Augusta National’s Amen Corner – a nook of holes 11 through 13 on hallowed Georgia property – is as good as it gets for a three-hole stretch of golf anywhere.
Imagine a place then where the stakes are raised even higher. A place, say, where a three-hole stretch included not only the most famous hole of the aforementioned Masters Tournament trio, but also the signature one from The Players and one from an iconic U.S. Open venue, too. What would that feel like?
At Northern Bay Resort (www.northernbayresort.com, 608-339-2090), such an experience is closer to a reality than it is a fantasy that might play out on video games or indoor golf simulators.
By location and the growing Wisconsin golf scene, the golf course at Northern Bay can get lost in the shuffle. This has not gone unnoticed by a new ownership group (Regency Hotel Management) that took over the resort last March.
“The golf course itself, and I hate to say this, but it’s just hidden here and it’s such a great golf course,” said general manager Steve Tacheny of the Arkdale, Wisconsin attraction just a 45-mintue drive from Wisconsin Dells and less than 30 minutes from highly-acclaimed Sand Valley. “Coming here and playing with a group is kind of how this golf course was designed. It’s just designed to have a blast.”
The 18-hole layout has forged its reputation with seven replica holes from famous golf courses around the country. Four courses with major championship history are covered as is the “fifth” major on the PGA Tour.
The center of attention by all accounts is a spot-on copy of the famous island green, No. 17 at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. It plays as No. 10 in the Northern Bay routing, a pulsating start to the back nine not only for its challenge but also for its proximity to the clubhouse and potential onlookers.
“That hole just speaks for itself,” said Tacheny. “I love sitting in the bar watching people stand over their clubs and throw grass in the air. I mean, it’s a very simple shot but I know every time I stand over it I don’t even want to think about it. I just grab a club and hope for the best. But it’s fun sitting in (the clubhouse) and watching people play that hole.”
Foursomes ahead or behind a group on No. 10 are always watching what happens on that green, too. The same goes for those playing No. 18 (a replica of No. 18 at Bay Hill in Orlando), as the finishing hole’s approach shot and boomerang green complex sit across the pond from No. 10. All together the setting is not unlike that at No. 16 and No. 17 at Sawgrass, minus thousands of fueled-up golf fans.
The island green hole begins a stretch on the inward nine at Northern Bay that includes a copy of No. 13 at Augusta on the next hole. The banking of the dogleg left fairway and the approach to the green provides a striking resemblance sans the Azaleas and towering pines.
“It’s probably my favorite of the replica holes on the course just because it sets up so nice and is so appealing to the eye,” said Tacheny. “That’s another one where we’re kind of taking some trees on the right side – obviously at Augusta where they have the 65-year old mature trees that we don’t have, we have 12-year old trees – but were cutting them up at about nine feet so you can see underneath them and it gives a different look to the hole. We’re also going to do some work on the (stream) to see if we can’t get that thing running more efficiently this year so it’s running all the time.”
Those lucky enough to avoid the water hazards on Nos. 10 and 11 will come to a hazard of a different kind at No. 12. Concluding the three-hole “major championship” stretch is a reproduction of No. 3 at Oakmont Country Club and its famous church pews bunker. A tee shot into this not-so-holy area can leave a crafty shot to an uphill approach, if not a chip out.
“That’s another hole we want to reshape just by the mowing lines,” said Tacheny. “I think you’ll see more guys on the right side because the fairway kind of sets them up that way when you sit on the tee box (the church pews bunker is on the left side). We’re kind of taking a look at the original photographs on all these holes and just kind of saying ‘OK, what are we missing?’ We can’t really put in a 60-foot tree anywhere but just as far as how the golf course sets up to the eye. That’s kind of what our superintendent (Bruce Livingston) and I are looking at.”
Tacheny’s reference to “another hole” is No. 4 at Northern Bay, a clone of No. 5 at Oakland Hills’ South Course in Michigan. There are plans to change the mowing lines there, too, to give the straightaway hole the appearance of a dogleg left, just like at Oakland Hills. For good measure Northern Bay’s No. 4 runs alongside a road just like No. 5 does at the South Course, a component of the re-creation that few probably realize.
The outward nine at Northern Bay also features replicas of No. 16 at Akron’s Firestone Country Club (No. 6), a three-shot par-5 with a small green fronted by a pond, and No. 16 at Augusta (No. 3), a par-3 over a pond to a tantalizingly-sloping green.
“I think that’s a great golf hole and it makes people stand up there and wonder what’s so difficult about it when you stand up on the tee,” said Tacheny. “But you get on that green or you hit a shot that’s about 12 feet from the top of the green and it rolls back down to the bottom. It’s hard to see that contour until you’re actually up there putting or chipping to get back towards the hole.”
Instead of a hillside of fans to the left of the pond like at Augusta’s 16th, at Northern Bay three-story, cedar-sided condos flank the entire left side. Those condos are part of an ample offering of rental properties available which frame the opening stretch of holes. Castle Rock Lake, a beach and a marina are all within walking distance giving Northern Bay amenities that few golf properties in Wisconsin can match.
“You don’t have to go anywhere (if you don’t want to),” continued Tacheny from his opening comments. “We have entertainment on the weekends at the Tiki Bar. I mean, this place just rocks in the summertime and it’s just a fun place to hang out. And with a family, we have lake stuff going on. You just want to hang out and relax. It’s just that kind of place.”