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Blackwolf Run's River Course: Where bad golf course management goes to die

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
River Course at Blackwolf Run
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You'll have to battle some serious water carries at Pete Dye's River course at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisc. (Brandon Tucker/WorldGolf.com)

KOHLER, Wis. - Golfers overly susceptible to thoughts of "I think I can carry it" or "I'll try and use my 'cut' shot" may be in for a long day at Blackwolf Run's River Course. That's just what sinister architect Pete Dye wants you to think as you salivate over some of these "too good to be true" opportunities.

Making up one half of Kohler's Blackwolf Run facility, the River course is where poor course management goes to die. You'll need to exercise a little restraint here - even if it pains you. Some of these holes look just too tempting to back off.

The River course hardly plays second fiddle to the Straits course at Whistling Straits, about 15 minutes away on the shores of Lake Michigan. The River course isn't the visual, coastal spectacle of the Straits - and it doesn't need to be. The River is a 180-degree turn: a gorgeous, tranquil parkland course filled with trees and a running Sheboygan River looping around half thse holes.

Similarities are there, too: a major championship pedigree with the 1998 U.S. Women's Open to its credit and a stern challenge with a 151 slope from the championship tees. It plays just under 7,000 yards, but many expect Dye to upgrade the Blackwolf Run courses soon (he usually likes to "touch up" his designs after about 15-20 years) and bring a slight increase in length along with him.

The genius of the River course, and a big reason why it's placed among America's top public courses, is that seemingly every shot offers the chance for safety and another for a daring play. The par 5s can all be played with varying aggression, and the par 4s offer numerous options as well.

The ninth hole is one of the most complicated short par 4s you'll ever play, giving you three clearly separate options off the tee. You can hit it well left of the water and trees to safety in the fairway, but you'll have a long approach in. Or you can go over the trees for a shorter approach - or you can thread the needle between trees, over the river to the green tucked right next to the water. Sounds dangerous enough to back off on paper, but a wash of temptation will inevitably overcome you as you tee it up.

Back-to-back short par 4s on the 14th and 15th holes will have you licking your chops, but there is plenty of opportunity for a big number, too. The 14th fairway winds along a pond to the green, which is nearly drivable, tempting you to cut off as much length as you're willing to spare. The 15th is another short par 4 with a fairway that narrowly funnels downhill toward a green, but a giant bunker left punishes errant drives.

Probably the most puzzling hole is the par-5 16th, which first timers to the River should definitely play conservatively. The landing zones on this par 5 are never easily identifiable, and a giant Linden tree blocks entry to the green, which sits on the edge of the river, if you're in the wrong spot on the approach.

Rest assured, even if your score begins to deteriorate, you'll probably still enjoy yourself out here because the River course is a spectacular, natural setting. The 5th hole, "Made in Heaven," is a fitting description of the beautiful view from the elevated tee that plays down to a wide fairway sitting right next to the Sheboygan River.

There's another elevated tee a few holes later, the par-5 eighth hole, named "Hell's Gate." This time, the tee shot is hardly forgiving, demanding a drive through a narrow chute of trees. It doglegs severely right and a good drive puts you in position to reach the heavily guarded green in two.

River at Blackwolf Run: The Verdict

As tough as it will seem, try and pick your spots to go for it on the River course at Blackwolf Run, or your score will skyrocket (and your ball inventory will drop). That said, the River is one-of-a-kind and offers a flurry of memorable holes and shots. It's also a breathtaking setting for parkland golf, rolling around the Sheboygan River bed and offering some good undulation and elevated tee shots. The two courses here are completely different from what you'll see at nearby Whistling Straits, despite its similar Dye pedigree.

Peak greens fees on the River course are $200 and include a cart. Caddies are available at all Kohler courses for an extra fee. Free P.M. replays on Meadow Valleys are available to guests with a Kohler package.

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River course at Blackwolf Run - Par-5River Course at Blackwolf Run - 16th Green

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Blackwolf Run

    Shanks wrote on: Sep 19, 2007

    I whole-heartedly recommend you use one forecaddie per group, even if you opt to ride in a cart, on both the Blackwolf Run & Meadow Valley courses. These guys were worth their weight in gold, especially so for a bunch of first-timers.
    What a wonderful pair of inland courses these are. Combined with those 2 masterpieces on Lake Michigan, I don't believe there are a finer group of 4 courses in one spot anywhere in the world.