The Bull golf course at Pinehurst Farms in Sheboygan Falls is a Jack Nicklaus layout, the first that the Golden Bear designed in the Badger State. It’s laid out around a residential development where water comes into play a couple of times on each nine.
The club got into financial difficulty and closed in October 2019, owing its primary creditor (the bank) $4.2 million.
“After two cancelled sheriff’s sales and three failed offers The Bull at Pinehurst Farms has new owners,” the Sheboygan Press reported. “John Dunfee and Randy Groth, both of Cedarburg, Wis., purchased The Bull, which includes the only Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course in Wisconsin, for $2.4 million at the end of June 2020.”
The bank maintained the course throughout the bankruptcy and the new owners hope to return the facility back to "shiny and new" as soon as possible.
During the playing of this year's Ryder Cup matches at Whistling Straits I took the opportunity to stop and see the work of Jack Nicklaus at The Bull at Pinehurst Farms.
The layout begins in a rather straightforward ho-hum manner. The first four holes are located on pasture land that has been groomed for golf holes and the adjoining homes one sees in this area of the property.
The real gusto of the outward half starts with the challenging par-4 5th. The two-shot turns left in the drive zone and one has to be especially mindful of the deep gorge that awaits the slightest mishap when hitting shots too far left. The width of the fairway is also a bit snug. Should one push a tee ball too far right it's more than likely you will be prevented from making an approach to the green which is protected in front by the same gorge you faced with the tee shot. The hole is a stout challenge and it mandates healthy respect.
The next two holes that follow are done well by Nicklaus -- a dropshot par-3 hole with a vexing green that invites a quick three-putt if you're out of position with the approach. The short par-4 7th that follows is a fine hole because it practically tempts players to go for the boldest of plays from the tee. The green sits above the fairway and anything but the best of plays will be struggling to escape with a bogey. It is here that one's first encounter with the Onion River asserts itself.
Matters only intensity with the final two holes on the front. The split fairway par-5 8th prevents a range of options for players to contemplate. The most risk oriented of plays from the tee is down the more challenging right side. Achieving success on the tees shot allows those long enough to go for the green which is again protected by the Onion River. There are lesser courses of play which can yield results but the magic of the hole is that it does not yield easy results without fine execution.
The nine concludes with a stupendous uphill par-4. The drive must steer away from a long fairway bunker on the right side. But this is where things really intensify. The approach must come in high to an elevated green fronted by a maddeningly deep bunker. The skillset needed to extricate one's golf ball from such a deep pit will be confounding for all but the most skilled.
The inward half keeps the momentum going forward. The 10th is a basic Nicklaus long par-4 that one has seen countless times. Amazingly, the layout provides a second quality short par-4 at the 11th. The hole is reminiscent of a "cape" hole as players weigh the risk/reward in cutting off as much water as possible on the left side. There's also a right-side option that is not so easily seen when standing on the tee.
The par-3 12th that follows is a stout long par-3 and it's more than the length that is an issue but the green itself which provides for a range of different movements.
The rest of the holes to the grand finale at the 18th are an engaging test. The dandy par-4 16th mandates a calculated tee shot as the ideal landing areas is partially hidden. The approach must negotiate a frontal gorge that spells permanent disaster for those misplaying the approach.
The penultimate hole is a par-5 and there's an opportunity to snare a birdie before concluding the round with the imposing long par-4 18th. Nicklaus tempts the big play from the tee and those who succeed will reap a far easier approach. The green is placed on a diagonal and club selection is crucial in landing one's ball near to the hole.
The issue for The Bull at Pinehurst Farms is its close proximity to the nearby four courses that make up the Kohler Destination ensemble. Many will opt to go there because of all the fanfare that's been generated over the years. Nicklaus has done numerous fine courses during his tenure as a golf course designer but I was pleasantly surprised at the totality of the variety of interesting situations encountered When you factor the relatively modest green free when held against the likes of the Kohler-owned courses the golf experience you receive is very good.
I would have liked to have given the course a 4.5 rating but the opening four holes are merely bystanders when held against the likes of what follows. The forthcoming bunker upgrading will also be a real plus if carried out smartly with possibly the starting quartet of hole being enhanced at that time too. Should all those things come into fruition I see no reason why an overall course rating will most certainly rise. A possible top ten position in the Badger State is conceivable.
New owners came on board in June 2020 and the desire to improve the course is already in motion. Thankfully, the course remains in existence because it's future, up to the time the new owners came forward, was anything but a certain thing.
Those coming to the Sheboygan area should most certainly schedule a visit and see what's there firsthand.
M. James Ward
I really like playing the Bull, but you have to go in knowing that it is both a gorgeous layout and stupidly difficult. Nicklaus designed the course at a time, in the early 2000s, when making the hardest, longest, meanest course possible was all the rage. Well, he succeeded to a fault.
The first three holes start you off nice and easy and are pretty nondescript. The real action starts at the great fourth hole. It's a dogleg left that runs down a ridge that you will want to get close to off the tee. The fifth isI think the prettiest hole on the course--a really tough par four that winds from right to left around the rim of a deep pit. It's a very intimidating tee shot with the pit on one side and a tight tree line on the other, and getting to the green in 2 requires you to again brave the dreaded pit. Six is a nice par three along a ridge that again requires you to cross a pretty deep chasm. Four through six are tough holes, but they are playable and beautiful. Seven and eight are another story.
Seven is a very attractive hole, starting on an elevated tee. It's a short par four and you'll want to lay off the driver. The green is highly elevated as well--sitting atop a ridge covered with think long grass. If you are in front of this ridge in the fairway, you likely can't see the green. Stupidly, the whole green slopes front to back, making it very hard to actually keep your ball on it. Hole eight is a beastly, long par 4 with a fairway split by the Onion River, which also cuts the green off from both sides of the fairway. The left side is quite wide, but makes the hole much longer. The right side is very right between a stream and the main branch of the river itself on the right.
The back nine is where the toughest holes on the course lay waiting. Eleven wraps around a lake, and a brave, long-hitter might try to go for the bit of fairway way out on the left that is near the green from the tee. 15-18 are beautiful but punishing holes, especially sixteen, which requires you hit a near perfect tee shot to have any hope of reaching the green, which by the way lies across yet another deep chasm giving you almost no room for error.
That's the general theme here. If you make a mistake--even just a slightly poor shot, this course will punish you. I'm a very average golfer. I love the layout, hate the stupidly penal side of the course, but really feel great when I play well on any given hole here. Getting a birdie once on 7 was probably as good as I've ever felt about my play on any single hole.
So, if you are an average golfer like me, just go in knowing what you are in for. It's going to frustrate you. You are going to lose golf balls. You are going to probably not shoot your best score. But you will have fun all the same, and it's absolutely one of the best layouts in Wisconsin--certainly a superior course to the Meadow Valleys.