What makes a great golf hole a great golf hole?
Why do we recall, in detail, the pretty little downhill par-3 years after playing it just once, but can’t remember the rest of the course? What is it about a particular hole that engages the senses in a way that makes us want to play it again and again?
We posed those questions to several prominent golf course architects and, as one would expect, got a number of different answers.
“I think the first factor is you always enjoy playing it,” said Michael Hurdzan, co-designer of Erin Hills, Wild Rock in Wisconsin Dells and Troy Burne in Hudson. “You always have fun on that golf hole. You may not play it the same way – and as a matter of fact, the more ways you can play it, the more fun it is.
“The hole has to be fair. Not hard, but fair, so that it challenges you. And if you can answer those challenges, you feel like you got some kind of reward. It doesn’t ask more of you than you can deliver.”
Said Mike DeVries, who counts the acclaimed Kingsley Club and Greywalls in Michigan among his designs, “A great golf hole is one that engages the player to think about what he wants to do. Not every hole can wow everybody, right? The aesthetics are frosting. But if you’re engaged, you’re going to remember that hole.”
Bob Lohmann, a Wisconsin native who has done a lot of work in the state and has contracted to renovate Abbey Springs in Fontana this year, said a great golf hole presents options that make the golfer think about how he or she wants to play it.
“As an architect, we’re always looking at playability, the angles of how you play the hole, how it sets up from tee to green.” Lohmann said. “How is the person going to play the hole? Is he going to challenge the bunker or bail out? The other thing is, you really need a hole that’s fun. It helps to have a mountain in the background or an ocean on the side.”
Wisconsin.Golf polled a number of architects and top players in the state and asked them to identify their favorite hole in Wisconsin. Here are their answers:
Jay Blasi (golf course architect whose work includes the renovation at SentryWorld; University of Wisconsin graduate): “I figure that everyone will focus on Sand Valley-Erin Hills-Kohler, so I’m going off the board. I’m picking the seventh hole at West Bend Country Club. It’s a medium-length par-4 with no bunkers, but it’s quite the rollercoaster ride.”
Hunter Eichhorn (2019 State Amateur champion; plays at Marquette University; 2018 Big East champion): “I would have to choose the par-3 seventh at Whistling Straits. It has the perfect mixture of beauty and difficulty. It’s one of those holes where you want to hit a good shot and make a birdie so you can brag about it to your friends whenever it’s talked about. It was a tough decision between this hole and the par-3 ninth at Erin Hills.”
Katie Falk (1973 Women’s Western Amateur champion; member Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame): “No. 10 at Milwaukee Country Club. It’s a spectacular setting on the hill, looking down the fairway and with a beautiful vista of the Milwaukee River. This par-5 requires thought and precision. If there’s a far left or far right pin placement, your shot to the green will be critical to avoid a bogey. The renovation has made the hole most memorable and takes advantage of the river views.”
Allyssa Ferrell (won 2018 Garden City Charity Classic on Symetra Tour; led Michigan State to three consecutive NCAA appearances): “This might sound corny, but I would have to say the par-4 10th at Towne Country Club in Edgerton, because it’s where my sister and I grew up and where my family still gathers.”
Bob Gregorski (two-time State Amateur champion; member Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame): “No. 9 at Milwaukee Country Club. It’s a classic short par-4 that gives you a bunch of options off the tee and puts a premium on controlling the spin on your second shot if you lay back. The false front on the left makes you hit it past the hole, which can leave difficult downhill putts. There’s a premium on every shot on this hole. Also, it does not hurt that the backdrop is the Milwaukee CC clubhouse. It’s a great short hole that you start to think about from the first hole.”
John Haines (winner of 10 WSGA / WPLA state titles, played in four U.S. Amateurs and on six Nelthorpe Cup teams): “No. 14 at The Bog. It’s a hotly debated and reachable dogleg left par-5 just dripping with options that compel decision-related consequences and even reveal a deeper philosophical constitution in the serious golfer. From an elevated tee, the tee shot – left, right or center cut – will determine how to go about navigating around an elevated mound of earth and trees and tall fescue that obscures the green. All three types of tee shot bring both risk and-or green light dreams of greatness. Anything but a drive of at least 290 yards down the right side (bringing OB into play) leaves a blind second shot. Any choice other than a short-iron layup second shot over the ‘island of doom’ requires the ability to work your ball one way or the other and enough steely confidence that you picked the right club after all the mathematical calculations, as well as the right cloud to aim at when the trigger finally is squeezed. Once the golfer gets past all that, and the high ground is eventually taken, the closely mown green surrounds and a green that allows for a variety of hole locations once again give the golfer the gift of options. High or low chips or pitches or even putting from 40 yards off the green are all considerations. Regardless of whether one loves this hole or not, it is likely to be any golfer’s best chance at birdie or better before running the gauntlet that is The Bog’s vaunted ‘Final Four.’”
J.P. Hayes (two-time winner on PGA Tour; member Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame): “Of course, I’d have to pick a hole on the course I grew up on. The seventh hole at Butte des Morts Country Club isn’t particularly a great hole, but it holds many fond memories for me. It’s the earliest memory I have of playing with my mom and dad. In fact, I was gifted a couple years ago with a picture that hung in the clubhouse for nearly 45 years of the three of us putting out on the seventh green. The photo was taken from the tee box, and only people who knew my parents well would even be able to identify us. And always when that hole was over, there was a Snickers candy bar waiting at the halfway house.”
Piercen Hunt (2019 Western Junior Amateur champion; plays at University of Illinois): “My favorite holes are No. 15 at Erin Hills and No. 18 at Whistling Straits. Both provide a one-of-a-kind visual from the tee and both require some strategy and bravery to take them on and play them well. I think the key characteristic of a good golf hole is that it will test you and make you think, even if you’ve played it hundreds of times. If I had to pick one, I’d go with 18 at the Straits. You can’t beat a finishing hole like that one! I don’t think I’ve ever played a more unique and challenging hole.”
Mike Hurdzan (golf course architect; co-designer of Erin Hills, Wild Rock and Troy Burne): “Lawsonia Links has a whole bunch of what I consider really good golf holes. But I think if I had to choose one, it might be No. 14, the par-3 that plays down the hill. It looks so easy, but that bloody hole is really a great challenge. To me, it’s almost like No. 7 at Pebble Beach. The hole is a lot better since they took out the pine trees around the green. If the wind is blowing, you think, ‘Where do I start this ball out?’ Not having trees around it certainly enhances it. And I’m sure that’s what (designer William) Langford had in mind.”
Neil Johnson (four-time All-American at Gustavus Adolphus College; winner of multiple mini-tour events): “I’ll go with No. 2 at Blue Mound Golf & CC – the hole with the double plateau green. This probably stinks of recent bias, but playing the Wisconsin State Open at Blue Mound was so much fun this past summer. All of the greens at Blue Mound are amazing, but No. 2 hits you early in the round and quickly tells you what the rest of the day will be like. I played the 2003 Wisconsin State Amateur at Blue Mound and I’m sad to say that I didn’t appreciate or remember how much slope is on that second green, but I surely won’t forget it again. The image of a back-right pin with that huge slope in front of it is burned into my brain.”
Skip Kendall (more than 700 starts in PGA Tour-sanctioned events; four-time winner on Korn Ferry Tour; member Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame): “That’s an easy answer for me. As you know, Brown Deer always will hold a special place in my heart. I grew up playing there and remember all the summer days I spent there playing with friends. I loved playing there. Then to play a (PGA) Tour event for so many years on the course you grew up on was pretty special. My favorite hole at Brown Deer – I do like many of them – is for sure No. 18, the par-5. As a young kid playing there, I always wanted to carry the creek that cuts across the fairway at about 210 to 240 yards, depending on where the tees were set. I tried and tried and probably put hundreds of balls into the creek, until one day when I was 12 I saw the ball land on the fairway on the other side. What a special day that was! Then, of course, playing the GMO (U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee), it all came down to 18 with so much on the line. I remember playing with Jerry (Kelly) in the last round one year and making eagle. That was very special. Definitely my favorite hole for a lot of reasons.”
Bob Lohmann (golf course architect; among his original designs in Wisconsin are Bishops Bay, Whispering Springs and Quit-Qui-Oc): “One of my favorites is the par-3 seventh hole at Blue Mound, with the plateau green. It’s a beautiful setting, with Mount Mary (University) in the background. We played it last year with a bunch of architects. They had the pin about four or five paces off the right side of the green. What do you do? Do you go for the pin or do you bail out to the left? From there, you can putt it off the green. It made you think. And it’s a fun hole. Everybody can play it.”
Gary Menzel (1999 U.S. Senior Amateur runner-up; winner of more than 20 WSGA tournaments; member Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame): “The hole that sticks in my mind is No. 12 at The Bog, and I’ve played a lot of great holes in Wisconsin. It’s a short little hole, but very demanding. You have to put your tee shot in the proper position. If you’re way short up on that hill, now you have a downhill lie into a shallow green. That’s a hard shot. You think you hit it far enough and then you hear that ‘doink’ (the ball hitting rocks in front of the green). I’ve made 6s and 7s on that hole, real easy.”
Martha Nause (three-time winner on LPGA Tour; member Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame): “No. 17 at Pine Hills Country Club in Sheboygan. For me, it’s a perfect risk-reward hole. Hit a good drive straight away to carry the river and you’re left with a short-iron into a massively sloped green. If you don’t try to carry the river, you’re left with a much longer shot into the green. The green is significantly elevated, with three tiers, and it’s very narrow depending on the angle of your approach. Once you get on the green it’s no picnic because of the big slope. It’s a fun, challenging hole no matter how you swing it.”
Jordan Niebrugge (won U.S. Amateur Public Links, Western Amateur and State Amateur in 2013; T-6 at 2015 British Open; plays on Korn Ferry Tour): “I’d probably have to go with No. 5 at The Bull. That course has always been one of my favorites, and a lot of my favorite holes are out there. No. 5 in particular is such a tough test. The alley way of trees off the tee is a cool sight. And then hitting your approach over the ravine was always one of my favorite shots while playing out there. If you play it in the fall, it has to be one of the coolest sights you’ll ever see on a golf course.”
Harrison Ott (2020 Wisconsin State Open champion; plays at Vanderbilt University): “I’d have to say No. 5 on the River Course at Blackwolf Run. It’s an awesome hole. I just like the way it looks. The last time I played there, I cold-shanked my iron shot into the river, so I don’t have any particularly good memories. Ha!”
Jeff Radder (only three-time winner of WSGA Junior Boys title; 1973 State Amateur champion, member Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame): “Using ‘favorite’ as your key word, I have to find a hole on Pine Hills, as I have played there the most and I have enjoyed the entire course immensely. What comes to mind is No. 10. I played there for the first time in 1966, when the first hole was what is now No. 10. I was in awe and a little bit afraid as I surveyed it. The WSGA tent was there and the staff was announcing players in the State Amateur / Junior Championship. It is a beautiful view, but I thought it was intimidating. The hole goes down and up and left and right, the Pigeon River runs below you and along the left side of the fairway, with the hazard continuing to and behind the green. Scattered maple trees and a swamp prevent golfers from driving to the right or directly at the hole, forcing you to think of the hazard to the left. The green is elevated, which makes distance and accuracy difficult to judge on the second shot. Deep bunkers guard the left and right sides of the green. I hit an 8- or 9-iron for my second shot in 1966; now I use a 7-iron all the way to a utility club. As are all the holes at Pine Hills, the green is undulating and fast. When looking around from the green, you see the river meandering through the eighth, 10th and 17th holes. Also, the beautiful clubhouse sits on the hill far above the fairway, with the American flag waving above. I feel blessed to have been a member now for almost 50 years.”
David Roesch (2004 State Open champion; made 36-hole cut at 2004 U.S. Open; played on Korn Ferry Tour): “I have a few different favorites, but at the top of the list is the par-3 seventh hole at Tripoli Country Club (now The University Club of Milwaukee). It’s a great par-3 from the back tee. I grew up caddying and working at the club, and I watched literally hundreds of golf balls get hit into the water there. I also love the short par-4 seventh at Meadowbrook Country Club in Racine. I made an ace on that hole during the Wisconsin PGA Section Match Play Championship that I won there (in 2014).”
Andy Staples (golf course architect; Sussex native recently renovated The University Club of Milwaukee): “It’s going to be at West Bend Country Club, where I learned to play golf. The par-5 third hole has a very memorable green complex. It’s got grass bunkers in the front and then it has this huge level that falls down into the back part of the green. It’s actually lower than the front part of the green. As I got to be better at golf, I was able to reach that green in two. I remember the back pin being a really hard pin to go at in two because you’re better off (laying up and) hitting a wedge into that back pin placement than trying to hit a 3-wood through the green.”
Sherri Steinhauer (eight-time winner on LPGA Tour, including two major championships; made four U.S. Solheim Cup teams; member Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame): “No. 8 at Nakoma Golf Club. It’s a challenging, tree-lined par-4 which goes uphill to start and then levels off before going back downhill to a difficult, two-tiered green. My favorite because this hole signifies my progression in golf, from making it to the top of the hill for the first time as a youngster, to using every tree as a benchmark for my new longest drive, to hitting the green for the first time to then making an eagle on it while playing with my dad. No. 8 at Nakoma stands out as a great hole with wonderful memories.”
Randy Warobick (longtime amateur competitor and current Wisconsin State Golf Association president; played on University of Texas golf team with Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite): “No. 7 at West Bend CC. This hole has it all! Risk-reward off the tee, and then it’s critically important to position yourself below the hole on that super-slick green. If you miss the green, you’ll need to come up with a ‘career’ up and down. There’s excitement on every shot. Just ask Steve Stricker, who three-putted there (when the hole played as No. 16 in the final round) to lose the State Amateur to J.P. Hayes.”
Andrea Wieland (UW-Whitewater women’s coach; played at University of Wisconsin): “The par-5 16th at University Ridge. It’s not a well-designed hole for the average golfer, but I always enjoyed its beauty and risk/reward feel. In high school, off the tee box I remember aiming at the water tower. In college, playing from further back, we dealt with sometimes going to the right of the trees or trying to get to the second tier of the fairway to maybe be able to reach the green in two. It’s not an easy tee shot. I wasn’t a risky player by any means, but I did make eagle on that hole my senior year in college by holing out from about 90 yards and I went on to have my best finish in a college tournament. Coaching high school girls on that hole was always fun, too, and I have one of my favorite memories on No. 16 with Ashton Stair, when she won the state title in 2010. She decided to go for the green in two, hit the flagstick and tapped in for eagle. Add those awesome memories to the nature you often see on that hole (wild turkeys, deer, bald eagles) and it really can’t be beat!”
Mark Wilson (five-time winner on PGA Tour; member Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame): “I thought it through and have so many holes I love in Wisconsin, but the one that stands out is 18 at Brown Deer Park. Probably because I played my first-ever tournament there as a kid in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel event when I was 11. Then I competed there in probably about 10 GMOs. I love the story my dad would tell me about watching Arnie (Palmer) hit a low drive that cleared the creek in an exhibition event. Then I remember laying up to the creek as a kid, and then eventually being able to hit it over on my tee shot. It was a great redesign for the GMO to add some bunkers in the fairway and more near the green. It was always such a nervy tee shot because I knew if I hit a good one, I could get home in two. But a missed fairway meant I’d be struggling to make birdie.”
Paul Zarek (longtime amateur competitor with six WSGA titles; won 2014 State Senior Open): “My favorite is No. 17 at the Club at Strawberry Creek because it’s such a great tournament hole. The year I won the Senior Open, I knew if I birdied the 17th I would win. I did, and shot my all-time tournament low, 66, to win by two. But the same hole bit me in a U.S. Senior Amateur qualifier. If I birdie, I advance, but I drove it in the bunker and left it on a downhill, wet lie and made bogey. It’s a short par-4, but a great tournament hole.”