By Jeff Mayers and Jerry Poling
How good is Wisconsin golf? How about 500 public courses of all varieties from the shores of Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River, from Lake Superior to the cornfields along the Illinois border? How about courses designed by major champions Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Tom Lehman and Wisconsin's own Andy North? How about mom-and-pop 9-hole courses where you still can show up on Saturday morning without a tee time?
To give you a taste of what lies beyond Whistling Straits, we've assembled the Dairyland Dream 18--a compilation of 18 of the best holes in Wisconsin. From border to border, they represent the best of what Wisconsin has to offer on the links.
Much like the Straits, all 18 of the Dairyland Dream holes are beauties. Of course, any list of Wisconsin's 18 best would be incomplete without at least one Straits hole, so we've included one Pete Dye-abolical delight, the par-3 17th, a Lake Michigan monster.
The ground rules for our Dairyland Dream 18 required one hole per golfing destination to create some geographical balance. That may leave out some great holes at Blackwolf Run, for example, but it won't make the Dairyland Dream 18 any easier. At par 72, this in-your-dreams course plays 7,252 yards.
Intrigued? Read on. Then get out your state map, AAA travel guide and get ready to cross the state while playing 18 holes where even Tiger, Phil, Vijay and the PGA competitors might have needed a few extra Titleists in their bag.
Dream Round Hole #1
Legend has it that Thomas Vardon, a relative of six-time British Open champion Harry Vardon, designed this hole back in 1930. It must have been a beast to play back then with hickory-shafted clubs. Members thought the hole was so hard they didn't even use it in the 1950s and ‘60s. Even with today's technology it still strikes fear in the hearts of golfers. From an elevated tee, golfers must guide their tee shots left of a pond and wetland, which starts near the landing area and leans toward the hazard. Left is good here. To reach the green, the mid- to short-iron approach shot must carry the hazard and hold the shallow green. It's a nerve-wracking start to the Dream 18.
Dream Round Hole #2
Robert Trent Jones is the Frank Lloyd Wright of golf architects, so it's fitting this masterpiece is near Wright's Taliesen. Jones routed his back nine up one side of a lovely Wisconsin River valley and down the other. The 18th is downhill, with the landing area pinched by bunkers, trees and water. The second shot puts a premium on accuracy, with a green guarded by water front and left. Don't worry about being long -- the green is 80 yards deep, part of a double putting surface with the ninth hole. The twin green is a slice of creativity that even Wright would admire.
Dream Round Hole #3
The town of Eagle sounds like a great place to make eagle, right? Good luck. You might make a hole-in-one here ... or a hole-in-11. Known locally as the "Volcano Hole," the No. 2 green resembles an upside down coffee cup. The green sits atop a drumlin, a steep mound left by glaciers about 10,000 years ago. Wayward tee shots tumble to the bottom of the "volcano." Some of Eagle Springs' holes were designed by A. G. Spaulding, the former Chicago White Stockings pitcher and manager in the late 1800s who started a sporting goods company that still bears his name. His peculiar designs and an apple tree growing through the roof of the clubhouse are just two of the reasons to visit.
Dream Round Hole #4
Wisconsin native Andy North, who helped design Trappers Turn, knows a thing or two about strategic par-5s. He won two U.S. Opens using his point-to-point course management skills. The drive is key here. You'll want to carry a ridge 278 yards from the back tees. It's no easy task, however, with trees -- especially a large pine -- down the left and a large bunker right. Carrying the ridge means some downhill kick, which makes it easier to clear a creek on your second shot. With more trouble left, North no doubt would advise a lay-up second shot. Then pitch your third into the elevated green, make the birdie and you'll feel like a champion.
Dream Round Hole #5
The 17th at NorthWood isn't long, but it may take you a long time to play it. From the tee, the first shank of this dogleg left looks to be just another shot through the trees. After 16 holes at NorthWood -- a tree-hugger's delight cleared from former Wausau Paper Company forest -- you'll be used to that. However, don't go left of the big pine that designer Don Herfort left in the fairway. You can't see it from the tee, but a lake creeps into play on the left. The second shot is easy to figure out, but by no means easy. You can see all 150 yards of lake that lie between you and the wide green. Herfort did leave bailout room to the right, in case you're running low on golf balls.
Dream Round Hole #6
You've probably heard of the 16th hole at SentryWorld, the Flower Hole, where thousands of flowers ring the green. It's golfing heaven, courtesy of Robert Trent Jones, Jr. The 17th will bring you back to earth. It's a big dogleg right with trees on both sides. The tee shot is demanding. Then you see the devilish task awaiting. The approach is downhill through a tunnel of trees to a sliver of a green guarded by a pond. From the fairway, the pond looks so close to the putting surface and the putting surface looks so shallow that -- well, you'll wish you were back at the Flower Hole. SentryWorld opened in 1982 after Jones turned 270 acres of former swampland into one of the state's first destination courses.
Dream Round Hole #7
The seventh at Lawsonia Links isn't long. There isn't any water. No sand. No trees. What's so hard about it? Some people say it's the boxcar. Supposedly a railroad boxcar was buried beneath the green when the course was built in the late 1920s and opened in 1930. That boxcar -- or whatever it is under the green -- forms a nearly vertical front wall on the green. From below, it looks like the Green Monster in left field at Boston's Fenway Park. A chip from the base of the seventh green is like trying to hit up an elevator shaft and hold the shot on the second floor. Lawsonia's sometimes severe greens are part of the charm of the classic links course, which remains a must-play in Wisconsin.
Dream Round Hole #8
Lake Como at Geneva National, pretty as it is, doesn't look anything like the Pacific Ocean. However, the penultimate hole on Arnold Palmer's course plays a lot like the ultimate hole (the par-5, 18th) at Pebble Beach in California. The 17th at the Palmer Course hugs the right shoreline all the way to the green. Sound familiar? A grove of trees must be negotiated on the corner of this dogleg left. The green is surrounded by sand and -- from the fairway -- looks unnervingly close to the lake. For good measure, the green slopes toward the lake. It's a great-three shot test, one of many on the three-course Geneva National complex designed by Palmer, Lee Trevino and Gary Player.
Dream Round Hole #9
This 36-hole golf destination in sandy central Wisconsin features the Pines and the Lakes courses. The 18th hole on the Lakes course has plenty of trouble. Any guess what kind of trouble that might be? There's a pond to the right off the tee. Another pond on the left guards the last 130 yards to the green, which is 114 feet deep and has two tiers. This slight dogleg right -- often into the wind -- is the longest of any Lake Arrowhead par 4.
Dream Round Hole #10
When Troy Burne opened in 1999, co-designer Tom Lehman, the 1996 British Open champion, played a match against fellow PGA Tour pro Steve Stricker of Wisconsin. When they came to the 14th, Lehman pulled his second shot just left of the green into the water-filled burne, where it disappeared under a small waterfall. His hopes of beating Stricker were washed away. Lehman, however, is the real winner with a memorable hole -- the 14th is one of his favorites -- and a championship links-style course.
Dream Round Hole #11
The shortest hole on the Dairyland Dream 18 may be the trickiest. Co-designer Arnold Palmer took a triple-bogey 7 here on his way to a 74 in 1995 during the course's grand opening. What's so hard about a par-4 that some long hitters can reach in one? First, forget about going for the green, unless you can hit a high, 318-yard cut shot. The problem is a creek that cuts in front of the green, guarding it as tight as a garter belt. Even after a perfect layup over the right bunkers to a wide landing area, it's a knee-knocking 60-yard pitch over the stream. The Bog, built next to the 1,700-acre Cedarburg Bog, is often rated one of Wisconsin's 10 best courses, and the 12th hole is one of the state's best short par-4s. Just ask The King.
Dream Round #12
When you step to the tee here, something seems to be missing. That would be the fairway. The tee is perched on one hillside and the green is nestled on another. In-between -- and sitting well below the tee and green -- is Erik's Pocket, a forest lake. For some reason, the hazard is described as a bottomless bog lake, possibly to deter ball hunters or to raise the golf fear factor. Our advice is to take an extra club and use the hill behind the green as a backstop. It's such an all-or-nothing hole that a local rule allows golfers who have plunked one in the pond to proceed to a drop area on the other side of the lake -- a stroke but not distance penalty. The lake is a thing of beauty, however, as it reflects a mirror image of the hole from tee or green. The power carts on this course, carved out of the Chequamegon National Forest, have GPS, a good thing when you're spending several hours in Wisconsin's Northwoods.
Dream Round Hole #13
The numbers all say 4 on this hole, but you'll need some luck to write that number down on this Robert Tent Jones Jr. design. The tee shot is uphill and over a ridge on the windswept front nine to a tiny landing area that tilts right, toward Morse pond. A row of trees guards the left rough. The approach shot is severely uphill and often blind. Again, don't go right, where sand traps and trees wait to gobble up errant iron shots. The green has two tiers, but it's plenty deep to hold a long second shot. The course, home to the University of Wisconsin golf teams and the state high school championships, was built in 1991 and still is considered one of the state's best.
Dream Round Hole #14
You'll need all the heavy artillery you have on what is believed to be the state's longest hole, part of a Greg Martin-design that opened in 1999. The hole is named "Sherman's March," after Sherman Creek that runs nearby. This hole can lay waste to your round like Sherman and his Union troops when they rampaged through the South. It's possible to cut the corner on the sharp dogleg left and save some yards, but a pond, bunkers and prairie grasses at the bend deter the weak. Don't go right off the tee either: there's more prairie. The last 350 yards of fairway are pinched between trees, tall grass and a fairway bunker. The green is small, fast and easy to three-putt. You may be ready to wave a white golf towel before this hole is finished.
Dream Round Hole #15
The pros have to play this hole first in the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee. A long drive is needed to reach the corner of the fairway, pinched by a pond on the left and trees. The approach again is into a grove of mature trees that define this Milwaukee County Parks course, which opened in 1929. The green is surrounded by sand. If you want to match Tiger Woods while playing Brown Deer, you'll need to ace the 14th hole from 202 yards with a 6-iron. That's what Woods did in 1996 when he chose the GMO to make his pro debut.
Dream Round Hole #16
Architect Arthur Hills of Toledo, Ohio, has a knack for making golf courses blend in with their surroundings. His holes don't appear intimidating. But you'll remember this as one of the hardest par 5s anywhere. Water is down the left side of the fairway. Then you'll need a precise lay-up second shot to the narrowest part of the fairway near the water hazard. The third shot must carry a creek to reach the green, which essentially is surrounded by water. Washington County spent $7 million in 1997 constructing the lovely inland-links municipal course. The National Shrine of Mary at Holy Hill is visible from the clubhouse. You may want to say a little prayer before teeing off.
Dream Round Hole #17
If you were protecting a small lead in the PGA with two holes to play, could you handle this shot? That's probably what Pete Dye was thinking. It's a long iron at least (depending on the wind off the lake) and fraught with danger -- a potential round-wrecker. Miss the green left and your ball will drop 20 feet or more off a cliff toward a series of bunkers and Lake Michigan. Good luck blasting back up onto the narrow putting surface from there. Look for the pros to play it safe on the right side of the green, but a tall grassy mound there could mean trouble as well. All of the par-3s at the Straits are potential bogey holes or worse.
Dream Round Hole #18
The Bull opened in 2003, but already the fifth hole is being called one of the state's best. So it's a fitting way to end the Dairyland Dream 18. The Bull was designed by none other than Jack Nicklaus. He may have outsmarted himself: Nicklaus lost two balls off the tee the first time he played the hole. The challenge is two-fold: First, carry a drive up and over part of a waste area and land it between a 40-foot deep ravine (left) and a forest (right). Second, sail a long approach over the corner of the ravine. A draw works nicely on the second shot of this dogleg left, allowing you to shape your shot around the corner and over a fairway bunker. Approach shots funnel down to the concave green complex. Par here -- or for that matter on any of the Dairyland Dream 18 holes -- will feel like a birdie.