An introduction to Wisconsin

The state of Wisconsin is a nature lovers paradise and is a hugely popular place to visit. And there are some epic golf courses in Wisconsin, which we’ll explore.

It is located in northern America and borders four other states. These are Michigan to the east and north, Minnesota and Iowa to the west, and Illinois in the south. 

The whole of the eastern side of the state is a coastline on the vast Lake Michigan. It is also here that the largest city in the state resides, and that is Milwaukee. Madison, inland, and Green Bay are the other two major residential hubs. 

Wisconsin Landscape

The state is steeped in Native American culture and this continues to influence much of what you can see today. There are some huge state parks with Devil’s Lake both the largest and most visited. 

With so much green space and wild outdoors, it stands to reason there are some pretty top class golf courses. Let’s dive into the best golf courses in Wisconsin.

The best golf courses in Wisconsin

Sentryworld Golf

SentryWorld, Wisconsin - Photo credit Katherine Berdan Wolden (Sentry Insurance)
Photo credit Katherine Berdan Wolden (Sentry Insurance)

In the town of Stevens Point to the west of Green Bay, is the wonderful SentryWorld golf course. This is without doubt one of the finest parkland golf courses in the Midwest. 

The inspiration behind the construction of the course was John Joanis, the former CEO of Sentry Insurance. Wanting to build a premier golf course on the site of his head office, he called upon Robert Trent Jones Jr. 

What followed was the creation of the outstanding layout which even in the early 80s was considered top class. This is a course which does the simple things well.

Half the holes are stereotypical tree-lined, with glorious carpet-like fairways featuring bunkers with blindingly white sand. The other half of the holes are set around a large lake cut in two by a short footbridge connecting one of the holes.

Regardless of which holes you’re playing, you’re going to have fun. There are numerous carries over water, creeks cutting through fairways and large undulating fairways. 

Between 2013 and 2015 the course underwent a major renovation which firmly cemented its place atop the best golf courses in Wisconsin. Best of all it is open to the public.

Blackwolf Run (River & Meadow Valleys)

About an hour’s drive up the coast from Milwaukee towards Sheboygan, is the quaint village of Kohler. Sheboygan is on Lake Michigan’s coastline with Kohler being just 10 minutes inland.

Kohler is a fascinating place as is the company which takes its name from the place, Kohler Co. It is a company which excels in product design and innovation and even from its early roots, took a benevolent stance in the way it looked after its employees. 

It also built a vast dormitory for European immigrants called the American Club, which as of 1981 is now a thriving 5 Star 5 Diamond resort hotel. The company also manages two world class golf establishments, Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits (which we’ll come on to later). 

Blackwolf Run - River Course, 15th Hole, The Sand Pit - Photo credit Kohler Co
Photo credit Kohler Co.

There are two championship golf courses at Blackwolf Run, the River course and the Meadow Valleys course. Both were designed by Pete Dye with the River course the signature layout. 

The site is lush and verdant with the Sheboygan River a major feature as it whimsically loops in and out. And Dye has taken full advantage of making the river a prominent hazard on many of the holes. 

The River and Meadow Valleys Courses

Both courses were built in 1988 and when tournaments are hosted here, they normally play a composite of the two. This is what happened in 1998 when the LPGA U.S. Open was held here. 

Blackwolf Run - Meadows Valley - Photo credit Kohler Co.
Photo credit Kohler Co.

Aside from the river, there are many holes which climb up into the hills and feature impressive elevation changes, both from the tee and attacking greens. Beware the lurking bunkers which are sometimes hidden from view.

With The American Club, and also the Inn on WoodLake, there are a couple of great accommodation options to choose from. For those looking to splash out a bit more, the Kohler Cabin Collection is well worth considering. 

As such there are some great packages on offer to play both courses, as well as those at Whistling Straits, just a 15 minute drive away. 

Whistling Straits (Straits & Irish)

It makes sense having just spoken about Blackwolf Run, we look at the other golf club managed and owned by Destination Kohler, Whistling Straits.

It has the same backstory as the courses at Blackwolf Run except for one fundamental difference. The plot of land at Whistling Straits, which hugs Lake Michigan’s coastline, was flat as a pancake. 

Yet Herb Kohler, the inspiration and driving force behind the creation of Whistling Straits (and Blackwolf Run) had grand ideas and an even grander budget to bankroll it. So he brought in Pete Dye again to oversee the creation of a world-class golf course. One which would appeal to amateur golfers and at the same time challenge the pros.

Whistling Straits - Straits 1 - Photo credit Kohler Co.
Photo credit Kohler Co.

The idea was to build a golf course which would mirror some of the British Isles most infamous layouts. Throughout the project, it’s fair to say, a fair chunk of ground and earth was both imported and shifted. It’s now impossible to fathom this land having ever been anything but mountainous sand dunes. 

The course has many memorable holes and some superlative par 3s, all of which are alongside the water’s edge. Likewise, many of the par 5s are really strong. Yes the course is challenging, but it is not impossible. If the wind is up, it will be a long day. But when the weather is calm, there are a number of holes which allow you to salvage some pride. 

The Straits and the Irish Courses

The Straits course was the host venue to the 43rd Ryder Cup where Team USA claimed an historic 19-9 victory over Team Europe. It has also hosted several major tournaments including being a regular on the PGA Championship roster. 

The Irish course is a more than able deputy. Were it not for the Straits course, the Irish would probably receive higher recognition. Yet such is the curse of having a famous older sibling. 

Whistling Straits - Irish - Phote credit Kohler Co.
Photo credit Kohler Co.

The routing takes the course inland with large expanses of water and sandy waste-areas coming regularly into play. This is good resort golf with a decent variety of holes, although some seemingly a little too man-made.

Alongside the two courses at Blackwolf Run, Whistling Straits is a phenomenal golf destination and a bucket list course that needs ticking off.

Sand Valley (Sand Valley & Mammoth Dunes)

Yet another Wisconsin golf resort with multiple courses onsite, Sand Valley is epic.

This is yet another project by entrepreneur and owner Mike Keiser. This is the same man who inspired the likes of Bandon Dunes in Oregon, Barnbougle in Australia and Cabot in Nova Scotia. 

Mammoth Dunes, Sand Valley, Wisconsin
Mammoth Dunes

Sand Valley is yet another foray into the world of golf, and once again Keiser has achieved something magnificent. There are two outstanding golf courses. The first opened in 2017 and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. The second, Mammoth Dunes, opened a year later in 2018 and was the work of David McLay Kidd.

As the name suggests, both courses are routed into a predominantly sand-based 1,700-acre plot. The terrain is more North Carolina than Wisconsin, and is the perfect backdrop to both courses.

Sand Valley Golf Course

Despite being one of the newest courses in the state, Sand Valley is already one of the highest ranked. Huge sprawling fairways just demand you grab the driver. It really is difficult to lose a ball here. 

Likewise, large undulating greens are perfect to aim for. The game-play here is about how to attack the green and where to position yourself from the tee. It is so refreshing to play a course so incredibly playable, where the aesthetic and the way you approach the course are prioritized.

Sand Valley, Wisconsin
Sand Valley
Mammoth Dunes Golf Course

Mammoth Dunes doesn’t stray much from the same magic formula, but still has a character of its own. McLay Kidd has sometimes been accused of making courses a little too challenging, but here it is role reversal. 

Neither course is a push-over, but this is enjoyable, expansive and quality golf. What is more, both courses are open to the public. Mike Keiser is a man who has arguably done more for public golf than anyone else. 

Like Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes has been heralded as one of the top golf courses in Wisconsin. Don’t be surprised to see these courses continue to edge their way higher. 

Blue Mound Golf & Country Club

Blue Mound Golf & Country Club, Wisconsin, Photo Credit Jerry Rossi
Photo credit Jerry Rossi

Moving down into Milwaukee, around 9 miles west of downtown, is Blue Mound Golf & Country Club. This is a Seth Raynor classic which has been servicing its members for around a century. 

Seth Raynor was not a golfer, yet the range and quality of golf courses he designed are truly superb. Depending upon which rankings you’re looking at, you would count a good 10 of his creations in the best golf courses in America. 

Here at Blue Mound, it doesn’t quite reach the dazzling heights of Chicago, Shinnecock Hills or Yeamans Hall. Nonetheless, it is just as fun and shows consistent characteristics with what made these others great.

Throughout the middle of the round there is a fair bit of elevation change, epitomized in the 8th which is a long uphill climb to then jump down to one of the larger greens on the course at 7,522 sq. feet!

As to be expected with a Raynor course, you will find a Redan, Biarritz, Alps and Punchbowl, which is on the long 8th. There is a superb double-plateaued green on the 2nd and generally throughout, the green complexes are on another level. 

Getting a round here is like a golf education and will test every facet of your game, just as Raynor intended. It’s also worth knowing it hosted the 1933 PGA Championship which was won by Gene Sarazen. 

Milwaukee Country Club

Milwaukee Country Club - Adobe

Yet another Golden Age classic within Milwaukee’s outskirts, the history of Milwaukee Country Club goes way back to the late nineteenth century. 

The present location, perched overlooking the Milwaukee River, was home from 1910 onwards. After a couple of failed attempts to design a great course, Charles Allison was brought onboard in 1928. Allison completely re-routed the layout and what you play today is largely the same track.

In 1969, the great Robert Trent Jones made a number of revisions prior to Milwaukee CC hosting the Walker Cup of the same year. Yet those revisions haven’t stood the test of time. After the turn of the twenty-first century, the club took the decision to commission Don Placek and Brian Schneider to largely restore Allison’s original design.

One thing which has stood the test of time, is how well revered and appreciated the course is at Milwaukee. Anyone who has had the privilege of playing here has been blown away. 

Precision from the tee is crucial, whilst it is largely accepted the best stretch of holes comes in the middle, 8 through to 11. Flowing fairways, doglegs, well-protected undulating greens and  breathtaking views of the Milwaukee River preside. This is a special place.

Erin Hills Golf Course

Erin Hills, Wisconsin

Erin Hills…now this is a course of epic proportions. Epic proportions and an epic story.

The course is located on a 652-acre plot 45 minutes northwest of Milwaukee. This isolated spot was just what the original owner Robert Lang was looking for. Lots of space to craft an expansive course fit to host a major event.

A highly respected design team was pulled together consisting of Dr Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten. Having such a large plot of land was imperative in being able to stretch the course to a whopping 7,800+ yards for tournament play. 

The topography of the site was another reason Lang was so attracted to it. Endemic features and undulations were sculpted by glacial movements thousands of years previously. This was a natural setting like none-other in Wisconsin. 

The vastness of the course is mind-blowing and minimalist design was all that was needed here. On a windy day, this can be a beast of a layout. Fortunately when designing the course they decided to use fescue grass bordering the fairways, meaning stray balls are often found. 

Erin Hills hosted the 2017 US Open and Brooks Koepka ripped the course to shreds matching the lowest winning US Open score. If you do get the chance to tee it up here, don’t think you’ll do the same. The wisest decision you’ll make all day is which tees to play off!

The Golf Courses of Lawsonia (Links)

Lawsonia Links, Wisconsin
Photo credit Patrick Koenig

In the heart of Wisconsin’s dairyland is the wonderful Lawsonia, which consistently gets engulfed in awards from all the major golf publications. It has been recognised as one of the ‘best classic courses’ and one of the ‘best public courses’. It has also been listed quite simply as one of the ‘top 100 golf courses in the US’. So there’s the credentials out of the way.

There are 36 holes of golf onsite, the Links and the Woodlands, with the Links course the one which gets the accolades. 

The construction goes right back to 1930. A 1,000-acre site was found in central Wisconsin overlooking Green Lake. The perfect spot to construct the Links golf course which would take inspiration, and literally be templated, from the finest British Open courses.

William Langford and Theodore Moreau were brought in to oversee the design and build. This is classical golf course architecture at its finest and one of the few courses of that ilk open to the public.

Following a major tree removal program, the Links harks back to its former self. Open fairways with firm and fast playing surfaces. There are deep bunkers, wide fairways and magical putting surfaces. You can’t not have fun playing here. 

Lawsonia used to be one of the best value rounds of golf in the US, and arguably it still is despite recently doubling in price. That said, just over $100 to play on a course of this caliber is still great value.

What is the best golf course in Wisconsin?

The best golf course in Wisconsin is the Straits course at Whistling Straits. The course is located just north of Sheboygan and was designed by Pete Dye. It has held major championships including the 2021 Ryder Cup.

How many golf courses are there in Wisconsin?

In the state of Wisconsin, there are 547 golf courses of which 500 are open to the public. This includes courses like Whistling Straits which has held major championships and a Ryder Cup.

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