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Haven: Just up the road from Whistling Straits, Lake Orchard Farm Retreat offers bed & breakfast ... and its own golf course

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Wisconsin’s bed and breakfast inns often come with more than just a bed and breakfast. One B&B in Door County offers water color classes as an amenity. Another inn in Mineral Point includes a brewery, while the rooms at a B&B near Spring Green are filled with cameras, reflecting the keeper’s interest in photography.

More up our alley is Lake Orchard Farm Retreat on the shore of Lake Michigan near Sheboygan, the only B&B in Wisconsin — and perhaps anywhere else — that comes with a golf course.

As you might guess, there’s a “one thing led to another” in the story of how that came about.

First, a bit about the farm, which has been in the same family since 1848, the same year Wisconsin became a state.

German immigrants Theodore and Helene Wunsch first lived in a log cab but later built a home of cream city brick around the cabin. Over successive generations the farm operation included a productive herd of Guernsey cows, a cheese factory, sheep, an apple orchard, a chicken hatchery that produced 250,000 chicks each year, a replacement heifer business, the B&B and, new last year, a facility for growing lettuce though aquaponics. Nate Calkins, who with his wife Mary make up the sixth generation to run the farm, said they may soon get out of the heifer operation to concentrate on the inn and aquaponics.

It was Mary’s father, Warren, who started the golf course in 1999. After the dairy herd was sold there was a lot of grass to cut and it occurred to Warren, as only this would occur to someone who enjoyed golf, that as long as he was cutting the grass he might as well shape part of it into a golf hole.

That first one measured about 90 yards but Warren soon decided the mixture of old pasture and mowed grass just wasn’t good enough, which is where the “one thing led to another” began. He started grooming his course to higher standards and added more holes, so today the course boasts nine holes and plays to a par 34.

Because there was not enough space for nine greens, the course has just four that are approached from nine different directions. The greens have bent grass, and over time Warren has added sand bunkers, more than 100 new trees, yardage signs on tee boxes and decorative planters.

 “We’re not trying to compete with the neighbors,” Nate joked, which is probably a good thing. The neighborhood includes Whistling Straits GC, the three-time site of the PGA Championship and host of the 2020 Ryder Cup and so close it can be glimpsed from Lake Orchard Farm now that the silos are gone. Warren is content to call it “the finest in farm golf.

“I don’t know if farm golf even exists,” he added, but if it does, his course is it.

In the beginning, Warren said the golf course was “kind of a labor-intensive pastime,” even if the job of keeping it mowed and in playable condition sometimes got in the way of actually playing golf on it. It was also a somewhat expensive pastime, especially when new mowers became necessary.

All of that became easier to justify when the farm began to offer lodging, not only in B&B rooms named for the women of the first five generations on the land but also a four-bedroom cottage that can sleep up to 10 guests. The golf course, while not open to the public, is free to guests. Clubs, balls and carts are provided for those who arrive unarmed.

In a way, it makes sense that a B&B&Golf is located in Sheboygan County, and not only because of the celebrated Kohler golf courses at Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run. Warren said by one estimate Sheboygan County has the third most courses per capita in the United States.

“We’re saturated with golf courses,” he said. And while a lot of their guests might be playing the first golf of their lives just because it is there and free, many other guests stay while visiting the county specifically for golf, using the course outside their rooms as a place to warm-up.

 “We serve breakfast at 9 a.m.,” Nate said. “We have a lot of people out on the course by 6:30 trying to get a round in.”

Warren and Nate don’t keep track of what they spend on the course, perhaps intentionally.

“It’s definitely not a cheap hobby, but like Warren said it’s obviously more justified now,” Nate said. “We could charge to try to recover some of those costs (but) peoples’ expectations might be a little higher.”

But the course is already more than most guests could expect. “It’s not Whistling Strait by any means,” Warren said. “We keep up with it but the fact of the matter is it’s not going to be the same (as other courses.) As far as whether (the greens) are fast or slow…it is what it is. It’s farm golf.”

Farm golf, maybe, but not pasture golf. It’s way beyond pasture golf.

             

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djmccann@centurytel.net

A Wisconsin native & longtime newspaperman, Dennis has been writing about golf for more than 20 years. When not profiling golf's colorful characters or the courses they play, he can usually be found golfing at beautiful Apostle Highlands GC in Bayfield.