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Whistling through Wisconsin

© Paul Hundley/Courtesy of Erin Hills GolfGuide: Whistling Through Wisconsin

Photo: Paul Hundley/Courtesy of Erin Hills

Golf Courses of Lawsonia, Links

(4.5 stars)

Located outside tiny Green Lake in central Wisconsin, this magnificent old layout gets overlooked too often in conversations about the Midwest’s finest public courses. Its architects, the Golden Age tandem of William Langford and Theodore Moreau, traveled to the British Isles to photograph and sketch famous holes, then returned to Green Lake to lay out a course with huge push-up greens and deep, forbidding bunkers. Legend has it they built the par-three seventh atop a buried boxcar—the green is fronted by a twenty-foot vertical wall. Golfers standing on the elevated tee of the par-five ninth are treated to a spectacular view of emerald fairways twisting through flaxen fescue. In the 1930s, the course hosted the Little Lawsonia Open, which drew the likes of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson. Over the years, Lawsonia has weathered ownership changes and periodic closings, housed German POWs during the Second World War and been considered as a site for the U.S. Air Force Academy. As part of a restoration almost a decade ago, hundreds of trees were removed and fairways were widened. By contrast, the Links’ sister course, the Woodlands, is carved out of a forest. It’s worth playing if time allows.

W2615 South Valley View Drive, Green Lake. Architects: William Langford and Theodore Moreau, 1930. Yardage: 6,801. Par: 72. Slope: 130. Green Fees: $75–$85. Contact: 920-294-3320, lawsonia.com.

Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys

(4 stars)

Soon after opening the River Course at Blackwolf Run, Herb Kohler realized that a single eighteen wouldn’t be enough to satisfy demand at his resort. So he and Dye decided to split the original eighteen in half and build nine-hole additions for each (they had to do it that way because the available land lay on either side of the course). Given the River’s popularity and critical acclaim, their plan initially raised eyebrows, but it came to be seen as inspired. Today’s River and Meadow Valleys courses are both exceptional layouts that call on a variety of shots. At the less intimidating Meadow Valleys, that variety can include a long iron or hybrid to the narrow tree-lined fairway at the short par-four tenth and a booming draw off the tee at the long and comparatively wide-open two-shot twelfth. The heart of the course, however, is the three-hole stretch of rising and tumbling ground beginning at thirteen. It concludes at Mercy, the 227-yard fifteenth, where from the rear tee box the shot must be played across a vast ravine to an oblong green, with no trees or other background features to frame the hole.

1111 West Riverside Drive, Kohler. Architect: Pete Dye, 1990. Yardage: 7,142. Par: 72. Slope: 144. Green Fee: $155. Contact: 920-457-4446, destinationkohler.com.

The Bull at Pinehurst Farms

(4 stars)

As a boy, David Bachmann Jr. ordered grass seed from a catalog and tried to build a golf hole in a clearing on his family’s cattle farm in Sheboygan Falls. The seed didn’t take and Bachmann shelved his dream for three decades, until the late 1990s, at which point he hired Jack Nicklaus to undertake what he hadn’t accomplished. The result is the Bull at Pinehurst Farms, a bucolic high-end public course situated a few miles from Kohler. Nicklaus made canny use of the land, routing holes along the Onion River and negotiating forests, wetlands and a forty-foot ravine. The Bull is at once breathtakingly beautiful and exceedingly challenging. The par-four fifth, which curls left around the ravine, and the all-carry one-shot sixth, with its two-tiered green flanked by yawning bunkers and trees, are among the finest back-to-back holes in the state. It’s worth noting that, unlike with many courses he designed earlier in his career, Nicklaus didn’t lay out the Bull with his trademark power fade in mind. For every hole that favors a left-to-right ball flight, there’s one made to order for a draw.

One Long Drive, Sheboygan Falls. Architect: Jack Nicklaus, 2003. Yardage: 7,354. Par: 72. Slope: 147. Green Fee: $145. Contact: 920-467-1500, golfthebull.com.

University Ridge Golf Course

(4 stars)

Home of the University of Wisconsin golf teams, this Robert Trent Jones Jr. design unfurls across a windswept plateau on the edge of the Driftless Area, a region of the Midwest marked by deep river valleys and a lack of glacial drift (a geological term for the silt, gravel and boulders left by retreating glaciers). The Ridge, as the course is known, has a scenic front nine routed through mostly open prairie and a back nine cut through dense forest. Jones built generous fairways and bail-out areas around the greens—but poorly struck shots are by and large punished. The second hole is a memorable risk-reward par five where drives off the elevated tee must carry a rock-strewn gully and a pair of fairway bunkers in order to give long hitters the option of going for the green. Perhaps the sternest test comes at eighteen, a par four that turns left and climbs a hill to a large bi-level green. It’s a potent finishing hole.

9002 County Road PD, Verona. Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr., 1991. Yardage: 7,259. Par: 72. Slope: 142. Green Fees: $48–$89. Contact: 608-845-7700, universityridge.com.

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