Grand Genevas two golf courses offer unique Midwest experience

By Randall MellOctober 11, 2010, 9:25 pm
lake geneva highlands
                          The Highlands Course at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa (courtesy Grand Geneva)

LAKE GENEVA, Wis. – The Brute is big, bold and brawny.

It’s as American as a golf course gets in its look and design.

The Highlands is a rolling, winding layout with an old-world feel to it.

It’s a Scottish-themed design.

If you’re looking for uniquely different golf experiences on a pair of courses that share first-class amenities and immaculate conditioning, Grand Geneva Resort & Spa is a doorway to two worlds. The resort is a short getaway from Chicago, Milwaukee or Madison. It sits in the rolling hills in southeastern Wisconsin, close to the Illinois border. Nestled on a giant, sprawling property, the resort is quietly set apart from the bustling activities of Lake Geneva, a popular vacation destination and weekend retreat.
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With fall’s arrival, there’s an added bonus to teeing it up at Grand Geneva this time of year. The entire region is on the verge of the spectacular, with autumn’s colors busting loose on the tree-lined hills running through the courses.

While The Brute and The Highlands courses offer completely different looks and tests, they share the same rolling terrain, a terrific foundation for the architects who built these courses. With so many tees built on the tops of hills and mounds, there are some memorable vistas to play your shots into.

Standing on high ground at the first tee of The Brute, you’re immediately greeted by its striking features. Everything about the course looks big. The fairways are vast, the bunkers massive, the greens immense. The fact that it’s all so finely manicured adds to the striking nature of the bold design.

You feel like there’s room to rip your driver off the first tee. That’s the tempting allure of this course, the invitation to attack. There’s a confidence this design emboldens you with on most of the tee boxes. There’s room in the vastness, but that’s the beauty of Robert Bruce Harris’ design. There isn’t as much room as you think.

You won’t lose a lot of golf balls at this course, but you’ll lose more shots to par than you thought possible playing the wrong angles.

Because that’s what The Brute is all about, finding the right angles subtly hidden in all that room this course gives you. It may be a Brute, but it’s a clever Brute.

The course is long, with the par-72 layout playing 7,085 yards from the back tees with a 73.8 course rating and 136 slope. It’s even long from the white tees at 6,554 yards with a course rating of 71.9 and a slope of 131. That’s as short as you’ll see it without moving to the forward tees.

But while you’ll need your driver to make a score here, the real test is in the second shots into the monster greens, which range from 8,000 to 10,000 square feet. If your iron play isn’t on, you can wear your putter out. Misplayed approaches leave the real possibility of three-putts. The greens are daunting, not just in their massiveness, but also in their slope. You’ll find yourself playing lots of big breaks if you aren’t smartly under the hole.

There are no awkward swales in these greens, though, no maddening humps or aggravating oddities. The greens are immensely fair. The challenge is in the way these greens are tilted. Depending how far you miss the hole left or right, you’re playing potentially enormous breaks.

You can let your driver out on The Brute, you have to, but those giant, saucer-shaped bunkers in the corner of doglegs will swallow misses. There are only 68 bunkers on the course, but it seems like there are more. Standing in the middle one of those bunkers, you feel like you’re in a desert.

The Brute is not wide open at every tee box. There’s variety in the tee shots demanded. The par-4, 374-yard third hole is a downhill shot with the landing area funneling between a pair of ponds. You have to lay up there, where you’re looking at a short iron or wedge uphill to the green. The 10th hole is a demanding tee shot to a pinched landing area between the bends in a stream. At 440 yards, it’s a long par 4 where you want to hit driver. The 17th offers the toughest tee shot on the course. It’s a 420-yard par 4 requiring a blast to a severely narrowed landing area. And with a stream fronting the green, you want to save your best drive for here.

The Brute lives up to its name, but there’s a sense of fair play in its brutishness. It’s a terrific looking course that leaves you wanting more when you’ve totaled up your score.

Grand Geneva’s courses are built onto a sprawling 1,300-acre property that was so alluring, Hugh Hefner chose it as home for one of his Lake Geneva Playboy Club Hotels in 1968. Sixty bunnies once stayed here. In fact, the old Bunny Dormitory still sits off the second fairway. Bob Hope, Sammy Davis Jr., Liza Minelli, Bette Midler, Bill Cosby and Sonny and Cher were among the entertainers who performed here. Hefner sold the resort in 1981.

Today, with millions of dollars invested in renovations, the Milwaukee-based Marcus Corporation runs a family-friendly resort that also specializes in meeting the needs of the corporate world with lots of convention-center and meeting-room space. It’s a Golf Magazine Gold Medal Resort and AAA four-diamond resort with 355 recently renovated rooms. There’s an indoor-outdoor water park at the resort’s Timber Ridge Lodge, a horse stable and riding trails, the Well Spa + Salon and fitness center and fine-dining restaurants that includes the Geneva Chop House and the Ristorante Brissago. There’s also the Mountain Top ski hill for winter visitors.

While The Highlands can get overshadowed by The Brute’s giant profile, it’s the perfect complement to the big course.

Originally designed as The Briar Patch by Pete Dye with Jack Nicklaus consulting, The Highlands was redesigned by Bob Cupp and later Bob Lohmann. The par-71 layout works its way through the hills, trees and wispy prairie grasses more subtly. It plays 6,659 yards from the tournament tees with a 71.5 course rating and 125 slope. It’s 6,207 yards from the championship tees with a 69.2 rating. While The Brute offers three sets of tees, The Highlands offers four.

The Highlands is a shot maker’s course, where working the ball around these doglegs is rewarded with approach shots into the course’s smaller, flatter greens. You’ll love the setting at the 192-yard fourth hole, a par 3. A creek winds in front of the green, then turns toward the tee box, where the sound of the rushing water adds to the feeling you’ve successfully gotten away. The tee shot at the eighth hole is equally invigorating through a tree stand and over a chasm. It’s a 345-yard par 4 back in a serene, wooded setting.

There’s a full-sized driving range, practice short-game area and practice putting green connecting both courses.

Playing The Brute and The Highlands, you feel like you’ve taken two different trips to two different regions of the Midwest. That’s part of the resort’s appeal. Grand Geneva’s the doorway to both.
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Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.

Good time to hang up on viewer call-ins

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 7:40 pm

Golf announced the most massive layoff in the industry’s history on Monday morning.

Armchair referees around the world were given their pink slips.

It’s a glorious jettisoning of unsolicited help.

Goodbye and good riddance.

The USGA and R&A’s announcement of a new set of protocols Monday will end the practice of viewer call-ins and emails in the reporting of rules infractions.

“What we have heard from players and committees is ‘Let’s leave the rules and administration of the event to the players and those responsible for running the tournament,’” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status.


The protocols, formed by a working group that included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America, also establish the use of rules officials to monitor the televised broadcasts of events.

Additionally, the protocols will eliminate the two-shot penalty when a player signs an incorrect scorecard because the player was unaware of a violation.

Yes, I can hear you folks saying armchair rules officials help make sure every meaningful infraction comes to light. I hear you saying they make the game better, more honest, by helping reduce the possibility somebody violates the rules to win.

But at what cost?

The chaos and mayhem armchair referees create can ruin the spirit of fair play every bit as much as an unreported violation. The chaos and mayhem armchair rules officials create can be as much a threat to fair play as the violations themselves.

The Rules of Golf are devised to protect the integrity of the game, but perfectly good rules can be undermined by the manner and timeliness of their enforcement.

We have seen the intervention of armchair referees go beyond the ruin of fair play in how a tournament should be conducted. We have seen it threaten the credibility of the game in the eyes of fans who can’t fathom the stupidity of a sport that cannot separate common-sense enforcement from absolute devotion to the letter of the law.

In other sports, video review’s timely use helps officials get it right. In golf, video review too often makes it feel like the sport is getting it wrong, because timeliness matters in the spirit of fair play, because the retroactive nature of some punishments are as egregious as the violations themselves.  

We saw that with Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration this year.

Yes, she deserved a two-shot penalty for improperly marking her ball, but she didn’t deserve the two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. She had no idea she was signing an incorrect scorecard.

We nearly saw the ruin of the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year, with Dustin Johnson’s victory clouded by the timing of a video review that left us all uncertain if the tournament was playing out under an incorrect scoreboard.

“What these protocols are put in place for, really, is to make sure there are measures to identify the facts as soon as possible, in real time, so if there is an issue to be dealt with, that it can be handled quickly and decisively,” Pagel said.

Amen again.

We have pounded the USGA for making the game more complicated and less enjoyable than it ought to be, for creating controversy where common sense should prevail, so let’s applaud executive director Mike Davis, as well as the R&A, for putting common sense in play.

Yes, this isn’t a perfect answer to handling rules violations.

There are trap doors in the protocols that we are bound to see the game stumble into, because the game is so complex, but this is more than a good faith effort to make the game better.

This is good governance.

And compared to the glacial pace of major rules change of the past, this is swift.

This is the USGA and R&A leading a charge.

We’re seeing that with the radical modernization of the Rules of Golf scheduled to take effect in 2019. We saw it with the release of Decision 34/3-10 three weeks after Thompson’s loss at the ANA, with the decision limiting video review to “reasonable judgment” and “naked eye” standards. We’re hearing it with Davis’ recent comments about the “horrible” impact distance is having on the game, leading us to wonder if the USGA is in some way gearing up to take on the golf ball.

Yes, the new video review protocols aren’t a panacea. Rules officials will still miss violations that should have been caught. There will be questions about level playing fields, about the fairness of stars getting more video review scrutiny than the rank and file. There will be questions about whether viewer complaints were relayed to rules officials.

Golf, they say, isn’t a game of perfect, and neither is rules enforcement, though these protocols make too much sense to be pilloried. They should be applauded. They should solve a lot more problems than they create.

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”