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The best courses you can play in Wisconsin

September 15, 2022

Wisconsin is officially the people's golf state. Unlike most other states, where most of the top courses are private, nearly all the Badger State’s gems are open to the public. Much of that is thanks to Herb Kohler, the late business icon who developed two of the country’s finest resort destinations in Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run.

Kohler’s properties have been the site of some significant moments in golf over the past 25 years, beginning with Se Ri Pak’s playoff win in the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run, which ignited a wave of young South Korean women to take up the game. At Whistling Straits, Dustin Johnson infamously grounded his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole in the 2010 PGA Championship to cost himself a chance to win, going down as one of the costliest rules blunders in golf history. The Straits course was also the site of the boisterous 2021 Ryder Cup, where the United States team decimated their European rivals.

Given Kohler’s recent passing at age 83 and with fall golf nearly upon us, it’s a fitting time to highlight Wisconsin’s finest public courses, many of which are best enjoyed when the leaves begin to turn. In this collection of the best courses you can play in Wisconsin, 10 are currently ranked on our 100 Greatest Public list (that's tied for the most of any state along with California), underscoring the depth of this Midwestern state’s golf. 

Scroll on to read more about the best public golf courses in Wisconsin. Whether you’re planning your next trip or looking for a quality local track for your next round, there’s plenty in this collection to help. Click around and explore our new, searchable Places to Play hub, complete with course reviews from our panelists.

Whistling Straits: Straits Course
Public
Whistling Straits: Straits Course
Sheboygan, WI
Pete Dye transformed a dead flat abandoned army air base along a two-mile stretch of Lake Michigan into an imitation Ballybunion at Whistling Straits, peppering his rugged fairways and windswept greens with 1,012 (at last count) bunkers. There are no rakes at Whistling Straits, in keeping with the notion that this is a transplanted Irish links. It has too much rub-of-the-green for the comfort levels of many tour pros, which is what makes it a stern test for top events, such as the 2007 U.S. Senior Open and 2021 Ryder Cup.
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Erin Hills Golf Course
Public
Erin Hills Golf Course
Hartford, WI
Despite the rumor, Erin Hills wasn’t designed specifically to host a U.S. Open. Its original concept was to be a simple, affordable, lay-of-the-land layout, to prove Mother Nature is indeed the best golf architect. The concept changed—some greens moved, one blind par 3 eliminated—as the quest for a U.S. Open grew. The dream has come true. After trial runs hosting the 2008 U.S. Women’s Public Links and the 2011 U.S. Amateur, Erin Hills hosted the U.S. Open in 2017, the first time the event had ever been in Wisconsin. Brooks Koepka won with a 72-hole score of 16-under, leading some to conclude Erin Hills was too wide and defenseless. In truth, what it lacked that week was the usual gusty winds that would have effectively narrowed the slanted, canted fairways.
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Blackwolf Run: River
Public
Blackwolf Run: River
Kohler, WI
Only Pete Dye could have convinced owner Herb Kohler to rip apart an award-winning course (Golf Digest’s Best New Public Course of 1988) and still come out a winner. Dye coupled the front nine of that original 18 (now holes 1-4 and 14-18) with nine newer holes built within a vast bend of the Sheboygan River to produce the River Course. It possesses some of Dye’s most exciting holes, from the triple-option reachable par-4 ninth to the boomerang-shaped par-5 11th to the monster par-4 18th, where Kohler surprised Dye by converting a long waste bunker into a temporary lagoon for tournament events. For major events, like the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open, Dye’s original 18 was used. But for survey purposes, Golf Digest evaluates the River 18, which is available for everyday general play.
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Sand Valley Golf Resort: Sand Valley
Sand Valley is the fifth course that the firm of Coore and Crenshaw has designed for resort maven Mike Keiser, and the first not located close to an ocean. No matter. It’s still on a thousand acres of rolling sand hills in Central Wisconsin, and Coore and Crenshaw were given carte blanche to route their course. (Rumor has it Coore routed a hole outside the property line and Keiser reluctantly bought that additional parcel.) Given the name, many conclude Sand Valley is a combination of Nebraska’s Sand Hills Golf Club and New Jersey’s Pine Valley. But Sand Valley has its own personality, with some dual fairways, gigantic sand spits, enormous greens and even a hidden putting surface. Sand Valley was Golf Digest’s Best New Course of 2017.
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Sand Valley Golf Resort: Mammoth Dunes
David Kidd began building a second 18 at Wisconsin’s Sand Valley Resort just before Coore and Crenshaw had completed their 18, which would be named Golf Digest’s Best New Course of 2017. Kidd was intent on topping their work, so he gave his meandering layout enormous fairways, big accessible greens and visually-unique hillsides of exposed sand, “mammoth dunes” that became the course moniker. “This could be the best course I and my team have yet created,” Kidd wrote in late 2017. “We can’t wait for the critics to decide if they agree.” They were disappointed with results of Golf Digest’s 2018 Best New Course survey, which placed Mammoth Dunes second behind Streamsong (Black). But balloting for Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest continued for an additional month after the close of Best New, and additional evaluations pushed Mammoth Dunes ahead of Streamsong (Black), which is now ranked No. 169.
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Whistling Straits: Irish Course
Public
Whistling Straits: Irish Course
Sheboygan, WI
The Irish Course has the same manufactured dunescape found on its more famous sister Straits Course, but has three major differences. The fairways are bent grass, not fescue. Carts are allowed, although confined to cart paths. (It's walking only on the Straits. Both 18s are relatively easy to walk.) And the Irish has the only blind par 3 found at Whistling Straits, the 13th playing 183 yards over sand hills to a huge green ringed by more than a dozen bunkers. It doesn't get more Irish than that.
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SentryWorld Golf Club
Public
SentryWorld Golf Club
Stevens Point, WI
The lush, tree-lined SentryWorld won Golf Digest's first-ever Best New Public award in early 1984, but never made our 100 Greatest Public ranking until 2017, as the highest-ranking newcomer. A few years ago, Trent Jones Jr. partner Charlton and their former associate Blasi remodeled SentryWorld, rerouting four holes and adding a new par-3 12 and par-4 13th, but they preserved the famous "Flower Hole," the par-3 16th which uses petunias, snapdragons, marigolds, geraniums and other annuals grown on site as decorative hazards. The flower beds are treated as lateral hazards. SentryWorld has hosted a couple of USGA championships, including the 2019 U.S. Girls' Junior, where future U.S. Women's Open champion Yuka Saso was the stroke-play medalist.
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The Club At Lac La Belle
Public
The Club At Lac La Belle
Oconomowoc, WI
Golf was first played on the site of this course in 1896 and attracted the biggest names of the day. Its fortunes declined over the next 100 years, however, partially due to poor drainage. Several years ago, the Morse family purchased the course, and the revival has been inspired. Wisconsin-based architect Craig Haltom was given land for four new holes and reengineered the others using strong bunkering to create engaging strategies and some of the most whimsical, multilevel greens anywhere, several over 10,000 square feet in size.
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The Golf Courses of Lawsonia: Links
Public
The Golf Courses of Lawsonia: Links
Green Lake, WI
The geometric shapes and steep, angular slopes of Lawsonia's massive green pads and deep bunkers have led many to conclude it's a Seth Raynor design, which it is not. Langford and Moreau built the course using steamshovels, which resulted in most of those distinctive landforms. The par-3 seventh has another explanation entirely. Its green, perched like a birthday cake, was formed by piling dirt over an old railroad boxcar.
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Blackwolf Run: Meadow Valleys
Public
Blackwolf Run: Meadow Valleys
Kohler, WI
Even before Pete Dye completed the River Course at Blackwolf Run, he had taken the front nine of the original Blackwolf Course (Best New Resort winner of 1988) and merged it with a newly-constructed nine to form the Meadows Valley Course. Although the Sheboygan River isn't in play as much on Meadows Valley as it is on the River (the 18th hole plays over it), there are plenty of deep bunkers and tricky pin positions.
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The Bull At Pinehurst Farms
Public
The Bull At Pinehurst Farms
Sheboygan Falls, WI
It’s not wise for a rebel force to stand toe-to-toe against an empire—success depends upon more radical measures. In the case of The Bull at Pinehurst Farms, the empire is Herb Kohler’s neighboring 36-hole Blackwolf Run (plus the 10-hole Baths course), not to mention Kohler’s Whistling Straits complex just north of Sheboygan. To make The Bull equally attractive, Team Nicklaus went full commando with the design, using all the available assets of the 400-acre site to build broad meadow holes in the meadows, tightrope holes through the woods, and shorties along and across the winding Onion River. Traps are sprung everywhere—in the form of pot bunkers, inside doglegs, draped in front of greens—and numerous ravines are positioned to ensnare miscalculations. There’s a lot going on, but as they say, when you take on The Bull, you get the horns.
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Troy Burne Golf Club
Public
Troy Burne Golf Club
Hudson, WI
46 Panelists
Troy Burne sits on 420 acres of rolling hills in the St. Croix Valley, just east of the Twin Cities. 1996 Open champion Tom Lehman collaborated with Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry to design this well-bunkered layout with wide fairways and sloped greens. Ponds and creeks come into play on many holes, especially around the greens, placing an emphasis on approach play. With few trees on the course, wind often plays a strong factor.
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University Ridge Golf Course
Public
University Ridge Golf Course
Verona, WI
36 Panelists
University Ridge is the home course of the University of Wisconsin men’s and women’s golf teams, as well as the annual host of the PGA Tour Champions’ American Family Insurance Championship. The front nine at this Robert Trent Jones Jr. design plays through a prairie and marshland before transitioning to wooded holes on the back. The last couple of holes open again to the prairie, including at the par-4 18th, which plays sharply uphill to the highest point on the property.
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Wild Rock Golf Club
Public
Wild Rock Golf Club
Wisconsin Dells, WI
Wild Rock, located about an hour northwest of Madison, plays on and around an old stone quarry, creating some dramatic elevation changes and drop-offs. Designers Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry placed numerous bunkers in the middle of fairways, forcing thoughtful strategy off the tee. The signature par-3 15th plays over the old quarry but provides a shorter bail-out option left of the green for those not willing to take on the forced carry.
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Geneva National Resort & Club: Gary Player
Conveniently located between Chicago and Milwaukee, Geneva National Resort & Club offers three layouts designed by Hall of Famers Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino. The Player course presents plenty of risk/reward options, with split fairways, ravines and water hazards all coming into play. There are some beautiful views of Lake Como, especially on the par-5 16th, which plays directly toward the lake. The resort offers stay-and-play packages for those looking to play all three courses.
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The Bog
Public
The Bog
Saukville, WI
Less than 30 miles north of Milwaukee, The Bog is a scenic Arnold Palmer design that plays over 297 acres of rolling hills, woods and wetlands. Named for the Cedarburg Bog on which it was built, the course has 118 bunkers, some of which have tall lips and are especially penalizing. In addition to the challenging course, The Bog has quality practice facilities, including a driving range with target greens and a short game area with pitching areas and bunkers.
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Brown County Golf Course
Public
Brown County Golf Course
Oneida, WI
This Green Bay-area muny features gently rolling fairways and subtle doglegs. The affordable track offers weekday rates under $40 and is regularly in good condition, as noted by our panelists. Given the relatively flat terrain, the course is a manageable and enjoyable walk.
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White Eagle Golf Club
Public
White Eagle Golf Club
Hudson, WI
This western Wisconsin layout sits just 30 minutes east of the Twin Cities. There are plenty of elevation changes, with many holes playing downhill to the fairway before working back uphill to the green. The rough that lines most holes often slopes back toward the fairways, making the landing areas play wider than they appear. Given all the elevation changes, the course can be a strenuous walk.
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The Golf Courses of Lawsonia: Woodlands
Compared to its sibling Links course—a member of our 100 Greatest Public list—the Woodlands is a parkland layout with dramatic elevation changes and beautiful views of Green Lake. In 2021, the course underwent an extensive renovation which included bunker redesigns, rebuilding of green surrounds on all 18 holes and tree clearing and trimming throughout the course. Still, many holes are narrow and tree-lined, placing a premium on accuracy.
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Thornberry Creek At Oneida: Championship 18
Thornberry Creek at Oneida is a 27-hole public facility situated just outside Green Bay. The championship layout hosted an LPGA event from 2017-2019. The course offers a variety of holes, some narrow and tree-lined and others more open with lakes coming into play.
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Brown Deer Park Golf Course
Public
Brown Deer Park Golf Course
Milwaukee, WI
The site of Tiger Woods’ professional debut in 1996 at the Greater Milwaukee Open, Brown Deer Park hosted the PGA Tour event from 1994-2009. Although Tiger finished tied for 60th that week, he famously made a hole-in-one on Sunday at the par-3 14th. The parkland design just north of Milwaukee has narrow, tree-lined fairways and undulating greens. Before hosting the tour event, Brown Deer Park hosted three U.S. Amateur Public Links.
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Washington County Golf Course
Public
Washington County Golf Course
Hartford, WI
Less than 10 miles north of Erin Hills, Washington County Golf Course is another sprawling layout open to the public. Like Erin Hills, this Arthur Hills-designed muny has few trees in play, instead allowing more natural elements—wind, fairway contouring and native grasses—to provide the defense. With summer rates around $50 walking, Washington County offers great value and pairs well with a trip to the nearby famed U.S. Open venue.
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Grand Geneva Resort & Spa: The Brute
Public
Grand Geneva Resort & Spa: The Brute
Lake Geneva, WI
Grand Geneva Resort is conveniently situated between Milwaukee and Chicago and features two quality 18-hole courses worth playing. The aptly named Brute course is demanding from tee-to-green, with narrow tree-lined fairways that traverse through the rolling terrain near Lake Geneva. The large greens average over 8,000 square feet and are often crowned, making for some difficult lag putts.
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Grand Geneva Resort & Spa: The Highlands
Grand Geneva Resort is conveniently situated between Milwaukee and Chicago and features two quality 18-hole courses worth playing. Compared to the narrow Brute course, the Highlands layout has wider fairways and is more of a links-style design. The course, originally designed by Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus, is relatively short, tipping out at 6,600 yards. Instead of length, the Highlands demands thoughtful strategy, especially on the short par 4s that don’t require driver.
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Glen Erin Golf Club
Public
Glen Erin Golf Club
Janesville, WI
Glen Erin, situated in southern Wisconsin, offers a blend of tree-lined parkland holes and others that play over wide-open expanses. At times, the course resembles Erin Hills (about 75 miles to the north), with tall fescue lining the fairways and few trees in sight. The rolling, tree-lined holes provide a more traditional Midwestern parkland experience. With rates under $50, Glen Erin is an affordable public track offering an impressive variety of holes.
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Naga-Waukee War Memorial Golf Course
Less than a half hour west of Milwaukee, Naga-Waukee War Memorial Golf Course is a Larry Packard design with scenic views of Pewaukee Lake. Some holes are narrow and tree-lined, while others are more open and forgiving. There is a good amount of elevation change (especially on the back nine), creating several blind tee shots. The tee at the signature hole—the double-dogleg par-5 14th—offers a beautiful view of Pewaukee Lake in the distance. With summer rates under $50, this muny provides some of the best value in the area.
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