Quite possibly the most beautiful golf hole I have ever played, the 14th at Meadow Valleys is deemed “Nature’s Course.” From the elevated tee boxes, the Pigeon River and on most days teems of fly-fishermen are seen down the hill and to the right. The tree lined fairway plays slightly to the left, and is not advisable to drive. Hit it straight and aim for the middle of the fairway, in hopes of receiving a charitable downhill run.
The hole slants to the right, and further downhill where the green is surrounded on three sides by the river, and a charming bridge made from an old flat-bed train car. The river runs hard to the right, and anything errant will fall dramatically from the playing surface.
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.
Nicknamed “Follow On,” the fifth hole at The Bull is one of the most intimidating par four tee shots in Wisconsin. Narrow and through heavy woods, a 40-foot deep ravine resides on the left side of the fairway. The club did a great job on the terracing added to the left side drop-off this season.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The finishing hole at the Meadow Valleys course, nicknamed “Salmon Trap,” is the first hole I have seen with two separate greens. The women play to a shorter distance, around 300 yards, that finishes before the Pigeon River. The men play across the river, just short of the Blackwolf Run clubhouse.
With about 250 yards to the river, the tee shot can be played farther left to allow use of a driver. The approach over the river is fairly long to one of the largest greens on the course. This is a gorgeous finishing hole at a gorgeous golf course.
Bown Deer Park starts with probably the hardest opening hole in the state: A 461-yard beast of a par four that doglegs right and is well guarded by trees, a large pond on the left side of the fairway, and deep sand traps all around the green. Score a par or bogey on this hole, and consider your round off to a great start.
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.
With a tee shot over water, a cut drive is necessary to give yourself a chance at the uphill approach to an elevated green that requires at least a club or two of extra distance to reach. The left side of the driving area is lined with trees, while the right side falls off into fescue and an unreachable pond.
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.
Eighteen is a wonderful finishing hole at the Brute, and plays slightly less intimidating than the onboard GPS shows. The bunkers lining the right side of the fairway should help keep shots out of the water, but will leave a long way to go. With the pin residing on top of a huge crown during our round here, the eighteenth provides a tremendous putting challenge for finishing the round.
The fourteenth on The Oaks is almost visible from I-94, and is my personal favorite par four on the course. It is a tough hole, primarily because of the long forced carry over wetlands on the approach. The drive can be up to around 250 yards from the tee, but the further right the ball is driven, the longer the approach will be. This hole sets up great with a drawn 3-wood or driver off the tee.
Home of the Wisconsin Badgers golf team, University Ridge features some of the most remarkable golf holes in the state. Designed and built in 1991 by one the country’s most well-known and beloved course designers, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., the course sits atop a several million year old glacier.
Located in the Verona suburb of Madison, the course winds back and forth, with huge elevation changes and tight tree lines. It is magnificently well kept, and features a gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright style clubhouse where you can find anything University of Wisconsin golf related. The clubhouse also has an excellent bar area, where we were able to enjoy the climax of the Brewers/Diamondbacks National League Division Series with other rowdy Brewers fans.
We played University Ridge on a Customer Appreciation Day, which I recommend whole-heartedly. For $60, you get all the golf you can play [including cart and range], as well as lunch and five dollars in clubhouse credit. The clubhouse sets aside many tee times during the afternoon to allow for these free re-plays, and pace of play is pretty quick as most golfers on the course are adequately skilled.
U-Ridge is the site of the annual Wisconsin state high school championships, as well as a number of other state-wide events, and it is easy to see why. The course offers a great selection of tee boxes for a variety of skill levels, including tips that play at 7,259 yards. The blues are more suitable for my skill level, and still play at 6,610 yards.
The drive in to U-Ridge is even well-kept, with outfield-like manicured lawns on both sides of the entrance. Perched above the first and ninth holes, the view from the clubhouse is spectacular, and the views on the course only improve.
Their sand-based driving range is always maintained to allow for clean swings, and has well-placed targets to prepare for your round. The practice green is hilly, and gives a regulation feel for the putting surfaces. The greens are quick at University Ridge, so make sure to take advantage of their practice facilities beforehand, including the chipping and sand area.
Hole 1: Par 4 (396/376/355/293)
Some of the best holes at University Ridge hit early and often. One of my favorites of these is the par five second hole. At 546 yards from the blue tees, the tee shot looks over a canyon to a wide landing area that juts straight right to a tree-lined lay-up area, or 200-plus yards of a shot over a huge oak tree, down hill to a green surrounded by huge sand traps. This is a spectacular par five, and would be a signature hole anywhere else but at University Ridge.
The par three third is another great hole: At 174 yards, the elevated tee boxes look over a low prairie land at a large elevated green perched above three sizable sand traps on a green that slopes significantly upward from the front to the back. A left-side hole location makes hitting the right side on your tee shot penalizing, but make sure to take a lot of slope into account when reading your putts. More than anything, avoid going left of the green on your tee shot, which will typically result in a lost ball.
Hole 3: Par 3 (242/174/170/135)
The great layouts continue on the fourth hole. With a tee shot over water, a cut drive is necessary to give yourself a chance at the uphill approach to an elevated green that requires at least a club or two of extra distance to reach.
Hole 4: Par 4 (467/398/354/304)
The fifth is a fun par three. High above the green, the green-side sand traps are absolutely brutal, but the majority of them should be out of reach with a well-struck 8- or 9-iron. This green runs very true, especially from the left side, which is comforting when standing over a 40-foot-plus first putt.
Hole 5: Par 3 (198/169/140/126)
Six is another of the course’s true signature holes. At 623 yards from the tips, or 570 from the blue tee boxes, the tee shot is fired over a winding river that stays within reach along the left side of the fairway. It is tempting to try cutting the natural grasslands on the left, but requires one heck of a drive to clear. Aim for the fairway and cut your losses – you will find more than enough trouble around the green! The green is surrounded by massive sand traps, which swallow up any and all errant approaches. They look gorgeous on the course, but are so deep that getting out of any of them, especially the front-left bunker, is tremendously difficult (not to mention the green is not at all visible from within it).
Hole 6: Par 5 (623/570/534/442)
Hole 6: Par 5 (623/570/534/442)
The seventh offers a bit of a reprieve after the sixth hole. It is plenty long, but is a nice driving hole that can get you close enough to try for the green. The green here is deceptively far away, as it goes considerably uphill and slightly to the left. Missing left will result in a penalty, so stay right if anything.
Hole 7: Par 4 (429/379/345/298)
Eight is another great par three at University Ridge. Played at 162 yards from the blue tees, the shot downhill plays much longer than expected. A small stream runs in front of the green area, and the wind always comes in to play. We were actually playing 4- and 5-irons on this hole yesterday, which was way more club than expected from 162 yards.
Hole 8: Par 3 (207/162/151/83)
The ninth is another scary hole. At 554 yards from the blues, the tee shot is quite misleading. From the tee boxes, the fairway runs slightly uphill, and then down, which gives the illusion of being much closer to the dogleg than you actually are. The landing area looks tiny and tight, but opens up as soon as your cart hits the fairway. Heading uphill, the fairway disappears and can create a more difficult approach shot than hoped for. The green is elevated well above the fairway, and sand traps on both sides are not visible on most second or third shots. This is a tough finishing hole on the front nine.
Hole 9: Par 5 (587/554/475/421)
Hole 9: Par 5 (587/554/475/421)
Making the turn to the back nine, the course changes significantly. The woodlands-based back nine opens with a long, 424-yard par four lined by trees, and the slope of the fairway falls to the left. The minute green makes for a touchy approach shot.
Hole 10: Par 4 (483/424/375/342)
11, 13 and 14 are all fantastic forest holes. 11 is a long par five, while 13 and 14 require a ton of driving accuracy and careful approaches. This area of the course actually reminds me a lot of the same stretch of holes at the Castle Course at Northern Bay. Precision and length is a must to avoid blow-up holes. When playing these holes, make sure you did not accidentally purchase Bridgestone E6 balls that are “optic orange” in color. I made this mistake yesterday, and had an awful time trying to find my tee shots in huge puddles of fallen leaves.
Hole 11: Par 5 (569/537/504/412)
Hole 13: Par 4 (336/316/294/222)
Hole 14: Par 4 (398/377/358/309)
Hole 14: Par 4 (398/377/358/309)
12 is a gorgeous downhill par three, as well. With sand traps running the length of the green on both sides, a good tee shot to the green is rewarded, while these traps can result in stressful shots to get to the putting surface.
Hole 12: Par 3 (200/174/154/95)
One of my favorite holes at U-Ridge is the par four 15th. At 321 yards from the blue tees, the tee shot can be played with a long iron, fairway wood or driver. Use whatever club you can cut the best with acceptable length. Finding the fairway will give you a short shot to the green, but anything missed, or in the fairway bunkers, can make this hole absolutely hellish. A par on this short par four is always well earned.
Hole 15: Par 4 (352/321/280/245)
My favorite hole on the course, and perhaps my favorite par five I have ever played, is the 533-yard 16th hole. The layout of this hole is visually stunning, and the options it allows for is staggering. The elevated tee shot allows a decision between two fairways, one high and the other low. If you can drive long, aim over the massive oak trees that divide the fairways, and take your chances as to which one you will play from. The left side is higher than the right, and lengthens the hole considerably. After hitting this one, you will have the choice of playing another fairway on the left side, or trying for a long, demanding second shot over eleven sand traps. From the lower fairway to the right of the oak trees, another fairway is playable to the right and back of the green area. The smartest play is to the fairways, but if you find yourself within 200 yards off the tee, it is obviously difficult to avoid going for the green over the sand-laden approach area. The green is divided by a large slope half-way through, and makes the finish of this hole harder than desired.
Hole 16: Par 5 (554/533/514/434)
Hole 16: Par 5 (554/533/514/434)
Hole 16: Par 5 (554/533/514/434)
17 is one of the most challenging par threes I have ever played. At 250 yards from the black tees, more than 200 of this is over a huge pond. At 192 from the blues, there is some reprieve but will still demand a long iron or fairway wood. Accuracy is a must here – the green area is absolutely tiny, and the dead area to the left is merciless, as is the sand and woods to the right. Swing and pray on this hole, and if you find yourself on the green, be thankful.
The 18th hole at University Ridge is another excellent finishing hole. The tee boxes are nestled in a corner that looks out over a driving area that plays a lot longer than it looks. The fairway looks easily reached over the sand traps, but is rarely hit. Playing to the right side of the fairway will set you up best for your second shot uphill, but is rarely played because it looks almost too easy. The only tee shots I have seen on this hole have been aimed over the pre-fairway sand traps, and almost none of them have been played from the fairway. The natural grassland to the left is entangling and difficult to play from if you find your ball at all. Heading left to the green, the approach requires good length, and the green is hellishly quick and uphill.
Hole 18: Par 4 (413/408/371/286)
University Ridge is one of the true golf course gems in the state of Wisconsin. It is consistently ranked as one of the top five university courses in the country, and is mentioned anywhere between five and ten in anybody’s list of the top courses statewide. It is easy to see why, and the challenge and playability of U-Ridge always makes for an entertaining day.
It is difficult to say what other courses U-Ridge reminds me of. Rarely do you find a course that is so well laid out in both open and wooded areas, and especially so well kept. The closest comparison that comes to mind is a hybrid of The Bull and Blackwolf Run – fantastic company, for sure.
Take my advice and clear your schedule the next time “Customer Appreciation Day” at University Ridge rears its head. As a customer, you will feel appreciated.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hole 11: Par 3 (208/193/177/169/125)
Carved alongside the site of the 2004 and 2010 PGA Championship Straits Course, the Irish features much of the same charm that makes the Straits such a fantastic tournament venue: Roaming herds of sheep, huge cliffs and changes in elevation, and lightning-fast bent-grass greens and fairways that roll beautifully. Even the restrooms built into the hillsides add to the rustic charm that is the Whistling Straits.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The split-fairway sixteenth hole is one of the coolest holes I have ever played. U-Ridge is a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course, and is the home of the Wisconsin Badgers golf team. The back nine has some exceptional holes cut through the woods, starting with the thirteenth and continuing through sixteen. 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.
Golf Digest: #70 US public, #9 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #9 Wisconsin public
The Bull is beautiful, to say the least, with outstanding hole layouts. But, it is also incredibly tight and penalizing. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the course is spread out over 400-plus acres of former farm land, and beautifully incorporates the Onion River, dense forests, rolling hills, deep ravines, large ponds and significant elevation changes. The course rolls out one signature hole after another, especially in the stretch of the fifth through eighth holes, which is one of my favorite four-hole stretches of all time.
A primarily replica course, my only complaint about Northern Bay is that it’s too damn far away! I have a hard time deciding which of the replica holes is my favorite: Oakmont’s church pews, Firestone, Amen Corner, Bay Hill… Probably TPC 17. It helps that I seem to play well here, but Castle at the Bay is the most entertaining course I have played on.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.