Plan a summer golf vacation on a budget in the Wisconsin Dells

The summer in The Dells! The summer in The Dells! Go with the family-o, the summer in The Dells!

The Wisconsin Dells, Wis., has been a family vacation destination for Midwesterners for nearly 150 years. It was one of the first budget friendly vacation spots in the nation.

Despite the relatively recent influx of touristy attractions -- water parks, amusement parks, haunted houses, zip-lining, mini-golf, casinos -- The Dells is still a prime locale to spend a week or three with the family and not break the bank, even if you do want to play some outstanding golf while you're there.

Lodging in Wisconsin Dells

For decades, there were two kinds of lodging options in The Dells: camping and Ma & Pa motels. On the official Dells website (, you'll find more than 20 campgrounds listed.

Most of these have multiple options, from no hook-up campsites (around $40/night) to full hook-ups for RVs (around $50/night) to cabins (around $100/night). Seasonal and holiday rates vary somewhat widely, though, so do your due diligence. Most of these campgrounds also have tons of amenities, including free showers, swimming pools and water parks, fishing ponds, sports facilities.

If camping isn't your thing, there are even more hotel/motel options -- The Dells website lists more than 70, in fact, from small Ma & Pa motels straight out of the 1950s to enormous resorts with some of the biggest indoor and outdoor waterparks in America. The size of the property is generally positively correlated with the size of your bill at check-out.

There is plenty to do outside in The Dells -- waterparks, fishing and golf being the three biggest -- but if you want to hedge your bets and ensure that the kids have fun even if it rains, consider one of the big resorts. Wilderness Territory Resort, Kalahari, and Great Wolf Lodge are the three biggest, with huge indoor waterparks and amusement centers.

Rooms can run from less than $200/night to around $300/night at these big resorts, depending on season and package deal. But the rooms are spacious, including various suite options. Day passes can also be purchased by non-guests.

Dining in the Wisconsin Dells

For authentic Wisconsin cooking at reasonable prices, try Brat House Grill or Cheese Factory Restaurant or simply stop into any gas station and pick up a bag of fresh cheese curds. (Tip: The best cheese curds "squeak" against your teeth as you chew.)

Also, the fast food restaurant Culver's was founded in Wisconsin, so even their tasty Butterburgers can be considered "local fare."

Wisconsin Dells golf

The secret to playing golf on a budget in The Dells is to play later in the day. Twilight rates, which run around 40 percent lower than regular rates, begin on all courses after 2 or 3 p.m. And because you're so far north, there's no problem fitting in a leisurely 18 holes well before dusk. Peak season weekend rates for three of the four courses below run around $100 (The Canyon is somewhat less), so you can do the math.

Coldwater Canyon at Chula Vista Resort is the oldest in The Dells, and plays at just less than 6,000 yards from the back tees. Recent reviews on GolfAdvisor mention that a good bit of work is being done to the course to spruce it up.

Trappers Turn Golf Club offers 27 meticulously groomed holes of golf designed by Andy North and Roger Packard. Trappers Turn comprises a lovely pastiche of golf holes, with about one-third being linksy, one-third water-lined and one-third heavily wooded. The three nines -- the Arbor, Lake and Canyon -- can be played in any combination at just less than 7,000 from the tips and around 6,500 from the blues. Kalahari Resort guests receive special rates.

Wild Rock Golf Club at Wilderness Territory Resort is the newest course in The Dells. It's a 7,414-yard Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry design that was laid out to take advantage of the area's rolling hills, plentiful water, and limestone bluffs and outcroppings. The layout was recognized by several national golf publications as one of the top five new courses in 2008 and is a skillful blend of challenging holes and resort-style features. Special rates are available for Wilderness Territory Resort guests.

The Castle Course at Northern Bay Golf Resort in "The Upper Dells" is the Midwest's only replica course. The 7,223-yard track at Northern Bay was designed by Matt Mootz and Tour 18, a Houston operation specializing in tribute courses. You'll find holes that mimic some of the most famous ones from Augusta National, TPC Sawgrass, Oakland Hills, Firestone Country Club, Oakmont and Bay Hill, along with some excellent original holes.

For the money, the Wisconsin Dells is still one of America's great budget-friendly family destinations. Hi-ho!

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.

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Plan a summer golf vacation on a budget in the Wisconsin Dells