Every time that I visit the great state of Wisconsin, I yell “Hello Wisconsin!” as an ode to Ashton Kutcher and “That 70’s Show.” Even though I never get to hang out with Ashton in Wisconsin, I always end up playing a ton of great golf. The timing for this visit was perfect as I had just ranked the destination as #2 on my inaugural list of the 20 best golf destinations in America.
As the best state for public golf in the USA, I couldn’t possibly take in all of the golf that Wisconsin has to offer on this one trip. However, any time that you visit Wisconsin, you are in for some top tier golf action. The move is to fly into Milwaukee, rent a car, and then head out exploring. Only about an hour away is the city of Kohler and 4 fantastic golf courses. You have the River Course and Meadow Valleys Course at Blackwolf Run and the Straits and Irish courses at Whistling Straits. All of these courses are Pete Dye creations. I was in for a good couple days of 36.
The best part about playing golf at places like Blackwolf Run is that they are filled with other passionate golfers. Above, we see Mr Jeff Horowitz and his son, Josh. I caught up with Jeff and Josh on the 2nd hole on the River course and it was clear that I had some serious golfers on my hands. Jeff is a little over halfway towards playing all of America’s 100 greatest golf courses and his son is intent on breaking 80. He has come close, but as many of us know, the 70’s have are elusive. Like a group of old pals we traded course stories and fired our golf balls into the woods. It was quick proof that It doesn’t take long to forge a friendship on the golf course.
When I first started getting into golf course photography, one of the first places that really caught my eye was Whistling Straits. Perhaps, it was just an easy place to get a good picture with limited effort. Or maybe the golf gods live deep beneath the sand and they just helped to point my camera in the right direction. Either way, one thing is true about Whistling Straits. It is an absolutely beautiful golf course. I could post 100 pictures of this golf course, but I managed to narrow them down for this post. The entire gallery is available here.
For my round on the Straits course at Whistling Straits, I was fortunate enough to play with the Director of Golf Operations, Michael O’Reilly. Michael and I both brought our C games but managed to sprinkle in some highlights of brilliance. One of those highlights came on the 6th hole. With one of the country’s deepest and most ridiculous bunkers guarding the center of the green, I took my chances and came out with an easy par. Had I put just a little more side spin on this one, I am sure that I would have ended up on Sportscenter’s top 10 shots of 2019.
Since it’s inception in 1998, Whistling Straits has hosted a number of premier golf championships over the years. It hosted the PGA Championship in 2004, 2010, and 2015. The US Senior Open was also played on the Straits course in 2007. Next year, the course gets another chance to shine when it will host the 2020 Ryder Cup. The buzz is already in the air and the pro shop is loaded up with Ryder Cup merchandise. People are going to go mad for this Ryder Cup. With a ton of options for risk and reward on the golf course, this cup is sure to feature some wildly exciting matches.
After an inspiring morning on the Straits course, it was time to explore the other course at Whistling Straits, the Irish course. The Irish course is another Pete Dye design and for what it lacks in lakeside views, it makes up for with some fun and enjoyable holes of golf. The course has an Irish links flare to it with some old fashioned Pete Dye tricks.
In the distance, you hear them coming. The jingling and jangling of their bells let you know that they are near. It is the sheep of Whistling Straits. As an ode to the courses of Ireland and Scotland, Whistling Straits employs a pack of sheep to roam the lands and bring smiles to golfer’s faces.
Since the good golf is so dense in Wisconsin, I didn’t have to drive far to find my next destination. It was the site of the 2017 US Open, Erin Hills. Given the soft and benign weather conditions, the field was able to post some wildly low scores on the 7800 yard layout. In the 3rd round, Justin Thomas fired a smoking good 63. At nine-under, Thomas set the U.S. Open record for lowest score in relation to par in a single round, breaking the mark set by Johnny Miller in 1973. Brooks Koepka would tie the overall US Open scoring record at -16 and win by 4 strokes. A fair warning to those visiting… this course is not that easy.
As I walked into the club house at Erin Hills, I was greeted by a couple of familiar faces. It was Jeff and his son Josh again. They were just coming off of the golf course after a round of golf in the rain and had some big news. Josh had finally done it, he had broken 80. Earlier that day the young lad had fired a personal best 78 at Erin Hills. Perhaps it was the weather at Erin Hills that had inspired such outstanding play?
Those were the exact opening words that Tiger Woods spoke at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open press conference. Tiger had just won the US Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge and he had selected Brown Deer Park as the place to make his debut as a professional golfer. A young and inexperienced Tiger actually looked a little nervous up there. As most of us know, that nervousness would not transfer to the golf course and Woods would go on to dominate the golf world in short order. Tiger would never actually contend that week, but he did end up winning $2,544 and finishing in a tie for 60th place. On a side financial note, that same week he signed $43 million in endorsement contracts.
Even though Woods finished near the bottom of the leaderboard, Tiger would not leave without making a splash. On the 202-yard, par-3 14th hole in the final round, Woods pulled out his 6 iron and made a hole-in-one. So when I visited Brown Deer Park, I decided that my time had finally come and I was going to make an ace myself on the exact same hole. The hole was only playing about 180, but I did use my 6 iron and I swung away. Wide right!! I grumbled to myself and updated my lifetime ace attempt stats… 0/13,456
A brief conversation with Andy will let you know that he is extremely passionate about the work that he and his team have done out at Brown Deer. With improvements to the clubhouse, the team has reinvigorated the atmosphere and highlighted the course’s history. The local golfers have a strong bond with the municipal course and Andy wanted to highlight that. “Every single day, I hear a story about how much this course means to them from one of our golfers.” “Brown Deer just has this bond with our customers,” says Andy.
Andy even found a 1930 map of the golf course land from the Milwaukee County Park Commission when he started looking around. Apparently it was covered in bird poop and tossed in an old shed. He found someone to restore the piece and today it hangs proudly in the bar and restaurant area. It’s a cool thing.
Given it’s close proximity to Milwaukee, Brown Deer Park is a great addition to any Wisconsin trip as you head to explore the golf landscape. Or in my case, it’s a great last round before you jump on a plane yelling “Goodbye Wisconsin!”
If you are interested in creating your own Wisconsin magic, the journey starts with Visit Milwaukee. I would also recommend staying at the hotels below as they were centrally located and spectacular.
American Club - Only a short drive to both Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run, this hotel is my go to destination when visiting Kohler.