With the PGA Tour at Firestone in Ohio this week for the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship returning to Whistling Straits in Wisconsin next week, all eyes are on the Midwest, which offers a versatile array of top-notch venues across seven states.
This sprawling links-style layout, built on a 245-acre bluff-top site tilted to Lake Michigan, features a lake view from every hole, fields of tall fescues dividing the fairways, and 50 sod-walled bunkers sprinkled throughout. Interestingly, there are five par threes and five par fives on this breezy, well-groomed layout designed by Warren Henderson and swing guru Rick Smith.
Blackwolf Run (River)
Located an hour’s drive north of Milwaukee, the majestic River Course, opened in 1988, presents a grand parkland challenge that ranks among Pete Dye’s finest creations. Dramatic elevation changes, target landing areas, huge deep bunkers, and heavily contoured greens characterize the design, which brings water or gorges into play at 14 of the 18 holes.
Cog Hill (No. 4)
“Dubsdread” was laid out in 1964 by Dick Wilson at the behest of developer Joe Jemsek, who wanted a solid, straightforward tournament-class venue. Recently remodeled by Rees Jones, this “Sahara of the Midway,” its holes strung from ridge to ridge or cut diagonally across the rolling, wooded terrain, is known (and feared) for its bunkers, which pinch every fairway and defend every green.
Upcoming host of the 2017 U.S. Open, this deceptively simple, lay-of-the-land course an hour’s drive from Milwaukee rolls and tumbles across 652 acres of rugged terrain scraped by glaciers, with kettle moraines and other glacial footprints incorporated in the design. Built by Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry, and Ron Whitten, the brawny 7,812-yard layout has firm fescue fairways and bentgrass greens.
This Tom Weiskopf-designed course in north central Michigan, set on 500 sandy acres adjacent to Huron National Forest, features facsimile dunes and other subtle seaside links features. Framed by bracken, wildflowers, and tall red pines, this firm, fast, walker-friendly layout is loaded with strategic risk-reward options, notably at the short, perilous par 4 17th hole.
French Lick Resort (Pete Dye Course)
French Lick, Ind.
Treated to a lavish $500 million restoration in 2009, this historic spa and casino resort in southern Indiana showcases a Pete Dye world-beater built on the state’s second-highest peak. Grafted onto treeless hilltops at nearly 1,000 feet above sea level, Dye’s 8,102-yard behemoth, marked by twisting fairways, topsy-turvy greens, and unique “volcano” bunkers, offers dramatic 40-mile views across Hoosier National Forest.
Giants Ridge (Quarry)
Tucked away in the Iron Range in the state’s northeast corner four hours from the Twin Cities, the Quarry is a Jeff Brauer design laid into depleted sand and gravel quarries as well as land made barren by a century of iron ore manufacture. Deep gouges, steep embankments, and quarry spoils from mining operations mark the holes, which transition from thick woods to lakes, wetlands, and sandy wastelands.
This superb course winds through an unlikely pocket of hills in Iowa’s corn-belt flatness 25 miles northeast of Des Moines. Harnessing the site’s bold landforms and 80-foot elevation change, designer Keith Foster, taking inspiration from C.B. Macdonald’s classic courses, routed holes along heaving slopes, long ridges, and sweeping valleys, with specimen oaks and a 60-acre lake also in the mix.
The Prairie Club (Dunes)
Set back from the rim of the Snake River Canyon in Nebraska’s fabled Sandhills region, the semi-private Dunes Course, stretching from 5,252 to 8,058 yards, rolls through a massive seascape of tall prairie grasses that wave in the breeze, with giant sandy blowouts framing many of the holes. Designed by Tom Lehman and Chris Brands, this heartland spread plays like a links.
Whistling Straits (Straits)
Built by Pete Dye from a dead flat, arsenic-laced World War II army base along a two-mile stretch of Lake Michigan coastline, Whistling Straits resembles a wild, brawny Irish links on steroids. Nearly 1,000 unkempt, rough-edged bunkers pockmark the moonscape, which features towering facsimile dunes, four par threes perched on bluffs above the lake, and a flock of back-faced sheep.