Escape from Chicago: Five must-play golf courses in the Lake Geneva, Wisconsin area

The Lake Geneva, Wisconsin area is known as Chicago's playground, although it's actually closer to Milwaukee. About an hour and a half north of the Windy City, Lake Geneva was founded by Chicago's wealthy families around 100 years ago.

Now the area offers 22 golf courses, many of them exceptional. And although 90 percent of the area's tourism comes from Chicagoland, the rest of the country should take notice of this terrific setting around one of America's most pristine bodies of water, Geneva Lake. Narrowing down the best golf isn't easy, but here are five golf settings that won't do you wrong.

Grand Geneva Resort

With a great history and two distinctly different yet enjoyable golf courses, the Grand Geneva Resort is certainly one of the main attractions in the area.

Nearly a half century ago, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner built one of his famous Playboy Resorts, which is now the Grand Geneva. Now the resort -- in addition to its terrific dining, spa and other activities -- has two really good golf courses, The Brute and The Highlands.

Grand Geneva's Brute Course, a Robert Bruce Harris design that can play more than 7,300 yards, is one of the most challenging in the Midwest, and prettiest. The Highlands Course was originally designed by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye, but it got a complete makeover in 1996 by Bob Cupp (and updated in 2006) and was vastly improved.

Today, this Scottish links-like experience rates as one of the area's best and most playable courses.

Geneva National

Certainly on par with Grand Geneva in terms of golf, Geneva National offers three championship courses, all designed by recognizable names -- Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino.

Not coincidentally, the courses are named after the designers. Geneva National's Palmer Course might be the most popular of the three, but it's really a matter of personal preference. All three take advantage of the natural wetlands and water features in the area.

The Palmer Course ends with three spectacular finishing holes along Lake Como, including the 17th, which Palmer calls one of his personal favorites. All three are in terrific condition, and the resort offers stay-and-play packages, including an option to stay at its new Inns of Geneva Resort.

Hawk's View Golf Club

One of the best daily-fee facilities in the Lake Geneva area is Hawk's View Golf Club, which not only offers a well conditioned and scenic 18-hole championship course but an 18-hole short course as well.

The regulation course is a 7,074-yard, par-72 layout called Como Crossings, named after Como Creek, which meanders throughout the course. The Craig Shiner-designed layout is located on the site of former ski hill Mt. Fuji, providing dramatic elevation changes on several holes, including a couple of dramatic par 3s.

Barn Hollow is the facility's family friendly golf course and a little more affordable. (Although Hawk's View offers prices that cover both courses.) The 2,708-yard, par-3 golf course is also well conditioned with plenty of water hazards, bunkers and undulating greens.

Lake Lawn Resort

Sometimes overlooked, the underrated Lake Lawn Resort golf course is a quality test that's also one of the more affordable in the area.

The course and the resort went through some financial trouble a couple of years ago, but new ownership has brought both back to new heights. Laid out around Delavan Lake, the course is pretty straightforward but certainly no pushover.

It's also eminently walkable and playable by golfers of all abilities.

Abbey Springs

Across the lake in Fontana is the really beautiful Abbey Springs golf course. Routed through mature woodlands, this challenging course has small, sloped greens and water hazards that come into play on half of the holes.

Designed by Dick Nugent and Ken Killian, the course is a good test for advanced players. The excellent condition of the course is also a feature that any golfer can appreciate.

Abbey Springs' signature hole is the par-4 17th, which plays from an elevated tee that overlooks Geneva Lake.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Escape from Chicago: Five must-play golf courses in the Lake Geneva, Wisconsin area