At first glance you might think that Neil Simon was the architect of Big Fish Golf Club in Hayward, Wisconsin instead of Pete Dye and Tim Liddy. For both nines are so diametrically opposed they could be dubbed The Odd Couple.
But when you take into account the design acumen of Dye & Liddy, it’s easy to see that neither nine suffers an inferiority complex. In fact, both halves play off each other perfectly to make a whole lot of fun in northwestern Wisconsin.
According to Tim Liddy, the project architect of Big Fish, he was immediately stunned with the land they had to work with. “It was a very unique property with nine holes in the open, pasture ground and then nine holes through a wooded, dunesy environment. So it made for two unique and different nine hole experiences,” explained Liddy, who has over 50 design or redesign credits nationwide.
If you have ever had the chance to spend any time with the now 90 year-old Dye, you quickly understand his only predictable trait is his unpredictability. When asked about what he was trying to accomplish when designing Big Fish, Dye came up with this gem. “Some golfers like red-heads, some like brunettes, and others like blonds so I tried to give them a little bit of everything. I loved the look of the property from the start as you wouldn’t expect to see a links-style front nine followed by a northwoods back nine on one property. The land just lent itself to a lot of really great golf holes and hopefully a memorable experience.” Leave it to Dye to describe Big Fish with such panache.
Big Fish’s memorable experience begins on the par-3, 129 yard third hole. A dollop of a multi-tiered green is surrounded by nine menacing bunkers that are reminiscent of Whistling Straits, another Pete Dye masterpiece. Some of the most harrowing shots should be attempted with short clubs according to Dye (i.e. #17 at TPC Sawgrass), and the third at Big Fish definitely fits the bill.
Pete Dye also loves daunting par-4s, and according to Scott Simmons, Big Fish’s Head Golf Professional, the par-4 6th is a hole that deserves your utmost respect. “I love the sixth because it is a challenging hole playing between 350 to 410 yards. Off the tee it has a slight dog leg to the left so a draw is preferred off of the tee. The preferred shot for your second is a nice cut to avoid all of the bunkering on the right side of the green. Once on the green it becomes very challenging thanks to the green being severely sloped from left to right,” explained Simmons.
After playing bomb and gouge on the front nine, your entire world starts to feel a bit more claustrophobic on the inward half. Towering trees greet you on both sides of the short grass on the entire nine hole challenge and make the mental side of golf just as important as the physical side of swinging.
It’s hard to play favorites on the back nine, but there is no debating that holes 13 through 15 serve as the 12 year old course’s Amen Corner. It is guaranteed you will be taken back by the stretches extreme naturalness and memorable views. And the best part of your experience, this triumvirate is no push-over, as pars should be coveted.
Hole number 13, a 512 yard par-5 from the tips plays downhill to a sunken green protected by bunkers. If you can find the fairway off the tee you will be will faced with one of the coolest approach shots in the Badger State. Birdie and eagles are a distinct possibility when playing lucky number 13 at Big Fish. Finally, make sure to look backwards while riding from 13 to 14, the view will make you want to play again immediately.
The 490 yard par-4 14th fires through a shoot of trees and then opens up slightly to reveal on the sharpest greens on the course. I asked Tim Liddy about the dramatic nature of this duo. “Those two holes are just so natural. We tried to keep the fairways on existing grades as much as we could and just build the features of the bunkers and the greens,” explained Liddy.
What you will also notice at Big Fish is a lot of holes look straight from Point A to Point B, but the sculpted movement in the fairways make the hole play left to right or right to left. This, of course, is by design according to Liddy. “You are exactly right. That is Pete Dye, and like you said, that is a staple of what we were trying to do. Ideally we would like the golfer to envision a shot looking either left to right or right to left off the tee and then challenge them to hit the correct shot,” concluded Liddy.
What also separates Big Fish from other prominent Midwest courses is how Dye and Liddy sculpted each nine differently to take advantage of the changing contours. Most of these subtleties are not even noticed by golfers, a true credit to the building team. “I had people there that had worked with Pete Dye for many years when creating Big Fish,” began Liddy. “So we integrated his shaping techniques in terms of the bunker style and the strong linear grass faces that you see especially on the front nine where you kind of have longer bunker faces that fit more of the horizon line of the front nine. The back nine is probably a little more what I would say is bulbous or vertical shapings because the back nine was hillier with the dunescape. We actually shaped it differently on the two nines to be in harmony with the environments that they were in,” ended the Indiana native Liddy.
Even though Big Fish is properly isolated in northwestern Wisconsin (and less than three hours from the twin cities), the course is adjacent to the LCO Casino. That means that golfers can take advantage of affordable Stay and Play Packages that include comfortable rooms and after-golf entertainment. Honestly, Big Fish is the type of property that becomes more enjoyable the more you play it – a true credit to Dye & Liddy.
Finally, it’s important to mention that Big Fish has actually lowered their green fees as $59 is the most a golfer will pay to play 18 during the peak weekend days. Their $40 after 3:00 twilight rate might be one of the finest values in the Midwest. Plus, Big Fish is also home to Mulligan’s Pub, a home-inspired halfway house that offers upstairs deck seating that overlooks both the 9th and 18th holes. To find out more about Big Fish Golf Club call the Pro Shop at (715) 934-4770 or visit their website www.bigfishgolf.com. It’s a great way to do a little pre-round research and check out their new aerial fly-over video.