2. Whistling Straits, Straits Course #18 (520/487/424/420/380):
The finishing hole on the Straits could very well be one of the toughest golf holes in the entire 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 and 487 from the blues. A split-fairway is found atop the hill in the driving area, and anything between the fairways may travel too far.
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 between and below. The cloverleaf green on eighteen is iconic to golf, and a fantastic way to finish this incredible championship golf course.
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. Stay long, if anything, because short is dead. This is a phenomenal par four, with bite.
The second hole is one of my favorites at the Woodlands. 200 yards down the middle of the fairway lives a huge quarry that drops deep from the hitting surface. A bailout fairway lies to the right, while the more appropriate fairway to the left is narrow and sheltered by trees.A large stone observation tower, known locally as Jutson Tower, looms above the fairway, and a huge oak tree is centered in front of the green, guarding the back-left green location. Playing early on a Sunday morning, chimes and church music provided fantastic ambience to the hole.
5. Geneva National, Gary Player Course #5 (354/310/283/257/255):
Hole five on the Player course is an instant classic! A true risk/reward hole, the fairway in front of the green is drivable, but requires at least 225 yards to carry the waste area and fingered sand traps. The bail-out fairway to the right is much more accessible, although it adds considerably to the hole’s yardage.
The green’s front-right bunker is deep, and woods to the left must also be considered if going for this green from the tee. At 310 yards from the gold boxes, this is one of the best short par fours I have ever seen or played.
6. Whistling Straits, Irish Course #10 (398/387/378/361/340):
The tenth hole on the Irish is one of the most awe-striking holes in Wisconsin. With Lake Michigan on the horizon, the wind is always a factor. The fairway runs significantly uphill and to the left, and missing it is catastrophic. The multitude of random bunkers built into the hills on the right side of the fairway are demonic, and will leave little to no chance of reaching this green in two.
7. Blackwolf Run, River Course #5 (427/400/388/376/275):
The fifth 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.
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.
9. Brown Deer Park #1 (461/447):
10. Erin Hills #12 (466/432/388/388/317):
At a course where the norm is large, elevated greens, the twelfth at Erin Hills goes oppo. At 388 yards from the green tees, fescue will envelop anything errant whether off the tee or from the fairway. In contrast to the majority of the course’s greens, the one on twelve actually resides in a small hollow that is blind from most approaches.
Sand traps line the right side of the green, while the rest is defended by tall fescue that shrouds it from view from the left.
11. University Ridge #4 (467/398/354/304):
12. Ironwood, Meath Course #3 (278/273/235):
Another short par four, the third on the Meath is as fun of a hole as I have ever played. Playing downhill from elevated tee boxes, the green is reachable from the tee, but good luck at stopping the ball there!
The green is surrounded on three sides by water, and two large sand traps. There are approach areas on both the left and right side, but the right side plays much more difficult. The left side fairway will allow an unimpeded shot to the green, which slopes severely toward the water on the right side. This is a fantastic par four, and my favorite of Ironwood’s 27 holes.
Too often people look at par fives as the holes they need to survive in order to save their score. Not me. As anyone who has golfed with me can attest to, I love par fives. I love that I can have one bad shot, and still have a good chance for par.
Sometimes it is the challenge that makes par fives great. Sometimes it is the options the hole provides. Sometimes, it has such a spectacular layout and looks so great that my score the first time I play it doesn’t even matter.
Some courses are chocked full of great par fives. Courses like University Ridge, Castle at the Bay, Wild Rock and Horseshoe Bay were built for great par fives. They churn out one after another. Other courses have one or two that are truly spectacular. There is definitely an art to making a great par five, and this article is an ongoing examination of the best.
You will notice that this listing changes often. It is listed as “posted on” October 25, 2011, but will be ever-changing. It is my intention to edit this as often as a great hole is found that deserves to be included.
This list is dedicated to the par five holes that provide the best challenge and options, and oftentimes for me the most memorable experience on the course.
From the moment you step up to the tee, the sixteenth at U-Ridge is one of the most fun golf holes in Wisconsin. A large oak tree provides your first choose-your-own-adventure experience: Aim to the right of the tree to hit the lower fairway, but risk finding the woods or fescue if the drive cuts. Aim to the left for a slightly safer play, but doing so will add more yardage to the hole and bring in to play thirteen centrally placed sand traps on the approach.
The second shot will be long regardless of the side you choose, but each has a bailout fairway to help take the bunkers out of play. Aim over the traps for your only chance at hitting this green in two and putting for eagle.
2. Whistling Straits, Straits Course #16 (568/545/535/513/412):
Driving along the coastline of Lake Michigan, “Endless Bite” is a beautiful, demanding par five with the lake as a backdrop to a green perched opposite a multitude of recessed sand traps and waste areas.
While this is the shortest of the par fives on the Straits course, the green is quite possibly the toughest to hit in two, as the left side all slants toward the lake.
4. Wild Rock #6 (588/551/525/504/457):
5. Blackwolf Run, River Course #11 (621/560/538/522/446)
While it looks fairly elementary from the tee boxes, the eleventh hole at 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.
Do yourself a favor and avoid looking at the hole flyover prior to teeing off. The optimal tee shot is 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 to safely carry the river can be tough to judge.
To me, the eleventh is the most scenic hole on the River course, which is a bold statement. I am told that it is Herb Kohler’s favorite, as well.
6. Lawsonia, Links Course #13 (568/556/489/489):
The view on this approach is breathtaking, with the clubhouse, village, and American and Erin Hills flags in the near distance, and Holy Hill on the horizon. It is so memorable that a friend of mine from my Thursday night golf league hired a painter to capture the vista with him on the eighteenth green.
8. SentryWorld #5 (526/510/475/435/370)
It was a great decision by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. not to change much on the par five fifth hole at the renovated SentryWorld.
Driving over water, the fairway meanders around the lake and finishes on a peninsula well under 400 yards from the tee boxes, but is completely unreachable. While this crescent-shaped layout provides a wealth of risk/reward options, the smart play is to make sure the fairway is hit off the tee, then “Walk the line” greenward.
Keeping it as the fifth hole does not mean improvements were ignored: The new fifth has an opened up driving area, and less trees in the fly zone over the inland lake means long hitters will now be further provoked to try daring approaches over and along the shoreline.
9. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms #8 (568/556/500/487/435):
10. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys #16 (590/544/487/478/415):
The longest par five on the Meadow Valleys course, the sixteenth is nicknamed “Rolling Thunder.” The tee shot from the tips requires a whole lot of length to clear the hill that fronts the fairway and landing zone, then fires right green-ward. Stay well right of the small barn off the tee.
Be smart on the second shot to avoid the largest sand trap at all of Blackwolf Run, and maybe the largest greenside bunker in the state, lingering short-right and along the entire right side of the elevated putting surface.
11. Geneva National, Gary Player Course #10 (552/511/495/462/405):
The opening hole on the back nine of the Player course features highly-elevated tee boxes with woods to the left and a hugely downhill drive.
Find the fairway on the drive and get great roll to set up a chance at hitting this green in two. The shot over the pond is long, and the landing area is largely populated with sand. The finish of this hole reminds me of the 18th from Castle at the Bay, requiring a long shot over water and staggered bunkers. The green is multi-tiered, as many of the greens at Geneva National are.
12. Big Fish #13 (525/487/475/440/401):
The back nine at Big Fish is absolutely beautiful, and is highlighted by this phenomenal par five. Following a straight tee shot, the setup is played over a gigantic crest in the fairway that drops significantly toward a lower fairway before playing back uphill to a small green guarded by several pot bunkers left, and a line of trees to the right.
15. Hawk’s Landing #5 (561/512/482/445):
With elevated tee boxes driving downhill, out of bounds left and tons of sand traps and OB right, this is a tight driving hole that can reward straight shots with a lot of roll-out. The par five fifth at Hawk’s Landing plays downhill to a green that has to be run on to.
16. Whistling Straits, Irish Course #8 (555/542/501/459/392):
19. The Oaks #18 (547/510/483/479/460):
The eighteenth at The Oaks is a fantastic finishing hole. The last of their five par fives, the fairway runs slightly downhill and is probably the widest on the course. The hole bends left and over a large waste area, with woods left. Beyond these woods is about 30 yards of open fairway and sand traps, while the front-right side of the green area will result in a lost ball or deeper bunkers.
Play to the left side of the green for your best chance of staying safe, and realize that there is plenty of fairway and layup area left of the green over the trees that front the approach area.
Seven is my favorite hole on the Woodlands course, and one of my all-time favorite par fives. The tee shot is nearly impossible: A large sand trap and woods on the left, forest on the right, and well within distance is a mammoth pond surrounded by tall, thick fescue. Stay safe off the tee and your second shot will be to a wide enough area uphill to set up the approach.
The green is two-tiered, so make sure you find the right level. Anything on the wrong level almost guarantees a three-putt, while a top-level hole location is still liable to carry any putt to the lower level (or off the green, altogether). Take a minute to enjoy the look back at this gorgeous hole layout before moving on to the eighth hole.
A couple of my buddies and I are heading to Madison next weekend to play University Ridge and the Legend at Bergamont. We are looking for one more course to play in the afternoon, and right now are considering Hawk’s Landing and The Oaks.
Any good suggestions for another awesome Madison area course to fill in the afternoon? Thanks!
When you look at any of the key “Top 10” lists in the state of Wisconsin, there is certainly a lot of parity. My list is not much different from others, but I do like to think that I tend to be more subjective than the major media (GolfWeek, Golf Digest, Golf.com). How some state courses are consistently left out of the major top ten lists (ie: Wild Rock, SentryWorld, Geneva National, etc.), for example, is beyond me.
My Top Ten List:
1. Erin Hills (Erin, WI):
Golf Digest: #8 US public, #42 US top 100, #56 US toughest, #2 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #139 US modern, #31 US resort, #5 Wisconsin public
Golf.com: #96 US top 100, #22 US public
Located in the middle of nowhere, Southeastern Wisconsin, Erin Hills is looking forward to hosting hundreds of thousands of spectators for the 2017 US Open.
With fine fescue fairways, and bent grass tees and greens, Erin Hills is one of the most finely manicured courses in the country, and certainly in the state. Elevation is used stunningly, and craggy, deep sand traps abound the fairways and green complexes. The US Open will be the longest in history, around 7,700 yards.
With a slope of 145 from the championship tees, Erin Hills is one of the most challenging courses I have played, and also one of the most picturesque.
2. Whistling Straits, Straits Course (Haven, WI):
Golf Digest: #4 US public, #22 US top 100, #48 world top 100, #6 US toughest, #1 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #6 US modern, #4 US resort, #1 Wisconsin public
Golf.com: #28 US top 100, #6 US public, #49 world top 100
Host of the 2004 PGA Championship, 2007 US Senior Open, 2010 PGA Championship, 2015 PGA Championship, and the much-anticipated 2020 Ryder Cup, the Straits course is perennially rated as one of the top five golf courses in the country, alongside legends like Sand Hills, Pebble Beach, Pacific Dunes and others.
The Straits course features eight holes that run alongside the shore of Lake Michigan, offering one of the most beautiful (and windy) natural settings for golf in the world.
3. Blackwolf Run, River Course (Kohler, WI):
Golf Digest: #16 US public, #32 US toughest, #4 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #56 US modern, #17 US resort, #3 Wisconsin public
Golf.com: #89 US top 100, #14 US public
Absolutely breathtaking. I loved, too, that I could play it on Tiger Woods Golf the night before playing it for real! The 47th ranked modern course in the country, the River has been the site of many professional golf events, including the 1998 and 2012 US Women’s Opens, and in the mid-nineties the Arthur Andersen World Golf Championships.
The River is Pete Dye’s quintessential parkland course, with a championship tees slope of 151, making it one of the 30 toughest courses in America, and certainly one of the most beautiful.
4. Whistling Straits, Irish Course(Haven, WI):
Golf Digest: #47 US public, #91 US top 100, #6 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #172 US modern, #35 US resort, #6 Wisconsin public
Golf.com: #89 US top 100, #79 US public
The Irish course at Whistling Straits is the next best thing to its $400-plus big brother Straits course. Striking vistas of Lake Michigan, and a perfectly curated layout make this course quite memorable. The 10th hole (shown below), nicknamed “Shepherd’s Post,” provides one of the most visually stunning tee shots I have ever taken.
5. SentryWorld (Stevens Point, WI):
Golf Digest: #5 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #4 Wisconsin public
Home of the famed “Flower Hole,” SentryWorld is much more than just one beautiful par three. The course is a classic Robert Trent Jones, Jr. parkland design in central Wisconsin, and has been a perennial top ten to fifteen course in the state for nearly 30 years (including number one until Kohler entered the scene).
SentryWorld is scheduled to reopen in the Spring of 2015, after a major course renovation was executed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and his course design team led by Bruce Charlton and Jay Blasi.
The new SentryWorld is better than ever. The improved routing and added length have successfully updated the course for the times and technology, while making the course more challenging for low-handicap players and more enjoyable for the weekend warrior.
It is my prediction that SentryWorld: Reimagined will find it’s way back on to every major golf course ranking provider’s top ten list in 2015.
6. Lawsonia, Links Course (Green Lake, WI):
Golf Digest: #85 US public, #12 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #71 US classic, #2 Wisconsin public
The most legendary public course in the state, the Links is a perennial top 100 course in the United States, and Wisconsin’s most true to form links style setup. Highly elevated green complexes, huge elevation and devilish sand traps make it a fantastic test of golf.
7. Wild Rock (Wisconsin Dells, WI):
Golf Digest: #15 Wisconsin
The one word that comes to mind when trying to describe this course is “Majestic.” How each hole seems to somehow outdo the last one is mind-boggling to me. The drastic changes in elevation, and the ridiculous length of this course is staggering, too (7,418 yards from the Quartzite tees). Wild Rock is a bit pricy, but well worth the $89 rate.
8. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys (Kohler, WI):
Golf Digest: #72 US public, #10 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #10 Wisconsin public
With nine of Blackwolf Run’s original 18 holes, the Meadow Valleys includes my number one favorite hole in the state of Wisconsin: The magnificent par four fourteenth, known as “Nature’s Course.” This is just one of many beautiful layouts on the Meadow Valleys.
I recommend not trying to play the Meadow Valleys from the tips, like we did on July 20, 2014. At 7,250 yards, there are par threes with forced carries of 227 and 230. Yikes.
9. University Ridge (Madison, WI):
GolfWeek: #7 Wisconsin public
Recently renovated for 2013, U-Ridge now features the same 007 Bentgrass greens as at the Olympic Club, Augusta, and other select world-class courses.
My favorite of the three courses at Geneva National, the Palmer Course features some of the most unique hole layouts I have found in the state. The par five seventeenth hole is ranked as one of Arnie’s “Dream 18” holes, and is one of mine, as well.
11. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms (Sheboygan, WI):
GolfWeek: #9 Wisconsin public
12. Castle at the Bay (Arkdale, WI):
13. Hawk’s Landing (Verona, WI):
Featuring some of the truest, fastest greens in the state, Hawk’s Landing is a beautiful golf course with incredibly challenging par fives and great par threes.
14. Lawsonia, Woodlands (Green Lake, WI):
One of Wisconsin’s most beautiful Fall-time courses, especially, the Woodlands at Lawsonia is in stark contrast to its world-famous sister course, the Links. With exceptional holes like the second, third and seventh on the front nine alone, the Woodlands is half of what makes Lawsonia one of my favorite Wisconsin golfing destinations.
15. Geneva National, Gary Player Course (Lake Geneva, WI):
My close second favorite of the Geneva National layouts, the Player course has some great hole layouts, especially on their par fours. With a number of holes offering extreme risk/reward scenarios, Player allows golfers to risk disaster for the potential reward of more managable approaches.
16. Hawk’s View, Como Crossings (Lake Geneva, WI):
With one of the best collections of par threes in the state, Como Crossings takes great advantage of its rolling Lake Geneva land and former Mt. Fuji ski hill.
17. Grand Geneva, The Brute (Lake Geneva, WI):
Everything you need to know about The Brute at Grand Geneva is said in its name. This course is huge: Huge bunkers, huge water features, huge greens, huge elevation… Make sure to bring your A-game!
18. The Bog (Saukville, WI):
Golf Digest: #14 Wisconsin
An Arnold Palmer signature course, The Bog is assuredly the Milwaukee area’s best overall public golf course (since the PGA Tour stopped coming to Brown Deer after 2009), and best championship test at 7,200-plus yards from the tips.
19. The Oaks (Cottage Grove, WI):
The Oaks made its way to being one of my absolute favorite golf courses in the state this past year. Their greens are lightning quick and undulating, and its unique mix of six par threes and five par fives make it a wonderful test for anyone’s short and long games.
20. Wild Ridge (Eau Claire, WI):
Wild Ridge was a perennial top ten course in the state of Wisconsin before the building boom of the 1980’s and ’90’s that introduced such tracks as Blackwolf Run, Whistling Straits, the Bull and Erin Hills. Wild Ridge has awesome elevation and a great collection of par fives. This was a great stop on the way back from the Twin Cities, just off of I-90/94 in Eau Claire.
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