Herb Kohler got into the golf business to create a first-rate destination in the upper Midwest. Now, with 72 impressive holes in his Wisconsin portfolio, the Kohler is preparing to host Whistling Straits’ third PGA Championship since 2004. The good news for the waves of avid amateurs descending upon the Badger State this summer is that the golf options in and around Kohler are better than ever.
From August 10-16, thousands from all over the world will fly into Milwaukee, jump into a National rental car, and make the one-hour drive north to watch the best players in the world test their skills on a Pete Dye masterpiece.
As I’ve discovered over two decades of covering major championships, watching golf inspires us to play the game. And leading into a week in which most fans don’t have tickets to every day of competition, I often get asked: “Where should I play if I’m in town and want to tee it up for an afternoon?”
So here are four choices, all within 90 minutes of Whistling Straits.
Erin Hills in Hartford, Wisc., opened in 2006, hosted the 2011 U.S. Amateur and will host the 2017 U.S. Open. The caché of an upcoming major makes this a popular pick the week of the PGA. The Hurdzan/Fry/Whitten design has evolved into a stiff test and a demanding walk (no carts) as you work your way around a former dairy farm. You can expect a remote and tranquil setting, perfect conditioning, polished caddies and snappy service, but if you don’t call soon, you can also expect a packed tee sheet. The green fee is $245 all week and Erin Hills is an 80-minute drive from Straits.
The Bog is a 1995 Arnold Palmer design that winds through 300 acres of wetlands and wildlife habitat. Although your focus will be on birdies and eagles, you can’t help but be distracted by your surroundings and the value available at this Saukville facility. The Bog’s new owner, Michael Hammes, recently told the Milwaukee Business Journal that there are no major plans to change the course. “We believe it’s one of the finest golf courses in the area and we intend to keep it operating it that way.” At 40 minutes from Whistling Straits, and not far from the freeway, the Bog splits the difference between Kohler and Milwaukee. The green fee is $109 on Monday, Tuesday and Sunday of the PGA. Wednesday through Saturday, it’s $129.
The Bull at Pinehurst Farms, which opened in 2003, is the only Jack Nicklaus Signature Course in Wisconsin and it’s yet another former dairy farm that lends itself to a peaceful walk among trees, creeks and lakes. The resident pro reports perfect conditions as they prepare for a busy week of golf. Only 15 minutes from Kohler, this will be a popular option. The Bull has a 30-day cancellation policy, so if you make a tee time, you’ll want to stick to it. Fees are $75 before 7am, $150 before 2pm, $95 before 4pm and $65 after 4pm.
The Links at Lawsonia, built by William Langford and Theodore Moreau in 1930, is a Midwestern and American classic. With its raised putting surfaces and flat green-side bunkers, one can see why Langford and Moreau, who built almost 200 courses, have been compared to prominent architectural teams such as C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor. The Woodlands course, built by Rocky Roquemore, was added in 1983, and offers a stark contrast in look, distance and strategy to the Links. The Woodlands is shorter and tighter but more forgiving around the greens. Almost 90 minutes from Straits, Lawsonia is a longer drive than the rest, but that also means there could be more availability and flexibility in the tee sheets. Green fees at both courses are $79 on Monday thru Thursday of PGA week, then $90 Friday through Sunday. One local told me the Friday fish fry is almost as good as the golf.