Editor’s note: The PGA Championship is Aug. 10-16 at Whistling Straits, a course near Kohler that is a pricey ticket for the average golfer. Guest columnist and longtime journalist Joe Hart of Madison shares challenging and affordable alternatives.
By JOE HART
Trust me, golf can be an addictive and maddening endeavor. And an expensive one if you want to play the most famous courses in Wisconsin, such as Whistling Straits, Erin Hills and Blackwolf Run, major championship sites all.
About 600 courses dot the Badger State, and a great majority are open to the public. There are gems galore, and the business is very competitive, so plenty of good deals can be found.
Since 1972 I’ve played an estimated 1,200 times over nearly 90 Wisconsin courses, and scores more around the country. That’s a lot of lost golf balls … and countless hours spent with great friends. One of the more memorable courses was the dastardly difficult Rainbow Springs near Mukwonago. It would have made the following list had it not gone belly up a few years ago.
These are 10 of my favorites, and none of them will ruin your credit card balance. Prices quoted are the adult greens fee for walking 18 holes in peak season. Online, youth, senior, early bird and twilight rates are often available.
Janesville Riverside: Open since 1924, Riverside sits above the Rock River on the northwest side of the city. It’s 6,508 yards from the back tees, and tree-lined fairways, challenging bunkers and quick, undulating greens demand a precise game. $24.64 weekdays, $29.38 weekends. 608-757-3080; golfjanesville.com
Wild Ridge/Mill Run: On the northwest edge of Eau Claire, just off I-94, Wild Ridge offers a challenging mix of woodland and links-style holes. Its companion course, the older Mill Run, is a shorter, less demanding layout. $44 for Wild Ridge, $25 for Mill Run. 715-834-1766 (Wild Ridge), 715-858-7960 (Mill Run); wildridgegolf.com
Washington County: Just off Highway 83, two miles north of Hartford, this windswept, rolling layout in the Kettle Moraine has few trees, but many holes are beautifully framed by tall fescue grass. Precise approach shots and a deft putting touch are required. It’s a challenge even from the white tees at 6,200 yards. $48 weekdays, $59 weekends. 262-670-6616; golfwcgc.com
Door Creek: A favorite of Madison-area golfers, Door Creek is just west of Cottage Grove on Vilas Road. Fairways offer plenty of room, but several par-4 holes are very challenging, particularly No. 7, a 400-yard dogleg that plays into the prevailing wind with a narrow green guarded by water. $28 weekdays, $30 weekends for the championship course, $11 for par-30 executive course. 608-839-5656; doorcreekgolfcourse.com
Bass Lake: Carved out of pine and oak trees, Bass Lake Country Club is about 15 miles north of Antigo off Highways 45-47. Accuracy is a must on this Northwoods course, which dates to 1926. Renovated in 2001, Bass Lake is only 6,300 from the back tees, but water comes into play on seven holes. $32 Monday to Wednesday; $41 Thursday to Sunday. 715-623-6196; basslakecc.com
Brown County: Just a few miles west of Green Bay, Brown County has been rated one of the state’s top public courses for years. Plenty of tree-lined dogleg holes over rolling terrain and a meandering creek make “The Brown” a very challenging layout. A great fall weekend would be a Saturday round at Brown County and a Packers game on Sunday. $31 weekdays, $35 weekends. 920-497-1731; browncountygc.com
Peninsula State Park: This is one of Wisconsin’s golf treasures. The Door County course, which dates to 1921 and plays to 6,300 yards from the back tees, offers great views of the waters of Green Bay at Ephraim. A memorial pole and grave marker along the ninth hole honor Kahquados, the last hereditary chief of the Potawatomi Nation, who died in 1930. A six-hole learning course was opened in 2014 just across Highway 42. $39 for the main course. 920-854-5791; peninsulagolf.org
Brighton Dale Links: This 45-hole complex is in northwestern Kenosha County, adjacent to the Bong State Recreation Area off Highway 75. The courses offer plenty of long holes and many water hazards. The Blue Spruce 18 is a bit shorter (6,382 white tees) than the White Birch Course (6,668). The nine-hole Red Pine is 3,352 yards from the whites. Higher-handicap players should consider the shorter gold tees on all three layouts. $26 weekdays, $33 weekends. 262-697-4653; golfbrightondale.com
Naga-Waukee: This hilly Waukesha County layout just north of I-94 is very challenging. It’s 6,500 yards from the middle tees and features three double-dogleg par-5s. Great views of Pewaukee Lake. $38.50 weekdays, $41.50 weekends. 262-367-2153; golfwaukeshacounty.com
Lawsonia Links: I’ve saved the best for last. Every Wisconsin golfer should experience this masterpiece just west of Green Lake. It opened in 1930 and plays to nearly 6,500 yards from the middle tees. Most greens are elevated, some extremely so. Beautiful fescue grass lines the fairways, and deep bunkers abound. It’s $59 Monday through Thursday, $90 weekends (walking or riding), but go ahead and splurge. It’s an unforgettable experience. The adjacent Woodlands course, where carts are required, is a beautiful contrast to the Links. 920-294-3320; lawsonia.com
For more about tickets to the 2015 PGA Championship, which are $30 to $95 per day: 800-742-4653; pga.com/pgachampionship.