I was once asked by a friend who is a keen student of golf course architecture, “have you ever played a great hole that doesn’t have a great green?” My answer was “I can’t think of one” and to this day I still can’t.
Many of the country’s and world’s great courses start with a blessed land site, whether it be a waterside location that offers dramatic views or rolling hills with sandy soil which makes shaping contours a breeze. At Blue Mound Golf and Country Club, in Milwaukee suburb Wauwatosa, the property is hardly one to write home about. It’s small, mostly flat and landlocked between busy streets; the type of land that in today’s age of architecture wouldn’t even be considered for a golf course. It’s a land site that gives you a true look at the talent of an architect. At Blue Mound, you find a golf course that showcases the greatness of Seth Raynor. Raynor’s clever routing skills and genius use of his and C.B. Macdonald’s template holes creates one of the country’s great golf courses where less-skilled architects would have faltered.
A quick history of Blue Mound G&CC
Blue Mound was opened in 1926 and joined Shoreacres, Midland Hills, Minnesota Valley and Somerset C.C. as the midwest’s only Seth Raynor designs. The course drew rave reviews upon its opening and became the first golf course in Wisconsin to host a major championship, the 1933 PGA Championship won by Gene Sarazen.
As was the case with almost every country club, Blue Mound lost its luster over time because of tree planting and overgrowth, filled in bunkers and shrinking greens. Legend has it that all that changed in the late 1990’s when George Bahto, a C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor expert, paid a visit to Blue Mound. Bahto informed the club of what they were sitting on and it didn’t take long for the membership to act as they quickly started work on a restoration plan. Trees were cut, greens were returned to their original size and one of America’s great golf courses was back.
In 2011, championship golf returned to Blue Mound as it served as the alternate site for the U.S. Amateur Championship that was hosted at Erin Hills. Despite only stretching to just over 6,600 yards, Blue Mound held up as a strong test because of its unique and challenging green complexes that befuddled the young field.
My experience at Blue Mound G&CC
I had the opportunity to check out Blue Mound this past summer and was extremely excited. My love of Seth Raynor and template holes is pretty clear for anyone who regularly reads the fried egg. I had heard from a few people that Blue Mound possessed one of the best template golf experiences you can find.
Unlike many grand country clubs, Blue Mound is not tucked away nor does it have a dramatic drive in. Rather, it’s sandwiched between two busy streets and a mall and has a modest entrance and short driveway in along the range. The clubhouse is beautiful and it’s very clear from the start that the club was founded on a golf first mentality.
From the back tees, Blue Mound plays to a par 70 at 6,666 yards (creepy). While a short course by today’s standards, Blue Mound challenges players with its great green complexes. During the round, I often thought about how much different the course would play with the equipment of 1926 when the course was founded. The shot values would be starkly different from today and the course would be an absolute bear.
Hole 1 - 398 yards - par 4
After checking out the Seth Raynor statue that sits by the first tee, the round starts with a unique 2-shot redan opener. The hole is very flat and relatively tight off the tee, and finding the fairway is a must to approach the elevated and bunkered redan green. Unfortunately, with today’s technology, the original strategy of the hole is greatly discounted as a good driver or 3w will leave a wedge into the redan green. Missing short is a big mistake as the front bunker is tough and makes for a difficult up and down.
Hole 2 - 415 yards - par 4
After the redan green 1st hole, Raynor moves players to another spectacular green complex, the double plateau for the 2nd hole. Raynor spices up the tee shot on the flat 2nd by making it semi-blind with the mounding on the right side of the fairway. A good drive leaves a mid to short iron into the dramatic double plateau green. In particular, a back pin placement is extremely difficult on the 2nd as the green is narrow, protected by deep bunkers and a big slope that repels any shot a little short.
Hole 3 - 220 yards - par 3
Up next on Blue Mound’s template journey is the biarritz par 3. Unlike most biarritz holes, the front half of the green at Blue Mound is not green but rather fairway. I heard that this could be changing in the near future but the hole plays a tough 220 yards. The pin we faced was particularly difficult with its placement on the front left corner, requiring a high and soft landing long-iron to get the ball close.
Hole 4 - 388 yards - par 4
Raynor moves players on to his Alps interpretation at Blue Mound. Without a dramatic slope to use, this Alps is manufactured and subtle. The driving corridor is wide and lets you rip a driver and leave a wedge approach. What would be an otherwise boring short par 4 is made fun by the semi-blind approach that forces players to trust the yardage. The green is fronted by two deep bunkers that are barely visible from the fairway. The green has a subtle punchbowl effect with the front and back portions sloping back towards the middle of the large green.
Hole 5 - 497 yards - par 5
After the Alps 4th, players move on to the great road template at the 5th. Blue Mound’s plays to a par 5 on the scorecard but as is the case with most road holes, consider 4 a par and 6 a bogey when playing the 5th. Mimicking the famed 17th at St. Andrews, the right side of Blue Mound’s 5th is protected by a couple of fairway bunkers, forcing players to choose the heroic carry on the right side or the safer but longer approach from the left. For a longer hitter, the second shot is a tricky one with the deep pot bunker guarding most pin locations from the center to the left-hand side of the green. Shorter hitters forced to lay up should play their shot towards the right side of the fairway in order to leave an unobstructed approach to the left-hand side of the green.
Hole 6 - 335 yards - par 4
Blue Mound moves onto the short par 4 6th, where Raynor challenges a player’s decision making with wide but heavily bunkered fairway. I love this hole as it is perplexing off the tee. It’s key to pick a yardage to hit the tee shot on the correct line and distance to avoid finding a trap. The second shot then becomes all about distance and spin control with the wedge as the green has a lot of slope from back to front and a wedge hit the wrong distance will leave a difficult two-putt.
Hole 7 - 167 yards - par 3
Up next at Blue Mound is the short, downhill par 3 7th, and the most appealing corner of Blue Mound’s property. The back tee is moved off to the left and is clearly not part of the original design. I much preferred the white tee here, but it seems the club built the left tee box to add a few yards to the hole. Playing with a couple of buddies who are better than scratch players, the 7th played exactly how Raynor intended. None of us hit great approach shots but all hit the green. We were punished with brutal putts, with two of us walking away with bogey and only one walking away with a par, so much for an easy short par 3.
Hole 8 - 445 yards - par 4
After the befuddling 7th, Raynor moves to the most dramatic piece of the property for the memorable uphill par 4 8th. At the 8th, Raynor is able to effortlessly mix the challenge of a long par 4 with the fun and excitement of a dramatic punchbowl green. Off the tee, Raynor uses the natural slopes of the land to challenge players as the entire fairway slopes hard to the left. This makes finding the fairway a challenge and also makes the uphill mid-to-long iron shots in difficult because of the sidehill lies. The only relief players get is the punchbowl green which funnel slightly wayward shots back towards the middle. On the green, Raynor added a slight subtlety to the green with a small roll in the middle that makes putting across the green a tough two putt.
Hole 9 - 375 yards - par 4
The 9th marks the end of the dramatic landscape with the very fun and challenging close to the front 9. The natural terrain sweeps from left to right and Raynor embraces it with the mid-length par 4. The key to the hole is to find the fairway off the tee in order to control the distance and spin on the approach shot to the hard sloping 9th green. The green moves from right to left and back to front and features a big false front that will repel any shots slightly short. The ideal approach is from the left side of the fairway. I love how Blue Mound has incorporated the vast fairway on the right side of the hole that blends the green into the next tee box.
Hole 10 - 445 yards - par 4
Players make the turn and are faced with the meat of the golf course as the 10th starts a challenging stretch of holes. The 10th at Blue Mound is one of the few remaining Raynor’s Prize Dogleg template holes and possesses one of the best green complexes on the course. The long dogleg left tee shot needs to avoid the fairway bunkering that is common on the template and sets up the approach that much like the double plateau template must find the correct tier. The green at the 10th features 4 unique plateaus, making birdie a tall order and 3 putts a commonality.
Hole 11 - 382 yards - par 4
Moving on from the challenging 10th, Blue Mound heads to the next iconic template, the cape 11th. Without a hazard and with flat terrain, Raynor uses a large fairway bunker to create thought and risk off the tee. I hit a 3-iron off the tee at the 11th and it left a full pitching wedge into the challenging back left pin which mimics the great cape holes in seemingly floating next to a hazard. Deep bunkers guard both the right and left sides of the back to front sloping green and any shot struck too boldly will find the water.
Hole 12 - 480 yards - par 4
The back nine continues its tough stretch with as tough of a par 4 as you will find, the long hog’s back 12th. The nature of the hog’s back template is a fairway which repels balls not hit directly down the center. This makes par a tall order on a par 4 that plays a stout 480 yards from the back tee. A strong tee shot will leave a long-iron approach, and for those who don’t find the fairway, a poor lie in the rough will make hitting the green very difficult and the 2nd shot becomes more about positioning to leave the correct angle.
Hole 13 - 185 yards - par 3
After the hogs back, Raynor goes back to the redan template he used at the 1st hole, but this time in the much more common par 3 variety. The 13th plays downhill and with today’s distance has been nullified a bit because it stands as a short iron shot for long hitters. Still, the land’s natural slopes lead to it being one of the more severe redan greens I have seen.
Hole 14 - 416 yards - par 4
The 14th is dubbed Garden City after the great New York course and features the lone fully blind tee shot at Blue Mound. The hole moves a little to the left so the ideal shape is a right-handed draw. Again, Raynor presents golfers with a magnificent green complex at the 14th to spice things up. The bumper semi-redan like slope on the left will funnel slightly off-line shots back to the green but punish those who miss too far. This is a green I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Hole 15 - 412 yards - par 4
Play moves on to the 15th which runs back parallel to the 14th. The straight forward par 4’s defense comes at the green which has heavy front to back slope. A front pin over the bunkers is especially tough as a shot past the flag is virtually impossible to keep on the green.
Hole 16 - 355 yards - par 4
The closing stretch at Blue Mound starts with the short par 4 leven template. The leven hole is all about placement off the tee. The large mound in front of the green on the right side makes any approach from the right-hand side of the fairway difficult as the green subtlely slopes from front to back. The 16th offers a great opportunity at birdie for those who find the left half of the fairway.
Hole 18 - 560 yards - par 5
Blue Mound comes to a close with the par 5 long template with the core feature being the fairway bunkering that juts into the landing area on the left side. Tee shots that avoid the bunkers and rough will have a chance to get home in two at the finale. The green is another unique one as a ridge divides the left 30% of the green from the rest and it also features a strong back to front tilt. One qualm I have about this hole is the tree that sits about 20 yards short of the green...it’s gotta go!
I entered my round at Blue Mound with high expectations of the course and I was pleased that the course lived up to them. Many Blue Mound detractors point to its inability to defend par as a reason for the course not belonging among the top courses in Wisconsin and the country. Personally, I thought that Blue Mound was the perfect blend as precise shots will yield good scoring, but if you are a little off, a good score is going to be very difficult to achieve. I envy members who get to play the course everyday because it’s fun, unique and playable for all. Blue Mound shows how a golf course without spectacular terrain should be designed. The interesting and bold template greens make the flattest of holes fun and thought provoking for all players.