There has been an identity crisis of sorts at a once-hyped Central Wisconsin golf course. Steve Tacheny wants to do something about it. How does he start? By throwing out the floor mats without any hesitation.
“I’m grabbing all these and we’re going to the dumpster with them,” he said in March as his group prepared for the opening of the 2018 golf season.
Tacheny is the general manager with a new ownership group in place to revive the Northern Bay Golf Resort and Marina in Arkdale. When he saw the clubhouse mats this winter that read “the Castle Course” with an accompanying logo, he figured that was as good an opportunity as any to begin the change.
Sometime over the past decade the golf course at Northern Bay became branded as the Castle Course, a name derived from nearby Castle Rock Lake that converges with the Wisconsin River to form the marina portion of the property. But the course name and its association with Northern Bay often confused people. Another course with a similar name – Castle Rock golf course – existed on the other side of the lake (in Mauston). And at the Milwaukee Golf Show last March, when showgoers talked to Tacheny, many had trouble placing “the Castle Course.”
“The big thing is we need to focus on making this course relevant again because it’s kind of just been sitting out here,” said Tacheny. “It’s too nice a golf course to just kind of be an afterthought for most people because I think everyone that’s played it has enjoyed the golf course. We see it as a phenomenal golf course both from a playability standpoint and make it top of the line for people in this area or those who have come to play golf in Central Wisconsin.”
Ownership changes, the housing crash and infrequent marketing all took its toll on Northern Bay, which also consists of over 200 housing units. Stability and a clearer vision is now the aim. The identity of the course – even if lost in recent years – has always been there. Because after all, Northern Bay offers something no other Midwest course can.
Through the intentions of the Tour 18 design team, the golf course has seven “replica” holes that tend to evoke memories, if not create them. Want to get a sense of how much the 16th green at Augusta National breaks? How about playing the tantalizing approach to the famous par-5 No. 13 at Augusta? Or the exacting approach to the banana green at Bay Hill’s 18th?
Those are just three of the sturdy re-creations of famous holes on famous courses that Northern Bay offers. In total, they have seven “replica” holes also including the par-4 fifth at Oakland Hills, the par-5 No. 16 at Firestone, and the par-4 third at Oakmont. The latter may be the most dramatic with the fairway “church pews” bunker to contend with as well as an uphill approach. Miss the green and the prospects of saving a shot are grim.
Perhaps the most nerve-wracking hole, however, hits visitors right in the face as they make their way from the parking lot around to the backside of the clubhouse. At that moment, the replica of the famous island hole – No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass – comes into full sight. It is the first sign that a special golf experience awaits.
From the position of the tee boxes to the walkway to the green and the bulkhead that surrounds the island, the details are striking. The par-3 can play from 81 yards up to 146 and about the only difference is that it plays not as the penultimate hole, but as the first hole of the back nine at Northern Bay. On the other side of the lake is No. 18, which does hold the same spot in the routing as its inspiration, No. 18 at Bay Hill in Orlando.
Hole No. 3 is the first replica hole – a recreation of the par-3 No. 16 at Augusta – which is sure to produce the most three- and four-putts (and maybe more) of any green on the course. It culminates a beginning stretch (Holes 1-3) that features back-to-back par-3s and plays through the condominium development and around the marina. That makes it common during the summer months to be playing to a “crowd” at the start of a round.
The remaining non-replica holes blend in more of a Wisconsin Northwoods feel. Many are tree-lined and lone pines especially on holes 9, 13, 15 and 17 can define shots. Hole No. 15 in particular is a brute that can stretch to 641 yards from the back tees. It narrows closer to the green. The front nine generally plays longer even with the longest hole on the back nine. Three par 4s going out can stretch to 448 yards or more. And No. 2 plays as the longest par-3 from the back tees at 223 yards.
“We’ve also got 11 other pretty good holes. Two of those are probably my favorite holes on the golf course,” said Tacheny.
“We need to get back on the map for those groups of four, eight, 12, 16 or 20 guys that do this stuff every year and every neighborhood and golf course has a couple of those things go on where they do that. We used to see a lot of that here. And when they stopped advertising and marketing the golf course because of whatever reason – be it financial or lack of interest, I don’t know the answer to that – when they stopped doing that, they stopped coming. We’re perfectly branded exactly for what Central Wisconsin needs. There’s such good golf here and from a lodging perspective, there’s not much.”
Tacheny estimates there are about 10-12 permanent residential units at Northern Bay but there are plenty of rental condominium options for visitors. Golfers who visit have access to the marina and all the recreational activities that the property has to offer including swimming, fishing, tennis, basketball, beach volleyball and various water sports. The Tiki Bar is a great spot to wind down after a long day on the golf course or water.
“There’s just too much good stuff here to not be successful,” said Tacheny.
Northern Bay is just 40 minutes from Wisconsin Dells, the “Waterpark Capital of the World.” The new Sand Valley Golf Resort, which unveils two new courses to the public this summer, is only about a 30 minute drive away.
For more information on the golf course or rentals, Google “Northern Bay Golf Resort” or call Northern Bay directly at 608-339-2090.