The benefits of having the U.S. Open in your backyard are vast.
Not only did the USGA’s flagship championship place a spotlight on the state of Wisconsin and the host course, Erin Hills, but the tournament also exposed traveling golfers to one of the finest municipal courses in the nation, Washington County Golf Course in nearby Hartford, Wisconsin.
And most of those golfers were thoroughly impressed with what they saw and experienced. How do we know this? Well, trusted surveys are always a great place to start. Golf Advisor, part of Golf Channel’s empire ranks the top 25 courses in each state based upon a wide range of categories including Conditions, Layout and Staff Friendliness.
According to their website, “Our annual best-of lists are determined by the community of Golf Advisor members, the vast majority of which paid their own money to play and received no special access or treatment. Golfers can review just about any course in the world on Golf Advisor, and we also have various tee time affiliates that allow us to send post-round emails asking for a review. Any golf course can also embed a ratings widget on their site to encourage reviews.”
Over 3,400 nationwide courses received at least 10 reviews (the minimum to be considered) in 2017, and Washington County emerged as the #2 course in the Badger State and #23 in the nation.
Mike Bailey, Senior Travel Writer for Golf Advisor had the opportunity to play WCGC a few years ago and immediately filled out a positive survey on the Arthur Hills gem. “Washington County is one of my favorite Arthur Hills designs and quite possibly the best muni in Wisconsin. It’s very playable and scenic too. Many of Hills’ courses are unforgiving, but not this one! Miss a shot here and you have a chance to recover, which is half the fun of golf,” explained Bailey.
Quotes like that from respected journalists are music to the ears of WCGC’s staff, including Jamie Ludovic, Central Services Director of Washington County, Wisconsin. “The rankings clearly reflect our commitment to excellence in Washington County. The course is absolutely stunning but to be ranked that highly by Golf Advisor goes one step further. It’s about the people and the experience. Washington County is the epitome of everything that we love about Wisconsin and everything we love about home. When you golf on our course, you’re golfing with our people, and our people are second to none. And, we’re not fancy. That’s what we have, a brilliant, well-kept golf course that isn’t fancy,” concluded Ludovic.
The reasons for Washington County’s ascent up Golf Advisor’s rankings are as varied as the type of player the course appeals to. Windswept moguls combine with waist-high fescue grass to create the ultimate links experience that you don’t need a passport to enjoy, or a second mortgage on your house for that matter. Average green fees are between $45-$77 and Washington county residents only have to show their county ID to save at least 20% on all rates. Honestly, the most common complement I’ve heard from first-timers playing WCGC is that they thought the course was worth twice what they paid!
Head Golf Professional Craig Czerniejewski agrees. “Countless times throughout the season we hear what a great value-per-dollar the facility offers compared to other courses. We offer special rates during varied times of the day to accommodate those that may not have a lot of golf dollars to spend. For our non-resident players, we do offer a discount card that may be purchased for $50 a season. This pass allows non-residents to enjoy equivalent resident rates all season long,” stated Czerniejewski.
So whether you live five or 500 miles away, you will be awe-struck with the natural beauty of the rolling landscape. Impressive views of Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary, one of only 60 minor catholic basilicas in the nation as deemed by the Archdiocese, are also present on both nines and Arthur Hills did a magnificent job of routing the course to let golfers pause at the cathedral’s beauty.
Water comes into play on only four holes, two on each nine. The par-5 7th features water down nearly the entire left side plus a small stream cuts through the fairway in front of a narrow green. Play this hole once and it is painfully obvious you have tackled the course’s number 1 handicap hole. On the back nine, the 197 yard, par-3 14th is played to a pin-sizes green with water lurking left.
Washington County was designed with the amateur golfer in mind, as four perfectly positioned tee boxes equal fun for a scratch to 30 handicap and everyone in between. The blue tees measure just under 6,600 yards, but thanks for usually firm and fast conditions that number shouldn’t scare anyone that can carry a drive over 200 yards in the air as there are minimal forced carries. Only three par-4s measure over 400 yards as the yardage and difficulty of the course are cleverly hidden in the length of the par-3s and par-5s. In fact, the shortest par-3 you’ll play from the blue tees is 175 yards and all par-5s range between 513 and 548 yards.
Most courses subscribe to the “what goes down must come back up” theory but there are far more memorable downhill shots than agonizing uphill ones at Washington County. Hills’ clever routing taps into the subtleties of the Kettle Moraine, which was the same glacier that left behind Erin Hills stunning topography less than 10 miles south. The course sits at just over 1,000 feet above sea level, one of the highest points in the county.
Another point of emphasis when discussing the Washington County experience is their impressive junior program. There might not be a course in the state that is better equipped to teach juniors the game, thanks in large part to their massive practice area that includes a three- hole short course. Washington County is blessed with a phenomenal driving range that boasts over three acres of bent grass hitting area and six regulation size target greens. They also have a short game area with two chipping and pitching greens surrounded by five bunkers and a 45-yard long fairway approach. Finally, their three-hole practice course which circles the driving range, separates them from other public facilities throughout the entire state of Wisconsin.
“Our junior golf program provides excitement for the staff and volunteers, as well as teaches our young golfers the basics and fundamentals in the game of golf,” began Czerniejewski. “We cover etiquette, sportsmanship and all the basic fundamentals to give kids the tools for a lifelong love of the game. The practice course is free to kids and the adult greens fee is $8 for unlimited daily play. This course allows individuals an introduction to the game without the pressure and anxiety of playing a full length championship course,” ended Czerniejewski.
County Administrator Joshua Schoemann has witnessed WCGC’s comprehensive junior program firsthand and believes it has made a difference in the lives of young golfers throughout the county. “The programming with our kids is one of the key features of our course, and was foundational to its creation 20 years ago, as evidenced by ‘Family Park’ which is the adjoining County Park to Washington County Golf Course,” explained Schoemann. “My 10-year -old son Drake is a participant in the junior program and loves Craig, Andrew, our entire team, and the experience he gets in lessons and on the course. It is a true blessing to have an affordable option to spend time bonding with my son, getting him off of the screens and in the fresh air,” smiled Schoemann.
If Golf Advisor’s Best of 2017 list is any indication, traveling golfers from all across the world used the U.S. Open at Erin Hills as the perfect reason to check out another Wisconsin course worthy of praise – Washington County in Hartford. For more information on WCGC, visit their website at www.golfwcgc.com or call their pro shop at (262) 670-6616.