With Erin Hills, Grand Geneva, The Bog and more, Milwaukee-area golf is a winner

MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Sure it was beer that made Milwaukee famous and rockabilly singer Jerry Lee Lewis a loser, but it has a golf history, and its future seems unlimited. Milwaukee-area golf is a winner.

The 2017 U.S. Open is scheduled at nearby Erin Hills, a brawny, 7,800-yard minimalist beast designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten.

Make the 55-mile drive to Grand Geneva Resort & Spa for The Brute and The Highlands, 36 holes of beautiful golf, and relive the days of Hugh Hefner when in 1968 this resort opened as the Lake Geneva Playboy Club Hotel.

Daily-fee beauty The Bog -- in nearby Saukville -- is a 7,221-yard par 72 that is home to the Marquette University golf team.

Tee it up at Brown Deer Golf Course, home of the Greater Milwaukee Open from 1994-2009. Tiger Woods made his PGA Tour debut here in 1996 as a 21-year-old and aced no. 14. He finished 60th and won $2,544.

And some time next year Wisconsin will open another much-anticipated golf experience named Sand Valley Golf Resort, certain to be another award-winner. The minimalist Bill Coore-and-Ben Crenshaw course is set on 1,700 acres of tumbling sand dunes, 167 miles from Milwaukee near Nekoosa. A second 18 is planned to be designed by David McLay Kidd of Bandon Dunes fame.

So, a travel golf trip to Milwaukee? You bet.

Combine it with a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game, a visit to the world-famous Harley-Davidson museum, a tour of the Lakefront Brewery and countless superb dining options and you have a great Midwest vacation.

Here's a look at the golf options:

Erin Hills

Rich Tock, Erin Hills' Ambassador to PGA Professionals, remembers the day when he stood on the no. 4 tee box and could count 13 flag sticks.

"During the U.S. Open you will be able to see and hear the crowds," Tock said of this minimalist gem designed from the beginning to host the U.S. Open.

Purists of the game love Erin Hills -- a walking-only experience with lots of fescue. Caddies are knowledgeable and the walk is a landscape of tall grasses waving on a wild prairie that was formed by glaciers colliding. The bunkers are blow-out, natural-looking, rugged and ragged. And some are tiny, making escape downright flabbergasting.

The par-3 ninth is a downhill, 165-yard precision shot that is near impossible. The green heaves up like a volcano with jagged bunkers cascading down from the putting surface in all directions. Someone joked it is the shortest par-5 hole in the golf.

Dining here is distinctive, and four guest cottages enable travel golfers to stay on site, 35 miles from downtown Milwaukee.

Brown Deer Golf Course

Brown Deer Golf Course -- rolling out to 6,759 yards at par 71 -- is a historic, classically designed parkland 18 with bentgrass fairways, tees and greens that has hosted countless important tournaments.

A river runs through it, but dissecting the narrow corridor of huge trees is you major challenge. Originally designed by George Hansen and founded in 1929, it was redesigned by Andy North and Roger Packard. Brown Deer's clubhouse is the perfect place before or after to grab some food or host your next big event; it is also a designated historic building.

Grand Geneva Resort & Spa

The Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired hotel is an easy drive from Milwaukee or Chicago and even includes a ski area chalet that Hefner designed in the shape of two interlocking snowflakes. Two prominent lakes on the golf courses were built in the shape of a heart and a bunny head.

The Brute Golf Course lives up to its name with 7,085 yards, par 72 and huge greens (they average 8,000 square feet) and 68 bunkers. The rolling woodlands of southern Wisconsin are beautifully displayed on this 1968 Robert Bruce Harris design with elevation changes and lots of water and woods. The finale, 17 and 18, are tough with demanding tee shots. Even par on these holes should be celebrated.

Grand Geneva's Highlands Golf Course, a 6,659-yard par 71, was originally designed by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye. This Scottish-style Wisconsin golf course was transformed in 1996 by Bob Cupp and was recently updated in 2006 by Bob Lohmann, with major renovations completed on holes 9, 12 and 15. It is beautiful and more playable than The Brute.

The Bog

When you see the sandhill cranes walking on the green you are about to fire at, you know The Bog -- an Arnold Palmer Signature Design course founded in 1995 -- is nature at its best.

Measured out at 7,221 yards at par 72, this excellent daily-fee course was constructed on 297 acres of woods with the Cedarburg Bog flowing through wetlands, rolling hills and wildlife habitat. The Bog features 118 bunkers and bentgrass greens that are as smooth as any in Wisconsin.

Where to stay: Potawatomi Hotel & Casino

A mile from the Harley-Davidson Museum, this contemporary casino hotel is two and a half miles from the Milwaukee Art Museum and five miles from the North Point Light House.

Sleek, sophisticated rooms feature flat-screens, pillow-top mattresses, mini-fridges, microwaves and complimentary wi-fi. Some rooms add whirlpool tubs, separate lounge areas and panoramic views of the city.

Where to dine

Here's a list of favorites: RuYi is Potawatomi's new sushi restaurant; also at the hotel, try Dream Dance Steak, Locavore and Wild Earth Cucina Italiana. Around Milwaukee, don't miss Sobelman's Pub & Grill, known for the best burgers in town.

Collectivo Lakefront is a unique cafe/deli serving sandwiches, soups and salads, plus freshly brewed coffee, espresso, tea and bakery items made daily from scratch. It located in the historic Milwaukee River Flushing Station built in 1888.

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.
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With Erin Hills, Grand Geneva, The Bog and more, Milwaukee-area golf is a winner
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