Andy North was three years removed from his second U.S. Open victory as the calendar turned to 1988. A series of injuries had made the grind of the PGA Tour more difficult with each passing year. The 38-year-old Madison, Wisconsin native was looking for a new quest, something that would keep him close the to game he loved while at the same time minimizing the stress on his body.
Golf course design seemed like the perfect transition. A meeting with prominent designer Roger Packard at Cantigny Golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois paved the way for the duo to co-create Trappers Turn in Wisconsin Dells, less than an hour north of Wisconsin’s capital city. According to North, the stars aligned perfectly 30 years ago at the outset of the property originally named Trappers Canyon.
“Roger and I had talked about working on a project or two together for some time, and Trappers Turn was the perfect one. It was close for me so I could spend a lot of time there which was ideal as I had a lot to learn about designing a course. From the first time I walked the land I knew this was going to be a special property. To be able to use some of the rock formations and the natural topography was really unique. And 30 years later I continue to be really proud of it,” concluded North.
For a neophyte golf course designer, having to work with the dynamic land found at Trappers Turn can be likened to taking your geometry final exam on the first day of class. For North, he wasn’t phased thanks to the guiding hand of Roger Packard.
“We made a good team in that I had a really good sense of the playability and what we wanted to accomplish that way,” began North. “And he taught me an awful lot about drainage and irrigation and how do we get the people from here to there, you know, the nuts and bolts part of it. We had a lot of fun doing the golf course and I probably spent more time during the construction of that course than any one I have done since,” remarked the three-time PGA TOUR winner.
When Trappers Turn opened to the public in 1991 it was comprised of 18 championship holes divided into two nines, The Lake and The Canyon. The Arbor Nine completed the 27-hole layout 10 years later. The Canyon Nine was filled with design challenges, but the finished product elicits multiple shock and awe reactions per round thanks to the series of stunning rock formations throughout. You know a hole is famous when it has a name, and the jaw-dropping par-3 7th dubbed “The Canyon Hole” is no exception. The downhill beauty may be small on yardage (176 from the tips) but is big on spectacular views and memorable shots.
“The great thing about the Canyon Nine is there were holes that jumped out at you thanks to how the land was laid. And when we got to the now 7th hole and said, man, this would be really cool if we could put a par-3 down in here. When we originally did that hole, we had cleaned off the cliffs and there wasn’t anything growing up so all you saw was rock. It was a spectacular hole from the moment we laid it out and even today I get a lot of comments on “The Canyon Hole,” stated North.
Trying to fit a par-3 into a narrow rock formation is challenging enough, but try designing 27 holes on three distinctive pieces of land while at the same time making them appear connected. As the titles of the nines indicate, Trappers Turn is buoyed by lakes, canyons, pine forests, and nearly every natural wonder that glacial movement left behind. For North and Packard, that inherent challenge made the project even more satisfying.
“That aspect of Trappers Turn was so much fun about it because you had totally different types of typography on the property and were able to mix and match some ideas. Plus, we created the final nine (Arbor) ten years after the first 18 holes, so we were able use a few ideas we couldn’t get to originally with the new nine. I think at the end of the day all we can ask of a golf course is that it’s really fun for people to play. And that’s the most important thing,” discussed North.
Trappers Turn’s legacy is cemented, as the property has hosted every single important state event including the 1998 State Open. Another Madison-area native, Steve Stricker, took home the title and in so doing validated the courses’ prominence and appeal even further.
“I was so happy when Steve won the State Open 20 years ago at Trappers Turn. One of my main design philosophies from the start is you want a course to be more difficult for a good player and easier for a less-skilled player,” stated North. “And from that perspective at Trappers Turn I am very happy with how we ended up. But from the back tees, even though it’s not real long, with the proper hole locations, it can be very challenging. From the middle and front tees the course is very playable and offers enough bail-out areas so it isn’t as difficult. That is one of the reasons the course has always held up well – whether PGA Pros or daily fee patrons are playing it,” concluded North.
North also made it a point to praise Todd Nelson and his family, owners of the nearby Kalahari Resort & Waterpark and Trappers Turn. Their facilities have been a major part of the wildly successful Andy North & Friends charitable galas over the last decade and so far their efforts have raised over $10.5 million dollars for the UW Carbone Cancer Center in Madison.
“Todd is a visionary. He understands doing things the right way and it shows in all of his properties and endeavors,” began North. For example, since they’ve remodeled the clubhouse, they’ve created a place for big parties and weddings. And every Friday they are packed in for their Friday Night Fish Fry. Honestly, it’s just a great place to go hang out. The golf course is just phenomenal as they’ve made a real effort to make it a must-play experience every day. As a designer you love that you have an operator and an owner that really understands what you wanted to accomplish there and they’ve surpassed your dreams. Trappers Turn has been great for the state of Wisconsin and I am honored to have had a small piece in it’s success,” ended North.
A humble two-time U.S. Open champion has secured a greater legacy in the game thanks to a series of stellar Midwest designs that started in earnest at Trappers Turn in Wisconsin Dells. For more information on the property, including stay and play packages and wedding and banquets options, visit www.trappersturn.com