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Lake Geneva-Area Courses Grab & Sustain Golfers' Attention


Lake Geneva, Wis., began in the 1920s as a popular summer retreat for Chicago-based lumber, cattle, oil, steel, cement, manufacturing and durable-goods barons. Located about an hour and a half northwest of the Windy City and slightly less than that from Milwaukee, the area is now considered a haven for great golf, with some of the best courses at a few of the top resorts.

Opening Hole at Player Course

Urbanites looking for a chance to get away from it all can be on a golf course (or fishing and boating on one of the area's three main lakes - Lake Geneva, Lake Delavan and Lake Como) within a few hours, tops.

The region still has a feel of the "Roaring 20s" (refurbished mansions repurposed as bed and breakfasts, diverse stores and shops, quaint eateries) but also boasts the modern amenities all travelers crave. Outside the main town, the isolation is sublime, as is the golf.

Atop the list of courses is Geneva National Golf Club, which features designs by World Golf Hall of Famer members Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino, with some of the holes set along the banks of Lake Como.

No. 16 at the Player Course at Geneva National GC

Three Times the Fun

Geneva National is the second-largest golf facility in Wisconsin, ranking behind only the renowned four-course retreat at the American Club in Kohler. Geneva National's trio of layouts all sport impeccably maintained bentgrass tees, fairways and greens and are all built in the same vein: they're good courses that serve as centerpieces of a burgeoning residential community and, like the men who crafted them, each has a distinct personality.

The Player course is the most straightforward. Stretching 7,008 yards from its back set of five tees (where it carries a 74.3 rating and 141 Slope), it has a wonderful first two holes that set the table for an outstanding round of golf.

The Watery 17th at Palmer Course

The 394-yard par-4 opener heads downhill to a rolling fairway and then across a small stream to a shallow green bunkered fore and aft. The 588-yard second calls for a drive across a large pond to a wide landing area, where a decision has to be made to take a go at the smallish, elevated green (which requires crossing another pond) or lay up.

The round also features a pair of 470-yard par-4s (the ninth and 12th), the drivable 354-yard par-4 fifth, and a 3-3-3 routing of par-3s, -4s and -5s on the home half. The best two holes on the consistently fine back nine are the 526-yard par-5 14th, which is narrowed by stands of trees on each side but reachable with a pair of good swats, and the 18th, a 404-yard two-shotter that asks for a carry over a creek to a raised landing area before concluding at a three-tiered putting surface.

At 7,171 yards, Palmer's course is the longest, toughest and least forgiving of the Geneva National's threesome. Golfweek ranked it as the Badger State's 10th best course in 2012.

The 4th at the Palmer Course at Geneva National

Severe slopes define the putting surfaces, most notably at the second and seventh holes. Carrying a rating of 74.7 and 140 Slope, the course also has the most peripheral houses and tightest out-of-bounds, beginning with the first shot of the day at a 387-yard par-4 opener that turns severely left to right and plays twice over a stream.

The 407-yard second is a longer and tighter carbon-copy of the first, and the 529-yard par-5 fourth also turns hard left to right, with two huge bunkers at the turn.

No. 6 is a lovely two-shotter of 387 yards curving left short of a trio of fearsome fairway bunkers. The approach is through a tree chute to a sharply pitched green 50 feet above the fairway. There is OB just eight yards left of the fairway at one point on the 532-yard seventh, a generally straight par-5 with three deep bunkers guarding the putting surface.

Geneva National's Trevino Course

Hole Nos. 8 (a 227-yard par-3) and 9 (Palmer course's longest par-4 at 470 yards) play over and around three small lakes. But the real lake (Como) steals the show on the final three holes. The 218-yard par-3 16th ends at a green backed by the lake and fronted by two deep traps. The 573-yard par-5 17th is even more impressive with its shore-side tees. Anything hit left will find the lake - which runs tee to green, while the right side is OB and the green is backed by the lake and squeezed on the right by a cavernous bunker.

No. 18's tee has the lake - and, normally, the wind - at the player's back and moves 435 yards on a fairway pocked with eight bunkers before concluding at a shallow putting surface fronted by four more traps.

The Trevino layout gets the least amount of credit at Geneva National, and it's the least played. It was designed to be the most "player-friendly" course, and in this aspect golf's "Merry Mex" hit the nail on the head, especially by allowing players of all skills to have second chances after bad tee shots. It's fun, varied and definitely forgiving, with everything out in front of you. Still, execution is the key to scoring well here.

The 5th Hole at the Trevino Course

The layout's first six holes play through woodlands with some tight driving holes, but the remainder is comparatively open and flatter. The vistas from the elevated tees on the first three holes (par-4s of 377 and 425 yards, respectively, and a 187-yard par-3) are especially memorable.

Several holes favor a left-to-right shot shape with careful placement necessary to navigate the doglegs. The par-72 is carded at 7,120 yards from the tips, where it has a rating of 74.3 and 136 Slope.

The remarkable, 520-yard par-5 fifth demands a long and straight drive off a raised tee that will gain position for a lay-up before the approach over a creek to an elevated putting surface

Perhaps the most demanding hole at Trevino's course is the 414-yard par-4 14th, which moves downhill and whose landing area is squeezed by wide, shallow bunkers and thick forests both sides. The difficulty at No. 14 is balanced by the fun at the 608-yard 16th (the longest at Geneva National), which almost begs the golfer to grip-it-and-rip-it to get into a spot to have a go at the green in two.

Some folks might say the Trevino lacks the charisma of Player and Palmer. It's true that Trevino has no lake views and has real estate of all kinds along its fairways, but the course has more than its fair share of thrills and chills.

For more info, see www.genevanationalresort.com.

No. 18 at The Brute at Grand Geneva

Other Area Courses Make the Grade

Another must-play in the area is the courses at the Grand Geneva Resort, the erstwhile Playboy Resort that's still home to the Brute (designed by Robert Bruce Harris) and Highlands (a Bob Cupp redesign of a course originally fashioned by Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus).

The Brute, at a roller-coaster 7,085 yards and with 68 curvaceous bunkers and uneven lies, is likely the region's best course. Check out the eye-, bunny head- and heart-shaped bunkers on the course, all aligned to read "I love bunnies" to plane passengers flying overhead during the halcyon Playboy days. Grand Geneva is ranked as one of 2012's top-10 northern U.S. golf resorts by Condé Nast Traveler magazine.

For further details, visit www.grandgeneva.com.

Tops among the other Lake Geneva venues are Hawks View Golf Club's Como Crossing course and Abbey Springs Golf Club in nearby Fontana.

Hawks View GC (www.hawksviewgolfclub.com) is located on the site of former ski hill - Mt. Fuji, and features two thrilling downhill par-3s, while Abbey Springs GC (www.abbeysprings.com) bills itself as "Wisconsin's Most Beautiful Golf Course." It's certainly one of the toughest in the state, with narrow, up-and-down fairways and a succession of elevated greens.

Each of these are worth a trip to the region; getting seven great tracks within 10 miles of each other is like finding a $100 bill in an old jacket pocket - a wonderful surprise.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's world correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, covers the Longhorns for CBS Sports, is regional editor for Texas Golfer magazine and files stories for Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com)chronicles his many travels, on which he has played more than 350 golf courses since 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.