Grand Genevas two golf courses offer unique Midwest experience
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.
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.
Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title
STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.
Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?
The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.
“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.
Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.
“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”
Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.
Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.
“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”
After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.
And the Wildcats better rest up.
Alabama looks unstoppable.
“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”
Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.
After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.
They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.
Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.
“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”
They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.
“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”
That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.
The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.
“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.
It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”
Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.
They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.
Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.
“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”
Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.
Pairings, tee times set for championship match
STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.
Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.
“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”
Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.
Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.
Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.
“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.
Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)
3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)
3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)
3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)
3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)
4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)
Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama
STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.
Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.
Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.
Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.
Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.
Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.
“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.
Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”
NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times
The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.
After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.
- Finals: Alabama vs. Arizona
- Semifinals: Alabama def. USC, 3.5-1.5
- Semifinals: Arizona def. Stanford, 4-1
- Quarterfinals: Alabama def. Kent State, 4-1
- Quartefinals: USC def. Duke, 3.5-1.5
- Quarterfinals: Arizona def. UCLA, 3-2
- Quarterfinals: Stanford def. Northwestern, 3-2
- Individual stroke play
TV Times (all times ET):
4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)