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.
When Meadow Valleys was built Pete Dye added 18 holes to the Blackwolf Run project thus creating the River and Meadow Valleys courses at Blackwolf Run. But the holes were arranged in such a way that the the new holes became holes 5-13 on the River course and holes 1-9 on the Meadow Valleys course
When tournaments are run at Blackwolf Run the original holes are used as the championship course (1-4, and 14-18 on The River Course and the back nine on Meadow Valleys).
Both courses wind through lush vegetation interacting with the Sheyboygan River at every opportunity. Despite the impressive scenery, The River Course requires your full attention if you expect to score decently
You need to select the appropriate tee to start with because the course can play quite long and will definitely beat you up. The approach shots can be testing and the shorter the club in hand the more you can play the course as intended
Pete Dye often plays with the angle of the approach to make them feel a little awkward- playing in from deep is not a good idea!
I think The River course is stronger than Meadow Valleys overall- they both have 'all world' holes, but there are less 'quieter' holes on The River.
I was particularly impressed with the short par 4 ninth hole- it should be called Temptation!. Most of us know we can't quite get there and should play left and safe- but take it on anyway..
And the par 3 thirteenth hole just uses the natural terrain beautifully, with river and trees framing what is one hard green to hit!
Notable holes include:
- hole 4 (Swan Lake), a longish par 3 with lake in play right
- hole 5 (Made in Heaven), a strong par 4 from an elevated tee to a gorgeous valley with river and bunkering dominating the visuals before an uphill approach
- hole 9 (Cathedral Spires)- What a choice! You can see the green on this short par 4 from the tee- do you take on the river and the trees or play safe to the left?
- hole 11 (Rise and Fall), a long par 5 with river bordering the right side for the length of the hole
- hole 13 (Tall Timber), a long par 3 with the river very definitely in play and in your head!
- hole 14 (Blind), a short par 4 around Swan Lake with only a sliver of fairway to hit off the tee
- hole 16 (Unter der Linden), another long par 5 with the green edging the river and protected by a large Linden tree
- hole 17 (Snapping Turtle), a strong par 3 with river left throughout the journey
- hole 18 (Dyehard), a very long par 4 finish which bends around a waste bunker all the way to the green
There are four championship courses at The American Club, and you really should play all of them- but if you are pushed for time do not miss The River course.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Blackwolf Run River is nearly as good as the Straits Course. Different style of course with river being an inland parkland style layout. Actually, the best course in Kohler in my view is the original championship course at blackwolf Run consisting of portions of what are now the River and meadows valley courses. That is the layout used for tournament golf at blackwolf Run. You can sometimes still play the original championship course at the end of the season.
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.