Sneaking in a Little Golf...In Milwaukee
Erin Hills/Photo by Brian Oar - Fairways Photography
Summer brings out the best Milwaukee has to offer–from traveling beer gardens to trout fishing to golf. The season is short but sweet, with golf fever spanning May through October. The city itself has tournament-caliber municipal courses in its portfolio, and within an hour’s drive there’s a whole lot more to explore in the area and suburbs. So don’t think of Milwaukee as only the gateway to Kohler’s Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run. It’s a great golf destination six months out of the year.
Plus, when you rent a car with Avis you can sneak in a little golf on any of these great courses with $25 off your round if you book through Golf Now – pickup available directly from Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport.
Brown Deer Park GC
If you’re part of the resurgent Tigermania, this is a fun course to put on your playlist. Woods made his PGA Tour debut as a professional here at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open. There’s a plaque on the course commemorating where he hit his first tee shot (now #10), and he had a hole-in-one on No. 14 during his final round. He tied for 60th, earned a mere $2,544, and the rest is history. Featuring all the challenges of a classic parkland course, Brown Deer Park, which is the current host of the Symetra Tour’s PHC Classic (August 9-11 this year), is a 1929 George Hansen design. It’s always well-conditioned and features fast, challenging greens. Brown Deer is a tough test for any player, requiring length, precision and a respectable short game. Recent upgrades, including a renovated practice area and expanded restaurant with outdoor sports bar, makes this an affordable, high-quality experience.
When squeezing in a round on a work trip or planning a quick loop with friends, Erin Hills is one to mark atop your list. This Hurzdan Fry Whitten design is just 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee, making it an easy trip for players staying in the city and in search of tournament-quality golf. Erin Hills hosted the U.S. Open in 2017, the first time the event had been held in Wisconsin, and at 7,735 yards from the tips you can see why it made the cut for the notoriously challenging tournament. Despite being relatively open, there’s all sorts of trouble you can get into. It may not be for everyone, with a hefty green fee ($295 in season) and walking-only policy, but if you’re up for both, it’s well worth the drive. The course, clubhouse and caddies are all top-notch, and an 18-hole putting course is set to open in August. The grounds also has lodging, including suites and cottages, for overnight stays.
If you’re on the way to Kohler–or not–you need to hit The Bog. Just a half an hour north of Milwaukee in a beautiful rural setting with seasonal wildflowers, the layout is consistently rated as one of the top public courses in Wisconsin. At around $60, it’s a great value for the course quality. An Arnold Palmer Signature Design, The Bog runs through woods and wetlands–locally known as Cedarburg Bog–with gently rolling terrain. Generous fairways on the front nine give way to a tighter back nine; some sharp doglegs, sand and water hazards, as well as a few forced carries and blind shots. Distance from the tips plays 7,221 yards, but there are several options in the 6,000-yard range as well. After the round, make sure to visit the clubhouse overlooking the 18th green, and if you’re playing on a Friday, stick around for the Fish Fry, a Wisconsin tradition.
Fire Ridge Golf Club
Another great value in Wisconsin public golf, Fire Ridge, is in the heart of the "Kohler Golf Corridor" and an easy 25-minute drive from downtown Milwaukee. The Kerry Mattingly and Gregg Kuehn design is spread out over 200 acres of unspoiled prairie, and the 7,016-yard layout has been dubbed one of the state’s toughest. With 70 bunkers, 11 holes where water comes into play, and few blind shots, you can frequently find yourself in trouble. The elevation changes provide both downhill and uphill approaches, and you’ll face multiple challenging forced carries over the span of 18 holes. With a leafy setting, it’s especially pretty in the fall when foliage color is at its peak. Flannery's at Fire Ridge has an Irish pub feel with good food (the pan-roasted walleye is a specialty), cozy booths, a fireplace and plenty of good drafts. Its patio overlooks the golf course, making it essential to hit the 19th hole.
Washington County Golf Course
Locals say if you don’t play Erin Hills, head to Washington County Golf Club. Like Erin Hills, it is big and forgiving with its open links, and comes without a big price tag ($30-60). The sprawling 7,048-yard Arthur Hills design does pose some fun challenges, but won’t beat you up. Long hitters can really swing away, but landing in the long grass will likely cost you. One of the course's best defenses is the wind, so be sure to check the wind forecast, which plays heavy here. The greens, fast and true, have plenty of undulation, and subtle breaks make it tough to make par from the wrong side of the hole. The practice facility is top notch with a short game area and 3-hole practice course. Best of all, it’s less than an hour's drive from downtown Milwaukee.