Top 10 Reasons to Golf Wisconsin
by Art McCafferty
A lot has changed since the Michigan Golfer visited Wisconsin in 1994. Like Michigan, they have experienced significant growth in their golf industry. In addition they have attracted national attention with the Anderson Consulting Tournament and the US Women's Open held at Kohler's Blackwolf Run. This year our story leads with the opening of the new awe inspiring Pete Dye course at Kohler. When people tell you it is the best course in the Midwest, they are just not Whistling Dixie, they are Whistling Straits.
There are a number of ways to visit our westerly and in some cases southerly neighbor. You can get a foursome and jump in a van and take I-94 and negotiate some of that legendary Chicago traffic, or you can drop in from the Upper Peninsula, if you are trying to run up some frequent driver miles.
Another option is to fly out of Flint with the Midwest Express airline connection. Midwest Express, the Milwaukee based airline which started service to three cities with three planes in 1984 is now operating out of 27 cities with 27 planes. www.midwestexpress.com. Flint's Bishop Airport is going great guns in the passenger business. Jerry Preston of the Flint Area Convention and Visitor Bureau indicates that the traffic has increased steadily for the last four years. "People are just tired of the hassle at Detroit Metro and are coming here. We have some great connections including that of Midwest Airlines."
Finally, you could drive to Ludington and catch the S.S. Badger, the only passenger steamship on the Great Lakes. Originally launched in 1952 with its sister ship the S.S. Spartan, the ships cost $5 million a copy. Their heyday peaked in 1955 when they ferried 205,000 and 204,640 freight cars in 6,986 crossings.
Charles Conrad, who amassed his fortune in the refrigerator business died in 1995 after having launched the successful return of the S.S.Badger in 1992. The S.S. Badger has a crew of 60. It has 42 newly renovated staterooms with 84 berths, burns 55 tons of coal a day and speeds along at a nice 17 miles per hour. You will find a galley, the ship's Boatique, bingo room, video arcade and a movie room for entertainment as you cross the 60 miles across Lake Michigan. The Badger can take 600 passengers and 180 autos on its four hour trip. During the summer, it has two crossings a day.
Ken Killian and Dick Nugent certainly helped their reputation when they designed this course in 1971. It is rated by many as one of the top ten courses in Wisconsin. It is beautiful course located in Fontana in the terrific setting of Lake Geneva. It is especially spectacular in the fall so take along your camera. We found the crescent shaped 10th hole, a back breaker with its 545-yard uphill green. It is very well maintained. Make no mistake about this, it is a resort with many amenities, and it is a must stop for Michigan golfers.
Jack Shoger, Director of Golf, 414-275-6111 abbeysprings.com
I remember seeing Arnold Palmer when he opened the Legend at Shanty Creek. At that time, he indicated that he built golf courses for the average golfer and thus wanted them to be user friendly.
Well, even Arnie can change his mind. The Bog, located in Saulkville, will humble you with its demanding terrain and layout. It was rated as one of America's Best New Courses in 1996 and was ranked 6th in the state for 1997. It is tough, spectacular and very upscale. Green fees will run upwards of $110-120
The course setting is on 300 pastoral acres of wetlands, woods, rolling hills and wildlife habitat. This particular Palmer/Seay design was heavily influenced by the traditional designs of Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie and Harry Colt. It has a magnificent clubhouse of some 10,500 sq. ft. It is big-time Wisconsin golf.
Head Professional, Steve Fischer 1-800-4 THE BOG www.thebog.com
The River Course at Blackwolf Run, located in Kohler, is the most storied golf course in the Midwest, or at least that was my thinking until Whistling Straits came along. Blackwolf Run has hosted the Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf and the Women's U.S. Open. Designed by Pete Dye, it has been consistently rated in the top 50 courses of the United States and is rated continually as Best in the State.
Actually, there are two courses that make up Blackwolf Run: the River Course and the Meadows. Either one is absolutely great, but if you had to choose one, make it the River Course. According to the readers of Conde Nast Traveler Magazine, The American Club and Blackwolf Run compose one of the top four golf resorts in the world. Pack plenty of money, but it will be worth every hundred. Green fees run in the $125-130 range.
Steve Freelander is the new GM and Director of Golf, 800-344-2838. www.blackwolfrun.com
One of Wisconsin's premier ski and golf resorts, Devil's Head, located in Merrimac, has been a favorite of recreators for years. Art Johnson and Willis Stack, built the course in 1973, and it plays to a par 73. As with many ski area courses, you will find some nice elevation and resplendid views during your game. Our foursome played late in the fall just before the leaves left the trees and it was just a visual feast. There were some great stone fences, like those you see at Stonehedge and Timber Stone in Michigan.We did catch some snow showers while there, but hey, it is a ski resort. It is fairly reasonable at about $55 on the weekends. The resort has 250 guestrooms, indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, tennis courts and convention facilities.
Geneva National GC, located in Lake Geneva, is a weekend trip all to itself. This first rate golf facility, operates courses by golf legends, Trevino, Player and Palmer. Generally speaking, golf professionals that turn to architects are just as competitive and love to upstage their competition. The three courses at Geneva National are just as different as their designers.
The Trevino course, 4 stars from Golf Digest, picked up a reputation of being a little too punitive in its early days. They have tweaked the course and it has been tamed a bit. We played it two years ago, and it was vastly improved. We felt that it was a good hilly layout that played fairly. The Trevino course is located in some hardwoods and has some ravines and streams to help with its natural design.
The Palmer course, also gets 4 stars from Golf Digest, was the past favorite of our group, however our heads were turned by the new Player course. The Palmer course is a just a wonderful course. The final three holes, especially the 17th, are as good a finishing threesome as there is anywhere.
They recently opened up the nine hole-Player course. While Lake Como is visible on all three of the courses, it is perhaps most visible with the Player course. The Player course is on a tight piece of ground and trouble is, therefore, close by. You will really love the 7th hole, which has a spectacular drop toward the lake with different grasses highlighting the hole.
The conditions on all the courses are absolutely first rate. This is comparable to our upper level courses in Michigan. Green fees are in the $90-100 ranges.
414-245-7010, firstname.lastname@example.org www.genevanationalresort.com
Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, a 1300-acre resort, also located in Lake Geneva, was once owned by Playboy's Hugh Hefner and represented the flagship of his Playboy Bunny Clubs. After a wonderful and lavish beginning, the club fell on some hard times when Heifer's empire started to unravel. The Markus Company has changed all of that. They bought it a few years ago and threw a ton of money into it and it is just gorgeous.
The first stage saw the company rework the guestrooms and the interior; the second phase concentrated on the courses and grounds. They began their mission by taming the famed Brute. They accomplished this by widening the fairways and opening up the greens. This is the course that our foursome loves to play. It is in great condition, there are beautiful grounds everywhere and the maintenance is utterly fantastic.
The second course, The Briar Patch, was remodeled last year. The Briar Patch, an original Nicklaus/Dye design, was another course that offered the golfer some demanding and at times penal golf. Now called The Highlands, the course was renovated by Robert Cupp into a more gentle, enjoyable and superbly conditioned golf course.
Director of Golf, Dave Hallenbeck, is ecstatic over how well the course renovations have turned out. Dave represents the sole of the place. He has been there from the start, slowly working his way up the golf management ladder. The amiable Hallenbeck can tell you some great stories about the Playboy days, when name entertainers played the resort.
The resort has all the amenities you would expect at a full service resort. It is one of Wisconsin's best. Green fees run from $65-90.
Director of Golf, Dave Hallenbeck, 800-558-3417 www.grandgeneva.com
Don Zimmerman has built two very fine courses at Kettle Hills, located in Richmond. The first or the Pond/Woods course opened in 1987 with the Valley course following in 1990. Originally in the construction business, they decided to utilize their equipment in down times. With the courses going strong, Don and wife Ruby sold their construction and their crane business to two of their sons. "Don still likes to get that D-6 dozer out once in awhile to fix something on the course," said Ruby. "Our other kids, daughter Michele and son Scott help us with the course."
We will tell you about the gentle rolling hills and the beautiful scenery, but you could pick up the phone and hear it yourself. If you do get put on hold, you will hear the first golf course jingle that I have ever heard. It is quite good actually.
Our group has enjoyed Kettle Hills as kind of a breather from the "take no prisoners" designer courses we usually play while in Wisconsin. You will find your share of hills and ponds and woods to get into trouble, but for the most part the course is gentle and rewarding. Kettle Hills offers 36 holes of superb golf, gives you a couple of great practice areas and takes it easy on your pocketbook, with fees in the mid $20's on weekdays and in the high 30's on the weekend. Kettle Hills is a family owned course that wants to make sure you have a great experience and get your monies worth.
The Midwest's finest full service four season resort is located in Spring Green, near Madison. The Springs is a 27-hole tract that has been immortalized by the dynamic architectural duo of Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the resort and it is just an incredibly interesting facility. First class all the way, it has a great restaurant and an assortment of resort amenities. There is also a nearby center that highlights the life of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Set amidst the rocky bluffs and rolling hills of the Wisconsin River valley, the Springs gives you great golf from the minds of Robert Trent Jones Sr., and the duo of Roger Packard and Andy North. Jones designed the original 18 in 1969. The new nine was designed by Packard and North a couple of years ago. They have done some exceptional work in Wisconsin.
Green fees are in the mid $50 range and the service is very good. It is a place that is away from it all and really a place that you should stay for a couple of days to really enjoy it.
Designed by Roger Packard and Andy North, Trappers Turn is regularly rated as one of the top courses in Wisconsin. It has been the site of the Wisconsin Open, Wisconsin Senior Open and this summer in July, will be hosting the Wisconsin PGA Championship.
The course is located on a spectacular piece of property, with its clubhouse firmly taking the high ground over looking Mystic Lake. The land features a glacier carved canyon with the resultant huge swings in elevation.
Scott Krahl, Head Professional and GM, is particularly excited about the newest nine holes coming on board in September. "Andy North and Roger Packard have done an outstanding job in integrating the new nine into the existing 18. Each of the nines, now known as The Lake, The Canyon and The Arbor, will start and finish near the clubhouse. In addition, we have staggered tee times, so that the customer can select which nine or nines they want to play," said Krahl. The course was featured this year on Golfing the Great Lakes.
In addition to the golf course, you and your family will have a wonderful time in the Wisconsin Dells area.
Whistling Straits is the newest creation of legendary Pete Dye and the visionary Herbert Kohler Jr. The course embraces two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline with 14 of its holes, all within a sandwedge of the water. Pete Dye brought in 800,000 cubic yards to rework what was once a flat piece of land into a course that will have writers looking for new superlatives to describe the work. If you put Bay Harbor and Arcadia Bluffs together, you would have the scope and look of the land and water that Whistling Straits has. Our foursome really had problems trying to come up with a description of the course; we were somewhat in a state of a shock. It was truly an experience that none of us had ever had before.
In addition to playing this really overwhelming course, golfers are also introduced to the experience of using caddies and no carts when they play the course. Our Irish caddies provided the frosting on our golf cake, as they contributed to what was really a very special round of golf.
This year the course will host the 1999 PGA of America's Club Professional Championship. This is one of the most expensive courses you will play in the Midwest, ($204 for green fees and caddie), but you will still have a problem getting on. It will not hurt your chances of booking a tee time if you stay at their American Club a five star lodging facility. Book it while you can, the prices will only go up on this one of a kind golf experience.
I have been playing this game for a long time and have certainly seen my share of golf courses, but I have never witnessed anything so awesome as Whistling Straits, Period, end of story.
800-618-5535 Tee times, 800-344-2838 Hotel
Christmas Mountain, Wisconsin Dells Nice course in a ski village setting. 608-254-3971
Dells Canyon Course 1932-old course nice people. 608-254-8489
Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort in Wisconsin Dells
New nine really makes this a nice resort course. Located right in the heart of the Wisconsin Dells. The Golf Courses of Lawsonia, Green Lake.
36 holes of storied golf at affordable prices.920-294-3320
You can contact us at
Copyright© Great Lakes Sports Publications, Inc.