Wisconsin

The 1st hole at Whistling Straits' Straits Course

The 1st hole at Whistling Straits' Straits Course


Erin Hills - Erin, WI

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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!  

UPDATE: I returned to Erin Hills in 2019 to test the course in raining conditions. Still just as good.

Black Wolf Run - River Course - Kohler, WI

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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

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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

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Blue Mound Golf & CC is the one of the few Seth Raynor designs in the midwest and the only one Wisconsin. The course hosted the 1933 PGA Championship and the Women’s Western Open won by Babe Zaharias in 1940. Tom Doak’s Renaissance Design restored the course to it’s former glory in the late 1990’s. Most importantly, I was given a chance to follow in Babe’s footsteps and play the golf course during my RGV Tour. It was a solo mission for me in the fall of 2018 as the crisp air was beginning to invade the midwest. Even with College Football in the air, the Raynor templates were able to keep me glued to the golf course.

Brown Deer Park - Glendale, WI

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Get the full story on Tiger Woods and his professional debut at Brown Deer Park on the golf blog.

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

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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

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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.

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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!!

I put this course in the “Check yourself before you wreck yourself” category. This is a must play for any golf course fan.

Lawsonia - Woodlands - Green Lake, WI

The Woodlands is second course at Lawsonia and although they won't admit it in the pro shop, it is easily the lesser of the two courses.  A much different vibe from the links course, The Woodlands winds it's way through forests.  A fantastic option for a day of 36.  Although, if you decide to play the Links course twice, nobody is gonna blame you.  The 2nd hole, playing along a 100 year old stone quarry, and the clifftop 3rd hole are the highlights of the course.

After taking in the Links course, I decided to give the Woodlands a spin.  I would be on my ball striking game that afternoon.  After striking my way to -2 through 17 holes, I needed birdie on the 18th to break 70. I would find the strength to nervously tap in my 5 footer for birdie.  Glory on the Woodlands was mine!

Mammoth Dunes - Nekoosa, WI

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Get the rundown on Mammoth Dunes & Sand Valley with my special edition Blog Post

Milwaukee Country Club - Milwaukee, WI

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Milwaukee Country Club is a classic golden era golf course that holds it's own as one of the best clubs in the Midwest.  The architectural credits go to Colt and Alison with a recent redesign by Tom Doak.  The remodel has removed some trees and opened up vistas of the nearby Milwaukee River which hugs the majority of the back nine.  The course is a joy to walk and the removal of trees only adds to the course's ambiance.

On a Tuesday morning, I would be the first one out on the course and I had a fine caddie named Amelia from the Evans Scholars Foundation.  While Amelia was not the most seasoned caddie, she possessed a strong ambition and determination with her life goals.  


I limit my exposure to social media, so I can focus properly on my priorities and schooling.
— Amelia the Caddie

After that quote happened, I pretty much let Amelia tell me exactly what to do for the rest of the round.  On the par 3 12th hole Amelia would give me another quote.  "I can sense that you are going to make a birdie here."  Just as predicted I would make a birdie 2.  Later on in the round Amelia would deliver another gem.  "You sure are making lots of pars,  many more pars than most of the other players I caddie for."  Amelia was right again, as I would make enough pars to keep it in the 70's.  Best of luck to Amelia as she pursues what will undoubtedly be a successful life journey.

Sand Valley - Nekoosa, WI

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Get the rundown on Mammoth Dunes & Sand Valley with my special edition Blog Post

Sentry World - Stevens Point, WI

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in 1982, Sentry World blazed the trail for Wisconsin as the state's first destination golf course.  The course was founded and operated by Sentry Insurance and designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.  Sentry World would gain notoriety because of it's 16th "Flower Hole."  The majority of my photos above are actually from the 16th hole.  In 2013, RTJ Jr would return to Sentry World with Bruce Charlton and Jay Blasi to complete a major renovation.  The end result was a golf course that not only boasts one notable hole, but 17 others that compliment it well. 

Flower Facts:

  • As part of the 2013 renovation, the number of flowers on the 16th hole was boosted to over 35,000.

  • The flowers are perennials, which means that they must be replanted every season.

  • It takes a crew of 10-15 workers 2 weeks to finish the work every spring.

  • Each year a different pattern and arrangement of flowers is used.

  • The flowers are played as "Ground Under Repair" and any golf ball hit into the flowers is allowed a free drop.

Whistling Straits - Straits - Sheboygan, WI

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Whistling Straits was definitely one of the most fun experiences I have had photographing a course.  Featuring 8 holes directly on lake Michigan, the design concept for the property makes excellent use of the 2 miles of shoreline.   All par 3's are directly on the water and you are never more than a glance away from beautiful Lake Michigan.  The course has hosted the 2004, 2010, and 2015 PGA Championships and will again take center stage at the 2020 Ryder Cup.

In the 1950's, the property was used by the US Army as an anti-aircraft training facility and was actually very flat before Pete Dye and his team moved in 7000 truckloads of sand to shape the property.  Today the course today features 967 bunkers and many drastic sand dunes and elevation changes.

One of the more unique features that i was unable to witness was the flock of Scottish blackface sheep that the course keeps on site.  The sheep are free to roam the course during the golfing season and are kept at an off site farm for the winter months.  Unfortunately, they were not present for the 2015 PGA Championship and will not make it back for the remainder of the 2015 season.

Even with the winds winding up throughout the day and my driver going wide left and wide right, the course was an absolute treat to play.  I always found my ball and had a bunch of interesting shots from all over the place.  The highlight of the day was finding several birdies on the par 5's.  The low-light of the day was finding lake Michigan with my golf ball on #7.  The same spot where John Daly threw his club weeks previously.  Fortunately, my shot was not captured on video.

Update:  On a return visit to Whistling Straits in 2017, I would find those sheep.  One of them would actually charge me... I would tuck and roll avoiding incident.  I would also roll in a wildly good birdie putt on the 18th hole that should put a smile on my face until the next time I visit.

Double Update: I returned in 2019 on a trip with Visit Milwaukee and took on what I call the Death Coffin Bunker. Results were excellent.

Whistling Straits - Irish - Sheboygan, WI

Playing little brother to the Straits course, the Irish course doesn't always get the love it deserves.  Designed by Pete Dye as well, The Irish course plays just inland opening up 2 years after the Straits course in 2000.  In respect to the origins of the game, both courses at Whistling Straits were designed to be walked.  I gladly picked up my bag and started off on the 5 mile hike / chasing of the little white ball.

The course comes in at #47 on Golf Digest's top 100 public courses.  Although it was no walk in the park, this was the easiest of the bunch I would play on my Wisconsin trip.  In typical Pete Dye fashion, there is a man made lake on 17 that will make you think twice about your 1st and 2nd shots.  I imagine 17 has spoiled many good rounds and elicited several "That Pete Dye is a real SOB"s.  I managed to avoid the water on 17 but found it on 18 for a disappointing finish to a great round of golf on a great course.  I particularly enjoyed the scenic 6th hole, a short par 3 surrounded by bunkers.