Some golfers can look at a course directory and mentally note a list of courses they have played.
Once upon a time John Krueger, of Hartland, was one of those golfers. But, eventually, his thoughts turned instead to golf courses he hadn’t played — yet. It was at one such moment years ago that he informed his wife, Ann, he wanted to play them all, every golf course in Wisconsin, public and private.
If it surprised her, it shouldn’t have.
Before they married more than 30 years ago Krueger warned his wife that she might want to take up golf because when he finished playing baseball, golf would take center stage. If only out of self-defense she did learn to play, and to enjoy, the game.
Good thing, too. Their nine-day honeymoon was built upon three three-day golf packages.
But three-day packages are one thing, and playing every course in a state blessed with both quality and quantity when it comes to golf is another. When he set his goal — he thinks it was in 1993 or ’94 — Krueger says now, “I didn’t really realize how many there were.”
But, he said, “I like playing different courses. At that time I’d probably played 80 or 100.”
Now, he has played them all — 546 by his count, every 18- and 9-hole golf course in the state. He completed his mission little over a month ago, when he played nine holes at Washington Park GC in Kenosha and nine more at Washington Park GC in Racine, adding the scorecards from his final rounds to the albums and boxes of other score cards that document his one-of-a-kind accomplishment.
While Ann played some 300 courses with her husband, Krueger was by himself that day so his celebration was rather muted.
“Those were the only two I had left. I just felt, oh man, it’s over. I’m 68 years old. I just felt…very relieved,” he said.
Not that the doing wasn’t fun. As a teacher, Ann had summers free, Krueger said, so golf trips were entertainment.
“We just started going every summer," he said. "We’d pick an area of the state and play every course we could.”
Often that meant two courses a day, for days in a row. One year in northwestern Wisconsin’s Indianhead region the plan called for 36 holes a day for 12 straight days.
“That’s a lot of golf,” Krueger said, “and my wife played all but three holes.”
In her defense, it was raining.
Getting on public courses was easy enough. Private courses were another matter, though.
Krueger played some of them by taking part in WSGA Net Partner or Senior Tour events that were held on private courses, or by explaining his quest in hopes that sympathetic course managers would make an exception to members-only rules. Krueger had also worked in golf marketing for a number of years and had made contacts with course professionals and managers who comped his play at some courses.
“That saved me a lot of money because most of the time we could play for free,” he said.
He had been warned the notoriously private Milwaukee CC would be a tough nut to crack, but he had a friend whose brother was the CEO of a major company and whose compensation included a Milwaukee CC membership. The CEO warned Krueger he was an infrequent golfer and on top of that a pretty bad golfer, but he signed on to the mission.
“He took myself, my brother and a friend of mine and hosted us,” Krueger said. “And that was only the 10th time he ever played.
“He maybe was the worst golfer I’ve ever played with, but a really nice guy. That was a special treat getting on that course.”
The hardest course to get on turned out to be Wausau CC, where rules required that any visitor had to play with a member. Krueger didn’t know any club members, though, and the pro ignored his pleadings to ask a member to play with him.
“We don’t ask our members to play with strangers,” was his reply, Krueger said. He got around that only after calling a friend at the WSGA who knew a Wausau CC member who played in state tournaments, and who agreed to serve as Krueger’s host.
Krueger said it would be too hard to come up with a list of his top ten courses. Certainly, the Kohler courses and celebrated layouts such as Sand Valley, Erin Hills, SentryWorld and others would be on any short list. But he said, “I hate to leave anybody out. I’d probably have a top 50 list.
“Everybody knows about (the famous courses) but I found so many nice courses I don’t think anybody knows about. That’s the amazing part is how many nice courses we have that nobody knows about.”
Another list he could compile is not so positive. “I can think of at least 20 courses that have closed since I played them,” Krueger said.
Krueger isn’t done playing golf, not by any means. Having completed his mission, he said he is now thinking of returning to courses he enjoyed but has only played once.
Oh, and there’s one other little thing on his mind.
“Well, I’ve got to play that new course they’re building at Sand Valley,” he said.