The course at Blue Mound Golf & Country Club opened in 1926, seven years before it hosted the PGA Championship when, interestingly, the nines were tackled in reverse order to the sequence they’ve been played since the 1960s.
Nowadays, holes 1 to 4 occupy the flatter part of the property, with brilliant green complexes – a Redan, Double Plateau, Biarritz and Alps – raising the profile of the opening holes, turning a stretch of mediocre holes into more memorable ones.
The downhill par three 7th (“Short”) and uphill par four 8th (“Punchbowl”) are highlights on the front nine then the back nine is routed into, around and out of a central valley before the sturdy par five 18th (“Long”) returns golfers to the clubhouse.
Bruce Hepner of Renaissance Golf Design was called in by the club in the late 1980s to restore a Seth Raynor gem that had been allowed to decay, weighed down by encroaching tree lines and greens that were only two thirds the size they once were.
Tom Doak called Blue Mound “a hot mess the first time I saw it” but credits Hepner “for helping the club clear out a forest of nursery trees and get the greens – some of the wildest I’ve seen in the Raynor /Macdonald collection – back to where they belonged”.
It’s appropriate Blue Mound Golf Club will (theoretically) host the Jr. Ryder Cup as part of the greater event’s Wisconsin location during 2020. Although participants in the Junior are probably more capable golfers than your correspondent, there is something in the architectural approach of C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor that implies an education, providing formulas for overcoming a range of factors golfers will see in the less-predictable, bigger, badder world of Whistling Straits et al. Those templates are, of course, on display at Raynor’s Blue Mound.
Recently I spoke with an avid golf course architecture-phile on whether the MacRaynor formula could be perceived as lacking in creativity compared to other Golden Age designers. My reply hinged on the skill of those architects in adapting those to templates to the property presented. Blue Mound’s land is not ideal for a golf club, frequently flatlining at a geographic level. It is engaging, therefore, to consider what Raynor was able to do in tweaking his formulas to create successful renditions of his classic holes.
No. 8 is a great start; Raynor faced the longest uphill climb on the property, following the drop down to his Short green. He surely understood that even a Par 5 that spends its first 400 yards slogging uphill offers little fun or strategic options, and so he built the hole around a blind approach shot into his “Punchbowl” green so players feel less anxiety launching such a long approach into the “Blue,” and also feel the old-world suspense such shots create in their Scottish Links roots. The green is a (nervous) joy to approach on foot following such a shot. Similarly, the only valley on the property is filled with a creek, however—as this publication suggested in its template series—No. 6 (titled “Strategy”) is actually a rather clever “Valley” hole, modeled after No. 1 at NGLA. The natural flow of the land didn’t offer the opportunity for quite the same uphill approach as Macdonald’s precedent, but Raynor adjusts brilliantly by strengthening his greenside bunker placement; the hazard at the front-right spooks players approaching from that side into hitting too high onto an undulating green...and the bunker greenside-right only gets deeper the farther back you miss (it should be noted Blue Mound has a hole named “Valley” at No. 14, which is not actually a “Valley” template). Raynor doubled down on the proven classic Redan, offering both a traditional short and a Par 4 rendition opening the course.
It’s only fair, of course to acknowledge where such terrain doesn’t work to Raynor’s advantage. The most glaring example is the Alps, where he planted the green atop a manufactured hill, rather than “hiding” it behind the man-made mound. The Eden, to be fair, would be a standout standalone Par 3 at most clubs. Raynor didn’t quite have the soil to create the extreme slope of other versions, however, so putting down into the Strath is unrealistic (many will perceive this as a “plus”...perhaps your correspondent is just a snob).
Fortunately, in some instances of lackluster elevation change, Raynor relied heavily on a safe tenet of great golf design: When all else fails, a fine green offers glorious redemption. His Double Plateau and Prize Dogleg (a rarity among his template portfolio) feature the best putting surfaces on the course, to contrast their shuffleboard fairways. Ben Crenshaw reportedly spent 40 minutes examining the triple-plateaued green at No. 10.
Blue Mound is a splendid case study for those entering the world of strategic course architecture in its consideration of both templates and terrain...just as it’s a splendid entry point for playing more strategic competitive golf, as some junior Ryder Cuppers—and Top100 reviewers—will hopefully agree.
I just love a Seth Raynor design and Blue Mound is no exception. One of the unique things they do at Blue Mound is name every temple hole on the bench resting on the tee box, I liked the added sense of history this touch brought. The golf course was phenomenal with Raynor’s green complexes the stars. My favorite green was the punchbowl 8th although I also liked the par three 7th featuring an elevated tee with a great view of Marquette. Blue Mound also shows the variances in Raynor’s Biarritz green designs showcasing one not completely integrated in the putting surface but challenging players who end up short of the green.
I had the opportunity to play this gem late in the summer of 2018. It was one of the best golfing experiences of my life. It was also my favorite Raynor that Iv'e played to date which is funny because it is on a rather unassuming piece of property. It's parkland style with all the Raynor template holes and the conditioning was superb. The clubhouse is stately and the view of it coming up #9 and #18 was a sight to see. My caddie was also the best I've ever had. I finally started listening to him on the back 9 and made some putts :). I would go so far as to say that of all the top 200ish courses I've ever played; Blue Mound is the most underrated. It was an unforgettable golfing experience.
I’m willing to bet that if you were to ask 10 golfers to name 10 Raynor courses in the US, the clear majority of them would name the same clubs that we typically hear about. The best part of playing old classic courses in the US is the way in which hidden gems expose themselves and allow a celebration of their existence. If I were to ask the same 10 golfers to name a Raynor golf course in the state of Wisconsin, the room might get quiet in a hurry.
While the land at Blue Mound is relatively tame for most of the holes, there are pockets of land that offer splendid changes in elevation (eg: 8th hole punchbowl). The reason I loved Blue Mound was because it demonstrated Raynor’s ability to create his trademark template holes on a benign piece of land which aggregated into an enjoyable walk on a golf course that certainly won’t beat you up.
The conditioning was excellent as expected from a private club and I often commented on the beauty and relevance of the trees that carefully populated the property. It is heavenly parkland golf that flies effortlessly below every radar.