Playing some great Wisconsin golf courses: Erin Hills, Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run
Since my husband Dan Jansen is a native of Wisconsin, he is very partial to Wisconsin golf courses. He always talks about how great they are and how they may be some of the best golf courses in the country.
I always appease him and say, “Yes, honey, I am sure there are a couple of nice little courses up in that area.”
We all know that the Kohler Co. Resort has a very nice golf course: the Straits at Whistling Straits, home of this year’s U.S. Senior Open and the 2004 PGA Championship. Standing on the Straits course looking out at Lake Michigan you might think you are in the British Isles not 60 miles north of Milwaukee.
But the Straits course is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Wisconsin golf. Golf insiders like my husband know that the Badger State has some of the best natural terrain for golf in the nation and it is because of an iceberg. Over 12,000 years ago, mountainous flows of glacial ice sculpted unique rolling hills and shaped the landscape across the state. In recent years, Wisconsin’s rolling, wooded terrain has attracted the world’s biggest names in golf course design and the state boasts dozens of PGA-caliber courses and is attracting national championships.
My husband recently took me on a golf vacation in Wisconsin and since Wisconsin will be in the golf spotlight over the next few weeks with the U.S. Senior Open at Whistling Straits and the PGA Tour’s US Bank Championship at Brown Deer Park Golf Course, I thought I would highlight some of the golf courses we played.
Check them out …
1. Erin Hills Golf Course
Less than a year old and just 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee in the Town of Erin, Erin Hills was rated “Best New Golf Course of the Year” in the January issue of Golf Magazine. Erin Hills has been awarded the 2008 Women’s Amateur Public Links even before it was open and rumor has it that they want to host a U.S. Open.
Apparently, no dirt was moved to build the golf course, they just planted grass over the glacial dunes. One of the most difficult golf courses I have ever played, there are a lot of blind shots, elevated and punch bowl greens, huge bunkers with shaggy grass edges and waist high fescue.
Trying to be a lot like the Straits course at Kohler, Erin Hills recreates an Irish links-style course. You definitely feel like you are in Old-World Europe because there is not a house, power line or highway in site.
Added bonus: Erin Hills has 19 holes. The 19th hole or the “Bye hole” as they call it, which originally followed the 18th hole was created to settle all bets after completing the round. At Erin Hills the Bye hole is a 164-yard par-3 hole located between the 9th and 10th holes and will used in tournaments replacing the par-3 seventh hole.
This 7,201-yard course, designed by Pete Dye, combines old style links golf with modern day target golf. There are some holes that require you to carry the ball off the tee 150 to 200 yards depending on what tees you play. Unlike Erin Hills, 8,000 truckloads of dirt were brought in to make rugged dunes alongside the now famous Straits course. And like the Straits course, there is sand everywhere. Although there are not as many holes that overlook Lake Michigan like the Straits course, the Irish course is one of the prettiest courses I have ever played. If you tee off in the morning as we did, you may have to play a few holes in the fog making it feel as if you are seaside in Ireland. Make sure you practice your fairway bunker shots and take advantage of the caddies; they can help you save strokes around the greens.
Most memorable hole: The 13th hole called Blind Man’s Bluff, a 187-yard par-3 that reveals only a quarter of its putting surface to players on the tee box.
This 6,991-yard course also designed by Pete Dye is one of the most special golf courses I have ever played. Playing the River course, I felt like I was in a fairy tale. As you play the course, you walk past meandering streams, thick wooded forests and colorful meadows. Site of the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open the River Course and the Meadow Valleys Course are ranked among Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses in America.
Do not play this course if you slice or hook your driver, you will never find your tee shots. The names of some of the holes speak for themselves. Starting out with the par-5 1st hole named the Snake, you have to place your drive perfectly in the fairway or you will be in the river on the left or the waist high fescue on the right. The 2nd hole is called Burial Mounds because of the huge dunes that line the entire right side of the hole. The 3rd hole is called is called Gotcha because if try to shorten this very long par-4 hole you end up in a very deep bunker. I think I saw some skeletal remains of a poor guy who tried unsuccessfully to get his second shot to the green. Other holes are called Hell’s Gate, Blind Alley, the Sand Pit and the 18th hole is called Dyehard. Need I say more?
My favorite hole: The par-5 16th hole called Unter Der Linden. A huge Linden tree blocks the left side green. There is a severe drop off as the green hangs 30 feet over the Sheboygan River. Be very careful when you get to this hole. A friend of ours knows a man who fell off the edge of the green and almost died. Apparently he was reading his putt and as he backed up to get a better look he stepped backwards and fell some 30-feet into the river. I had my caddie read my putt.
At 7,142-yards the Meadow Valleys course is longer than the River Course, but not considered as difficult. A lot of people think that this course will be easy, but when the wind blows, forget it, you may have to use two or even three clubs more or less depending on the direction of wind. It can be frustrating to hit what you think is a perfect shot and see it land 30-yards short of your target or worse blow over the green into thick fescue.
The Irish Course may make you feel like you are in Ireland, but while playing the Meadow Valleys course it is hard to think you are in any other place but in the state of Wisconsin. Surrounded by farmland, you only see miles and miles of corn, hear cows mooing and smell farm animals. Standing on almost every tee box, it is hard not to be patriotic because you can see a giant American flag waving in the background. Apparently, the largest flag in the United States, the steel pole is 338 feet high, 6 feet wide at the base, weighs 65 tons (without the flag), and is sunk into a 550-ton block of concrete that is 40 feet deep, 8 feet wide and reinforced by steel rods. The flag is 120 feet by 60 feet, or 7,200 square feet. Each star is 4 feet high and each stripe is 4 1/2 feet wide. It weighs 300 pound.
My favorite hole: The 227-yard par 3 15th hole called Mercy. The scorecard says that is the hardest par-3 that you may ever play. It is my favorite because I was 8-inches from getting a hole-in-one. That hole is not so hard.
Other great golf courses in Wisconsin we played:
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