The major golf road trip of 2017 was tabbed “The Wonders of Wisconsin” many months before we actually experienced the beauty and charms of the Badger State. We kicked off our four day tour with a blazingly hot afternoon round at Blue Mound Golf and Country Club. Despite the encroachment of the Wauwatosa sprawl and the looming Mayfair Mall on number one, it is quickly realized that Blue Mound’s Seth Raynor design is a well preserved gem from the golden age. Notwithstanding the heat, turf conditions were nearly perfect and the midwestern welcome of our hosts, staff and caddies matched the warmth of the day.
Blue Mound captivates the golfer with interesting variations on classic models of Double Plateau, Biarritz (the murderous 3rd), Punchbowl, Short, Redan and Alps. Although largely in the flatlands of suburban Milwaukee, there is plenty of interest conjured up by imaginative contours. The course screams subtle, yet a thirty foot breaking putt retorts otherwise. The highlights were many, but the Short seventh, Punchbowl eight, Long ninth and quasi-Eden eighteenth are standouts. Blue Mound is a wonderful course and club well worthy of its status as one of Raynor’s great designs.
A mere stone’s throw from Blue Mound is Erin Hills, which is an entirely different golf experience. The forty miles to Erin Hills covers largely unremarkable terrain, but the course land forms are quite amazing. The geological and natural history of Wisconsin is chiefly dictated by the Laurentide Ice Sheet that formed about 100,000 years ago. The Ice Sheet’s retreat took about 7,000 years and the foremost modern day beneficiary of the resultant landscape is Erin Hills. The Green Bay Lobe of the glacial formation carved a wild ride at Erin and Hurdzan and Fry routed a great track among the ice age remnants. The best holes are the short shots, whether it be the par 4 second, par 3 ninth, par 4 eleventh and fifteenth or par three 16th. These are all holes of great interest from a visual and strategic shot-making perspective. Of the five mentioned holes, 2 and 15 are the cream of the crop. The variety of ways to approach these holes was demonstrated in the US Open where stroke averages wildly fluctuated due to conditions and hole locations. In other words, a drive and a pitch doesn’t always equate to easy.
With the morning round complete, we set off further into the Wisconsin countryside to visit the venerable Lawsonia Links. The Links is another classic design by Langford and Moreau loaded with all sorts of cool features and intriguing routing. The front nine meanders through, over and around rolling hills and has a variety of looks, blind shots, a magnificent short seventh par three followed by an equally standout short par 4 eighth. A very memorable and enjoyable outward nine. Making the turn, the entire inward half is unveiled over a tilting and turning canvas. We cringed at the site of groups everywhere on the back, but the play moved right along to a total round time of under 4 hours. The back nine is full of fun and has plenty of teeth. The stretch from the par five thirteenth to the barn requires all the game one can muster. The ever present and pleasant beverage cart gals took the sting out of the occasional bad play. Lawsonia Links is the real McCoy and is a prominent part of the Wisconsin wonders.
Our trek across Wisconsin continued with the aid of a few road sodas and GPS pointing our bucket of bolts to Sand Valley Golf Resort. To describe Sand Valley as remote would be a distinct understatement, but it is the remoteness that adds to the allure. We bunked in the Lake Leopold Cottage, had a lovely dinner in the Mammoth Bar and Lounge, then snoozed to the rumble of thunder and crack of lightning as a major storm blew through the outpost.
The first tee time awaited us on the Sand Valley track and we cruised around in three and a half with nary another player in sight. The Sand Valley course is terrific and the terrain could be easily mistaken for the Nebraska sand hills or the Dakotas Bad lands. Coore and Crenshaw again kill it with this design. I dare say that each hole is an experience unto itself and no clunkers exist across the 18. The conditions were superb, the driving lanes wide, the greens fairly wild and the look captivating. The resort touts Sand Valley as “Heathland In The Heartland”, which is fitting yet only skims the surface of this beautiful course.
We closed our trip with a preview of the Mammoth Dunes course. The Dunes is different, but certainly compliments The Valley. The combination of The Valley and The Dunes will no doubt be world class. If we return to Sand Valley, we will no doubt work in Bulls Eye G.C., a virtually unknown Larry Packard design tucked in a crook of the Wisconsin River in Wisconsin Rapids.