Golf Course Review: Wild Rock at the Wilderness Resort

Following a day of world-beating at Northern Bay, we figured to ourselves: The granite tees at Wild Rock play to the same length as our last round, so we should have no problems playing back tees. Bad idea. While Wild Rock may be 6,953 from the granite tees, do not compare this to any other 6,950-yard courses you have played. In fact, do not compare it to any of the courses you have ever played!

Wild Rock is long, challenging, and absolutely majestic. Although the 7,414-yard quartzite tees were never entertained, we realized on the third hole how much of a mistake we’d made in our tee selection. For an example of one of the 200-plus yard forced carries at Wild Rock, check out the video of hole three, below:

The par five first hole tells you a lot about this course: It’s long and the greens are lightning fast and difficult. The fairways tend to be wide and fair, but the tee shots themselves remain intimidating. Play the first hole for two shots short of the fairway stream, then keep your approach short of the pond long, left of the stream right, and out of the sand trap left, and you will be off to an excellent start. This game is easy, right?
Hole 1: Par 5 (559/530/497/428/416)

Hole 1: Par 5 (559/530/497/428/416)

Wild Rock has the most dramatic changes in elevation that I have seen on a course in Wisconsin. The first example of this is the par four second hole. Aiming at the narrow fairway uphill, a cut (fortunate slice, as I like to call it) hybrid or fairway wood should put you in the fairway and leave a decent chance for scoring.

Anything hit into the ravine before the fairway, or hill above the fairway, will be difficult to recover from. Trust me, I’ve found this out on my own.

Hole 2: Par 4 (421/399/374/341/309)

Hole 2: Par 4 (421/399/374/341/309)

The third is a tough par four! At 464 yards from the back tees, the drive requires more than 200 of a carry and is sure to leave a long shot in.

Hole 3: Par 4 (464/446/414/306/287)

Hole 3: Par 4 (464/446/414/306/287)

The fourth hole at Wild Rock introduces you to some fantastic par threes. The fourth carries a large pond, and requires precision – essential to all of the course’s par threes.

Hole 4: Par 3 (223/186/164/140/112)

Hole 4: Par 3 (223/186/164/140/112)

Following the par three fourth is a long cart ride (not a walking course!) across the road to where Wild Rock really gets special. The fifth hole tee shot is uphill with a slight bend to the right. The green, hidden from the approach, is narrow and tough to hit, as anything long will fall off the backside.

Hole 5: Par 4 (349/325/300/259/234)

Hole 5: Par 4 (349/325/300/259/234)

The most breathtaking tee shot on the course, and maybe that I have ever seen is on the par five sixth hole. The view from the longest tee boxes here overlooks Baraboo and more than 30 miles of the Wisconsin Dells surrounding area. Being in or around the fairway is essential, as anything right is dead, and there is little room to work with to the left. The fairway narrows as you continue playing uphill, and the blind shot to the green is tumultuous as the approach drops downhill, then into oblivion both long and right. The pin location on this hole has been in the middle of a severe slope both times I have played it, making a two-putt a lot to ask for.

Hole 6: Par 5 (588/551/525/504/457)

Hole 6: Par 5 (588/551/525/504/457)

The elevated tee boxes and gorgeous vistas continue on the seventh hole, which is a long par four ending on a hugely elevated green. Aim for the middle fairway bunker and hope you draw or fade (that’s how my game works, anyhow!), and get it out there a long way to have any chance at par. The false front should certainly be taken in to consideration, as well.

Hole 7: Par 4 (493/460/397/360/338)

Hole 7: Par 4 (493/460/397/360/338)

The eighth is short by Wild Rock standards, but requires two exacting shots. With woods right and a massive drop-off on the left side, accuracy off the tee is rewarded with an incredibly less stressful shot than from either other side.

The eighth has one of the smallest greens on the course, which plays over a deep front-side trap. Any time the pin is located on the left side of the green, the smart play is to the right side of the green to keep from the fall-off on the back-left.

Hole 8: Par 4 (433/412/362/313/260)

Hole 8: Par 4 (433/412/362/313/260)

The front nine at Wild Rock ends with an outstanding par three over water and uphill. The green on the ninth hole is so drastically sloped that three-putting becomes acceptable. Make sure to club up if the pin is placed back. I went short and had two long putts go up the hill, then roll back down to leave me longer than I’d started.

A couple of years back, at my friend Nick’s bachelor party, our other friend Nick had a hole-in-one on this hole. To rub it in to all of us avid players, it was the first round he’d played in years and did not buy drinks in the clubhouse. Just sayin’.

Hole 9: Par 3 (211/179/146/127/109)

Hole 9: Par 3 (211/179/146/127/109)

Hole 9: Par 3 (211/179/146/127/109)

Hole 9: Par 3 (211/179/146/127/109)

The tenth features another elevated tee box to another long par five. After taking a beating on the front nine, we decided to take the PGA’s advice and “tee it forward” to the shale tees for a more managable round with better scoring. No matter what tee boxes you utilize, this course will remain challenging. The tenth is no exception. The second shot uphill over sand traps is intimidating and requires a long fairway wood or hybrid.
Hole 10: Par 5 (567/547/533/510/399)

Hole 10: Par 5 (567/547/533/510/399)

If you are looking to feel good about your score, Wild Rock may not be the right afternoon for you. It is one of the most demanding tracks in the state, and is yet another example of the tremendous, and underrated, courses that can be found in the Madison/Wisconsin Dells area. This course was cultivated to provide a tournament environment, and from what I hear should be hosting the state amateur outing and other state events in the near future. In only its fourth year of play, Wild Rock should continue maturing for years to come.

The pin locations can be borderline unfair (“It’s like the head greenskeeper got in a fight with his wife last night,” my cousin told me), but it is truly a fantastic layout that combines prairie, woodlands and quarry/bluff environments into one of the most picturesque golf settings in the state.

The eleventh is the longest of the par threes at Wild Rock, teeing up from 241 yards from the back tees. It is otherwise relatively straight forward: The green is right in front of you without any crazy changes in elevation or false fronts, traps to carry, etc.

Hole 11: Par 3 (241/223/182/156/128)

Hole 11: Par 3 (241/223/182/156/128)

On a course that parades beautiful elevated tee shots out one after another, the tee shot on twelve is one of the most interesting. Driver can be played here, ideally over the traps on the left side, but it is important to keep the tee shot far enough left where the green is in view. This putting surface, which is masked well by the fairway leading up to it, is found along the rock wall beyond the bend in the fairway and is bordered by several small sand traps.

Hole 12: Par 4 (450/424/403/381/364)

Hole 12: Par 4 (450/424/403/381/364)

Hole 12: Par 4 (450/424/403/381/364)

Hole 12: Par 4 (450/424/403/381/364)

Coming out of the woodlands portion of the course, the thirteenth enters in to the quarry section, which has several of Wild Rock’s most memorable holes including thirteen.

The tee shot is most intelligently played to the bend in the fairway with less than driver. From there, a long shot in to the green is best played with right as the bailout. To the left is a gigantic quarry that falls off the faith of the earth some forty-plus feet. Anything in that area is more than likely gone. The hole finishes right of the tall oak tree behind the green complex, which is divided in half by a substantial ridge.

Hole 13: Par 4 (453/430/403/364/304)

Hole 13: Par 4 (453/430/403/364/304)

Hole 13: Par 4 (453/430/403/364/304)

Hole 13: Par 4 (453/430/403/364/304)

The fourteenth is the shortest of the par fives on the course, at just 535 yards from the back tees. The fairway is wider than it looks, but trouble does lurk on both the right and left sides of the fairway.

The approach is the shot that will require all of your attention, with a quarry residing on the right side of the approach area and green. Anything near this area is sure to be gone. The green slopes heavily from back to front, though, which allows for long approaches to bite.

Hole 14: Par 5 (535/514/487/458/407)

Hole 14: Par 5 (535/514/487/458/407)

Hole 14: Par 5 (535/514/487/458/407)

Hole 14: Par 5 (535/514/487/458/407)

My favorite of the par threes at Wild Rock, and one of my favorite one-shotters in the entire state, is the 15th hole, which tees off from isolated tee boxes over a large quarry to a green which appears almost as an island set above an enormous dead zone. Play the quartzite tees here for the most exceptional vista. The green seems too far to reach, but is deceptively closer than expected. A low-to-mid iron is actually the right club. Long can result in a lot of trouble, and the green is as difficult as they come.

Hole 15: Par 3 (179/166/134/130/118)

Hole 15: Par 3 (179/166/134/130/118)

Hole 15: Par 3 (179/166/134/130/118)

Hole 15: Par 3 (179/166/134/130/118)

Hole 15: Par 3 (179/166/134/130/118)

Hole 15: Par 3 (179/166/134/130/118)

The sixteenth is another long par four, driving out to the right before coming back left with a slight dogleg.

Hole 16: Par 4 (456/415/381/352/329)

Hole 16: Par 4 (456/415/381/352/329)

The seventeenth is a great risk/reward par four hole. Very short for Wild Rock, the green is reachable to long hitters, but anything short will be well below the putting surface or potentially in the woods. The smart play is less than driver to the right, finding the fairway and leaving a wedge in.

I was unfortunately not able to find any pictures of the seventeenth on my computer, so will have to make sure I take some new ones this season!

The course ends with a long par four that plays much shorter, given the tremendous downhill run that can be utilized if hit straight. The bailout on eighteen is to the right, as anything left is likely lost in the woods.

The most important shot on eighteen is the approach. Featuring one of the shortest greens on the course from front-to-back, a very tricky sand area is found just beyond the putting surface. Anything that goes in there can give even the best golfers fits.

Hole 18: Par 4 (436/412/371/337/302)

Hole 18: Par 4 (436/412/371/337/302)

Hole 18: Par 4 (436/412/371/337/302)

Hole 18: Par 4 (436/412/371/337/302)

 I personally think Wild Rock is one of the absolute best golf courses in the state of Wisconsin, and in fact think it deserves to be put ahead of a lot of the perennial top tens that have been listed by GolfWeek and Golf Digest.

For a pure golfing experience, for the beauty of the course and its layout, and for the variety of golf shots that have to be made in order to play this course well, there is not much in the state that compares.

For your next bachelor party or Wisconsin Dells weekend trip, if you are looking for a side-trip to a golfing experience you will not soon forget, check out Wild Rock at the Wilderness Resort.

Course Wrap-up:

Location: Wisconsin Dells, WI
Yardage: Quartzite-7,414, Granite-6,953, Shale-6,393, Limestone-5,746, Sandstone-5,132
Slope/Rating: Quartzite-141/76.5, Granite-135/74.5, Shale-134/70.8, Limestone-124/67.5, Sandstone-124/69.6
Par: 72
Weekend Rates (riding): $89

Wisconsin’s Best Public Golf Courses

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.

Hole 18: Par 5 (660/637/620/539/506)

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.

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

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.

Hole 4: Par 3 (219/195/185/146/117)
 

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.

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.

5. SentryWorld (Stevens Point, WI):

Golf Digest: #5 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #4 Wisconsin public
Golf.com:

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.

Hole 12: Par 3 (161/139/123/86/76)

SentryWorld Website

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.

Hole 13: Par 5 (568/556/489/489)
 

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.

Hole 15: Par 3 (179/166/148/130/118)

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.

Hole 14: Par 4 (423/409/384/376/293)

9. University Ridge (Madison, WI):

GolfWeek: #7 Wisconsin public

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.
Hole 6: Par 5 (623/570/534/442)

 

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.

Hole 17: Par 5 (573/530/485/421/406)
The Next Ten:

11. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms (Sheboygan, WI):
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.
Hole 8: Par 5 (568/556/500/487/435)

12. Castle at the Bay (Arkdale, WI):

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.
View from the club house of hole 10

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.

Hole 9: Par 5 (587/550/533/469)

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.

Hole 2: Par 4 (341/329/315/315)
 

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.

Hole 5: Par 4 (354/310/283/257/255)

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.

Hole 17: Par 3 (169/153/136/120/91)

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!

Hole 1: Par 4 (424/395/255)
 

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.

Hole 9: Par 5 (543/521/493/467/401)

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.

Hole 7: Par 3 (192/175/170/157/150)
 

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.

Hole 12: Par 3 (184/153/141/127/127/107)

Notable Media Rankings:

GolfWeek’s Top Ten Public Courses in Wisconsin (2013)

Golf.com’s Top 15 Public Courses in Wisconsin (2012)

Golf Digest’s Top 10 Golf Courses in Wisconsin (2014)