The Department of Natural Resources has tentatively approved a permit that will allow Cherokee Country Club to completely redesign and rebuild its golf course on Madison’s north side to create what owner Dennis Tiziani expects will a be a professional tournament-quality course.
The permit is necessary because the proposal would impact several acres of wetlands on the property, which is adjacent to the sprawling Cherokee Marsh and the nearby Yahara River.
The plans have been under review for many months by DNR water resource officials and have undergone frequent revisions since the permit request was first filed. The DNR notice issued Wednesday indicates that while “the Department has made a tentative determination that it will issue the permit or contract for the proposed activity,” an informational public hearing must still be held under Wisconsin law.
The hearing has been set for Nov. 17 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Westport Town Hall. While the property is surrounded on three sides by the city of Madison it is actually located in the Town of Westport.
On his Madison radio show earlier this year, Tiziani described the work as necessary to improve drainage and environmental conditions on and around the golf course and to modernize a course that is now approaching 60 years old.
“Our golf course is old, it’s tired,” he said at the time. Doing such an extensive reconstruction would be “raising the bar as it affects the course,” he said.
Because it was built on marshy land, Cherokee was often known as a soggy course at times with soft, bouncy fairways. The new design includes moving several holes, widening fairways and expanding several ponds that are connected to a tributary of the Yahara River.
That would impact 2.13 acres of current wetlands by either filling or excavation, according to the DNR notice, far less than the acreage that would have been impacted under the initial proposal. A total of 1.64 acres of new wetlands will be created by turning upland areas into wetlands, and more than 30 acres of additional wetlands would be improved by vegetation enhancements or invasive species removal.
Tiziani said on his radio show that fairways would be raised as much as two feet by dredging thousands of truckloads of sand from under the course now and bringing in additional new material to improve drainage and make for firmer, faster playing conditions. A new, modern irrigation system would also be installed. The work will also replace existing culverts under cart paths with larger culverts or raised span bridges.
Construction is expected to begin as soon as the permit is formally issued. Already, some tree removal not covered by the permit request has taken place this fall.
Tiziani said the result of the work is that less storm water will drain into the nearby marsh because of the expanded ponds on the golf course and with the improved water quality “fish will come back, we’ll get rid of invasive species.”
Tiziani said on his radio show that his son-in-law, PGA Tour pro Steve Stricker, will be involved in the design of the new course. The most significant change might be that the ninth and 18th holes will be served by a large, double green in front of the Cherokee clubhouse, which would make for a terrific vantage point for bleachers to be placed for any tournaments that would be held there.
It has been reported elsewhere that Cherokee aspires to become a Tournament Players Club course, which could make it a destination for members of other TPC courses. The TPC Network, part of the PGA Tour, is comprised of more than 30 courses deemed suitable to host Tour-sponsored golf tournaments.
The Wisconsin State Journal also reported earlier this year that a National Golf Foundation study concluded that an aged course like Cherokee needed extensive renovation to remain financially viable.
Tiziani met recently with current members of the private club to explain the plans. When the golf course reopens for play after the renovation, it is likely the annual fee will be significantly higher, and not all members will want to continue, he said on his radio show. But, he said, there will be additional amenities, including a swimming pool, tennis and pickleball courts, a golf simulator and more.
“It’s going to be more expensive, obviously, to be here,” he told the show’s host, Paul Braun. “Clearly there’s a number of people who will have to make a decision.”
It is expected that, if the permit is formally approved in December, work will continue through the winter and the course could be seeded by next June or July and be tournament-ready by 2023.
The only tournament currently on the PGA Tour's annual schedule in Wisconsin is the American Family Insurance Championship, the PGA Tour Champions event hosted by Stricker and played at University Ridge Golf Course in Madison. The AmFam has a contract with University Ridge through 2024.
The public hearing Nov. 17 will also have a virtual option. Until Dec. 3 any member of the public may submit written comments about the project by email Ryan Pappas, DNR water management specialist, at Ryan.Pappas@wisconsin.gov.