The 1st hole at Whistling Straits' Straits Course

The 1st hole at Whistling Straits' Straits Course

Erin Hills - Erin, WI

Coming in at #8 on Golf Digest's America's greatest 100 public courses is Erin Hills!  The course easily made the PJKoenig top 10 courses that I have played.  Erin Hills has passed the test on hosting the 2011 U.S. Amateur and will be the home for the US Open in 2017.  This will be the first time the Open has been played in Wisconsin.

Unconventionally for Wisconsin, the course features fine fescue with bent grass greens and is built on 652 acres formed by glaciers.  Designed to accommodate the crowds and challenge required for the US Open, the course can play up to nearly 8,000 yards.  Within its first 5 years of operation, the course closed twice for significant changes after observations on how some of the holes actually played .  Today it stands ready to host one of the largest audiences in the game.  In my opinion, the US Open at Erin Hills will be a run away success.

For my round, I snuck in an early tee time with a fantastic 3 some who was missing a fourth due to a bad back.  I was an impromptu guest for their 27th annual golf buddies trip!  Thanks for having me guys.  After bogeying the 1st 5 holes, the outlook was bleak for a good score.  Of all things, a clutch bogey putt on #5 got my round going and I played holes 6-15 in 2 under par.  The highlight of the day being a long birdie putt from the bottom of the slope on the tough 10th hole.  I found the green complexes to present a lot of different and fun options with the mix of bent grass greens and fescue fairways.  I can't wait to watch the Open in 2017!  

Black Wolf Run - River Course - Kohler, WI

Designed by Pete Dye, The River Course at Black Wolf Run opened in 1988 as Golf Digest's #1 best new public course.  Black Wolf Run has also hosted the U.S. Women's Open in 1998 and 2012.  I was greeted by a pair of swans in the pond by the putting green (running at 12 on the stimpmeter) and a friendly staff.

In my opinion, the course is one of Dye's best designs.  Using the nearby river Sheboygan River to it's advantage, the course challenges the golfer on almost every shot.  The golfer is also given many options throughout the round with split fairways or options to get home in 2 or drive the green.  My favorite of these options is the par 4, 9th hole which provides the option to hit driver over the river and potentially have an eagle putt or go wide left and hit wedge in.  Like the idiot I am, I pumped a driver and got away with a 2 putt birdie.

After an even par front nine and my 3rd consecutive day of Pete Dye, I was finally getting the best of him.  Since I tend to create dramatic and fictitious scenarios in my head down the stretch, I named this one "Patrick vs Pete"  a challenge to break par at Black Wolf... winner would receive millions of dollars.  I came to the 17th hole at -1 looking to finish under par.  The wind and water got into my head on 17 tee and i bailed out right for an unfortunate bogey 4.  I would need birdie on the tough 18th.   After a big drive, I settled into my final approach shot on my Wisconsin trip and fired one at the flag.  Coming in hot with the wind, the balled rolled up nicely to 3 feet.  After some tense green reading, I rolled in the knee knocker and fist pumped my way to the airport.  Goodbye Wisconsin!

Black Wolf Run - Meadow Highlands - Kohler, WI

With so much good golf in the area Blackwolf Run's Meadow Valleys course often gets overlooked.  It is certainly not a course to be skipped over.  On my first visit to Wisconsin, I passed over Meadow Valleys due to time constraints, on my return visit, I was glad I put this course as a priority.  Like the other courses in the area, The Meadow Valleys course was designed by Pete Dye and the course opened for play in 1988.

On the front nine, the track runs through meadows and on the back nine has the golfer playing through several valleys, hence, the Meadow Valleys name.  For my round, I would find sun on the meadows and rain on the valleys.  The best part about playing in the rain is that it usually scares away a good number of golfers.  I buzzed around that back nine and finished in under 3.  Final Verdict:  Rain or shine, If you leave the Meadow Highlands course off of the itinerary, you are selling yourself short.

Blue Mound Golf & CC - Wauwatoosa, WI

Geneva National - Palmer - Lake Geneva, WI

The Palmer winds it way through the forests of Geneva National and concludes with three spectacular finishing holes on the edge of Lake Como.  Palmer has called the 17th hole one of his all time favorites and puts it at #11 on his "Dream 18"  Keeping in line with my take on the Player and Trevino courses, here is the quick list on Mr Palmer

Things about Arnold Palmer

  • Fact: Arnold Palmer is the coolest golfer to ever play the game.

  • His career spanned over 6 decades and he has 62 PGA Tour victories.

  • Palmer has won 7 majors and is a 4 time Masters champion.

  • Nickname: "The King"

  • Palmer: "What other people find in poetry, I find in the flight of a good drive."

  • Palmer is widely credited for changing the perception of golf as a game for the elites to one that could also be enjoyed by the middle class and working families.  No one has done more to popularize the game.

  • His participation in The Open in the early 1960's "was the catalyst to truly internationalize golf," according to European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley.

  • Palmer has his name associated with more than 300 courses.  My favorite: Tralee Golf Links

  • He was the first golfer to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

  • I will forever be a member Arnie's Army

  • This list comes nowhere close to explaining the life and impact that Arnold Palmer has had on the game of golf.

Geneva National - Player - Lake Geneva, WI

The Player course at Geneva national opened with only 9 holes in 1995 and Mr Player would return in 2000 to finish the remaining nine holes.  The course takes advantage of the surrounding wetlands and offers some scenic views with possible hot air balloon sightings. The end result is a mighty fine round of golf.  Consistent with my take on the Palmer and Trevino courses, here are my quick hits on Mr Player.

Things about Gary Player

  • Gary has 9 major championships and he is one of 5 golfers to achieve the career Grand Slam.

  • His name is included on over 325 course designs and has co authored 36 golf books.

  • Nicknames include: "Mr Fitness" and the "Black Knight"

  • At the age of 14, Player played his first round of golf and parred the first three holes. On a related note, i made a quadruple bogie 7 on my first golf hole.

  • His father took out a loan to buy Gary his first set of golf clubs.  That loan has been repaid.  

  • He has 21 grandchildren

  • If you were to get into a fight with Gary Player, you would probably lose.

Geneva National - Trevino - Lake Geneva, WI

Compared to the other 2 courses at Geneva National, the Trevino course has a stronger forest vibe than the Palmer and Player options. The course has a bias to Mr Trevino's natural fade, so I felt right at home with my left to right trajectory.  This was the first Lee Trevino course that I had played, so I decided to do some research into the man. 

Things about Lee Trevino:

  • He is the greatest Mexican golfer to every play the game.  

  • Nicknames include The "Merry Mex" and "SuperMex"

  • He has won 6 majors, but never The Masters

  • Tony Jacklin: "Lee, I don't want to talk today." Trevino: "I don't want you to talk. I just want you to listen."

  • Trevino: "I played the tour in 1967 and told jokes and nobody laughed. Then I won the Open the next year, told the same jokes, and everybody laughed like hell."

  • Lee Trevino was struck by lightning in 1975.  He would later explain that he should have been pointing his 1 iron at the sky because "Not even god can hit the 1 iron."  

Grand Geneva - Brute - Lake Geneva, WI

Grand Geneva originally opened in 1968 as the Geneva Club Playboy Hotel.  This was the first Playboy Club in the US and brought a touch of glamour to the Midwest lakeside community.  With an airstrip installed for commuter planes landing from nearby Chicago, the hotel was able to book some of the era's most famous acts such as  Bob Hope, and Sonny & Cher.

Today you wont find any Playboy bunnies walking around, but you will still find 2 championship golf courses, the Brute and The Highlands.  The Brute course is aptly named and provides plenty of chances for the golfer to get beat up.  I would play twice and only suffer a few minor scrapes and bruises.

Grand Geneva - Highlands - Lake Geneva, WI

The Highlands course is one of 2 courses at Grand Geneva Resort.  While not quite as brutal as The Brute course, the course is still a challenge and a lot of fun to play.  The course was originally designed by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye and was renovated by Bob Cupp in 1996.  I managed to dodge a couple of summer storms and find a couple of birdies.

If you are planning a trip to Wisconsin, you would be wise to put The Links at Lawsonia on your agenda.  Throughout my Wisconsin travels, I have met many pros and players alike that listed Lawsonia LInks as their favorite golf course in Wisconsin.  The course is a timeless layout with raised greens, pot bunkers, and clever use of elevation changes.  The "boxcar" 7th green is also rumored to be built upon an old train car filled with tar that was shipped to the resort for roadbuilding back in the 1920's.

When I stepped onto the first tee, the course marshal immediately informed me that the course was originally built for the Chicago mob back in the 1920's.  After checking the tee box for snitches and/or Al Capone, I popped one down the fairway.  I would proceed to find several birdies without having to bribe any city officials, bootleg any booze, or launder any money.  Success!!

Lawsonia - Woodlands - Green Lake, WI