Golf Club Review: Blue Mound Golf and Country Club

Rich in history, Blue Mound Golf and Country Club in Wauwatosa is one of the most prestigious and well-respected private clubs in the state of Wisconsin.

Designed by one of the world’s all-time greatest golf course architects, Seth Raynor, Blue Mound originally opened for play in 1926 and is one of only four courses in the state to have hosted a major golf tournament.

Bronze bust of Seth Raynor near the 1st tee at Blue Mound Golf & Country Club

They probably have the most legendary winner, too: Gene Serazen at the inaugural 1933 PGA Championship:

Gene Sarazen winning the 1st PGA Championship in 1933 at Blue Mound

History aside (I added a full list of Wisconsin major tournament sites, years and winners toward the bottom of this post), the team and membership at Blue Mound should be proud of the way they’ve shepherded it in recent years. Anyone even adjacent to the golf industry has noticed the tremendous challenges Golden Age courses have faced, including but not limited to:

  • Endlessly fighting the results of excessive post-war tree planting (and now the Emerald ash borer)
  • Resisted some, and allowed then peeled back other 1990’s-era updates
  • Surviving and recovering from the ensuing financial collapse
  • Refocused on their rich heritage and invested in a future that includes strategic restorations and property enhancements

Continually doing all of this and more have brought Blue Mound full circle to where things began in 1926, with a…

Perfectly maintained golf course with superior design elements and the state’s best greens.

Anyone could live with that.

Even the first time I played it this year, following a few days that stockpiled over three inches of rain (you can see some still standing in bunkers), Blue Mound’s course conditions were better and faster than expected.

That said, the conditions the second time I played it were off-the-charts good. The fairways were spry and ran out, and the greens were just perfect.

No area course has better, more interesting green complexes than Blue Mound, and only Milwaukee CC can stand toe-to-toe with its decorated history and the mystique that coexists at upper-echelon private clubs.

Where does that come from? In the case of Blue Mound, it started and still lives with Raynor.

One of my coworkers who joined us for my first round there enjoys playing golf, but told me afterwards he didn’t follow our conversations about template holes. He especially didn’t understand why the club would want to raise a perfectly good fairway like on the Alps fourth when the hole is fine as is.

I had to admit it’s a geeky golf guy thing that goes against [real] common sense, but I love everything about Golden Age golf and especially when it’s related to Macdonald/Raynor and their template holes. These guys were masters, and that’s proven out over time, course and tournament history. The onus to keep the course within their parameters has long been passed, and Blue Mound has been running in full stride.

Raynor built some beautiful golf holes at Blue Mound, highlighted as I mentioned by incredible green sites. I’ll touch on a few of the most memorable to me here, and will also give a couple general opinions.

The first really remarkable green at Blue Mound is their Double Plateau second. At over 10,300 square feet, this is the largest and most pinnable surface on the entire course with three distinct levels.

Part of the green on the par four Double Plateau 2nd at Blue Mound

While I haven’t had a chance to fly my drone at Blue Mound, @putt4dough24 on Instagram does on a regular basis. I highly recommend following him for great images of Blue Mound and other top national private clubs, including this pic of Blue Mound’s Double Plateau.

Link to @putt4dough24 on Instagram (Blue Mound member, golf/drone photographer)

The first of Blue Mound’s par threes, the third is a terrific Raynor Biarritz. I thought it was interesting at first that they do not mow the first/high shelf section of the green. After doing more research, though, I’ve come to understand that this is how Raynor and Macdonald actually intended it.

The long Biarritz par three 3rd at Blue Mound
View from the back section of the Biarritz 3rd, showing the swale and unmowed front

Most Biarritz-style greens I’ve played were not actually designed by Raynor or Macdonald. The Sandbox at Sand Valley, Old Macdonald, Streamsong Red, Bandon Trails and Sweetgrass all have Biarritz-style greens, for example, but all were designed/implemented by modern day architects.

Shoreacres (Lake Bluff, IL) is the only other true Raynor course I’ve played and, according to Golf Club Atlas and The Fried Egg, is the exception to the rule that the front section of Biarritz greens should be mowed to fairway length. In fact, GCA mentions that the front section of Shoreacres’ Biarritz sixth lacks the cinder subsurface that serves as a base for the rest of the putting surface.

That said, I’d prefer the front section be mowed. There are few shots in golf more fun to watch than when your tee shot hits the front section of a Biarritz green, disappears in to the swale and reemerges rolling toward a back hole location.

My buddy, Greg’s tee shot on the 8th at Old Macdonald, for example (click for video) – a solid 12 seconds of watching the ball fly, run out, climb and curl in.

Greg’s tee shot on the Biarritz-style 8th at Old Macdonald

Some other Biarritz-style greens I’ve played and took pictures of:

The Alps fourth hole is one that may garner interest in the near future because of potential renovation plans. The club is looking at raising the fairway surface near the green to make the approach shot completely blind, like it is on the original Alps hole at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland.

The par four Alps 4th hole

The seventh at Blue Mound is the course’s Short hole and features one of the property’s prettiest backdrops: Mt. Mary University.

Blue Mound’s downhill Short par three 7th

The eighth is probably the course’s signature hole, featuring a well-elevated Punch Bowl green.

Tee area on Blue Mound’s Punch Bowl 8th
A closer look at the Punch Bowl on 8 at Blue Mound

I love the view from the tee on nine. With the clubhouse as the backdrop, the tee shot needs to carry the deep Ravine the hole is named for. The three fairway bunkers on the right side look gnarly but are not in play for most golfers. The biggest miss to avoid here is anything snappy and left.

The par four Ravine 9th, with a forced carry off the tee

With a back pin location, the green on nine is one of the toughest on the course to get to, but it pales in comparison to the seemingly straight-forward opening hole on the back nine.

Ten, appropriately nicknamed Prize, is a shining example of how an ingenious green complex can make an otherwise innocuous golf hole great.

There is nothing for the golfer to worry about off the tee. Given the size of the green, though, chances are there are at least a few clubs that can provide enough distance but just one that will leave a good chance for a two-putt par.

Tee box on the par four Prize 10th, one of the course’s best competition holes

Featuring one of the most scenic teeing areas on the course, the par four twelfth is the course’s Hog’s Back template.

The tee boxes set up alongside a pond and play to a crested fairway that cants from right to left. Even if just for the views alone, this is a really memorable par four.

Joe’s tee shot on the par four 12th, Hog’s Back
The long par four Hog’s Back 12th from the forward tees

There are actually two standard right-to-left Redan greens at Blue Mound. The first is on the course’s par four opening hole, and the second is this gem that I’d imagine took incredible physical labor to manufacture:

The beautiful Redan par three 13th at Blue Mound

The fun in any of Raynor or Macdonald’s Redan complexes is in the way the right side can be used to influence approach shots toward the middle or back of the putting surface.

The thirteenth has a long, narrow green with an expansive approach area above and short-right of the putting surface to funnel balls greenward.

I can’t imagine the amount of land that was moved to elevate the playing surface here. To illustrate my point, here’s a view of the outside border toward the back-right (from the tees):

The Redan green complex’s dramatic edge on 13

Every great golf course needs a solid finishing hole, and the 18th at Blue Mound is perfect. Measuring 560 yards from the tips, the 18th is by far the longest hole on a par 70 course with just two par fives, and offers ample width off the tee and on subsequent long shots.

The par five Long finishing hole at Blue Mound

Both times playing here I was able to smack a 3-wood as far as I could on the second shot. Neither made the green, but being able to haul off on a long club without worrying too much about tree lines, water or other hazards is good fun and brings strategy in to play. Both times I put myself in no man’s land too close to the green and would have been better off laying up to a more comfortable distance with a full wedge, but that’s not quite as satisfying.

As with the rest of the course, Blue Mound is all about the second shot and putting. And the true genius in CB Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s work can be found in the give and take. While there is always a best-case, sporty shot to hit, there’s also one for the smart, consistent player (not me) to count on for a great look at par.

Any ultra-exclusive club is going to have outside naysayers. It’s how the world and people who want to feel important work. Over the past five to ten years, I’ve heard two common negatives about Blue Mound:

  1. Tree removal made the course too easy
  2. The membership is old and stuffy

Having not played Blue Mound previously, I pictured in my mind a landscape as barren as Washington County, or the Links course at Lawsonia… Scorched earth.

I was actually surprised by how many trees do come in to play, and I think if anything they could probably take out more. Their team certainly did not overdo it, though, and any challenge taken away was never intended to be there (by their ingenious course designer) in the first place.

From what I’ve seen, the second generalization is also unfounded. I half-expected to be having lunch and tea in a rollback leather chair with old bronze casters while old men read newspapers in their pajamas all around me, maybe slipping silverware in their pockets when nobody was looking.

In actuality, I’ve played with some really fun younger guys and have met a dozen or so others pre- and post-round by the range, men’s locker room bar and fire pits. I’d be excited to golf with any of them.

From what I’ve seen and heard, the club is getting younger and flourishing, and a bright future is comforting to see at a course so rich with history and charm.

In case you’re wondering about all Wisconsin courses to have hosted major golf tournaments/events (with year(s) and champion(s)), here is the full list:

  • US Open
    • Erin Hills
      • 2017: Brooks Koepka
  • PGA Championship
    • Blue Mound
      • 1933: Gene Sarazen
    • Whisting Straits
      • 2004: Vijay Singh
      • 2010: Martin Kaymer
      • 2015: Jason Day
  • US Senior Open
    • Whistling Straits
      • 2007: Brad Bryant
  • US Amateur
    • Erin Hills and Blue Mound (alternate site for stroke play)
      • 2011: Peter Uihlein
  • Ryder Cup (yes, I’m including it)
    • Whistling Straits
      • 2020: To be decided
  • US Women’s Open
    • Blackwolf Run
      • 1998: Se Ri Pak
      • 2012: Na Yeon Choi

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Wauwatosa, WI
Yardage: Black-6667, Blue-6313, White-5632
Slope/Rating: Black-131/72.1, Blue-127/70.6, White-124/72.5
Par: 70

Blue Mound Golf and Country Club Website

Big Things in the Works at The University Club (FKA Tripoli)

I recently had the opportunity to check out a local private club I’d never played before: The University Club. You probably know it as Tripoli, and great efforts are being expended to change that.

Debuting in 1921, The University Club is part of the northwest side of Milwaukee’s “Murderer’s row” of classic tracks off Good Hope Road, alongside The Wisconsin Club (fka Bryn Mawr), Brown Deer Park Golf Course, and a mile or so from Milwaukee Country Club.

I was really impressed with The University Club. The conditions were terrific, I enjoyed the variety of hole layouts and was pleasantly surprised by the topography and scale of the property. I expected a smaller footprint and had no idea there’d be as significant of elevation changes. Plus, I thought their men’s locker room is awesome (full wraparound bar with TV’s and seating areas).

The University Club is one of the most intact Tom Bendelow courses in the country. In fact, sixteen of the course’s greens survived numerous renovations over the past 96 years and are absolutely stalwart Bendelow designs. Highlighting those are the putting surfaces on four and thirteen, both strategically as good as you’ll find in the Milwaukee area.

A  look at the 13th green, both undeveloped when Bendelow originally envisioned it and as a finished product nearly 100 years later:

Tripoli 13th green

The 13th green – now and as raw land when Bendelow originally designed it (photos courtesy The University Club)

In conjunction with their recent merger with The University Club’s downtown dining location, the FKA Tripoli Country Club is making huge updates to their golf facilities, bringing in nationally renowned course architect and a friend of mine, Andy Staples of Staples Golf Design.

While attention will be put toward improving the course’s play-ability and environmental sustainability (potentially including strategic tree removal, utility updates and some course design adjustments), one of the highlights for Staples’ renovation is the development of a world-class on-site practice facility.

The University Club short game area plan

Staples’ concept for a new short game practice area (links to SGD website)

Adding in the practice area will require adjusting the 12th green and making several other tweaks to the area it will occupy, as laid out above.

While modern architecture rains praise on Bendelow’s best designs – Medinah, East Lake, Mission Hills and Olympia Fields, to name a few – there are factions of the golf world who for a time were critical of his general body of work based on the volume of courses he designed between 1898 and 1933.

Coined the “Johnny Appleseed of Golf” by Golf Digest Senior Editor of Architecture Ron Whitten, Bendelow designed between 600 and 1,000 courses and also served as the initial Superintendent at the country’s first municipal course: New York’s Van Cortlandt Park, starting in 1899.

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Tom Bendelow

As a salesman for Spalding sporting goods, Tom worked hand-in-hand with A.G. Spalding to bring the great game of golf to the masses. Scores of courses were developed, new players were introduced to the game, and you guessed it – Spalding sold a ton of golf equipment.

Tripoli was one of Bendelow’s first projects after leaving Spalding to work full-time for American Park Builders, the group responsible for arranging the construction of Tripoli, in 1922.

The original criticism against Bendelow was that he was the “18 stakes on a Sunday afternoon” architect during his time with Spalding. Basically, that he would show up and put stakes in the ground to denote where tees, fairways and greens should be – all in a single day – and move on to the next project. I’m not sure anyone could do more than that and be attributed with designing 1,000 golf courses, especially in the early 1900’s when travel was I’m sure at least a little less convenient.

“18 stakes on a Sunday afternoon” changed when Bendelow took over for William Langford at APB. Now having access to staff and other great resources, Bendelow was able to contribute the time and on-site TLC toward his projects that greatness requires. Tripoli was an original benefactor of that.

American Park Builders Brocure Rendering_cropped

Tom Bendelow’s design of Tripoli as shown in a 1922 APB brochure; this is the most detailed original color rendering of the course that includes fairways vs rough, greens and bunkers

One thing noticed on Bendelow-designed courses is the ease of walking from green to tee. While I could tell The University Club would normally be a great walking course, it was far from an easy hike on our dreadfully hot 95-degree September morn. Several of the uphill climbs actually left me a little dizzy toward the end – as I was saying earlier, there’s a lot more elevation than I expected.

While having the next tee nearby makes for easy transitions, advances in golf equipment technology have made shots that were heroic during Bendelow’s days not only realistic now, but to long-ish hitters almost standard.

At 440 yards from the tips, and 418 from the first tees in, for example, the 16th should be a challenging par four. The course institutes in-play out-of-bounds to discourage players from trying to cut the corner, but a 240-yard carry here leads to a really good reward… And it’s not like someone who can carry 240 ever mishits the ball, which is a great thing because directly along the line of that 240 is the 12th green.

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The dogleg left par four 16th at The University Club

One potential solution to get players to play the 16th the way Bendelow meant for it to be played could be as simple as relocating the tee boxes further right. This would make the direct route toward the green much less possible and force players to aim down – or nearer to – the hole’s fairway.

Having to hit long- or mid-iron in over the creek to a heavily contoured green would bring back the bite on this pivotal par four.

Tripoli 16 & 2 & 12

The ideal tee shot on 16 is ~240 yards directly over the 12 green

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The 16th hole green complex and Tripoli windmill

Playing The University Club with Andy, it was fun to visualize his thoughts on the redesign. His great respect for the architecture that’s made golf’s golden age courses thrive over the past century I think will lead to changes that are often subtle to the eye, but will help reinstate Bendelow’s strategic themes while promoting a more fun environment for championship golf. These “subtle changes” should make massive impacts for a course that already has a lot going for it.

As shown in Bendelow’s 1922 color rendering (earlier/above), a lot of his time and efforts were spent on design features that have since been covered by trees.

It’s easy for club members to freak out when “tree removal” is mentioned. We hear numbers in the hundreds, even thousands, and imagine a course we’ve come to know and love looking like scorched earth (picture Lawsonia’s Links course or the updated Blue Mound Country Club). The truth is that most courses can lose hundreds, if not thousands of trees and leave the course visually comparable but strategically and environmentally better off.

“We don’t have a total number of trees in mind at this point. What I would say is, many courses of this age have seen trees planted for a variety of reasons, and now that they are 50-60 years old their impact on the course in terms of playability and turf health is significant. We’re going to concentrate on providing sunlight and air movement for all of the greens, and do our best to open up angles of play and approaches to greens that are more in line with how the course was originally intended to play.  This isn’t to say we’re going to remove all the trees.  We’re going to highlight the architecture through thoughtful removals and in some cases replacement, thinking about how members actually play golf.”

-Andy Staples

A few examples of areas where Bendelow’s design strategy has been overrun by tree growth:

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Mounding now in the trees on the right side of the fairway on 13

Right side of 15 in trees

Bendelow’s mounding on the right side of 15

Old Bunker Left of 16

Looking toward the location of Bendelow’s original bunkers on the left side of 16

A notable up-and-comer in the industry, GolfWeek recently email blasted their entire readership with a list of four keynote speakers headlining their 2017 Architecture Summit at Streamsong this December: Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, Rich Mack of Mosaic (developers of Streamsong), and Andy Staples. That’s some good company to keep.

An expert in the field of sustainable golf design, his most famous work is probably the development of Sand Hollow in Hurricane, Utah. A famously tough critic, Even Tom Doak gave Sand Hollow one of the highest scores (an 8/10) in volume two of his Confidential Guide to Golf Courses.

It’s Staples’ recent renovation of Meadowbrook Country Club in Northville, Michigan, though, that is probably most relevant to The University Club project.

Host of the 1955 PGA Championship, Meadowbrook celebrated their 100-year anniversary by hiring Staples and closing down for 18 months to make course updates. They entered that shut-down with 86 members on a waiting list to leave… And emerged with a full membership of 325 plus a waiting list to join¹.

Staples’ work in Northville has been hailed as a massive success, and Golf, Inc Magazine has named it one of five finalists for the world’s best course renovation project in 2017. It’s easy to see why from the pictures – it looks spectacular:

Meadowbrook CC hole 8

Meadowbrook CC renovation project: Hole 8 (par 3) – links to mlive article

Like at Meadowbrook, I’m sure it’ll be tough for the membership at The University Club to endure a season without golf, but I think they made the absolutely right choice in hiring Staples, and I’m excited to follow the renovation’s progress and see all the great things he and his team do when it reopens down the road.

 

¹ Source: Crain’s Detroit article: “Meadowbrook Country Club Golf Risk Pays Off With Membership Surge,” July 23, 2017

Golf Course Review: Racine Country Club

Let’s start out by saying that I (and my fellow buddies from North Hills Country Club) loved the Racine Country Club experience.

The course is classic with small, lightning-fast greens, and the clubhouse and facilities are beautiful. I don’t think I’ve seen a club in Wisconsin with better amenities, in fact.

The food was fantastic. I got a dozen chicken wings before our round (I’m not a warm up on the range kind of guy), and a massive fish filet afterwards. The wings were meaty and the buffalo sauce was perfect. The fish was delicious, as were the sides and drinks.

The clubhouse sprawls. It looks nice from the front, but amazing from inside and behind. It actually reminds me of the clubhouse at Blackwolf Run when viewed from the course, which I consider to be the prettiest clubhouse in the state.

The club’s facilities are plentiful and tastefully done. The pro shop is adequate, and the locker room is world-class. Each locker is dark wood with the RCC inscription engraved. There is a bar in the men’s locker room – a feature I always like – and it is manned by Gene who is a bit of a celebrity, himself. Gene retired from Case more than fifteen years ago, and took the job as the men’s locker room assistant for something to do. He has been there ever since, and provides the experience every country club strives to find someone to deliver.

We were told to make sure we get a drink from Gene, who makes a solid concoction but more than anything provides customer service that is second to none.

After getting to the club, Scott and I went to the bar upstairs and I ordered my wings. Kyle and Nick texted us that they were at the locker room bar downstairs, so we made the journey to the men’s locker room and I told the bartender upstairs and he had them delivered there. When we made our way back to the upstairs bar, my wings were already delivered downstairs. I made my way down there and Gene said, “No, sir I will carry them for you,” to which I told him I was happy to carry it. He gave me every excuse why it would be better for him to carry them, including that it will look better to my friends, and we were on our way back to the upstairs pub. I tried giving him five dollars for his inconveniences, but he wasn’t having it.

Private golf clubs are all about the golf, followed by customer service and experience, if you ask me. Racine Country Club excels on all fronts.

Enough about buffalo wings – I didn’t even mention the huge game room downstairs including a billiards table, four bowling lanes, tons of card tables and lounge areas. I also didn’t mention the awesome lounge in the men’s locker room, the beautiful upstairs bar and numerous dining areas, the fitness center, pool or tennis courts… Let’s just say I was jealous and wish my club had the space to catch up!

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Two of the four bowling alleys in the basement at Racine Country Club

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Billiards table in the downstairs game room at Racine Country Club

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Fitness center in the basement at Racine Country Club

We had a great foursome for Saturday’s round, including my friends Kyle, Nick and Scott, who are all 4-handicaps. I got 6 total strokes on the day, and our game du jour was wolf. In wolf, foursomes keep a rotation where the last player to tee off has to decide after each tee shot if he/she wants to partner with that person. If passed, that player cannot be picked. Sometimes it ends up that they pass on the first two and the third player to tee off duck-hooks one in to the water – in that case, they can choose to go alone and risk losing two points, but also have the opportunity to earn three.

I was chosen several times because of great drives. After the majority of those, I hit green-side bunkers next. Normally that’s not a big deal since I pride myself in my sand game, but the traps at Racine Country Club are nothing like the ones I’ve become used to. The traps at Racine are deep and with heavy sand, very similar to the sand at Bandon Dunes. It’s the kind of sand that feels like it was taken from a beach, and swinging with arms will not get the job done.

The course at Racine Country Club starts out in glorious fashion, with steeply elevated tee boxes adjacent to the pro shop and overlooking a narrow but short opening par five. There is a little more room to the left than it looks, and none to the right.

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Hole 1: Par 5 (473/459/445/432)

The fairway bends hard right at about 400 yards, so the second shot will either have to carry out-of-bounds to the right or else be played safely left toward the elbow.

The first hole initiates players to the greens at Racine Country Club, which are… Fast. And small. I was told putting here is like putting on concrete more times than I can remember leading up to our round, and the actual experience did not disappoint.

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Hole 1: Par 5 (473/459/445/432)

The second hole is a little intimidating from the tee, as the left-to-right dogleg par four is mostly hidden and the river that runs through the fairway mostly blends in to the playing surface. A solid drive over 200 yards should carry the water with ease and leave a manageable approach.

Continue reading

Golf Course Photography: Westmoor Country Club

With the Men’s Invitational being played at my home course of North Hills Country Club, I reached out to my friend, Joey, to play some golf at his home course, Westmoor Country Club, in Brookfield yesterday.

We teed off at 10:27 and it was hot, but there was a nice breeze that kept things comfortable. The course was in magnificent shape, and since I already reviewed it last year I took it as an opportunity to continue my dabbling in photography with different filters and “Artistic” photography.

WiscoGolfAddict course review of Westmoor Country Club

While Joey played his worst round of golf in the past 20-plus years for the club championship qualifying round, Jeff played his best shooting 38-42 [as a 15-handicap!].

It’s always fun playing with people who are playing their best, and 38 on the front was phenomenal – it was fairways and greens with some great putts and a few that didn’t quite fall but left easy pars. I love those days, personally, and could tell Jeff was pretty psyched about it, too.

I was especially excited about it because Jeff was my teammate for 6/6/6 for the first six holes, in which he was even par while I was still figuring the greens out.

As a side note, Westmoor has done a fantastic job with their greens – they are rolling really well and true, and you would be hard pressed to find an unfixed ball mark anywhere.

Bill Burkhart, who is on the club’s golf/handicap committee, played along with us and offered a lot of great insight about the course and their current projects. I love the new “Thin fescue” that has been introduced over the past few years, especially, and tried to highlight some of it in my photography of the course from Saturday’s round.

Hole 2

Hole 2

Hole 3

Hole 3 along Moorland Road

Hole 3 from the swale between the tee and green

Hole 3 from the swale between the tee and green

Hole 4

Hole 4 along Moorland Road

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Hole 4 along Moorland Road

Hole 5

Hole 5

Hole 7

Hole 7 along I-94

Hole 7

Hole 7 along I-94

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Hole 9 playing back to the clubhouse

Hole 9

Hole 9 playing back to the clubhouse

Hole 9

Hole 9 playing back to the clubhouse

Hole 11

Joey’s approach on hole 11

Hole 13

Hole 13

Hole 13

Bill’s tee shot on hole 13

Hole 14

Hole 14

Hole 16

Hole 15

Hole 16

Hole 15

Hole 16

Hole 16

Hole 16

Hole 16

Hole 17

Hole 17

After I finished three-putting on seventeen, we made our way to the eighteenth tee where we were met by staff telling us that the incoming storm was only a couple of miles away. They had picked up our bags half-way down the fairway and had us jump in carts to head back to the clubhouse.

It was starting to get a little dark, and a little windier, but nothing happened for 15-20 minutes. Then…

Flash storm from the lounge at Westmoor Country Club

Pop-up storm from the lounge at Westmoor Country Club

Flash storm from the lounge at Westmoor Country Club

Pop-up storm from the lounge at Westmoor Country Club

Flash storm from the lounge at Westmoor Country Club

Pop-up storm from the lounge at Westmoor Country Club

Flash storm from the lounge at Westmoor Country Club

Pop-up storm from the lounge at Westmoor Country Club

Golf Course Review: Milwaukee Country Club

Milwaukee Country Club Course Rankings:

Golf Digest: #62 US top 100, #3 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #54 US classic

Designer: Charles H. Alison (1929)

This past Wednesday, I had the wonderful privilege of being invited out to a course that very few get the opportunity to play: Milwaukee Country Club.

MCC is the top-rated private course in the state of Wisconsin, and number 77 on Golf.com’s list of the top 100 courses in America. What other courses in Wisconsin are ranked in that list, you wonder? Erin Hills appears at 96, the River at Blackwolf Run at 89, and the Straits at Whistling Straits at number 28.

The perennially number one rated course in the country, and usually in the world, is of course Pine Valley in New Jersey (with Cypress Point, Augusta National, Shinnecock Hills and Pebble Beach rounding out the top five).

Another popular ranker of golf courses nationally, GolfWeek, names Milwaukee as the 43rd best Classic course in the country (also with Pine Valley as number one). I have a couple of friends who have played Pine Valley, by the way, and they say it certainly deserves this recognition. One of those friends is a member at Milwaukee Country Club, and a co-worker of mine, Brett.

Milwaukee Country Club has an undeniable mystique: It is a classic C.H Allison and H.S. Colt design that opened in 1929, and has been widely considered to be the Milwaukee area’s most prestigious club and golfing community, and played host to the 1969 Walker Cup, 1988 US Senior Amateur, and the 2008 US Mid-Amateur.
The clubhouse is massive and elegant, and for the most part very formal. The upstairs features dining rooms and libraries, as well as a bar that requires suit and tie for all entrants. Given the elite membership, my guess is that some pretty big deals have been inked in that setting.
Milwaukee Country Club clubhouse
The clubhouse and staff were friendly and accommodating, and the men’s locker room was unlike any I had ever seen: Like a massive German beer hall, it has high ceilings and a plethora of dining tables, with a bar and old-school double lockers on the inside. Opening the burgundy leather-bound swing-style doors at the entrance to this great room revealed an area that few see, and a sense of great history and German tradition abounds.
Following our morning round, we headed back to the locker room for lunch. A buffet is served daily at MCC. Forget about hot dogs, burgers and brats – they do have those, too – lunch in the men’s locker room at Milwaukee Country Club meant a carving station with pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes, burgers, brats and hot dogs, fruit and vegetables, and some of the best pie I have ever had. They actually have a full-time employee who only makes pies, in fact, and Wednesday’s mixed berry rhubarb definitely hit the spot.
The club also features a pool, tennis courts and other facilities. One of my favorite features was the free snacks at the turn: Crackers and different spreads (cheddar, swiss almond and peanut butter), drinks, etc. As anyone who knows me at work knows, I love cheese spreads. I was in Heaven.
The course itself is wonderful, featuring the best conditions I have ever played on. The tee boxes and fairways were as close to unblemished as I have ever seen, and the greens were smooth and almost entirely without ball marks.
I expected more break in the putting surfaces than there was (much like I always do at Erin Hills), but that doesn’t mean there was anything easy about them. On the greens I have become accustomed to at North Hills Country Club, it is not rare to aim above holes by as much as ten-plus feet (and similar at Tuckaway, Pine Hills, etc.). Everything is pretty much in front of you at Milwaukee, though. Brett, who is a 0.2-handicap, gave me most of my reads, and it surprised me how often it was “Left side of the hole,” “Two cups outside right,” or “Straight on,” and he was always right!
Milwaukee has perfect greens, and everything rolls as it should. Anything ten feet and in was a huge challenge for me, though: When I’d try to firm putts in, they would hit a corner and roll ten feet away; when I’d try to die them in, they’d break at the last possible moment, and leave me a tap-in. I just could not figure them out! I one-putted one hole the entire day, and three-putted many more.
Normally, I am told that any group with guests has to tee off on the tenth at Milwaukee Country Club, but we started on the front.
The first hole tee shot is well downhill to a wide open fairway that is, like all others, perfectly manicured. Sand traps are abundant and deep, but this is probably one of the easier holes on a course that otherwise has a whole lot of bite.
I realized after teeing off that I’d forgotten my camera in my car (and my keys in my locker), so feeling like I shouldn’t hold anyone up, the following is the only picture I got of the first hole:
Hole 1: Par 4 (434/415/393)
The second hole is a long par four that doglegs slightly right, just over 400 yards.
Hole 2: Par 4 (455/401/374)
The first par five on the course, the third is another dogleg right that bends around a forest to the right side. This is the number one handicapped hole on the course, and like with all holes at Milwaukee Country Club is always played best by keeping the ball in front of you and not trying to take on too much. I hit a nice drive on this hole, and was told to hit a 200-yard shot toward the left-side fairway trap, as hitting a high fade could have gotten me in trouble. I miss-hit right anyways, though, and was forced to hit a high fade over the treeline.
Personally, I think there are any number of holes on the way in off the back nine that are more deserving of the number one handicap, but the third is certainly no piece of cake for a relative short (493 yards) par five.
Hole 3: Par 5 (533/493/443)
Milwaukee’s first par three, the fourth is a mid-length one-shotter with deep traps both front-left and right.
Hole 4: Par 3 (199/160/128)
The fifth plays uphill to a green with a huge trap in the front-right. The two fairway bunkers on the right side are definitely in play, but can be flown with a big drive.
Hole 5: Par 4 (438/413/406)
The sixth, a dogleg left par four over 400 yards, provided me with my best par of the day. Okay, it was my only par of the day en route to a 90. Driver can be played to the dogleg, and will leave a lengthy approach to a well-risen green. I unfortunately did not have an opportunity to get a picture on this hole as I was nervous toward the start of our round about taking pictures.
Hole seven was verti-cut that morning, but is obviously a gorgeous hole, otherwise. A massive bunker resides on the right side of the fairway, and must be avoided for any chance at birdie. The hole is a short par five, otherwise, and is quite reachable in two with a good drive and a 225 or less yards approach.
Hole 7: Par 5 (495/471/441)
The eighth is one of the coolest par threes I have ever seen, with tremendously large and deep green-side bunkers protecting an elevated green that breaks hard from the right to left.
Hole 8: Par 3 (174/158/106)
Hole 8: Par 3 (174/158/106)
One of my favorite holes on the entire course, the front nine ends with a gorgeous uphill par four. With the stately clubhouse beyond (I love the way they mow everything as first-cut around the green and up to the clubhouse, and even around all the trees, by the way!), the ninth is played in to a huge hill, and then upward to a short green from back to front. A wide sand trap dissects the driving area, and would make for a tough approach. I wonder how many times players have bladed shots from this trap in to the clubhouse throughout the years?
Hole 9: Par 4 (332/300/262)
Hole 9: Par 4 (332/300/262)
Grab some refreshments and snacks in the clubhouse following the front nine, and get ready for one of the best stretches of holes you have ever seen: The back nine.
The tenth tees off from beside the clubhouse, and alongside the fairway on nine (significantly below nine’s playing surface). With the Milwaukee River on the horizon, this is an absolutely beautiful golf hole, and at 465 yards a very short par five. This is not to say it’s easy, though, as the green is heavily risen and breaks sharply toward the river.
It is at this point that I realized what course Milwaukee Country Club reminds me of: TPC Deere Run, in Silvis, Illinois (the location of the John Deere Classic).
The back nine brings the Milwaukee River in exceptionally well, and sets up a lot of wonderful photo opportunities.
Hole 10: Par 5 (484/465/443)
Hole 10: Par 5 (484/465/443)
The view below the left side of the 10th green
Even with the Milwaukee River running along the right side of the eleventh hole tee boxes and fairway, the defining characteristic of this hole is the awesome fairway bunkering on the left side.
An interesting note about the bunkering at Milwaukee Country Club, and on all Colt and Allison designs: All fairway traps were designed to be substantial while heading towards, but literally disappear from sight within 20-30 yards of passing them. This leaves a consistently clear view back towards all tee boxes, but can also lead to situations where golfers in carts have to be careful about not driving in to them when navigating backwards.
Hole 11: Par 4 (375/360/354)
 
Hole 11: Par 4 (375/360/354)
Hole 11: Par 4 (375/360/354)
The first hole at Milwaukee Country Club that crosses the Milwaukee River, the twelfth is a considerably longer and more daunting par three than it reads on the scorecard, with a green that is heavily bunkered in front. With the blue tee boxes back for our round, it played from 180 yards with at least 30 or 40 to carry the river. I somehow hit a towering, drawn six-iron on this tee shot to the front of the green, and have to admit I was a little proud of the accomplishment!
Crossing the river is very cool, too. Brett was telling me he takes his son fishing there on occasion, and they catch a lot of small-mouth bass, etc. Within the month, salmon will be abundant on their way upstream. We mostly saw large carp in the water below, but as an underwater enthusiast I could literally stand on that bridge and watch for fish for hours.
Hole 12: Par 3 (190/130/113)
Brett, me and Mark on the bridge crossing the Milwaukee River
The thirteenth, a dogleg right par four, drives toward a serpentine-like bunker on the right side, before heading home with one of the tallest sand trap faces on the entire course to the left side. I hit probably my best drive of the day on this hole, leaving me a short approach in.
Hole 13: Par 4 (388/376/317)
Hole 13: Par 4 (388/376/317)
Crossing back over the Milwaukee River, the fourteenth hole is a mid-length par four that has the most well-hidden green on the course. Tucked amid the right-side treeline, the left side of the fairway would leave the most direct approach to this green.
I hit my best approach of the day on this hole, telling Brett and Mark that I really wanted one birdie on the day. My 190-yard cut six-iron over trees was left pin high. Brett offered me the line, and I said I thought I had it… I didn’t, and ended up three-putting from fifteen feet… Lesson learned!
Hole 14: Par 4 (442/384/346)
Hole 14: Par 4 (442/384/346)
The fifteenth runs along the Milwaukee River to the right, and is the longest hole on the course at 585 from the tournament tees (515 from the blues that we played). A spattering of sand traps is found on the left side of the fairway, urging players to drive right and closer to the river.
Hole 15: Par 5 (585/515/444)
The longest par four at Milwaukee Country Club, the sixteenth plays to 442 yards from the blue tees, fronted by some of the most perilous green-side bunkers found on the course.
Hole 16: Par 4 (485/442/415)
Hole 16: Par 4 (485/442/415)
The seventeenth continues the treacherous stretch of holes that finishes Milwaukee Country Club, with the course’s longest par three. At 232 yards from the tips, and 188 from the blues, this hole plays considerably longer uphill and with a mean sand trap on the front-right.
Hole 17: Par 3 (232/188/141)
The finishing hole at MCC is also one of its toughest. Tee shots need to be played toward the right side of the fairway for an unimpeded approach to the green, which is probably more slanted from the back to front than any other on the course. Driving toward the left side, like I did, leaves an approach over a gigantic tree and sand trap that fronts the left side. The uphill tee shot has to be hit toward the top of the hill to leave any site of the green at all.
Hole 18: Par 4 (444/391/362)
Hole 18: Par 4 (444/391/362)
Hole 18: Par 4 (444/391/362)

It is hard to go in to a round like this one, with all the expectations that are presented, and not be in some way disappointed. I have to say, though, that I was blown away by the quality of the course and the friendliness at Milwaukee Country Club. The environment, on a Wednesday afternoon anyways, was very warm and inviting, and the conditions of the course were exceptional.

That is not to say it is the kind of course I would feel “At home” at, though. I think I would personally feel very awkward at a club that requires suit and tie for all dining outside of the men’s locker room, for example. I am also not their target market, though!

I can’t think of a better nine holes in the state than the back nine. The way the Milwaukee River is incorporated into the layout is truly charming, and it makes for spectacular scenery and photography.

Currently at 152 percent to my sales budget for the year, I was rewarded with the opportunity to enjoy Wednesday’s beautiful Fall morning with two of our company’s vice presidents, and having had that opportunity I can only hope to get back again next season… Talk about motivation – that’s certainly enough for me!

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: River Hills, WI
Yardage: Back-7,094, Middle-6,444, Forward-5,856
Slope/Rating: Back-136/74.6, Middle-130/71.9, Forward-125/69.5
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: Private