WISCONSIN DELLS – To play 12North, the new par-3 course at Trappers Turn Golf Club, you need only a wedge, a putter and a sense of humor.
This place rocks. It also rolls, with green complexes featuring exaggerated mounds, sidewinding ridges, hole-in-one bowls and enough ups and downs to qualify as the Dells’ newest amusement park.
It’s 12 holes of hits and giggles, built to accommodate families, beginners and 19-handicappers who got beat up by the big course earlier in the day and just want to have some post-dinner fun with their beer-sotted buddies.
Put the flagsticks on the outrageous mounds and knobs, though, and the scratch player will be hard-pressed to make a few pars.
The beauty of 12North, designed by two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North and Craig Haltom of Oliphant Golf, is its flexibility. It can be whatever you want it to be. With multiple teeing grounds and angles on every hole, the possibilities are limited only by the golfer’s imagination.
“We’ve gotten to the point in this game where everybody thinks they have to hit it 800 miles to enjoy playing the game,” said North, who presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony and led a walking tour of the course Monday. “This is where, particularly young kids, you get them out here and get them to learn how to play from 50 yards, 60 yards, that’s going to make them good players down the road. It’s not all about just smashing it around.
“This is going to be an awful lot of fun, where you come out here as a family, little kids to grandparents, and everybody can have a blast. You’re not coming out here to be punished. You’re supposed to be coming out here to have some fun.”
Built on a 15-acre ridge overlooking the Lakes nine at Trappers, 12North is a collection of dramatic short holes ranging from 60 to 145 yards. Any one of them, if lengthened by 80 yards or so, would be the strongest par-3 on just about any course in Wisconsin.
Exposed sandstone, elevation changes and wooded corridors give 12North a wild, natural beauty, and Haltom’s rugged bunkering is a perfect fit.
“I personally just absolutely love how wild it looks and yet it’s going to be beautifully manicured,” North said. “The biggest thought we had here is that so many par-3 courses that are being built are dinky little, almost like chip-and-putt kind of stuff. We thought it was important that, even though the holes are going to be very short, we wanted them to look like real golf holes.”
Mission accomplished. Haltom worked on Sand Valley and has built a reputation as a rising star in the world of course architecture, with his signature work (so far) being the reimagining of The Club at Lac La Belle. North designed all 27 holes at Trappers Turn, serious golf, with the late Roger Packard.
“Between Andy’s years of experience as a player and designer and Craig’s immense passion for course architecture, we found the perfect team to bring this incredible course to life,” said Patrick Steffes, the director of golf and general manager at Trappers Turn.
Together, North and Haltom came up with a short course that looks like a miniature U.S. Open venue and plays like a video game.
“You probably wouldn’t build these greens on a regular golf course, because we wanted to create really difficult little shots from 60 to 70 yards, based on where you put the pins,” North said. “You can have the pins in some of the easiest places, where you’re going to see some holes-in-one. There are other (pin positions) that are going to be almost impossible.”
Said Haltom, “You beat yourself up on the real course, then come over here and just have fun. We can get away with some wild greens like this because the whole spirit of the place is supposed to be listen to some music, have fun and pick up if you’ve had enough and go to the next hole.”
12North joins the 10-hole Baths of Blackwolf Run, which opened earlier this year, and the 17-hole Sandbox at Sand Valley, which opened in 2018, to give Wisconsin three unique short courses supplementing destination golf. Each is distinct, memorable and tons of fun.
North suggested that the Wisconsin Par-3 Championship held at the Sandbox could be expanded to include all three short courses.
It’s a great idea. In the meantime, 12North, which opens to the public Tuesday, should prove to be a popular addition to Trappers Turn. The course can be walked or played with a motorized cart. Rates will range from $40 to $75.
Why 12 holes? According to North, that’s how many fit on the ridge, but it’s also a nod to his good friend, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“Well, we talked about nine, we talked about 10, we talked about 11,” North said. “Twelve seemed like a really nice number. There’s a guy in the state that’s meant a lot to a lot of people who wears (No.) 12. We thought, what the heck? That would make a lot of sense, wouldn’t it?
“Nine holes isn’t enough sometimes and 18, you’ve kind of lost interest. So, you get to finish before you lose interest.”
Lose interest? At 12North, no chance.