Golf Blog

Hello Wisconsin!!

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 last of the day’s sun splashes down on the Meadow Valleys Course at Blackwolf Run.

The last of the day’s sun splashes down on the Meadow Valleys Course at Blackwolf Run.

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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.

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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.

When the 17th hole plays into the wind, it is easily one of the most difficult holes on the golf course.

When the 17th hole plays into the wind, it is easily one of the most difficult holes on the golf course.

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Like many holes at Whistling Straits, the wind will play a big part in deciding if you will walk off of the 2nd green with a birdie or an early blemish on the scorecard.

Like many holes at Whistling Straits, the wind will play a big part in deciding if you will walk off of the 2nd green with a birdie or an early blemish on the scorecard.

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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.

The 8th hole at Whistling Straits

The 8th hole at Whistling Straits

The opening hole at Whistling Straits.

The opening hole at Whistling Straits.

The 18th hole and the scene of Jason Day’s first major championship victory at the 2015 PGA..

The 18th hole and the scene of Jason Day’s first major championship victory at the 2015 PGA..

The first hole at Whistling Straits is one of my favorites. With so many inspiring holes, this one is often overlooked.

The first hole at Whistling Straits is one of my favorites. With so many inspiring holes, this one is often overlooked.

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.

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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.

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The opening hole on the Irish course.

The opening hole on the Irish course.

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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?

I would return to Erin Hills the following day and experience a different type of weather.

I would return to Erin Hills the following day and experience a different type of weather.

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The sun sets over Erin Hills.

The sun sets over Erin Hills.

I guess, hello world, huh?
— Tiger Woods

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.

The 14th hole at Brown Deer Park is the site of Tiger Woods’ first hole-in-one as a PGA Tour professional.

The 14th hole at Brown Deer Park is the site of Tiger Woods’ first hole-in-one as a PGA Tour professional.

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

The brown deer at Brown Deer Park.

The brown deer at Brown Deer Park.

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For years Brown Deer hid behind the PGA Tour event, we’ve taken away the veil and dusted this baby off.
— Andy Barrett, Head PGA Professional at Brown Deer Park

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!”

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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.

  • Kimpton Journeyman - Centrally located in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward District, this hotel has outstanding accommodations and the best rooftop hangout in the city, The Outsider.

The Final Countdown (2015)

We have reached the time of year when people look back on the past 365 days and do some reflection.  I always like to take this opportunity to summarize my year in golf.  In review, I have been lucky enough to play some truly outstanding golf courses this year.  2015 was probably the most adventurous golfing year of my life.  I played golf in 3 countries and I am currently at 145 rounds and counting.  I met numerous new friends, shared hundreds of laughs, and 3 putted way too many times.  

In typical New Year's fashion, I have decided to count down this year's greatest hits.  I have selected the top 5 favorite golf courses that I have played in 2015.  Each day as we count down to New Year's Eve, I will reveal  another member of my top 5.  The suspense is sure to be obscenely great as the courses are slowly revealed.

 

#5 - Erin Hills - Erin, WI

Starting our list off in style is Erin Hills.  The course will host the 2017 US Open and I had an absolute blast approving the course for Open Play.  Erin Hills pulled off a squeaker with so many hot tracks in the running for the 5 slot.

In the end, the variety and interest from tee to green pushed it over the edge.  The course challenged just about every aspect of my game and there wasn't a single hole that didn't reach out and grab my attention.  "Oh man, this shot is going to be fun" was a common phrase.

#4 -  The Golf Club at Black Rock - Coeur D'Alene, ID

The Golf Club at Black Rock roars into the 4th position as we continue the countdown to 2016.  Designed by Jim Engh in 2003, the course sits next to the beautiful Lake Coeur D'Alene.

Black Rock is a course that has about 5 signature holes and some of the most unique approach shots that I have ever played.  The 11th hole pictured on the right features an uphill approach over several waterfalls.  The 13th features more waterfalls and is immediately followed by another great par 3 over a canyon with a rocky backdrop that can generated some interesting bounces.

Although many of the features are clearly man made, Black Rock quickly grabs your attention and does not let go until you finish up on 18.  

#3 - Chambers Bay - University Place, WA 

The home town favorite comes into our countdown at #3.  The course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr and opened for play in 2007.  A mere 8 years later it would host the US Open.

Chambers Bay was heavily criticized for the consistency of its greens and it's appearance on television during the US Open.  While, the color of the course and the greens where not as perfect as tour players are used too, Chambers Bay is a first rate golf course and experience.  Each green complexes provides the player with a lot of options for creativity and unique short game options.  Chambers Bay never lets me down!

#2 - Cabot Cliffs, Nova Scotia

While Cabot Cliffs will open for general play in 2016, I was able to get a sneak preview in 2015!  Golf Digest's Ashley Mayo did a great job of setting up the fantastic trip.

Cabot Cliffs has already earned high praise as the Best New Course of 2015 and it certainly did not disappoint.  The course starts out strong and features plenty of oceanside golf early.  By the time you get to 15, you are already having the time of your life.  Things go into overdrive as Cabot Cliffs delivers 4 of the best finishing golf holes that I have ever seen.  If you can make it out to Cabot Links/Cliffs you will be very glad you did.

#1 - Whistling Straits, Sheboygan, WI

Winning a squeaker over Cabot Cliffs, Whistling Straits is my favorite course played in 2015!  Designed by Pete Dye, Whistling Straits is a bonafide championship venue, most recently playing host to the 2015 PGA Championship.  I would take on the course only a couple of weeks after Jason Day's recording setting victory.

Whistling straits was a thrill from the beginning to the end, there was not a hole that I wasn't thrilled to play.  The course makes excellent use of it's lakeside property with 8 holes directly on Lake Michigan.  Whistling Straits provides plenty of challenge while still allowing the golfer to make some creative and fun recovery shots.  This course is one of the best in the country.

Happy 2016 from the 3rd hole at Whistling Straits

Happy 2016 from the 3rd hole at Whistling Straits

Hello Wisconsin!

In town for a wedding on Lake Geneva, I seized the opportunity to play some of the best golf courses that Wisconsin has to offer.  A fantastic lineup of Erin Hills, Black Wolf Run, and both courses at Whistling Straits were on the agenda.    

After dropping off the wife and some friends after the wedding, I drove the hour or so to Erin Hills for my first Wisconsin golfing experience.  I was fortunate enough to join a great group of guys who were on the tail end of their 27th consecutive annual golf buddies trip.  Read the full review on Erin Hills and see all the pictures here.

The very cool par 3, 9th hole at Erin Hills.

The very cool par 3, 9th hole at Erin Hills.

The early morning view on the range at Erin Hills

The early morning view on the range at Erin Hills

Erin Hills will host the 2017 U.S. Open.  This will be an excellent new course for the Open and I am excited to watch the action.

Next up on the agenda was the Irish course at Whistling Straits.  Living in the shadow of it's next door neighbor, the Irish course does a great job of holding it's own.  

The course has a cool American links feel to it and served as a great warm up for it's big brother.  Read the full write up on the Irish course here.

the 16th hole at Erin Hills figures to be a pivotal hole in the 2017 U.S. Open.

the 16th hole at Erin Hills figures to be a pivotal hole in the 2017 U.S. Open.

Plenty of tall fescue to hunt down wayward teeshots on Whistling Straits' Irish course.

Plenty of tall fescue to hunt down wayward teeshots on Whistling Straits' Irish course.

The opening hole on the Irish sets a great pace for the round.

The opening hole on the Irish sets a great pace for the round.

One of the most scenic par 3's on the Irish course is the 6th hole.

One of the most scenic par 3's on the Irish course is the 6th hole.

The difficult 17th hole.  The superintendent cut us some slack with that pin position.

The difficult 17th hole.  The superintendent cut us some slack with that pin position.

 Whistling Straits was easily the most fun I had photographing a golf course.  With all of the huge sand dunes, there are tons of places to get unique vantage shots of the course.  It was hard to narrow down the shots for the gallery.

I got up on some of the partially taken down grandstands to get this one of the 15th hole.

I got up on some of the partially taken down grandstands to get this one of the 15th hole.

John Daly fired 3 balls into the lake here on the 7th and then threw his club in after it during the 2015 PGA.  A kid in a boat would later retrieve it.

John Daly fired 3 balls into the lake here on the 7th and then threw his club in after it during the 2015 PGA.  A kid in a boat would later retrieve it.

Next up was the Straits course at Whistling Straits.  Playing host to the 2015 PGA Championship just weeks prior, they were still taking down some of the final grandstands.  I managed to sneak an official program from the rubble beforehand, so I was ready to go.

There are no carts allowed on the Straits course and caddies are required.  Which means none of those cart path bounces or scuffed balls.  Although that won't save you from finding Lake Michigan on the course's 8 lakeside holes.  

The difficult par 4 8th hole.  I almost hit it in the lake and made a great par save from the beach.

The difficult par 4 8th hole.  I almost hit it in the lake and made a great par save from the beach.

The par 3 3rd hole is the 1st in a series of 4 jaw dropping waterfront par 3's.

The par 3 3rd hole is the 1st in a series of 4 jaw dropping waterfront par 3's.

One of my favorite moments in the 2015 PGA was when Jason Day flat out chunked one 20 yards short of the green with a wedge.  Unfazed, he got up and down for par and went on to win the tournament with a record -20.  What a stud

One of my favorite moments in the 2015 PGA was when Jason Day flat out chunked one 20 yards short of the green with a wedge.  Unfazed, he got up and down for par and went on to win the tournament with a record -20.  What a stud

Out of all the courses I have played Whistling Straits might just be my favorite.  It's a close call with Pebble Beach for the top spot.  Be sure to check out the full review and writeup here.

Here is the finishing 18th hole.  A great spot to watch the action.

Here is the finishing 18th hole.  A great spot to watch the action.

For the final round of my Wisconsin trip, I was greeted by these swans at Black Wolf Run.  After 3 days of taking on Pete Dye designs would I finally get the best of Pete?  Be sure to read the full review here.

Black Wolf Run is a must play for any golfer visiting the Kohler area.  The course features two 18 hole tracks, the River and the Meadow Valley course.  I played the River which is the more popular option. 

A big thanks to everyone that I played with and to the courses for being such tremendous hosts.

Plenty of risk reward options at Black Wolf Run

Plenty of risk reward options at Black Wolf Run

The tough 11th hole at Black Wolf Run

The tough 11th hole at Black Wolf Run

The view from the tee box on the par 4, 5th hole at Black Wolf Run.  Oh yeah.

The view from the tee box on the par 4, 5th hole at Black Wolf Run.  Oh yeah.