Monday, February 23, 2015

Golf Course Review: Dismal River, Tom Doak "Red" Course

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Golf Course Review: Ozaukee Country Club

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Golf Course Review: The Harvester

This past summer, Brian Weis (owner/operator of GolfTrips, GolfWisconsin and 40-plus other golf-related websites) and I had the magnificent opportunity to attend a market trip to The Prairie Club in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.

We had an 11-1/2-hour drive ahead of us to Valentine, and 36 holes of golf per day started the next morning. Being the golf enthusiasts that we are, we drove the extra hour out of the way to Rhodes, Iowa, home of the number one golf course in the state of Iowa and Golf Digest's number 42 rated public course in the country.

The extra hour and ten minutes of driving was well worth it, and we were treated to some extremely special golf on a course that deserves every accolade sent its way since opening in 2001.

Course architect Keith Foster's masterpiece at The Harvester beautifully blends unique and challenging hole layouts with the rolling Iowa countryside and inland lakes that abound on this fantastic piece of land.

The course is beautifully maintained with its squared off tee boxes and large, undulating greens. The huge changes in elevation offer gorgeous vistas of the property, and advanced golf course architecture designs put a premium on shot-making and strategy.

Throughout the course, the back tees make for a long and intense golfing experience: 7,365 yards of championship distance that includes par fives of 650, 575, 565 and 560 yards, par fours of 530, 470 and 465 yards, and par threes of 230, 200, 180 and 180 yards.

The big difference between the championship and blue tees is first noticed on the first hole, where the tips make for a tough starting experience from 425 yards, while the blues are a significantly less intimidating start from 390.

Back tees on Hole 1: Par 4 (425/390/375/335)

This 390-yard start treated me well, with a tap-in birdie to start our round (excluding my breakfast ball, in full disclosure, after I decided I'd rather not climb the ladder to go out-of-bounds and look for my original tee shot)

Hole 1: Par 4 (425/390/375/335)

The ladder to go out-of-bounds on hole 1

Hole 1: Par 4 (425/390/375/335)

Two is a very interesting par four. Short by all standards, and especially on a course that reaches nearly 7,400 yards, the play here is to safety. A long iron or hybrid, for example, should leave a great approach to the green.

As the crow flies, the green is certainly reachable from the tee, but has to fly a long way uphill and over the fescue out-of-bounds to the right.

Hole 2: Par 4 (360/345/330/265)

Hole 2: Par 4 (360/345/330/265)

The third hole at the Harvester is an absolutely beautiful par three. Measuring 180 yards from the tips, and playing significantly downhill, the distance measuring on three was made even trickier by the gales of wind that played in and to our right. This was one of the windiest days I have ever played golf on, and both Brian and I were pretty excited just to stay dry on this hole.

Hole 3: Par 3 (180/165/145/100)

The first par five on the course, the fourth is a tricky hole especially when considering all the changes in elevation from the fairway. Nicknamed "Cattle Run," a large swale is found in the fairway around the driving target area, and requires a mostly blind second shot to set up the approach.

Hole 4: Par 5 (575/545/490/465)

Hole 4: Par 5 (575/545/490/465)

The fifth is the easiest hole on the course, being a mid-length par four with a slight dogleg left and a wide and inviting fairway. Distance is key on the approach, as three deep bunkers protect the right side of the green.

Hole 5: Par 4 (370/335/300/230)

A number of nostalgic extras are found around the course, including this halfway/restroom house between the fifth and sixth holes:

A long, wild downhill par five, the tee shot on six is strikingly beautiful from one of the course's highest vantage points. The fairway runs downhill from the right to left, and is bordered on the right side by a multitude of sand traps.

The toughest shot on six is the second, which is required to set up a manageable approach over water to a secluded, heavily-breaking green. Stay short of the bunkers that line the end of the fairway for any chance at birdie or par.

Hole 6: Par 5 (560/535/515/430)

Hole 6: Par 5 (560/535/515/430)

Running hard uphill while winding to the right, the seventh features a fairly open tee shot, but a very challenging approach. Bunkers both left and right, and a sharp false front, make this hilltop green a treat to hit in two.

Hole 7: Par 4 (405/370/350/325)

Hole 7: Par 4 (405/370/350/325)

Rest bench between 7 and 8

The Harvester has one of the best sets of par threes I have seen anywhere, led by the third but nearly equaled by each of the others.

One of the most challenging of these par threes, especially with considerable wind gusts, is the eighth.

The infinity green on eight abuts the largest of The Harvester's inland lakes, and has a massive ridge on the middle-right section that was next to impossible to judge accurately.

Hole 8: Par 3 (200/180/165/100)

As far as tough finishing par four holes goes, the ninth at The Harvester is one of the best. With the lake running the length of the driving area on the left, the tendency would be to cheat right to stay dry. The rough to the right is deep - trust me on that one - but is preferred versus the alternatives of three-from-the-tee or outdriving the usable fairway area straight.

Hole 9: Par 4 (465/430/410/365)

Weis hit the drive of the day on this hole, and was sure he'd have under 100 in from the center of the fairway, only to find out about this little devil of a stream running across the approach area:

Hole 9: Par 4 (465/430/410/365)

The second longest of the par fours on the course, my favorite aspect of the tenth hole at The Harvester is it's punch bowl green.

Hole 10: Par 4 (470/450/435/305)

With a back pin location, the worst idea here is to play the approach short. The high walls on the back side of this green can be utilized to funnel approaches closer than running the ball up the steep back-to-front green slope.

Hole 10: Par 4 (470/450/435/305)

Hole 10: Par 4 (470/450/435/305)

Mentioned on the course's website as being Foster's favorite hole on the course, the eleventh is nicknamed "The Sickle," and features a subtle right-to-left dogleg in the fairway. Sand traps are set in to the ends of each shot's target distance, making it important to not out-drive targets.

The eleventh is a beautiful hole that reminds me a lot of several layouts at Sweetgrass in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Hole 11: Par 4 (385/360/340/240)

Hole 11: Par 4 (385/360/340/240)

If eleven reminds me of Sweetgrass, twelve reminds me of another of my favorite golf courses: Wild Rock in the Wisconsin Dells.

The 410 and 390 yards from the back and first in tees, respectively, on the scorecard are a bit deceptive as the fairway runs uphill and to the right. Aiming just right of the oak trees on the left side of the fairway, the approach has to carry a chasm short-right of the green and find a way to stay on the right level.

Hole 12: 410/390/380/260)

The green on twelve is the most undulating one on the entire course at The Harvester, which says a lot. Split in half by a left-to-right sharp ridge, it works heavily from back-to-front.

Hole 12: 410/390/380/260)

With the wind at our back, the thirteenth was a go-for-it type of hole... From 355 yards. We were greeted by a foursome of guys from Connecticut, who were on-site for a stay-and-play at The Harvester and were telling us how excited they were to be there and play it three days in a row. The Harvester is definitely the kind of course that can be played over and over - if only we didn't have seven and a half hours of driving ahead of us, we would have happily replayed, too.

I hit probably my best drive of the day on thirteen, which had the Connecticut guys going "Who the hell are you people?" As though it happens all the time, I told them "Sometimes it goes where you want it to go." Twenty or thirty yards out from the green, it was an easy two-putt par.

Hole 13: Par 4 (405/355/335/275)

The outstanding par threes at The Harvester continue on the fourteenth, which has several sets of tee box angles depending on the day. Set up on the left side the day we visited (the other black/blue/white sets of tee boxes are about 100-150 yards right), the tee shot was in to a sharp right-to-left wind and made this 205-yard par three a real brute as we were both concerned about hooking toward the water.

Hole 14: Par 3 (230/205/195/135)

Hole 14: Par 3 (230/205/195/135)

Hole 14: Par 3 (230/205/195/135)

The longest hole on the course, the fifteenth tees up from 650 yards from the championship tees... And is uphill the entire way!

A wide, forgiving fairway is the only thing that makes "Big Hog" even remotely possible to dream of par on. However, the strong wind in our face made that a pipe dream, for sure. Either way, this is a gorgeous, tough golf hole and was a tremendous challenge for both of our games.

Hole 15: Par 5 (650/600/550/480)

Hole 15: Par 5 (650/600/550/480)

Hole 15: Par 5 (650/600/550/480)

The beautiful look-back downhill from the green on fifteen:

Hole 15: Par 5 (650/600/550/480)

A 480-yard par four from high atop the same hill shared by the fifteenth green, the sixteenth played with the wind and was almost a reprieve for us after its 600-yard behemoth of a predecessor!

Playing back toward the lake, the sixteenth is heavily downhill and sloped along with its soft dogleg left. Framed by the lake on the horizon, this a gorgeous par four.

Hole 16: Par 4 (530/480/435/350)

Hole 16: Par 4 (530/480/435/350)

Hole 16: Par 4 (530/480/435/350)

The last of the par threes at The Harvester, the seventeenth is an all-flight one-shotter that requires perfect distance and command of ball flight. The lake surrounds three sides of the putting surface, and long is not much better as finding sand will require a downhill shot back toward the water.

Hole 17: Par 3 (180/165/155/110)

Hole 17: Par 3 (180/165/155/110)

I think we both found water on our first tee shots... Brian's re-tee on 17: 

Hole 17: Par 3 (180/165/155/110)

Hole 17: Par 3 (180/165/155/110)

With a fierce wind at our back, Weis and I couldn't help but contribute a half-dozen or so balls in to the lake on eighteen. We figured the distance was a bit over 300 as the crow flies, but with the huge wind it seemed semi-possible. It turned out not to be, but we did play the rest of the hole pretty well, especially Brian who finished the round with a three-putt par.

Running alongside The Harvester's largest inland lake, opposite of the tight fairway on nine, the fairway on eighteen is even tighter. A stream flows through two sections of the semi-circular playing surface, and leads to the course's final green that resides on a beautiful peninsula overlooked by the course's stately clubhouse.

Hole 18: Par 5 (565/540/525/410)

Hole 18: Par 5 (565/540/525/410)

Hole 18: Par 5 (565/540/525/410)

25 miles northeast of Des Moines, the secluded Harvester location is not exactly the easiest place to get to, but is beyond a doubt worth the travel.

I am actually in the process of trying to find friends to make the trip back to The Prairie Club in Nebraska again this summer, and the golfing experience at The Harvester is one that I would love to try to replicate with a larger group on our way back down.

With 7,365 yards of championship golf, and a slope/rating of 140/76.0, it is no wonder The Harvester is the toughest and highest rated course in the state of Iowa, and consistently ranked as one of the top 100 in the United States.

The use of elevation here is tremendous, and the way Foster set up many of the holes to work on such interesting angles is unparalleled from what I have played. If anything can compare to this aspect that I have seen, it is probably the way Langford and Moreau set up similar lines and angles on courses like Lawsonia and Ozaukee Country Club. The biggest difference, of course, is that Foster's work brings those angles and need for strategic approach to a new-era look and feel, and one that I am sure will endure for generations.

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Rhodes, IA
Yardage: Black-7365, Blue-6840, White-6430, Red-5180
Slope/Rating: Black-140/76.0, Blue-132/73.1, White-128/70.8, Red-120/68.9
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: $129

Monday, February 2, 2015

My First Piece of Artwork: "The Lone Fir" at Chambers Bay

I have been renovating my home office lately, and last week had the thought that I would love to try my hand at drawing or painting - who knows, maybe I can eventually learn how to draw something that I can hang in my own home?

I have never considered myself to be in any way artistically talented, but found my way over to Michael's in Germantown, and bought all kinds of things for beginners' drawing and painting. Who knows what I'll like? Or if  I'll like it? 

The results: I love it! Especially watercolor. I never knew what watercolor was, so I watched a couple YouTube videos for beginners and gave it a shot this weekend.

I finished my first piece yesterday, of the famous 15th hole at Chambers Bay: "The Lone Fir." 

After the Eisenhower Tree at Augusta was lost two years ago, this fir - the only tree on the course at this season's US Open site - was named the most iconic tree in all of golf. 

I present to you my rendition of "The Lone Fir":

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Wisconsin's Top Ten Private Golf / Country Clubs

As far as I have seen, nobody in the state of Wisconsin has published a top ten list of private golf clubs. I will attempt to be the first.

I should state first and foremost that I have not played them all. In fact, to this point I have only played 13. I am certainly hoping to add to that number quickly, though, and this list is intended to be dynamic as my quest to find the very best private golf clubs in Wisconsin plays out.

I expect this "Top ten list" to be controversial, and it is meant to be. I also expect it to be a fun endeavor, and I hope you enjoy the ride as each new private club I play has the ability to shake things up entirely. Your help will be needed to point me in the direction of new clubs to check out that have the potential of being included here.

My rankings revolve entirely around the golf experience, which includes the course itself, its layout and conditions and the overall look, feel and playability.

Still on my list of well-renowned Wisconsin private clubs to play include, but are not limited to:
  • Blue Mound Golf and Country Club (Wauwatosa)
  • Green Bay Country Club (Green Bay)
  • Oneida Golf and Country Club (Green Bay)
  • North Shore Golf Club (Menasha)
  • Tripoli Country Club (Milwaukee)
  • Legend at Merrill Hills (Waukesha)
  • Legend at Brandybrook (Wales)
  • Racine Country Club (Racine)
  • West Bend Country Club (West Bend)
  • Oconomowoc Golf Club (Oconomowoc)
  • Maple Bluff Country Club (Madison)
  • Nakoma Golf Club (Madison)
  • Cherokee Country Club (Madison)
  • Blackhawk Country Club (Madison)
  • Big Foot Country Club (Fontana)
  • Janesville Country Club (Janesville)
  • La Crosse Country Club (Onalaska)
  • Stevens Point Country Club (Stevens Point)
  • Hidden Glen Golf Club (Cedarburg)
  • Kenosha Country Club (Kenosha)

My Top Ten Private Golf / Country Clubs in Wisconsin:

1. Milwaukee Country Club (River Hills):

Designers: CH Alison and HS Colt (1929)
Yardage: Black-7094, Middle-6444, Forward-5856
Slope/Rating: Back-136/74.6, Middle-130/71.9, Forward-125/69.5
Par: 72

The number 62-ranked overall golf course in the entire country (Golf Digest's America's 100 Greatest for 2015/2016), the Milwaukee Country Club is the most exclusive private club in the state of Wisconsin.

A Colt and Alison design originally built in 1929, the course has had recent rework performed by Tom Doak to remove some trees to open up views of the river from more interior holes. The back nine is especially a phenomenal test of golf, with many holes going over and along the river. The prestige and mystique of MCC is unrivaled in the state.

Hole 10: Par 5 (484/465/443)

2. Pine Hills Country Club (Sheboygan):

Designers: Harry B. Smead (1928)
Yardage: Blue-6481, White-6151, Silver-5817, Gold-5302, Red-5076
Slope/Rating: Blue-132/72.3, White-128/70.7, Silver-125/69.3, Gold-121/66.9, Red-124/70.4
Par: 71

Pine Hills Country Club is one of the most beautiful, fun golf courses in the entire state. As one of my readers described it: "Pine Hills is like a roller coaster" - I could not agree more. From the severe elevation changes to their heavily contoured greens, a round at Pine Hills is as enjoyable as any of the Sheboygan area courses.

When originally targeted by Kohler to be his golf course for visitors to the American Club, the membership refused to sell, leading the plumbing fixtures magnate to meet with Pete Dye, fall in love with golf and course design, and eventually create his Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run empire as it is today.

Hole 8: Par 4 (422/375/343/273/271)

3. Horseshoe Bay Golf Club (Egg Harbor):

Designers: Rick Robbins (2000)
Yardage: Black-7101, Blue-6601, White-6117, Red-5386
Slope/Rating: Black-139/74.5, Blue-134/72.1, White-130/70.0, Red-124/71.5
Par: 72

Featuring some of the state's best par five holes, especially thirteen and the awesome eighteenth, Horseshoe Bay is one of the best conditioned courses I have ever played. A new-age links design by Rick Robbin and Brian Lussier,  Horseshoe Bay combines the charm of Door County, Wisconsin, with fantastic golf.

Hole 13: Par 5 (584/545/505/445)

4. The Club at Strawberry Creek (Kenosha):

Designers: Rick Jacobson (2006)
Yardage: Black-7113, Gold-6658, Blue-6157, White-5648, Green-5098
Slope/Rating: Black-136/74.8, Gold-131/72.8, Blue-126/70.5, White-122/68.2, Green-121/70.1
Par: 72

The newest country club in the state of Wisconsin, The Club at Strawberry Creek was designed by Rick Jacobsen and initially opened for play in 2006.

Having played host to the 2012 Wisconsin State Amateur event, this links-style course has quickly gained a reputation as one of the state's finest private golf clubs, less than ten miles from the Wisconsin/Illinois border.

Hole 9: Par 4 (468/428/398/367/318)

5. North Hills Country Club (Menomonee Falls):

Designers: John Barr (1928)
Yardage: Black-6715, Blue-6424, White-6208, Gold-5714, Green-5286
Slope/Rating: Black-133/73.2, Blue-130/71.9, White-127/70.7, White-127/70.7, Gold-123/68.5
Par: 71

Ahh, my beloved North Hills. Call it a homer pick, but the course at North Hills Country Club has stood the test of time since its days of hosting the Pabst Blue Ribbon Opens during the 1940's and '50's, and the original Milwaukee Open in 1960 and '61 (won by Ken Venturi and Bruce Crampton, respectively, and was in 1961 the last PGA event played in by Jack Nicklaus before turning professional).

Host of the annual Vince Lombardi Classic event, North Hills is known in the Milwaukee area for having the best, most well-conditioned [small] greens, and a no-gimmicks layout that can be played and enjoyed over and over again.

Hole 4: Par 5 (495/486/482/405)

6. Westmoor Country Club (Brookfield):

Designers: Lloyd Fitzgerald (1926); William Langford and Theodore Moreau (1957); Bob Lohmann (2008)
Yardage: Black-7010, Copper-6555, Silver-6008, Green-5503
Slope/Rating: Black-135/74.6, Copper-131/72.6, Silver-126/69.9, Green-119/67.7
Par: 71

Another mature and well-established country club, Westmoor is the prestigious club across the street on Moorland Road from Brookfield Square, and runs alongside I-94.

Originally opened in 1926 as a 27-hole facility, the club was renovated by William Langford in the 1950's due to the I-94 expansion - a heritage that Westmoor is proud of and has recently performed a more full-scale renovation to expand the Langford-like golf experience to the rest of the course.

Hole 8: Par 5 (491/484/471/454)

7. Ozaukee Country Club (Mequon):

Course Designers: William Langford and Theodore Moreau (1922)
Yardage: Blue-6765, White-6381, Gold-5806
Slope/Rating: Blue-130/72.9, White-125/71.0, Gold-121/68.5
Par: 70

Designed by one of golf's all-time greatest course architecture teams (Langford and Moreau), Ozaukee provides a tremendous challenge of golf. As evidenced by the scores in last year's State Amateur, 6765 yards can still be a beast in a modern golf tournament: Only five total rounds in the tournament were played under par, and the winner (Alex Geigert, playing out of Grand Geneva) was one of two players to finish better than +10. Gaugert was +6 after shooting 68 on the final day.

Hole 11: Par 4 (411/392/290)

8. Tuckaway Country Club (Franklin):

Designers: Ken Killian and Dick Nugent (1967)
Yardage: Blue-6941, White-6584, Silver-6169, Red-5667
Slope/Rating: Blue-134/73.5, White-129/72.0, Silver-125/69.9, Red-128/72.9
Par: 72

Host to the PGA's Greater Milwaukee Open from 1973-1993, Tuckaway is a big golf course that is capable of getting their greens as fast as any in the state, with more break than almost any in Wisconsin, as well. The large, fast greens at Tuckaway put a premium on quality approach shots.

Hole 5: Par 3 (164/142/101)

9. The Legend at Bristlecone (Hartland):

Designers: Scott Miller (1996)
Yardage: Black-7010, Blue-6461, White-5917, Red-5062
Slope/Rating: Black-138/74.4, Blue-130/71.9, White-125/69.6, Red-120/69.4
Par: 71

The Legend at Bristlecone is one of the most modern private courses in the state, and its 7,000-plus yards make it a local favorite for tournament play.

Bristlecone has a very distinct look and feel in comparison to other courses on this list - its modern design elements make it very unique in the private club sector: The fairway-long sand traps on six, for example, or its use of the water features on the redone finishing hole come immediately to mind.

10. Bishop's Bay Country Club (Middleton):

Course Designer: Robert Lohmann (1995)
Yardage: Gold-7160, Blue-6740, Green-6382, White-6163, Red-5397
Slope/Rating: Gold-130-74.6, Blue-127/72.5, Green-124/71.3, White-122/70.0, Red-118/66.4
Par: 72

With dramatic views of the Lake Mendota and the State Capitol, Bishop's Bay is a huge golf course with enough land to build two or three. The holes are well spaced out across the vast property, and features great variety in the layout.

Hole 14: Par 4 (472/453/422/356)