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”.
The course was in great condition when I got to play. The greens, fairways, and bunkers are all well maintained with great service. If you have the chance to play this course defiently say yes!
Cosistent with other Raynor courses, Blue Mound is both a fair test and also just flat out enjoyable to play. The Punchbowl, Biarritz, and Redan, in particular, are all world class and can compete with similar templates on any other Raynor track. The Road hole is also outstanding and has an interesting touch with some bunkering up the right hand side, demanding a perfect drive up the middle/right of the fairway without missing to the right. Greens and bunkering have signature Raynor aesthetics, and the course was in outstanding shape when I played it in early June.
I do not think I have ever played a course where I found it nearly impossible to lose a ball on the golf course until I played Blue Mound. This statement might suggest that the course is a pushover, but it is not. Blue Mound does have its limitations but its many “highs” and positive attributes far outnumber the negatives. While playing Blue Mound, “fun” is a word that readily comes to mind. But there is more to Blue Mound than “fun.” It begins with an interesting clockwise routing on the outer boundaries of the land with the inwards nine being internal and moving in multiple directions. There is a decent amount of terrain change in the middle of the course beginning with the downhill seventh hole ending at the slightly downhill thirteenth. The “template” holes are filled with character, highlighted by the double plateau green on the second. The greens are large but many include spines, tiers and shelves that offer some of the most interesting pin positions one could find on a course. Most of the green surrounds offer challenge while allowing one the possibility of recovery.
The result is that Blue Mound belongs in the rare echelon of courses that is more than “fun.” It is a course that balances fun, stress-free both off the tee and to the green against truly interesting and greens that are loaded with character. It is a course where one believes they can attack the course because they sense no worse than a par is within reach, yet one’s score at the end will likely be slightly above one’s index.
I have not played all of the more highly recognized courses designed by Seth Raynor, but my appreciation for his work continues to grow. I am not as big a fan as some are of the template holes for which he is well known, but when done correctly they are a joy to play. While some of the template holes at Blue Mound do not quite seem to fit with what one considers the definition of a template hole, such as the Eden, Alps, and Road holes, they are good holes. None of the templates here are his best, but several are worthy of discussion of being among his top three such as the second and eighth.
The course is limited by its lack of length. There are too many short par 4’s that have too similar a look from the tee box despite the differences at the green. These shorter par 4’s are generally straight holes. While I liked the routing, I did notice a lot of empty space where a bit more variation in the shape of the fairway could have been accommodated that would not have added more length but a more interesting tee shot. Obviously when the course was built, a course of nearly 6700 yards would have been considered an appropriate challenge. At that time of being built, who knew how technology would change golf courses. While the course holds up well against technology due to those green complexes, to move up in the rankings it would require more yardage. As a result new tees have been added to eight and twelve adding another 100 yards. While it is often sacrilegious to suggest altering a course (look what happened to the Country Club of Fairfield or Inverness Cub), one wonders whether the eleventh should have been moved to the right adding yardage and more interest while allowing that new back tee on the twelfth to have a more commanding view from a higher point while still requiring a sizeable forced carry.
From the scorecard the Black tees are 6666 yards, par 70 rated 72.0/131. The Blue tees are 6296 yards rated 705/127. There is a set of lesser tees. Note that new back tees have been built on eight and twelve adding 100 additional yards.
1. Par 4 – 398/385. This is a very nice starting hole, playing straight but the better line is down the right side of the fairway to have a better look into a green that is angled to the left. There is a large, deep bunker on the front left. But the real danger is a deeper bunker that goes down the right side of the green that is approximately eleven feet deep and is an obvious blind recovery shot. One does not really see the right bunker from the fairway due to its depth and being hidden by a mound. This mound is about four feet in height on the right side with the bunker being a further seven feet down to total a depth of is part of the eleven feet. The green is large and tilts to the left with a fair amount of subtle internal movement. It is a really good starting hole due to the green.
2. Par 4 – 415/400. This is perhaps the finest double plateau green I have played. It offers four obvious sections but to my eye it appeared the right front had another sub-section to it. There is an early bunker on the right of the fairway perhaps left there for the women players as it is not in play. Trees are heavy down the left side which provides protection to going out-of-bounds. There is another bunker on the right about 50 yards short of the green but it is not difficult to escape. In addition to the double plateau green, there are two bunkers on the left side, the second one notched in about eight yards. Another bunker is on the right side but is only notched in a yard. The green falls off behind. It is an excellent golf hole where a birdie or triple bogey is possible.
3. Par 3 – 220/200. The par 3’s are good at Blue Mound and the Biarritz is my favorite on the course. However, this Biarritz differs in that the green begins at the beginning of the dip whereas most other Biarritz holes I have played has the green beginning well before the dip, often almost in the middle of the green. From the tee the two sets of long flanking bunkers perfectly frame this hole. The dip here is about four and a half feet with the back of the green being the highest point. It is a solid golf hole.
4. Par 4 – 388/372. This is considered to be the Alps hole but it is a very muted version of it as the green is raised just under six feet. The green is very large with three tiers to it. If one just carries the front bunker they will kick forward off of the mound onto the green. The fairway has two bunkers coming from the right eating into the fairway. Longer hitters easily carry them. There are a collection of trees on both sides around these two fairway bunkers. There are two separate bunkers at the front of the mound which fronts the green. I felt the green to be overly large for the length of the hole but the green is well done.
5. Par 5 – 497/483. This is the second weakest hole on the golf course due to the lack of length although the green is pretty good, particularly if the pin is located in the back of the green. The hole angles gently to the right with three staggered inner corner bunkers making the best tee shot to aim at the middle rather than trying to shorten the slight bend. The fourth fairway bunkers is far up the fairway about 50 yards short of the green on the left. There is a round, deep bunker just left of center fronting the green creating a forced carry to that section of the green. The green is open on the right side but it is shallow. There is a backstop as the green rises. However, if one carries the ball too far they will go into the bunker behind the green which sits six-seven feet down. There is another fall-off of the left side of the green. The green has a lot of internal slope and subtle mounding.
6. Par 4 – 335/327. The weakest hole on the course comes next. Despite the hole being well-bunkered with four bunkers down the left side and two staggered ones down the right side, the smart play is to play short of the first bunker on the right. Bigger hitters will try to drive the green. The green is well protected with a bunker on the right front and bunkers on three sides. There is a substantial tilt back to front as well as a sizesale tier halfway into the green. The smart play for a front pin is to play short of the green.
7. Par 3 – 167/140. This is perhaps the prettiest par 3 on the course but it also the easiest. The hole plays strongly downhill to a very large green for its length. The bunkers surrounding the green are nearly connected creating an island green with two walk-off grass ramps, similar to what one will find at Mountain Lake. The green has a tier to it with a much higher back. If one goes long there ball could end up in the tall grass behind the green rather than tumbling all the way down into the sand that sits about twelve feet below the green. The bunkers fronting the green are not nearly as deep, perhaps only five feet. The bunkers get deeper the further you go around the green due to the mounding that was built to prop up the green as this is perhaps the steepest slope on the golf course.
8. Par 4 – 445/406. For me this is the best hole on the golf course, playing down and then up again. Longer hitters have a huge advantage on this hole. There is a fairway bunker left on a hole that tilts to the left. Farther up is a set of cross bunkers as the land begins to rise. The left front of the green has the final bunker. The punchbowl green is on higher ground and has two diagonal spines that run across half of the green spaced about six feet apart where they end. These spines are more on the right and center of the green leaving the left side the flatter part of the green but also the hidden part due to the punchbowl mounds. The right center part of the green is visible from the fairway. It is a splendid hole.
9. Par 4 – 375/349. While the eighteenth has a nice view of the clubhouse, the best view of the clubhouse is from the ninth hole which makes sense given the course was originally played with this being the finishing hole to the back nine (now front nine). The tee shot plays over a valley with another early set of cross bunkers on the right and a large, deep bunker on the left that comes into the fairway The right front of the green is somewhat hidden behind a bunker and a mound. The green is large with run-off areas on all sides. This is one of the less sloped greens on the course.
10. Par 4 – 445/430. This green would be considered the best green on most golf courses. It almost felt like another double plateau given the various shelves and tiers. This long par 4 plays in front of the clubhouse with two early cross bunkers on the right. The bigger danger is the bunker coming in from the left side farther up. There is a set of flanking fairway bunkers about 100 yards from the green which likely catch a lot of balls. The green is also defended by flanking bunkers on the front corner. This green is amazing and rumor has it that Ben Crenshaw came and studied in for half an hour. The green has numerous pin positions with perhaps only the front left being a relatively simple location. This is a terrific golf hole.
11. Par 4 – 382/348. This hole could be more if it was lengthened and set as a dogleg to the right. This could add as much as 50 yards to the hole while also creating a better tee location for the twelfth hole. As it is, the hole plays straight with two early bunkers down the right and a more problematic bunker on the left. The green is angled to the left with a steep fall-off behind and on the left. The green has a deep bunker on the front left and a long, thin, deep bunker down the right side. It is a good green with a substantial back to front tilt and a tier. The green is so good that one likely hesitates to change the hole for fear of being able to replicate it.
12. Par 4 – 480/440. The second long par 4 on the course is a good hole. A new back tee on lower ground hitting uphill over a pond creates a nice visual while the member’s tee is on higher ground. Clearing the relatively small pond should not be an issue from either tee. The hole plays ever so slightly to the left with scattered trees down both sides. The green complex includes bunkers on both sides but I recall the green being less memorable than many others on the course.
13. Par 3 – 185/178. The redan hole is not in the same league as the original at North Berwick, Somerset Hills, and the ones at the more highly ranked courses such as Camargo. I also thought the redan at Hackensack to be superior. Blue Mound’s reminded me of the redans at Mountain Lake and Yeamans Hall. The right side of this redan at Blue Mound has perhaps a higher mound than those two but it does not fall as steeply to the back if one can find the green from the tee. There is a long bunker followed by a pot bunker down the right side with the long bunker beginning twelve yards before the green. Due to the mound being in this bunker results in a blind shot over that mound directly downhill. One will struggle to leave the ball on the green from the right side bunkers. The left side bunker runs nearly the length of the hole and while deep, does offer a view of the green and one can use the mound on the right side as a backstop. It is another good hole.
14. Par 4 – 416/393. I liked this hole playing uphill with two early bunkers placed into the side of the hill. More danger comes in the form of a deeper bunker down the left side while a collection of trees is in the driving zone down the right side. The fairway narrows as does the opening to the green with his a matching set of bunkers on both sides. It is a hole that one will enjoy.
15. Par 4 – 412/383. This hole has an early pond and stream that is not in play. The fairway narrows at about 200 yards with two bunkers on the right placed inside the fairway. The green has two small bunkers on the front corners and has nice inner movement and a strong back to front slope.
16. Par 4 – 335/340. This short hole has its difficulty in the form of a bunker that creeps in from the right side. Bigger hitters will easily carry this bunker but it is very much in the minds of shorter players. The green has flanking bunkers and a third placed inside the fairway set 5 yards short of the green on the right in a bit of a mound. The green has a right to left tilt. While overall this represents a good chance for birdie or par, the green complex is visually appealing.
17. Par 3 – 191/176. The least visually attractive par 3 on the course has plenty of difficulty as it is ringed by three bunkers with the one on the right cutting into the front right half of the green leaving a narrow opening for those trying to run a ball onto the green. The green has a lot of slope to it. While on many courses this might be the best par 3 on a course, here it is likely the third in a fine collection.
18. Par 5 – 560/546. There is a set of cross bunkers placed about 40 yards apart with the first one on the left. Bigger hitters likely have to worry about both bunkers. A third bunker is on the left side with an opposing bunker on the right placed about 90 yards short of the green. The green has a bit of an inner middle bowl but has no bunkers. There are various shelves and knobs as well on this large green. It is a fine finish to a very nice course.
Where does one place Blue Mound among the work of Seth Raynor? It does not rival Chicago Golf Club, National Golf Links of America, Fishers Island, Carmago, The Course at Yale, Monterey Peninsula Dunes or Fox Chapel. But it certainly fits into the grouping of The Creek, Shoreacres, Essex County Country Club, Mountain Lake, and Yeamans Hall. I have not played St. Louis, Lookout Mountain, or Everglades. It is definitely ahead of courses such as The Country Club of Charleston or Blind Brook. Others will have their own opinion as to which group it should be in.
There are some truly memorable holes on the course due to excellent green complexes starting on one. These include one, two, three, five, eight, ten, thirteen, and seventeen. The course does suffer a bit from an average stretch of holes from four to seven and fifteen-sixteen which limit it from climbing up the rankings in a state that is now filled with fifteen courses of high quality. The members have a gem here, a course they will enjoy playing every day, a course that has some very interesting greens, is kept in excellent condition, and is fun.
A fair review, but I just want to throw my support behind No. 6 as a short par four! I may have sold only myself on this idea but I believe it to be a take on the "Valley" concept from NGLA's opener (versus the unrelated "Valley" hole at Blue Mound). As a replacement "worst hole" (all relative) I nominate No. 17, an Eden that hasn't been eating a healthy breakfast. Keep on keeping on, Mark.
Your first sentence is as big a selling point for me as there is. Not that it wasn't high on my list already, but Blue Mound is officially even higher.
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.