I’d like to start by addressing the headline on which many have focused: This week’s 25 and 24 match play loss to my friend Stephen Watson of Bally Sports Wisconsin.
Those numbers are jarring and I make no excuses for them – although you can’t get beaten that badly unless you sign up for a match of historic proportions. That’s what we did this week – attempting to (and succeeding in!) playing the top 10 public golf courses in Wisconsin over a stretch of just under 40 hours.
You may be asking yourself how this came together and what on earth the point of this feat was, which are both great questions. This golf marathon started as the brainchild of Rob Jansen, the Executive Director of the fantastic Wisconsin State Golf Association. Rob tries to one-up himself each year by using his tourism budget to perform different feats that show the rest of the world what a fantastic golf state we have here in Wisconsin. In fact, the golf is so good that the state contains 10 of the country’s top 100 public golf courses, a perfect framework for this challenge.
In the past, the WSGA has done a lot to show off the breadth and depth of Wisconsin public golf, but one thing Rob and the crew wanted to focus on this year was just how accessible they are in a short amount of time. With high concentrations of great golf around Kohler and Sand Valley, he wondered how quickly we could cross off the top 10 and started to build out an itinerary. Stephen and I were happy to be the guinea pigs.
I actually laughed out loud the first time I saw the itinerary spelled out. While it was all technically possible, any small speed bump (a slow group in front of us, a road construction delay, a long Culver’s wait, etc.) would cause a domino effect that could derail an entire day.
Somehow, thanks to Rob disarming various landmines along the way, we avoided any of those and finished with daylight to spare at Erin Hills.
For those interested in the blow-by-blow, Stephen and I ran through the whole trip on his local golf radio show, which you can listen to here.
For the visually-inclined: We were so lucky to be joined on the trip by the uber-talented duo of Jason Jahnke and Dylan Bloch, who not only captured all the stills contained here but will also be producing a short film for the WSGA, chronicling the journey and showing off each course in much more detail. Look for that sometime in the next few months.
After meeting in Kohler on Saturday night and having exactly two (2) Old Fashioneds, this was the itinerary Rob had put together (with plenty of help from all the participating courses). Stephen and I decided the best competition would be a 180-hole match for a cold beer. I was disappointed to not get the match to the final course, but credit to my opponent for some excellent golf.
Sunday, July 9
3:45 a.m.: Wake up at The American Club.
4:50 a.m.: Balls in the air at Whistling Straits (Irish Course). We needed to be off the Straits Course before the first public tee time at 7 a.m., so we played in carts for 1 hour, 46 minutes.
6:50 a.m.: First off at Whistling Straits (Straits Course). Walked in 2:46 and finished No. 18 as the first public group of the day was walking off 9 green.
9:45 a.m.: 15-minute drive to Blackwolf Run for a 10 a.m. tee time at The River Course. This was our longest round of the trip as we ran into a full golf course of public play after about 3 holes. Rode in 3:46.
2:20 p.m.: Tee time on Blackwolf Run’s Meadow Valleys course. Rode in 3:28. (FWIW, Stephen shot even par and put me 18 down with 108 to play. High-level golf is being played by him at this point.)
5:50 p.m.: 10-minute drive to The Bull at Pinehurst Farms. Public play had mostly cleared out by this point and we were able to fly around in carts in 2 hours.
8:00 p.m.: Pack up the van, stop at Culver’s and KwikTrip, and eventually make our way toward Sand Valley.
12:10 a.m.: Arrive at Sand Valley, shower, unpack, lay out clothes and fall asleep by 12:40 a.m.
Monday, July 10
3:50 a.m.: Wake up, stretch, drive to Mammoth Dunes. This was the low point for me. Pure anxiety about the lack of sleep and the 6-mile run/walk ahead of us.
4:40 a.m.: On the tee at Mammoth Dunes (walking only), teeing off with glow balls to buy extra time and doing a good bit of running between shots. Like Whistling Straits, we needed to be done with Mammoth and off Sand Valley before the first public tee time at 6:50 a.m. Our caddies Rose and Sawyer knew what they were signing up for and embraced the assignment. We ran/walked around Mammoth Dunes in an hour and 43 minutes. Somehow I shot 76. Mammoth is so fun.
6:30 a.m.: Off Sand Valley with Rose and Sawyer for a leisurely 2:23 stroll.
9 a.m.: 50-minute drive to SentryWorld in Stevens Point. The golf course is closed on Mondays, so we had the place to ourselves. Because they just got done hosting the U.S. Senior Open, it still took an hour and 45 minutes. Unbelievable rough.
11:52 a.m.: Rob decides we have built in an extra “8 minutes” to take a shower, which may have been what made the rest of the day possible.
12:00 p.m.: 1:15 minute drive to Lawsonia for a 1:30 p.m. tee time on the Links Course. Even at this point of the day, I can’t stress to you how much fun Lawsonia was. It was blowing 20 and the place was completely burned out and firm. It looked like the freaking “Duel in the Sun” out there. Hitting pitching wedges from 160 and watching the ball bounce around all over the place. What a golf course. We whipped around in carts in 2:12. Stephen closed me out with an excellent up and down from the bunker on 12.
3:45 p.m.: Coffees and a 90-minute drive to Erin Hills.
5:30 p.m.: On the tee at Erin with our guy Dominic Cotroneo (from Episode 1 of Strapped: Spring Training) on the bag. The hands had totally disappeared at this point. I made doubles from 55 yards and 105 yards respectively on Nos. 2 and 4. But a gallery of friendlies (and some double Fescue Rescues) began showing up at the turn and I somehow made three birdies and shot 35 on the final nine. Insanity.
Final putts hit the hole just before 8:30 p.m.
As you can imagine, we didn’t have much time to look around at each place, so please take these for what you will.
1. Erin Hills: Such a phenomenal collection of golf holes, 1 to 18. One of the biggest hikes around (and a tough place to finish), but it’s one of those places where golf really feels like a “sport” in the best way. Great facility, great people, great cocktails. The 2025 U.S. Women’s Open is going to rule.
Favorite hole: No. 15. (Honorable mention: No. 12).
2. Whistling Straits (Straits): Every time you walk around there, it somehow feels like you’re simultaneously in quintessential rural Wisconsin and on a different planet. Snobs will happily remind you that it doesn’t play like a true links, which is true. But there are also few cooler places to spend a gorgeous day chasing your golf ball. Par 3s quickly suss out who is up for the task.
Favorite hole: No. 6
3. Lawsonia (Links): I don’t know what it is about the place, it just warms my heart to no end. The entire front nine just goes so hard and seeing what Langford and Moreau shaped with rudimentary equipment blows my mind every time I’m there. Unbelievable scale to the place and as mentioned above, the conditions made you feel like you were playing some under-the-radar Scotland gem.
Favorite hole: No. 6
4. Mammoth Dunes: Are you going to shoot your low score of the season out there? Probably. But it’s also about as much fun as you can have playing golf. Unbelievable walk (or run).
Favorite hole: No. 11
5. Sand Valley: More of the same. Great chances to score, horrible places to miss. Everything you’d expect out of Coore & Crenshaw, including some really fun par 5s.
Favorite hole: No. 9
6. Whistling Straits (Irish): First time out there (and it was before 5 a.m. when we teed off), but I really enjoyed it. It’s not much tamer than its more famous neighbor and you have to golf your ball to keep it in play. But even without the lake, it does a great job of creating a really unique feeling for southern Wisconsin.
Favorite hole: No. 10
7. SentryWorld: We whipped through this one quickly, but it would have been great to settle in and enjoy the day at an awesome property. Playing the week after a senior major was a wake-up call difficulty-wise and had me playing defense trying to hit fairways and avoiding the gnarly rough.
Favorite hole: No. 9
8. Blackwolf Run (River): I need to play it again since this is where we ran out of gas for the first time on Day 1. So take this ranking for what you will. I played bad and drove it all over the place, so it was tough to get too much of a feel for the place. Navigating the trees as vertical hazards on Nos. 9 and 10 would have had Randy swooning.
Favorite hole: No. 9
9. Blackwolf Run (Meadow Valleys): I really loved the back nine of MV, particularly the finishing stretch of 16, 17, 18, which were all totally different, but brought out the best parts of the property. Also have to shout out Stephen here, who shot 72 at MV and put me 18 down with 108 to play.
Favorite hole: No. 16
10. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms: Immaculate condition and featured some of the most dramatic shots of the trip. But no question it’s a brute, especially as the fifth round of the day.
Favorite hole: No. 9
- To the surprise of no one, I played my best golf of the year while not thinking about anything. See the ball, hit the ball, find it and hit it again. It was crazy what a good rhythm you can get in while playing fast. And I think some of the time deadlines created a forced pressure that made for increased focus and higher stakes with each shot. In other words, I have no idea how people play good and slow competitive golf. It’s so impressive.
- Obviously, we only walked about half the rounds, but the body and feet held up well! Other than being a little slow going up and down the stairs on Tuesday, I would have been ready to go for another 36.
- The biggest takeaway was just how different the 10 courses were from each other. The fact that they all exist not only within the same state but within a few hours’ drive of each other is crazy. And it’s not just different views or different accommodations – it’s wildly different styles of golf. The firm and fast conditions of Lawsonia versus the do-or-die target style of The Bull are within 90 minutes of each other and almost feel like different sports entirely. Erin Hills and Whistling Straits are certainly the two most popular on the list and they feel like different universes from each other.
- There’s probably a Joe Lunardi “First Teams Out” trip to be done that plays 10 entirely different golf courses and is just as fun. That’s how deep the depth is in the state. Brown Deer Park, University Ridge, Lac La Belle, Spring Valley, things of that nature. Maybe next week.
Total Time: 39 hours, 41 minutes
Total time golfing: 24 hours, 59 minutes
Total time sleeping: 3 hours, 10 minutes
Fastest round: Mammoth Dunes, 1 hour, 43 minutes walking
Slowest round: Blackwolf Run (River), 3 hours, 54 minutes riding
Average round: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Low rounds: Stephen, 72 (Meadow Valleys); D.J., 76 (Mammoth Dunes)
High rounds: Stephen, 83 (The Bull); D.J., 87 (Blackwolf Run – River)
Average score: Stephen, 78.2; D.J., 81.7
Total birdies: D.J., 16; Stephen, 14