By Jerry Poling
Best Golf Courses You Can Play for $50 or Less
Anyone who saw the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits would have to agree: Golf in Wisconsin has come a long way.
Since 1980, dozens of championship public golf courses have been built in Wisconsin, including one of the nation’s best in the Straits at Haven, along Lake Michigan.
But if your game and pocketbook aren’t up to the winds and the $297 it takes to play the Pete Dye-designed Straits; the trees and the $145 it takes to play the Jack Nicklaus-designed Bull in Sheboygan Falls; or the variety of natural hazards and the $135 needed to play the Arnold Palmer-designed Bog at Saukville, take heart: Wisconsin has it covered.
Wisconsin has many lower-profile courses where you can get on the first tee for less than $50 (cart not included). These courses still offer championship holes, classic Wisconsin golf scenery and great playing conditions. The slope ratings and yardage -- averaging 130 and 6,700 yards -- are high, but the price isn’t. And if you play on a weekday, late afternoon or in the Spring or Fall, you might get two rounds for less than $50.
The beauty of the state’s northwoods is on display at a variety of inexpensive courses in the Indianhead region. Along the Lake Superior shore, good golf can be found at 36-hole Nemadji in Superior and breathtaking Apostle Highlands (500 feet above the lake) in Bayfield. In Ashland, tee it up at recently remodeled Chequamegon Bay, where a good number of the holes offer a view of the picturesque shipping port.
One of this area’s best is one of the newest, Big Fish just outside of Hayward. The Pete Dye-designed course features one level links nine and one hilly woods nine. In Hayward, try Hayward Golf and Tennis (dating to 1924 but recently remodeled), only a few blocks from downtown.
Golf courses are plentiful in the Minocqua-area vacation hub, and several of the better ones fit the bill for less than $50. Don’t miss lovely St. Germain Golf Club in the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest in St. Germain, where water and woods wait for your errant shots. For a laid-back round, try Trout Lake, nestled in the woods along the Trout River and Trout Lake near Arbor Vitae. St. Germain opened in 1992, but Trout Lake has been around since the 1920s.
Also, try an up-north original, pretty Eagle River Golf Club (early 1920s), which plays tougher than most 6,100-yard courses because of its hilly terrain and tight fairways.
The Chippewa Valley Golf Club in Menomonie has rolling hills and a nice mix of wooded and open holes -- and a par-5 that’s 600 yards long. In La Crosse, there’s tight, tricky Forest Hills, one of the state’s oldest courses, laid out at the base of big Granddad’s Bluff. It dates to the early 1900s.
Drugan’s Castle Mound near Holmen plays below, around and between bluffs -- and past a barn. In the St. Croix Valley, try the lovely riverside New Richmond Golf Club (6,726 yards, slope 133); or a favorite with local golfers, Clifton Highlands at Prescott.
From the Fox Valley to Door County, good, inexpensive golf is plentiful. And if you tee it up on a Green Bay Packer game day, you might have the course to yourself.
In Door County, where golf courses are as common now as state parks, try Idlewild in Sturgeon Bay, The Orchards (7,068 yards, slope 130) at Egg Harbor or Peninsula State Park -- with views of Lake Michigan -- in Fish Creek. Then check out the peninsula’s beaches, lighthouses, shops and fruit orchards, which, by the way, are part of the scenery on the back nine at The Orchards.
If you’re in Green Bay for Packers training camp, don’t pass up Brown County (6,749 yards, 133 slope), a longtime favorite of area residents. Look out for Duck and Trout creeks. Nearby, try tough Cathedral Pines (6,926 yards, 141 slope), through forest and wetlands at Suring. The links-style National course (7,017 yards, 136 slope) is the best of 45 holes at Fox Hills in Mishicot. Don’t overlook popular Chaska in Appleton.
Madison and the Wisconsin Dells area boast such modern destination courses as University Ridge and Trappers Turn, respectively. But for less than $50, try another group of new courses that have their own challenges.
The Oaks at Cottage Grove has quickly become one of the most popular layouts in the Madison area. Unlike its name, The Oaks is mostly a links-style course known for its challenging sand traps.
At The Meadows of Sixmile Creek (6,919 yards, slope 130) at Waunakee, the challenge is to keep your ball out of the numerous ponds. Also, try The Bridges in Madison with numerous hazards along its 6,888-yard route.
Or play a couple of old standbys. The hilly Baraboo Country Club (dating to 1962) has a seemingly ever-present creek and plays past Indian mounds. Riverside in Janesville (1924) features old elm, oak and linden trees.
The Milwaukee area, like Madison, has plenty of top-notch courses, like Brown Deer Park, host of the U.S. Bank Open on the PGA Tour. Brown Deer Park costs up to $72 for 18 holes, but some of the other fine Milwaukee County Park system courses are less than $50.
To go low -- price-wise that is -- also check out Rainbow Springs at Mukwonago (6,914 yards, slope 132). Water or marsh come into play on 15 holes on this layout that was a stop on the women’s pro golf tour in the 1960s.
For a traditional treat, try Old Hickory at Beaver Dam. Old Hickory, named after the type of tree common on the course, was designed by Tom Bendelow, one of the country’s first prolific course designers in the early 20th century. Old Hickory held the 2008 State Amateur.
Check out all Wisconsin has to offer for golf! Do you have a favorite course that won't break the bank?