Blackwolf Run (River)

Pete Dye had a thrilling landscape blessed with natural hazards with which to work at Blackwolf Run.

Resort course were once looked upon with indifference by the student of course design – they were average courses with one or two postcard holes with the others sandwiched between condominiums. Around 1982 with the creation of the TPC Course at Sawgrass, a number of world class courses (the words are chosen carefully) have opened that are available to the public. The two courses at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisconsin are examples of this phenomenon.

To play golf at The American Club’s Blackwolf Run is to enjoy golf of the highest order, resort or otherwise. A player may walk and carry his bag; there are NO houses or condominiums; the courses are kept in immaculate condition; there are no indifferent holes as the best land was used for the courses; there are four sets of tees, ensuring that everyone can play the course at an accommodating length; and the coursesare thoroughly challenging (to say the least!).

The River course (which will be discussed here, although Meadow Valleys is quite good and will beprofiled later) features a characteristic from the Golden Years of course design: the holes becoming progressively more difficult as the player gets closer to the hole. The player has plenty of room off the tee; he should bring his ‘big’ game to Blackwolf Run, as the driver is a fundamental club. Playing courses that don’t keep the driver out of the player’s hands is always very refreshing.

Once the player arrives at the greens, the real fun begins. Many who only play the course once or twice and don’t take time to get to know the course, claim the greens are too severe. Upon closer examination, there are only a few (less than five) possible hole locations (e.g., front-left on the 5th) on the entire course where three-putting from less than fifteen feet is a realistic fear. The actual difficulty with the greens comes into play where the approach shot is well wide of the hole. Pete Dye correctly thinks a player should have to do something special to get down in two from 40 feet. Dye has simply re-introduced what strangely seems to be a novel concept – that two-putting from afar can be a real achievement, similar to getting down in two from a bunker.

Kohler is a company town, with the Kohler factory visible above and far beyond the green of the long one-shot 10th.

An interesting requirement of the River course is that a player needs to visualize the flight of his shots. Solitary trees (e.g., 11, 16) or groups of trees (e.g., 9, 13) demand that the player know how high he can hit his irons (or woods) at a certain distance. With the 11th hole, for example, the player faces a tree on the edge of the river at exactly the line he would like for his second shot. Should he now play a longer club to the right of the tree (and toward the water more), play a shorter club to the left (and have a longer third shot) or play the ball over the tree? How many players are used to estimating the height of a 4-wood when it is 180 yards away? Again, Dye is making the player do something for which he is not in the habit.

Dye himself was mightily impressed by the drivable 9th because of all the options it afford you off the tee; however, such is thestrength of the course that the authors more prefer half a dozen holes, as we see below:

Holes to Note

First hole, 550 yards; The River course deserves credit in particular for one feature:one of the two or threefinest collection of four par five holes in the country. Think about it: the 1st along the bluffs of the Sheboygan River , the high alpine adventure of the 8th, the 11th with the river on the right, and 16th with the river on the left this time. Each shot is of great distinction and merit on all four holes – the player feels he is in a chess game as he tacts down the fairways, re-evaluating his options with each shot. This course confirms Pete Dye as the master of designingthree shot holes, a trait he shares with few architects.

The back markers offer an intimidating start to intimidating course.

Like many green complexes here, the 1st is angled in relation to the fairway and is open in front.

Forth hole, 185 yards; At first glance, this hole appears to be just another variation of the standard water par three, but there is much more to the hole. The ridge that obscures the left side of the green from the tee and the green contouring makes the hole. Afine example of a bail-out area – a player who plays to the left, away from the water, takes 5 out of the equation as well as, more times than not, 3 because of the green’s clever contours.

The difficulties on and around the 4th green are not readily apparent from the tee.

Fifth hole, 405 yards; From the elevated tee, the golfer’s eye is naturally drawn down the river which parallels the right side of the 5th fairway. However, in this case, the river really shouldn’t be in play as the best line off the tee isalways down theleft of the fairway. Only from such a spot can the golfer best access the green which is angled from left to right.

Pete Dye benched the 5th green against the far hillside. The ideal line off the tee is toward the left bunker, well away from the river.

Judging the approach shot is difficult as the green is some 25 feet above the fairway. To chase after this back right hole location is foolhardy.

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