My 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.

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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)

The Bull’s 50/50 Club Well Worth the Investment

A few friends and I took half-days at work today to get up to one of the most picturesque, challenging courses in the state: The Bull at Pinehurst Farms.

Hole 5: Par 4 (436/404/388/361/308)

First things first, the Bull is in fantastic shape right now, and it provided me the opportunity to finally get some in-season pictures of the course, and replace all of the dull November and February photos that were on my initial review.

Secondly, it also provided me the opportunity to use my free round from joining the Bull’s 50/50 Club. If you are not already a member, make sure to sign up for this “club” next off-season when it is available for only $50. Not only does the membership get you a free round [including cart during peak season], but it also enrolls you in their mailing list that offers daily deals that range from $27.50-67.50 per round. In comparison with their regular season rates of $135, this is an excellent deal and well worth the investment.

If you previously checked out my review of the Bull at Pinehurst Farms and disagreed that it is a beautiful course, check out my updated review here:

January Golf: Two Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunities

The skies were blue, the sun was shining, and the closely shorn fairways were a little damp… Sounds like any day in May or September on one of Wisconsin’s many great golf courses. This day was January 7, though. The temperature was 34 degrees, the cart paths were a little icy, and the ground was rock hard at The Bull at Pinehurst Farms in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin.

After a 52-degree day spent receiving texts and emails while at work from reopening area courses on Friday, I sent out a feeler to some friends to see if I could find a playing partner for the following day. Our unseasonably warm weather was supposed to continue into the weekend, and I was optimistic about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play January golf in Wisconsin. My good friend, Adam Altis, was up for the adventure.

January 7 is supposed to be the heart of winter in Wisconsin, and it was certainly cold enough to be. But the ground is meant to be covered in snow, and fortunately for us, it was not. The sun was shining, though, making the cold air tolerable, and I even got a good laugh out of it when an errant tee shot on the second hole bounced off the ice on the pond and nearly re-found the fairway.

Hole 5: Par 4 (436/404/388/361/308)

After unsuccessfully trying to find ways to get tees in the ground without losing feeling in my fingertips, the talk of the round inevitably turned to how the two of us will be on another great golf course in just a few short weeks… This time in warm Southern California. That’s right, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play golf in Wisconsin in January will quickly be outdone by us participating in the 2012 Farmers Insurance Open Pro/Am.

Adam was invited to play in this esteemed event on January 25 at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California. And his wife can’t make the trip so I will be there, too, as his caddy. Needless to say, he was eager to get some swings in to avoid being too overpowered by whatever PGA Tour professional our group selects. A former two-handicap while working at such courses as Castle at the Bay (then Northern Bay) and Bulls Eye Country Club, Adam is a big hitter with a bevy of shots in his repertoire. He is also an agency owner for Farmers Insurance in Waukesha, and was selected as a representative of the company to team up with a pro to be named later.

So who are these pros to be named later, and how are they chosen? The pros are the majority of the PGA Tour and the world’s elite golfers, and each group’s professional will be chosen by their group at a gala event the night before the opening round. Each foursome, made up of regular folks like us who paid $6,500 per person to participate (ok, so not quite just like us), will be part of a lottery system, and when their team is drawn will draft their pro based on the players who have yet to be selected. Adam’s and my first hope is to partner up with Bubba Watson, who took home the open’s championship in 2011.

In case you missed it, Watson went on a remarkable late surge in last year’s Farmers Insurance Open, finishing the final round with a two-stroke lead on the tournament’s 54-hole leader, Phil Mickelson. Forced to lay up to the pond on 18, Mickelson had one shot from 84 yards out to force a playoff. Phil sent his caddy, Bones, to tend the pin as he struck his wedge. When the ball landed two feet left of the hole, Mickelson was assured a birdie and Watson a one-stroke come-from-behind victory.

The Farmers Insurance Pro/Am is one of my most anticipated golf articles yet. I am excited for the opportunity to socialize with the likes of the aforementioned lefties Watson and Mickelson, as well as my favorite golfer and Wisconsin golf legend, Steve Stricker, and a multitude of other PGA stars at one of the country’s all-time greatest golf venues in sunny California. It also doesn’t hurt that our hotel rooms on the course, airfare, rental car, food and drinks are all on the house, too!

But for now I’m on the frozen tundra of a fantastic Wisconsin golf course in 34-degree weather. While I don’t anticipate receiving any favorable bounces off water hazards at Torrey Pines (more commonly referred to as “miracles”), the Farmers Insurance Pro/Am is another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I can not pass up, and I am looking forward to keeping you all apprised of our adventure.

Wisconsin’s Best Par 5 Holes By Paul Seifert

Wisconsin’s 10 Best Par 5 Holes By Paul Seifert

Golf Course Review: The Bull at Pinehurst Farms

Designed by Jack Nicklaus and widely regarded as one of the top five golf courses in Wisconsin, and top 100 in the nation, The Bull is a beautiful and unrelenting championship course.
Spread out over 400-plus acres of former farm land, The Bull beautifully incorporates the Onion River, dense forest, rolling hills, deep ravines, large ponds and significant elevation changes. The course rolls out one signature hole after another – all different, and all working harmoniously to create a finished product that collectively looks and feels like a true masterpiece.
Mercifully, the course offers four sets of men’s tees that range from 6,027 yards (white tees) to 7,354 yards (black tees). With a maximum slope of 147, this is a great course to abide by the recommended tee boxes. As a 13-handicap, I played the green tees (6,424 yards) on Saturday, and was happy with my choice. I have played from both the blues and blacks in the past, and struggled mightily.

Most holes are isolated well from the rest of the course, giving the feeling that you are the only one out there. On a late November day, I almost was. I loved it.

A persistent mist and light rain fell all day, but did not make for difficult playing conditions with the exception of using every glove in my bag. I mention this because the course is far more aesthetically pleasing than my pictures show. In fact, I am already planning on re-shooting the course next season when I will not have left my digital camera in my desk at work, then also forgot to fully recharge the battery for my backup. My smart phone was my only option, and does not do the course justice.

The first hole at The Bull is a mid-length par four that finishes uphill. This hole contains one of the only out-of-bounds areas on the course – anything over the picket fence running along the right side is unplayable. Every other area of the course can be played from, as long as the ball can be found.
The front-right sand trap on the first hole is the biggest hazard to avoid, so keep the drive left and away from the fairway bunkers for the best opportunity for par on this opening hole.
Hole 1: Par 4 (424/412/365/344/281)
Hole 1: Par 4 (424/412/365/344/281)
The second tees off over a lake that creates a natural dogleg right and runs the majority of the fairway. Bunkers surrounding the green make precision here a must.
Hole 2: Par 4 (416/386/378/360/325)
The third is a gorgeous par three that reminds me slightly of the fourth hole on the River Course at Blackwolf Run (nicknamed “Swan Lake”). Less than three miles away, the two courses are certainly comparable in many ways – a true credit to both venues.
With water along the entire right side of the hole, the tee shot can play from as long as 214 yards from the black tees, and can only be bailed out left or short.
Hole 3: Par 3 (216/194/184/169/120)
What The Bull does better than almost any Wisconsin course is par fives. The fourth is the first of the par fives here, and is my least favorite of the four. This actually implies nothing about the quality of the hole, as the other three are among the best I have seen.
At under 500 yards from three of the tee boxes, the fourth is a short par five that plays over the left-side fairway bunkers. Woods narrows the playing area near the green, making for a challenging approach. This hole is certainly reachable in two.
Hole 4: Par 5 (550/493/481/469/406)
The fifth hole at The Bull is one of my all-time favorites, and one of the best golf holes in Wisconsin.

Nicknamed “Follow On,” the fifth features one of the most intimidating par four tee shots in the state. Narrow and through heavy woods, a 40-foot deep ravine resides on the left side of the fairway. The only safe place to be is in the fairway, and hitting driver should find all kinds of trouble.

If you find the bend in the fairway, you will have a shot at the green in two, which is over the back-side of the ravine and directly left. The right side of the approach area funnels toward the green, so aim here and stay long, if anything, because short is dead. This is a phenomenal par four, with serious bite.

Hole 5: Par 4 (436/404/388/361/308)
Hole 5: Par 4 (436/404/388/361/308)
Following one of the best par fours in Wisconsin is one of the best par threes. The sixth hole tees up over a ravine and has woods all around. The front half of the green is surrounded by deep bunkers, and to the left seems to fall off the face of the earth. The back-right is the safest place to miss.
Hole 6: Par 3 (193/183/173/163/153)
The seventh is to me one of the most underrated holes at The Bull. Teeing up high above the ravine, the hole is short by Bull standards, but presents plenty of challenge. At under 300 yards, this green would take a miracle to hit from the tees.
A mid-iron will set up perfectly to the fairway. The approach is primarily blind over a tall pre-green mound, and the green is narrow, but long. A steep hill lines the left side of the green area, and can be used to carom the approach green-ward. Miss here if anything, as the right side is wet.
Hole 7: Par 4 (321/293/281/229/204)
The eighth is my favorite par five at The Bull, and one of my all-time favorites in the state of Wisconsin. The Onion River winds through this hole, and splits the fairway at around 300 yards. I have heard claims that this green is reachable in two, but cannot imagine it.
Which fairway should be chosen for the second shot? The left side allows for the best approach and most merciful margin of error, but the right side can leave a shorter approach. From the right side, the green is very narrow from front to back, and must be played over a rock wall that abuts the Onion River. A third bail-out fairway lies on the left side of the green, which can help if hitting short from the left.
The eighth at The Bull is choose-your-own-adventure golfing at its very best.
Hole 8: Par 5 (568/556/500/487/435)
Hole 8: Par 5 (568/556/500/487/435)
Hole 8: Par 5 (568/556/500/487/435)
The finishing hole on the front nine is a long par four that plays mostly uphill. Stay right or long on the approach, as the green-side bunkers that front the left side of the green are treacherously deep and difficult to play from.
Hole 9: Par 4 (454/417/407/396/308)
The tenth features one of the most highly elevated tee boxes on the course. A par four that bends slightly right, a straight drive is rewarded by avoiding the traps the lie on either side of the fairway.

Hole 10: Par 4 (469/444/371/362/307)

If all the choices on the eighth hole made you uncomfortable, wait until you encounter the tees on the eleventh! A huge inland pond makes the tee shot nerve-wrecking, with woods building a barrier on the far side of both fairways. Long hitters can try for the right side fairway, I am told, but I came up fruitless on all three of the junk balls I hit at it. In my defense, I think I tried cutting off too much of the fairway and made the distance unnecessarily longer than it needed to be. I am also probably not as long of a hitter as I like to think I am!
A hybrid or fairway wood to the left side fairway presents the most realistic option, and should leave an approach from under 175 yards. The pond stays in play on the approach, as the green runs toward it and sand traps both long and short will catch errant shots.

Hole 11: Par 4 (353/331/320/309/267)

The twelfth is a fantastic par three. Highly elevated tee boxes make for a 210-plus yard tee shot to a green that is guarded both left and right by sand. I remember laying up on this hole the first time I played it, and thought yesterday that would be silly. A 4-hybrid put me in the deep bunker on the right side. I felt great about my sand shot until it rolled slowly past the pin and nestled several yards off the opposite side of the green. The green on twelve is slanted heavily downhill from the right to left side.
Hole 12: Par 3 (236/228/210/169/151)
When I mention The Bull has some of the best par fives in the state, thirteen is certainly one of them. Teeing up over water, the hole plays long and right-to-left. This hole is target golf at its best. Find the fairway on the first two shots, and you will have a decent enough opportunity to hit the green in regulation. The third shot is primarily blind, uphill from the fairway over a wall of fescue.
Hole 13: Par 5 (581/564/523/509/425)
Hole 13: Par 5 (581/564/523/509/425)
Fourteen is one of the most deceptive holes on the course. From the tee boxes, very little trouble can be seen. Upon driving to the fairway, though, water lies on both sides and long. The green area is absolutely gorgeous, with the Onion River rushing vigorously beyond.
Hole 14: Par 4 (475/436/396/382/293)
The fifteenth is a fairly short par three that rewards a drawn short iron. The pond left will take anything hit there, while a huge sand trap backs up the green. Bail-out is provided only by the fairway short and right.

Hole 15: Par 3 (180/155/145/134/101)

One of the hardest par fours anywhere, the sixteenth at The Bull has I’m sure spoiled many good rounds. The distance is manageable, but each shot needs to be perfect, and the distance on all shots can be quite confusing. Oh, and the green is minute and heavily guarded.
The tee shot is uphill, and a draw with a fairway wood or hybrid plays nicely. It is important to reach the top of this hill, as anything less will leave a draw stance and make aiming the approach between the trees even more difficult.
The approach here is possibly the most demanding in the state. Between trees and over a deep ravine and stream, the green resides on the far side of some hellish sand traps, and slopes toward the back-right.
As an aside (please feel free to skip): This is where my round got interesting. With 100 yards over the ravine to the green, I realized I no longer had my pitching wedge. I remembered leaning it against a tree on the fourteenth when I opted for my nine-iron, and figured 100 yards can be easily carried with a 56-degree wedge. I hit it cleanly, but found the front-side bunker. A shot to the fringe and one-putt left me with double-bogey. Having caught my first group of the day on the 17th tee, I figured it was an opportune time to head back for my lost club.
I found it on fourteen, bypassed fifteen and thought to myself that I had plenty of time to replay sixteen. I changed to my third clean glove of the day, took a first practice swing and launched my 4-hybrid club about 50 yards into the woods. Instead of watching closely where it was going, I took off after it running off the tee box and in to the fescue and swampy area. After 20 minutes of searching, I found it about ten feet up in a tree, went back to the cart to get another club to lengthen my reach, and successfully retrieved it. I looked like I had just played a game of tackle football on a rainy Sunday afterwards and had successfully torn my pants and shirt – awesome.
I replayed sixteen with a perfectly drawn 4-hybrid to the fairway, then again hit the front-side trap. I was thinking there must be something to this, so I took random shots with different clubs from different distances, and every time hit that sand trap. The conclusion I came up with is that this hole’s approach plays longer than it really is.
Hole 16: Par 4 (425/368/345/335/275)

Hole 16: Par 4 (425/368/345/335/275)

The seventeenth is a very underrated par five. With a tee shot between trees, the fairway is wide open and runs downhill. The second shot affords a breathtaking downhill view, and allows for some real free-swinging. A litany of fairway traps make up much of the approach area, and the green is long and kidney shaped.
Hole 17: Par 5 (572/541/525/484/416)
Hole 17: Par 5 (572/541/525/484/416)
Finish up on seventeen and make the short drive to eighteen. The club calls it “Rock-N-Roll.” “Sink-N-Swim” has always seemed more appropriate to me. Detrimentally, my main swing thought here was to not let my driver slip out of my hand and fly in to the pond. I am not sure I would have chased in after it, but like to think I would.
This is a very strong finishing hole, and the tee shot from the black and blue (fitting) tees can be well over 200-250 yards to carry the pond, which lengthens the farther left the drive is aimed. Find the fairway and prepare for a difficult approach. The right side falls off to wetlands, while the left side is fairly open. Favor the left side to avoid trouble, or use the hill beyond this green as a back-board for the approach.
Hole 18: Par 4 (485/462/432/365/312)

The Bull can be a very difficult course. If capable of hitting the ball straight, though, it is certainly fair. It rewards length and penalizes imprecision. The greens can run very quickly, but are readable and true. It offers choices on many of its holes, features fantastic variety, and certainly has the wow factor to make it one of Wisconsin’s very best golf courses.

I recommend signing up for The Bull’s “50/50 Club.” I believe it was $50 at the beginning of the season, and included a free round [applicable for any tee time during the season] and weekly tee time promotions ($27.50 for my round on Saturday, for example, which included cart and range). While GolfNow rates are still at $55-90, this proved to be a great way to take advantage of an unseasonably warm November Saturday.

The $145 mid-season rate is certainly intimidating, but keep your eyes pealed and you should certainly be able to find plenty of ways to play this gem of a track less expensively.

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Sheboygan Falls, WI
Yardage: Black-7354, Blue-6867, Green-6424, White-6027, Red-5087
Slope/Rating: Black-147/76.3, 144/73.8, Green-138/71.7, White-135/70.1, Red-130/70.4
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: $145 (with cart and range)
Notable Ratings:
Golf Digest: #86 America’s Greatest Public Golf Course (2011-2012)
Golf Digest: #9 Best Overall Golf Course in Wisconsin (2011)
Golf Digest: #2 Best New Upscale Public Course in America (2004)
GolfWeek: #6 Best Course You Can Play in Wisconsin (2011) #8 Best Public Course in Wisconsin (2010)
GolfWisconsin: #6 Top Wisconsin Golf Course (2011)