minimum recommended tip)

Pine Hills Country Club: A Par 3 Heaven

With the Vince Lombardi Classic being held at North Hills Country Club this weekend, ten of us decided to use our reciprocity to visit Pine Hills Country Club, in Sheboygan, yesterday.

If you have not yet had a chance to check it out, I reviewed Pine Hills last year. My write-up and photos can be found here:

Pine Hills has some of the most picturesque par three holes in the state – here are some panoramic photos of those and other memorable shots on the state’s number eight overall rated track:

Hole 5: Par 3 (195/182/175/167/165)
Hole 7: Par 3 (208/172/155/138/136)
Hole 7: Par 3 (208/172/155/138/136)
Hole 8: Par 4 (422/375/343/273/271)
Hole 10: Par 4 (405/398/392/375/372)
Hole 14: Par 3 (134/123/123/114/114)
Hole 16: Par 3 (148/141/126/126/122)

Golf Course Review: Pine Hills Country Club

Pine Hills Country Club Course Rankings:
Golf Digest: #11 Wisconsin
Designer: Harry Smead (1928)
Ranked by Golf Digest as the number eight overall course in the state of Wisconsin, and third among private clubs, Pine Hills Country Club is a hidden gem located just miles from Kohler’s Blackwolf Run property.
The similarities between the Blackwolf Run’s River course and Pine Hills are striking, but the two also differ in many ways. The River course, extending to over 7,400 yards for tournament play, plays inside and along the Sheboygan River, while Pine Hills is set mostly in woods and along the Pigeon River. Blackwolf Run is a public, albeit pricy, course, while Pine Hills is fully private. Both courses play host to a multitude of state-wide (and for Blackwolf Run, national/international) tournaments, and both have been of particular interest to the Kohler Company.
The story I was told prior to playing Pine Hills is that it was the original course Kohler was looking at to purchase as the golfing destination for his resort guests. When the club did not sell to him, and chose to stay private, Kohler was introduced to Pete Dye, who grew his love for the game of golf and inspired him to develop the international golfing mecca that the Sheboygan area is today.

My grandfather and I used to fish the Pigeon River when I was a kid. My dad grew up in Sheboygan, and my mom in Two Rivers, so visiting this area always brings back some memories of my childhood.

Using the reciprocity program through North Hills Country Club, my friend, Greg, and I were able to get a great group out on Pine Hills yesterday. This was all of our first time playing the track, and it was the last of Wisconsin’s top ten courses for friends and fellow golf writers Brian Weis (owner of GolfWisconsin and 30-plus other golf websites) and Glen Turk (Midwest Golfing Magazine). I still have three left to play: The Straits course at Whistling Straits, Milwaukee Country Club, and Blue Mound Country Club.

The list for 2013 is as follows:

1. Whistling Straits, Straits course (Haven)
2. Erin Hills (Erin)
3. Milwaukee Country Club (River Hills)
4. Blackwolf Run, River course (Kohler)
5. Whistling Straits, Irish course (Haven)
6. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys course (Kohler)
7. Blue Mound Country Club (Wauwatosa)
8. Pine Hills Country Club (Sheboygan)
9. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms (Sheboygan Falls)
10. SentryWorld (Stevens Point)

Link to Golf Digest’s Best in State Rankings for Wisconsin, 2013-14

Pine Hills is a fabulous golf course! Around the eighth hole, Glen brought up the inevitable question: “What other courses would you compare this to?” The answers that were thrown out there? Like a mix of the Links course at Lawsonia and the River course at Blackwolf Run, with elements of Milwaukee Country Club. Also, greens like West Bend Country Club but scenery like the River. And, my favorite: “This is the Augusta of the Midwest.”

No matter what great Midwest golf courses you compare it to, one thing is for sure: Pine Hills transports golfers to a setting far, far away. It takes them to a feel of the great north woods, or maybe the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with huge trees and drastic elevation changes – all within a convenient hour’s drive of Milwaukee.

We arrived at Pine Hills an hour prior to our tee time, and were introduced quickly to John Wallrich, PGA Head Golf Professional and ambassador of the club. John and Mike oriented us and got us out to the practice range, which has elevated tees overlooking a nice assortment of target greens. We got our swings loose and, with ten minutes until teeing off, checked out the practice green in front of the clubhouse. We were pretty sure the putting surfaces would be fast, but this was just silly. The undulations in the practice green, while true to the course, made cozying up to the holes nearly impossible. There was a lot of laughing going on while “warming up” – this was going to make for a very interesting challenge!

Pine Hills CC practice green and clubhouse
 
Pine Hills CC practice range

The greens on the course were true to the practice green, and the many raised greens and huge sand traps make for a whole lot of danger.

The first hole is an uphill par four with an infinity green that is longer than it appears. A false front will rush anything hit short back downhill.

Hole 1: Par 4 (376/360/355/331/329)

Getting to the second tee box, the view is beautiful: A huge American flag and their prestigious clubhouse linger in the background of a wide green that is fronted by one of the deepest sand traps I have ever seen. Finishing toward the clubhouse, and with such a beautiful view, this would make for a spectacular finishing hole anywhere else.

Hole 2: Par 4 (384/372/357/331/329)

The third hole is the number one handicapped hole on the course, and plays uphill and left to a raised green that has a wide bunker below and in front of the putting surface.

Hole 3: Par 5 (518/501/492/429/426)
Hole 3: Par 5 (518/501/492/429/426)

Four is a gorgeous woodland hole, and long. At 449 yards from the tips, the drive is straight away with woods to the right and trees running along the left side of the fairway. The green is raised again, with a small creek residing on the right side of the approach area.

Hole 4: Par 4 (449/429/416/347/343)
Hole 4: Par 4 (449/429/416/347/343)

Five is one of the most intimidating par threes I have ever seen! Straight in to the wind, and tremendously uphill, it also has one of the sharpest ridges running through the middle of it on the course.

Hole 5: Par 3 (195/182/175/167/165)
Hole 5: Par 3 (195/182/175/167/165)

Six is a fantastic par five, again running through the woods and finishing to a mostly blind approach that is well downhill.

Hole 6: Par 5 (523/503/475/461/411)

Another magnificent par three, the seventh plays downhill from 208 yards from the tips. The Pigeon River runs horizontally through the fly zone, and huge traps surround a very tough to hit green.

Hole 7: Par 3 (208/172/155/138/136)
Hole 7: Par 3 (208/172/155/138/136)

Running back alongside the seventh is a breathtaking par four eighth hole, with the river along the left side. A very small target of a green area on the other side of the river demands a long and precise approach shot.

Hole 8: Par 4 (422/375/343/273/271)
Hole 8: Par 4 (422/375/343/273/271)

Arriving at the tees on the ninth hole, my first thought was: Finally, a manageable par three! At 172 yards from the blue tees, the final hole on the front nine plays over a ravine to what turned out to be the hardest green I have ever seen in my entire life. No kidding at all. Speaking of Augusta, this hole looks spot on.

Hole 9: Par 3 (170/145/135/117/114)

Prior to our round, one of the only holes I was able to find a picture of was the signature par four tenth. The tee boxes, sited just outside the grille room, lie far above the Pigeon River, which paces the left side of the fairway. The second shot is way uphill.

Hole 10: Par 4 (405/398/392/375/372)
 
Hole 10: Par 4 (405/398/392/375/372)

Another tough par five, the eleventh tees off uphill and plays along the right-side treeline. My one word of caution on this hole: Do not fly the green, as the pitch back on is nearly impossible to hold.

Hole 11: Par 5 (548/535/484/484/431)

A shorter par five than the previous hole, the twelfth has plenty of difficulty: The rolling fairway flows up and down, and like on most playing surfaces at Pine Hills does not leave many even lies. The green is again risen above the fairway, and bordered all over with deep traps.

Hole 12: Par 5 (458/450/415/415/332)

The thirteenth has a tight fairway between the tree line, plays uphill and has one of the craziest green-side slopes I have seen anywhere. I hit what I thought was a perfect approach from 209 yards with a three-hybrid (right at the pin, I thought), only to find my ball thirty feet below the pin on the left side of the green.

Hole 13: Par 4 (379/349/339/275/270)
Hole 13: Par 4 (379/349/339/275/270)

Fourteen is a very cool par three. With a postage stamp green, the defining elements here are the plethora of sand traps littered around the putting surface.

Hole 14: Par 3 (134/123/123/114/114)

With another tight fairway and woods all around, the fifteenth appears to be a manageable par four at 400 yards, but has one of the most severe false fronts on the course.

Hole 15: Par 4 (400/390/335/316/314)

Sixteen is a classic uphill par three with a hard-breaking slope from back to front. This is the smallest green on the course, and was the spot where we found out that the Packers fumbled their fourth and one attempt and had it returned for a touchdown by Cincinnati. Ouch.

Hole 16: Par 3 (148/141/126/126/122)

Featuring one of the most beautiful vistas on the course, the penultimate hole at Pine Hills features an intimidating tee shot to a split fairway that runs through and before an uphill green. If a long faded tee shot can be played (ahem, Greg), the opposite side of the fairway can be reached. If not, hit 225-plus to the target area in front of the tees.

Hole 17: Par 4 (400/380/364/318/315)
 
Hole 17: Par 4 (400/380/364/318/315)

Eighteen is a tough finishing hole. The tee shot has to find the opening of the dogleg left for any view of the green, and anything just short will leave a really tough, and long drawn approach shot. I hit three-hybrid off the tee to the elbow in the fairway, then hit a four-hybrid in to the trees on the right. It obviously didn’t draw. Another uphill approach awaits to finish the round, and the green is tightly shorn to enforce the need for accuracy.

Hole 18: Par 4 (364/346/336/285/282)
Hole 18: Par 4 (364/346/336/285/282)

Pine Hills is a glorious golf course, and after playing it it is difficult for me to believe there are two better in the state of Wisconsin. The natural splendor of the Sheboygan area, outstanding design elements, tough but true greens, and especially the challenge faced on a “short yardage” of just under 6,500 from the tips, make this a must-play for anyone who has the opportunity.

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Sheboygan, WI
Yardage: Blue-6,481, White-6,151, Silver-5,817, Gold-5,302, Red-5,076
Slope/Rating: Blue-132/72.3, White-128/70.7, Silver-125/69.3, Gold-121/66.9, Red-124/70.4
Par: 71
Weekend Rates: Private