Golf Course Review: The Brute at Grand Geneva

What can I say about the Brute at Grand Geneva that isn’t already covered by its name? The Brute is long and tight, and everything about it is “Brute-ish.”
Have you ever seen that beer commercial where the guys are at the tee box and one friend is about to tee off when his friend says, “Hold on,” and uses his fingers to tighten the fairways and enlarge the sand traps? That is how every hole seems to be on this course. The sand traps are massive, the water features are prominent, and it has a very mature, demanding feel that can be quite intimidating.
I played this course about eight years ago with a friend of mine who used to work here. He was telling me that Jim McMahon and Rollie Fingers always played it barefooted, so we did, too. I remembered it being very nice, but was nowhere near the golf enthusiast I am today, and it was like a whole new experience for me with virtually no recollections of that round and how to play it.
The Brute is one course that I cannot say enough that it is worth playing the recommended tee boxes. Even though the winds were sustained in excess of 30 miles per hour all day, two in our group insisted on playing the back tees (there are only two men’s tee boxes, which range from 6,554 to 7,085 yards). The starter told us we were the only ones to play the black tees on Friday, and it was obvious why when the best score in our foursome was a 92.
Similarly to Wild Rock, everything about the Brute seems huge and accentuated. It has an awesome look and feel. Also similarly to Wild Rock, the greens are extraordinarily quick and challenging. Many of the greens are crowned, and they are as fast as I have played so far this year. The crowning on these greens makes for nearly impossible downhill putts, and a lot of challenging two-putt situations.
The Brute starts with a beautifully elevated par four that, like most holes on this course, features water, sand and a long approach.
Hole 1: Par 4 (424/395/255)
The Brute uses elevation wonderfully, and sparingly on their par fives. The second hole, for example, features an approach area at least 100 yards long that goes uphill and to the left without any fairway to lay up to. The majority of their par fives are similar, and [at least from the back tees] I would not consider any of them to be reachable in two. The sixth hole has a very similar approach area, and both feature greens that are several stories above [and well over 100 yards past] their playable fairways.
Hole 6: Par 5 (530/500/385)
The third is a gorgeous downhill par four that narrows to about 15 yards wide between two ponds before going back uphill between greenside bunkers. The water is actually farther away than it at first appears, but a driver is probably longer than the driving area will allow.
Hole 3: Par 4 (374/351/327)
Hole 3: Par 4 (374/351/327)
The fourth hole was probably the most wind-impeded hole on the course this weekend. At 204 yards from the back tees, the wind was directly in to us. My Rocketballz 3-wood came up short, while one of my friend’s driver didn’t even make it there.
Hole 4: Par 3 (204/173/127)
The most prominent features on the par four fifth hole are the massive sand traps. Hitting the one on the right side of the fairway will make for a hellish approach, while about 75% of the area surrounding the green is sand, as well.
Hole 5: Par 4 (409/370/305)
The eighth looks fairly elementary from the tee boxes, but has one of the most sloped greens on the course. I think three of the four of us three-putted this hole.
Hole 8: Par 3 (175/149/123)
The ninth is a fantastic finishing hole on the Brute. At 432 yards from the back tees, the water is certainly reachable on the left as the fairway narrows toward the green.
Hole 9: Par 4 (432/398/320)

Hole 9: Par 4 (432/398/320)
The 11th is a charming par five that finishes high above the fairway. The fairway slopes heavily from right to left, so aim over the right-side sand traps to try to stay on the short grass. As is the case with the Brute’s other par fives, the green is found high above the fairway, and there is no such thing as an even lie.
Hole 11: Par 5 (540/498/392)

Hole 11: Par 5 (540/498/392)
Hole 11: Par 5 (540/498/392)

If there are any easy par fours on the Brute, it might be the 12th. A long drive will leave a short wedge to the green, which is heavily guarded by sand and a straight drop-off at the back of the green.
Hole 12: Par 4 (370/349/329)
At 605 yards from the championship tee boxes, find the fairway on 15 for any chance of getting to the green in three. The large fairway bunker left is the one spot you’ll want to miss off the tee, especially to have any chance of getting over the mid-way river and leave a potential shot to the green.
Hole 15: Par 5 (605/572/443)
The 17th and 18th holes are truly phenomenal, and feature some of the most demanding tee shots on the course. The fairway on 17 filters slightly right, so aim for the left-side fairway bunker for your best chance of having a manageable approach over the front-side creek.
Hole 17: Par 4 (420/391/310)

Hole 17: Par 4 (420/391/310)
18 is a wonderful finishing hole, as well, and plays slightly less intimidating than the onboard GPS shows. The bunkers lining the right side of the fairway should help keep tee shots out of the water, but there will still be a long way to go. With the pin residing on top of a huge crown in the middle of the green, the 18th provides a tremendous putting challenge for finishing the round.
Hole 18: Par 4 (464/437/335)

Hole 18: Par 4 (464/437/335)
Grand Geneva has an excellent practice area with a very nice driving range and putting and chipping greens. I would have liked to be able to use the grass area of the range, but they have those tees that raise and lower so it was not a big deal. Among the other great amenities they feature is their new touch-screen GPS system. Touching any part of the screen will provide adjusted distances. Very nice!
The Brute at Grand Geneva is a fantastic, yet unforgiving course. I recommend playing it when you’re feeling really good about your swing, and also recommend playing it from the white tees if you’re not a single-digit or lower handicapper. Even though we got our butts kicked all day, this was a very enjoyable round and a course that I cannot wait to get back to later this season.
Course Wrap-up:
Location: Lake Geneva, WI
Yardage: Blue-7,085, White-6,554, Red-5,244
Slope/Rating: Blue-136/73.8, White-131/71.9, Red-129/70.0
Par: 72
Weekend Rates (riding): $155

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)