Golf Course Review: The Club at Strawberry Creek

Host of the 2012 Wisconsin State Amateur tournament, The Club at Strawberry Creek has quickly become one of Wisconsin’s premier private golf clubs.

Co-owned by former Chicago Bears lineman, Jay Hilgenberg, and developer Barry Shiffman, The Club at Strawberry Creek is a comfortable distance from the Illinois border, and the Illini presence is certainly felt onsite. During our visit, for example, there were cars next to mine that had bumper stickers for the Blackhawks, White Sox and Bears.

This proximity, about seven miles from the Wisconsin/Illinois border, should certainly help with membership in being able to draw from both northeastern Illinois and southeastern Wisconsin.

Rick Jacobson’s award-winning course opened in 2006, was available for public play until 2010, and has been fully private ever since.

Over the past four years, I had tried calling and emailing Strawberry Creek a number of times to check it out, and was told each time that non-members are not allowed without being invited by a member. Fortunately for me, my good friend Mandy’s dad happens to be a member and her husband/my friend, Jim, got him to invite me for a round this past June. To say I was excited to finally play Strawberry Creek would be a huge understatement!

Strawberry Creek’s beautiful physical property, including two swimming pools and a 38,000 square foot clubhouse with numerous amenities (fitness center, tennis, basketball, spa, dining, awesome locker rooms, etc.) is the newest and one of the most upscale in Wisconsin.

Located 30 miles south of Milwaukee, Strawberry Creek’s reputation built slowly at first, but the buzz over this gem picked up quickly when it was chosen to host the 2012 Wisconsin State Amateur, probably each season’s premier non-PGA event.

A new-age links-style layout, Strawberry Creek was originally part of the next door Thompson’s Strawberry Farm, and features its native grasses, streams and hills. The result is a gorgeous and playable course that features a terrific variety of par threes, fours and fives.

At 7,113 yards from the tips, it is ideally designed for tournament action, but also plays comfortably from the gold and blue tees for non-scratch golfers.

The first of their par fours is a longer one, at 411 yards from the gold tees. The fairway is narrow but runs hard, and the best drive here is to the right side of the fairway to set up an easier approach to a two-tiered green.

Hole 1: Par 4 (446/411/377/343/319)

The shortest par five on the course, the second hole is a great birdie opportunity. The fairway bends to the right, with sand traps littering that side of the driving area.
The flight zone in, if going for two, requires a lot of carry to especially keep out of the traps on the left side.


Hole 2: Par 5 (518/492/466/445/429)
Hole 2: Par 5 (518/492/466/445/429)

A mid-range par four at 375 yards from the gold tees, the third hole features an intimidating tee shot with sand traps to both the left and right sides of the driving zone. The green is highly elevated, requiring an extra club or all flight to reach it.


Hole 3: Par 4 (405/375/341/309/278)

For a par three, the fourth hole does not look overly wicked from the tees, but this is one of the most extreme greens I have seen in a while. The right side drops off severely, and sharp ridges on the putting surface keep this from being your run-of-the-mill 131-yard par three.


Hole 4: Par 3 (147/131/115/100/90)

With tall berms left of the fairway, the tendency on five would be to favor the right side of the fairway, toward the hidden fairway bunkers on that shoulder. The fairway leans gently left on this long, 436-yard par four, setting up a long approach to a green that is protected on the right by a deep green-side bunker.


Hole 5: Par 4 (467/436/404/371/321)

The sixth is a fun, drivable par four with a false front and several traps to keep drives from running on. The left side of the fairway is heavily sanded, and a central fairway bunker requires the tee shot to carry a significant distance.


Hole 6: Par 4 (299/277/252/232/218)

A large pond guards the left side of the fairway on seven, which runs downhill and left off the tee. At 513 yards from the gold tees, this is not an overly long par five, but the green complex is small and tricky, with a deep chasm front-left and a heavy slope running from the front-left to the back-right.


Hole 7: Par 5 (546/513/476/441/409)

From elevated tees, the par three eighth is an intimidating one-shotter with water left and beyond the flight zone. The green is large and receptive, but risen to make hitting the green on the fly a necessity.
Hole 8: Par 3 (189/176/155/131/111)

My favorite of the par fours at Strawberry Creek, the ninth is a great strategic hole to end the front nine. The driving area is wide, and the right side of the fairway is definitely preferable to set up an approach that will not directly take on the trees that separate the initial fairway from the approach one.
With a heavily elevated green complex, this is another hole that requires a high approach to hold the green – anything short will likely stay short given its false front.


Hole 9: Par 4 (468/428/398/367/318)
Hole 9: Par 4 (468/428/398/367/318)

Hole 9: Par 4 (468/428/398/367/318)


The back nine at The Club at Strawberry Creek is a very fun nine holes! Beginning with a long par four at 443 yards from the golds, a pond defends the left side of the fairway from just in front of the tees to just in front of the green. The sand trap on the right side of the fairway is about 280 yards from the gold tees, so the water is really the hazard to avoid most.
The fairway runs hard toward the green, which approaches can be run on to.


Hole 10: Par 4 (466/443/407/348/325)

With a creek running laterally through the middle of the fairway on eleven, the second shot is probably the most important one on this par five. The right side is mounded, and the ideal tee shot will hug that side of the fairway.
Water is found right of the green, and a tricky little green-side bunker is found just short of the putting complex. Like with many holes at Strawberry Creek, runoff areas are found all around this green (as seen in the third picture, below):


Hole 11: Par 5 (545/514/473/436/386)
Hole 11: Par 5 (545/514/473/436/386)
Hole 11: Par 5 (545/514/473/436/386)

Twelve is an awesome par three, with an elevated green fronted by traps and a massive false front that falls off right and toward the central pond.


Hole 12: Par 3 (221/207/191/175/160)
A 410-yard par four, the tee shot on thirteen drives over water and climbs slightly uphill and hard to the right.
Hole 13: Par 4 (426/410/384/351/312)

Fourteen is a truly spectacular par five, with a heavily sloped fairway that will propel tee shots either bounding forward, or falling off sharply to the right.
Heading green-ward, tall grasses and a marshland encroach on the right side of the fairway, and the green is  protected to the right by sand.
All in all, this is my favorite hole on the entire course.


Hole 14: Par 5 (544/518/481/449/422)

Hole 14: Par 5 (544/518/481/449/422)


A deceptively difficult par three, fifteen plays longer than its distance implies. With tee boxes that line up from sideways to the fairway and green complex, the front-right of the green falls off to a collection area, while the front-left is protected by a green-side bunker.


Hole 15: Par 3 (229/207/203/198/108)

Hole 15: Par 3 (229/207/203/198/108)


Sixteen requires two careful shots, as the driving area is blind and runs downhill and to the right toward a large pond. The pond then runs the length of the right side of the fairway to the green, making the left side of the green the best target.


Hole 16: Par 4 (422/399/365/331/306)
Hole 16: Par 4 (422/399/365/331/306)

The second of Strawberry Creek’s drivable par fours, seventeen is a really well designed short hole. The responsible play is, of course, to lay up before the sand traps and hit a controlled wedge in, but what fun is that? A central pot bunker guards the front of the green, and the putting surface slopes heavily from the back to the front.
As a side note, I loved the outfield-like mowing patterns on this hole, nine and fourteen.


Hole 17: Par 4 (315/290/265/246/231)

At 431 yards from the gold tee box, eighteen is a very challenging par four to finish the back nine. With the elegant clubhouse providing a backdrop to the hole, the right side of the fairway will provide the most open and shortest approach, which is destined to be long on this brute of a finishing hole.
A large waste bunker resides along the right side of the green, which is heavily sloped and has runoff areas both left and long.


Hole 18: Par 4 (460/431/404/375/355)

The Club at Strawberry Creek has an absolutely first-rate golf course with premium conditions: The greens are fast and true, and the fairways and squared-off tee boxes are meticulously cared for. Strawberry Creek’s reputation for providing one of the finest private club golf experiences in Wisconsin is well deserved.

Course Wrap-Up:
Location; Kenosha, WI
Yardage: Black-7113, Gold-6658, Blue-6157, White-5648, Green-5098
Slope/Rating: Black-136/74.8, Gold-131/72.8, Blue-126/70.5, White-122/68.2, Green-121/70.1
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: N/A (private club)

Golf Course Review: North Hills Country Club

This past January, I took a hard look at my financial situation and realized that I was spending far too much on golf.

As a golf writer, I’d gotten quite a few rounds and trips for free, but where I was hemorrhaging money was on all the rounds after work, and on weekends at places I’ve already played and reviewed. This was obviously an area that I needed to improve on significantly for 2013.

I decided to keep an open mind, and had heard that private clubs are currently putting a high emphasis on recruiting younger members. When I started shopping around country clubs, I found my best value to be across the street at North Hills Country Club.

I spoke with a number of people whose opinions I respect: Brian Weis, who owns GolfWisconsin, GolfTrips.com, and 30+ other golf-related websites around the country, Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Brett Gardner who is a member at Milwaukee Country Club and is a Vice President where I work, and several others. They all had the same thing to say: North Hills Country Club is a top-notch Wisconsin private club that I will never, ever tire of playing.
In February, I got my tax returns back and made out a check for the entire season. I have never been more elated with a single investment in my entire life.
Not only do I enjoy playing North Hills every time I get out, but it is on my way home from work and is an easy decision: “Do I want to go home and watch the Brewers lose? Or would I rather take a right off of Appleton Avenue and play nine holes of golf that I have already paid for?” It’s a no-brainer, every single time!
I started out the year using the downstairs hitting bays to work on my swing, and would visit the Club most Thursday nights to grab dinner and drinks, and get to know some of the members on men’s night. I started making friends and endured the long off-season, thinking, “Will the 2013 golf season ever start? It figures, now that I put serious money down to actually be a part of a club it would be the worst off-season ever…”
The season eventually got here, though, and in May we were able to start getting out on the golf course. I walked it quite a few times beforehand, too, just to see what I would be up against and get my bearings on what I could tell would be something special.
North Hills Country Club was opened in 1930, and played host to the Pabst Blue Ribbon Open during the late 1940’s and ’50’s. It was the third richest paid out tournament on the PGA Tour at the time, and was played by such legends as Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Walter Hagen, and North Hills’ very own prodigal son, Tommy Veech.
Pabst Blue Ribbon Open vintage poster
Veech set the Club record with a 59, and along with current Club Professional Eddie Terasa is considered to be one of the best golfers to ever play the course. Eddie, a +4.8 handicap, actually shot his worst round of the season with my pro/member group this year, with a 73. He actually apologized to us after the round, after which we tied for the second best group for the tournament at -17 (I played terribly, I’ll admit, but Dave Schuelke and Garth Mohr played phenomenally well to pull us through).
Interestingly enough, Veech would never be Club Champion at North Hills, as junior members were not allowed to play in the competition.

The Pabst Blue Ribbon Open would prove to be a precursor to the Greater Milwaukee Open, which was played on site during 1960 and ’61. A star-studded field played at North Hills during those years, including 1960 champion and former Golf Channel analyst Ken Venturi, who managed to outplay runner-up Billy Casper, and third place finisher Arnold Palmer.

1960 results from the Greater Milwaukee Open
The 1961 GMO would prove to be the final stop of Jack Nicklaus’s amateur career, as he turned pro the following week and made $37.50 for his Tour finish in Davenport. Nicklaus finished tied for sixth in 1961, along with Gary Player who had final scores of 275 (five under par).
1961 results from the Greater Milwaukee Open
Former Wisconsin State Golf Association Executive Director Eugene Haas, who had developed a relationship with the late Ken Venturi, told me that Ken talked with him often about North Hills and his love for the course. And why not? The course is magnificently well maintained by Randy DuPont, and is general managed by private club up-and-comer Kellan Andreakos (formerly of Cherry Hills, in Colorado).
North Hills is the kind of course that is a blast to entertain friends at, even though they never seem to shoot well their first time out. It is tight with it’s tree-lined fairways, and features some of the fastest, and smallest, greens in the state. “How North Hills is not ranked as one of the top ten overall courses in Wisconsin is amazing to me,” my friend, Brett, told me. I could not agree more.
In addition to being the past host of the Pabst Blue Ribbon Open and the Greater Milwaukee Open (which afterwards moved to Tuckaway Country Club and then Brown Deer, where it was the location of Tiger Woods’ first PGA Tour event), North Hills has hosted the Vince Lombardi Golf Classic since 1971. The Lombardi is the country’s longest running two-day golf event, and has played host to such celebrities as Bob Hope, President Gerald Ford (who beaned a spectator in the head off the first tee), Leslie Nielson, Bob Eucker (also a member of the Club), and of course many of Wisconsin’s top athletes and celebrities. Robin Yount’s team won the Classic last year.
The tournament costs $1100-plus per entrant, and is filled quickly on an annual basis with all proceeds going to the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation. Over the past 43 years, the Foundation has raised more than $16 million.
This year’s Lombardi Classic unveiled the Club’s newest asset, and one of my favorite areas in the world: The grand new patio. Complete with a circular bar, three fire pits, and seating for 145, the new patio has become a staple of the North Hills social scene, and the envy of other area clubs.
The main fire pit, located near the 10th hole tees
Well-renowned for featuring some of the Milwaukee area’s best greens, North Hills puts a premium on great golf. Why? Because the Club is golf-oriented. Unlike other area golf communities, North Hills does not have a swimming pool, tennis courts, or other athletic venues. The club caters to the golf enthusiast in us all, and puts a premium on fantastic golf, great food and service, and one of the most friendly private memberships in the metro Milwaukee area.

North Hills Country Club starts out with what most members consider to be one of two true birdie holes on the front nine. A par four dogleg left, the right play on one is less than driver to the bend in the dogleg.

Hole 1: Par 4 (342/333/333/322/291/286)
Hole 1: Par 4 (342/333/333/322/291/286)
Like all but two holes on the course, the opening hole is bunkered on both sides of the green. “As if the greens aren’t small and challenging enough, they had to bunker every single one of them,” I was told prior to having played it.
North Hills “Travels well.” Any player with a single-digit handicap at this course will shoot well on other courses, which are typically much more wide open with larger, more forgiving greens. I have seen all but one single-digit handicap friends of mine fail to break 80 their first time out, in fact.

The second hole is a tricky uphill par three, with sand on each side and one of the toughest greens on the course. Breaking heavily from the back to front, the first 15 or 20 feet of the green is a false front that, if landed on, will usher tee shots back down to the leading fairway.

Hole 2: Par 3 (172/165/165/150/143/143)
The third is one of the toughest par fours found anywhere. At 439 yards from the blue tees, the tee shot downhill plays to a dogleg left that leads to a 200-plus yard approach uphill to a brutally difficult landing surface. The left side of the hole is dead, and blocking the approach right will put golfers in jail to get back uphill through the trees and over a deep green-side bunker.

“My birdie on three was probably the best birdie of my life,” Midwest Golfing Magazine publisher Glen Turk told me. I lipped out for birdie a few weeks ago, and would have held that one in the same regard.

Hole 3: Par 4 (465/465/434/424/412/412)
Hole 3: Par 4 (465/465/434/424/412/412)
The fourth hole is one of the most picturesque on the course. Elevated tee boxes play over the Menomonee River and along the property line to the left. This hole is all about being in position to hit a solid second shot, as anything left or right will likely leave a wedge or 9-iron over or between trees to re-find the fairway.

A third, centrally located green-side bunker was added not too long ago, and guards this short par five from being reached too easily in two.

Hole 4: Par 5 (495/486/486/482/405/405)
Hole 4: Par 5 (495/486/486/482/405/405)

I find myself taking a reflective, happy look back down the fourth fairway after every single time I play it, and always make sure to point out this beautiful vista to my guests.

Hole 4: Par 5 (495/486/486/482/405/405)

If there is one hole at North Hills that I could do without, it is the fifth. That is not to say it’s a bad golf hole, because it’s not, but with a treeline and out of bounds left, a fairly tight uphill fairway with trees on the right side, and bunkers surrounding a false front on a tough green, I have had a lot of good rounds start to go awry on the fifth.

Hole 5: Par 4 (383/383/371/351/344/294)
The one tip I can give about the fifth hole is to stay below the hole (like on most greens at North Hills). Anything above will be very fast on the way down, or will bend a whole lot and leave a long uphill putt. The approach to five is normally played best over the left side of the right sand trap to get a nice kick toward the center of the green.
One of the signature holes at North Hills Country Club, the sixth is one of the classic holes on this historic track. The old saying goes to “Aim right of the St. Anthony’s steeple,” which stands proudly above the right side of the fairway.
Hole 6: Par 4 (421/413/413/402/335/335)
Long hitters can fire down the middle of the fairway, but anyone who doesn’t hit longer than 250 yards, accurately, should aim right of the steeple to hit the right side of the fairway and have it bound down the hill and to the left.
Anything down the left side of the fairway, unless it’s very long, will end up in the trees and leave a difficult shot out.

Anything under 250 yards to the right side of the fairway will either leak down the hill, or else stay in the middle or on the right side of the fairway. Anything left here results in an extreme side-hill draw lie. There is a narrow entrance to the green on six, and bunkers both left and right.

Hole 6: Par 4 (421/413/413/402/335/335)
The seventh is my favorite par three on the course, and can play incredibly differently depending on where the tees are located. If the tees are back, on the small elevated tee box left of the cart path, they say to hit the distance (which is always displayed for the blue tees) or go up half a club.

If the tees are on the main level, which is only four or five feet beneath the elevated tee box, add between one and two clubs. How does that work, you ask me? I have no idea, but it seems to be right.

Hole 7: Par 3 (183/167/167/152/125/115)
Hole 7: Par 3 (183/167/167/152/125/115)
The green on seven is probably the largest on the course, and has a sharp ridge from the back to the front that divides the green in half. It is vital to hit the right side of the green to avoid delicate putts from the opposite side of this ridge.

Like on four, the seventh hole provides a wonderful photo opportunity on the look back toward the tee boxes.

Hole 7: Par 3 (183/167/167/152/125/115)

Eight looks simple, but has been the demise of many good golfers. The first thing to understand is that the tee boxes, and a long trap on the right side of the fairway, aim golfers straight toward the left-side property line, which used to be the location of the Strong Financial building (now Wells Fargo). A decent drive that avoids both the treeline and the sand trap typically results in a wedge in to one of the smallest greens on the course.

Hole 8: Par 4 (348/341/341/327/318/275)
The ninth hole runs along the same boundary line as the eighth for the drive, and veers right following a bunker on the right side of the fairway. Most golfers will be so concerned with the out of bounds area on the left side that they will either aim for the trap, or else slice the ball in to the woods on the right. That is definitely my tendency, at least.
Hole 9: Par 5 (550/519/510/448/448)

The best play is to keep the ball on the left side of the fairway, where the second shot can be hit with anything as far as you can. The right side will have to be laid up to a long distance out.

Hole 9: Par 5 (550/519/510/448/448)

The green on nine, located just left of the clubhouse and right of the practice range, is narrow and bunkered on both sides.

Hole 9: Par 5 (550/519/510/448/448)

The back nine starts with a long, challenging par four. The new patio abuts the tee boxes, and it’s common to have groups of Club members cheering players on, or more often jeering.The fairway on ten runs softly from the right to left, downhill to one of the toughest greens on the course. The putting surface on the tenth runs hard from the back to front, making anything above the hole a tremendous challenge.

Hole 10: Par 4 (443/436/436/428/361/361)

Eleven, to me, is one of the most underrated holes on the course. The driving area is fairly open on the left side, but very difficult to play from to the right of the fairway. Aim left of the fairway sand trap for any chance of hitting this tiny green in two.

Hole 11: Par 4 (379/379/361/346/336/284)
 
Hole 11: Par 4 (379/379/361/346/336/284)

Twelve can be one of the hardest par threes on the course, and it can also be one of the easiest, depending on the location of the tees and pin. Anything located toward the back of the green, especially the back-left, makes this a brutally hard par three.

Hole 12: Par 3 (177/167/167/155/132/107)

The tee shot on thirteen has to get to the top of the hill for any view of the green on the approach. About 230 yards should do the trick, so driver is not 100% necessary if you’ve got a long three-wood. Many members consider the green on thirteen to be the most sneakily difficult green on the course. Any approach that goes long will be very tough to judge.

Hole 13: Par 4 (393/383/383/368/355/318)

Fourteen is the second handicapped hole at North Hills Country Club. It is the hardest driving hole on the course, with forest right and a tight fairway that is lined by trees on both sides. At around 250 yards from the blue tees, the fairway drops heavily downhill and can make a 250-yard drive into 300-plus. If the crest in the fairway is not reached, the approach will be long but well downhill, taking off a club or two from the distance.

Hole 14: Par 4 (438/438/415/412/400/400)
Hole 14: Par 4 (438/438/415/412/400/400)
 
Hole 14: Par 4 (438/438/415/412/400/400)

The fifteenth is many of the members at North Hills’ favorite hole. It is a short hole that leaves a manageable uphill approach to the green, which is where the fun begins. The putting surface on fifteen is one of the most drastically breaking greens on the course, regardless of where the pin is located.

Hole 15: Par 4 (348/348/323/298/274/240)
 
Hole 15: Par 4 (348/348/323/298/274/240)

Sixteen is a legendary hole at North Hills. Members talk about a specific historic event on this hole, involving one of golf’s all-time greats, Ben Hogan. Legend has it that Hogan entered the sixteenth hole during his final round of a Pabst Open event tied for the tournament lead. After hitting the green in two, he read the putt opposite and wound up three-putting, eventually losing the championship by one stroke.

Later that night, following drinks, Hogan guaranteed that this putt would never break that way again. Bringing flashlights and a crowd back out on the course, Hogan putted repeatedly with the same results as during the tournament.

Hole 16: Par 4 (434/403/384/370/311)

Members say that you “Putt from memory” at North Hills, and short game is the key that has kept all but one of my single-handicap friends from breaking 80 on the course this season. The only one who has, Jason, shot a 42/36 after starting to understand the greens better on the back nine.

A golf writer friend of mine told me prior to joining North Hills that seventeen is possibly the hardest par three in the state of Wisconsin. With a very difficult green and traps on both sides, the uphill seventeenth almost always plays in to the wind from distances between 210 and 239 yards.

Hole 17: Par 3 (225/218/218/212/191/151)

The eighteenth is my personal favorite hole at North Hills. The only par five on the back nine, the Club’s finishing hole tees up from 520 yards to a fairly wide, tree-lined fairway. Long hitters can hit to or past the traps on each side of the landing zone in the fairway, but this is a very tough par five to reach in two.

Hole 18: Par 5 (519/519/495/485/474/401)

The most remarkable aspect of the eighteenth is it’s green area. Risen high above the approach zone, the green on eighteen is the smallest on the course and is surrounded on the left and right by deep green-side bunkers. The trap on the left side is preferred to the one on the right, as the green slopes from back to front, and from the right side to the left.

Hole 18: Par 5 (519/519/495/485/474/401)

A front pin location, if the approach is over the hole, is very tricky to hold. In one group I played in earlier this year, two of the three players in my group actually putted past the pin, off the green and twenty or more feet down the fairway. Dan, a seven-handicap, did it twice!

Members of the Club who read this article will notice I left out a few things. In particular, how and where should players aim at most of the greens? In the words of former Milwaukee Open champion, and lover of North Hills Country Club, the late Ken Venturi (a man of both few and many words): “There are two great rules of life: Never tell everything at once.”

Most young, avid golfers believe that country club membership is reserved for millionaires, or that the social scene would be stuffy and exclusive. If you love to golf, and would like to be part of a warm, welcoming community of others who love to golf, North Hills Country Club is a haven for fantastic golf and wonderful people.

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Menomonee Falls, WI
Yardage: Championship-6,715, Black/Blue-6,625, Blue-6,424, White-6,208, Gold-5,714, Green-5,286
Slope/Rating: Championship-133/73.2, Black/Blue-132/72.7, Blue-130/71.9, White-127/70.7, Gold-123/68.5, Green-124/71.2
Par: 71
Weekend Rates: Private

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)