Grand Geneva Resort and Spa in Wisconsin: The Brute and Highlands golf courses
LAKE GENEVA, Wis. -- In 1968, Hugh Hefner opened the Lake Geneva Playboy Club Hotel to great fanfare. Celebrities from the TV, Hollywood, sports, and music worlds flocked to this one-time hideaway of Chicago's ultra-wealthy.
A major component of the rabbit-eared resort's extensive amenities was golf, with two courses and extensive practice facilities also opening for play in 1968: The Brute, designed by Robert Bruce Harris, and The Briar Patch, designed by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye.
Fast forward to today's Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, and you find a family friendly and far more diverse resort than the original. Along with horseback riding, zip-lining, mountain biking, tennis, swimming, skiing, snowmobiling, fine dining, and the luxuriousness of the WELL spa, golf remains central to the resort's amenities.
The Brute Course measures 7,085 yards from the tips, and remains today much as Harris laid it out in the 1960s. From the back tees, most of the par 4s are over 400 yards, and demand both precision and power to find the tree-lined fairways over substantial forced carries. Approach shots into the large greens are no picnic either, as many putting surfaces are domed and difficult to hold with longer clubs. On the back nine, the routing leads you up toward the highest point of the property, with inspiring views of the surrounding rolling woodlands and daunting wind conditions.
The Briar Patch has been renamed The Highlands, reflecting renovations by Bob Cupp and Bob Lohman in the 1990s, which trimmed some of the prickliest thorns of the original design. Those early, and rare, Nicklaus-Dye tracks were notoriously difficult (think Harbour Town) -- vexing for resort guests without local knowledge. The reworked Highlands still requires strategy and skill, but now there is room to miss shots without automatically dropping a shot or more. At 6,659 yards from the tournament tees, the Highlands includes only three par 4s over 400 yards, all on the front nine. On the back side, if you play the regular (championship) tees, you'll find only two par 4s over 375 yards. Club selection is therefore critical, and shot-making is paramount. So even though the briars have been thinned, the cerebral essence of the original design remains.
Grand Geneva Director of Golf David Hallenbeck is often asked which course is "better," but this is a difficult question to answer. "I think what is unique about our property is that we have two totally different golf courses, each with a look and feel from two different architects," he said. "You really don't find this at many resorts anywhere."
Grand Geneva Resort - Brute golf course - 2nd
The 544-yard, second hole on Grand Geneva's Brute golf course requires you to position your ball precisely so that you have an angle back uphill to the large green.
Grand Geneva Resort - Brute golf course - 3rd
The devious 374-yard third is the second-shortest par 4 on Grand Geneva's Brute golf course. Its one of the few that demands less than a driver off the tee, as water is within reach.
Grand Geneva Resort - Brute golf course - 9th
Thread the needle off the tee of the downhill, 432-yard ninth hole on Grand Geneva's Brute golf course: Over a stream, lake left, trees and stream right along with massive bunkers.
Grand Geneva Resort - Brute golf course - 11th
The silo to the left of the tees on the Brute Course's 540-yard, par-5 11th wears countless golf-ball scars, like a giant saguaro cactus.
Grand Geneva Resort - Brute golf course - 16th
Grand Geneva's Brute golf course isn't completely brutish. This graceful, suggestive sculpture beside the green of the 190-yard 16th hole dates from the Playboy days.
Grand Geneva Resort - Brute golf course - 18th
The par-4 closing hole on Grand Geneva's Brute golf course is truly a brute: Water tee-to-green on the right, steep hillside all down the left, and a long 464 yards.
Grand Geneva Resort - Highlands golf course - 4th
The 192-yard, par-3 fourth hole on Grand Geneva's Highlands golf course demands a long carry over wetlands to a shallow, wide green.
Grand Geneva Resort - Highlands golf course - 8th
The 345-yard eighth on Grand Geneva's Highlands golf course is actually drivable if you can cut the corner over the trees, but the green is totally blind, so good luck.
Grand Geneva Resort - Highlands golf course - 9th
The 461-yard ninth on Grand Geneva's Highlands golf course is the longest par 4 on the course. It feels more like a par 5 in comparison to the rest of the relatively short par 4s.
Grand Geneva Resort - Highlands golf course - 11th
The green at the 594-yard, par-5 11th hole on Grand Geneva's Highlands golf course presents a small target.
Grand Geneva Resort - Highlands golf course - 14th
The tee shot at the 398-yard 14th on Grand Geneva's Highlands golf course is probably the most fun on the course: Elevated tees, long carry, narrow landing area. Grip it and rip it!
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin - mansion
During your time at the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, take a couple hours for a boat tour of Lake Geneva. You'll marvel at the opulence of the "summer homes" on the shores of lake -- like this humble cottage.