The Blackwolf Run resort is named after Black Wolf, chief of the Winnebago Indians and both the River and Meadow Valleys courses were opened in 1988. A composite 18 holes from both courses was used when the LPGA US Open was played here in 1998.
Resort courses were once disparaged but since the creation of the TPC at Sawgrass in 1982 a number of world-class courses have been constructed that are open to the public. Designed by Pete Dye, both courses at Blackwolf Run resort in Kohler, Wisconsin are top class golf courses but the River course is undoubtedly the flagship layout.
There a number of refreshing aspects to playing at Blackwolf Run (apart from the clean, fresh air, of course) - a player may walk while carrying their bag, there are no houses or condominiums adjacent to the property, there is a choice of four tee boxes per hole and the course is kept in immaculate condition – none of which can be said for most resort courses.
Severe elevation changes are a feature as all eighteen holes wind their way round and about natural and man-made water hazards. Precise course management must be used at Blackwolf Run, as a poor decision will cost many shots to par.
You could be in another world a long way from Wisconsin on the three holes around the turn on the River course – possibly the finest three at Blackwolf Run. The best of these, the short par four, signature 9th hole, called “Cathedral Spires” is 337 yards from the back tees, but it presents options off the tee - drive safe to the left fairway or to the lower right fairway to cut off distance to the hole, but bring into play the Sheboygan River. The green is two-tiered and slopes from back to front. A four on the scorecard will be well earned here.
The 18th hole, "Dyehard", is a tough finishing hole and provided drama for the women at the 1998 US Open when Se Ri Pak had to play barefoot from the then flooded left side of the fairway. A Pete Dye design feature was the construction of a double green that holds the 18th holes of both courses at Blackwolf Run in a fitting amphitheater setting in front of an architecturally unusual clubhouse made from Canadian pine logs.
Beautiful conditions, lovely scenery, weird routing. Blackwolf Run is at the American Club, a high-end resort with all the trimmings. The River course sits mostly in a valley of the meandering Sheboygan River, which allows for some stunning holes where it comes into play, but complicates the routing. In my opinion, the course feels so disjointed because of the “transition” between the middle holes #5-#13 (the best par of the course, in my opinion) and the rest of the course. Holes #4 and #14 sit adjacent to a very artificial-looking pond and feel very contrived.
My favorite holes: #8, a massive dogleg right par five with a downhill tee shot off the bluff, #9, a crazy short par four with multiple angles of attack off the tee, #11, another long dogleg right par five around a sharp bend in the river, and #13, a beautiful par three that forces the player to carry the flowing river and shape the ball around some large trees. (I’m quite sure I’ve never played another par three quite like this one anywhere.) Finally, #18 is another long, dogleg left par four, with quite possibly the longest bunker that Pete Dye has ever built – it stretches from near the championship tee to right in front of the green!
Perhaps it was due to my poor play that day, but I wasn’t a huge fan of Blackwolf Run. As I mentioned, the scenery is pastorally beautiful and very different from the other top courses I’ve played in Wisconsin, with the Sheboygan River stealing the show in many places, but it played disappointingly soft (shocking though, it’s in a river valley!) and a bit too penal for my taste. It felt like one of the most “target golf” style courses Pete Dye ever built, which isn’t as much fun as its sister courses at Whistling Straits or many other places. That fact as well as the previously discussed disjointedness of the routing made for a great handful of holes, but not a truly great golf course. It is one of my least favorite Pete Dye layouts and absolutely should not be ranked above Lawsonia Links within the state of Wisconsin.
Played July 1, 2001
The Blackwolf Run River course is an excellent, Pete Dye designed, inland course at the Kohler resort in Wisconsin. The course has an entirely different look and feel from the two courses at Whistling Straits which are about 10 miles North and on Lake Michigan.
The River course runs around the Sheboygan River and water is in play from the first tee onward. The course is an excellent layout on par with Dye's best inland courses such as the Honors Course or the TPC at Sawgrass. The course tests every part of your game, demanding precise driving and approaches. The greens are difficult but fair, and the overall sense is that you are playing a tough but fun and fair layout.
The course would be very difficult to walk since the layout tracks over a high ridge. This allows some wonderful spectacular views and drives, but the layout necessitated placing some long distances between holes. A cart and forecaddy are necessary, but that really didn't detract from my enjoyment of the course. I played with my wife and she enjoyed the course and the scenery, and I would definitely play here on a trip to Kohler to enjoy challenging golf and a beautiful setting. Read my full story here: The Wisconsin "Pearl" Golf Trip
I loved the River Course, but I walked away thinking, why would they make a resort course so difficult? Most people see it once or maybe twice in their lives. They don’t want to lose lots of balls and they don’t want the round to take forever. If I were the developer, I would make it more forgiving and enjoyable for the average player who has never seen it before. In Bury Me in a Pot Bunker, Pete Dye seems to have agreed with me. Herb Kohler really wanted a variety of high wild grasses along the fairways creating the same look of Scottish links. Pete did everything he could to dissuade Herb, arguing that golfers would spend all their time looking for balls in the high grass. “My scepticism that public golfers would dread playing a course that featured such conditions was, as Herb continued to remind me, dead wrong,” Pete writes. I guess I was wrong too. Larry Berle.