Eagle Springs is one of the oldest golf courses in Wisconsin, and certainly has one of the most interesting histories. It began as an 18-hole club for visitors from Chicago, and its second iteration featured two opening holes designed by Chicago Cubs pitcher A.G. Spaulding, with the rest “designed by the land,” in owner William Tuohy’s words. The Great Depression led to the closure of half those holes, and what remains has become one of the nine-hole courses increasingly gathering attention as a gem in the golf community.
As you may have guessed from Tuohy’s description of the course’s natural design, there is certainly quirk to go around. No hole better demonstrates the course’s old-world approach than the No. 2, a volcano hole so devious than even Donald Ross would blush at its difficulty. Although that green is at least flat atop its earthen traffic cone, others roll like Lake Michigan during a storm.
The course is now in its fifth generation of family ownership, and they don’t aspire to change it a lick.
I was able to bookend my first trip to Wisconsin for this true gem in Eagle. After listening to a podcast with the owner, Mike Bolan, I felt obliged to add it to my hit list. Three years later I found myself on the first tee staring at a blind tee shot; not a clue in the world where my ball would end up.
As you crest the hill on one, you immediately ask yourself why they let you out here for only $15. The hole winds left and you are immediately asked to hit one of the most engaging and difficult second shots I have seen. A beautiful green with difficult pinnacle positions left me walking away with a happy bogey.
The second hole is the coolest and most unique hole I have ever seen. It gives a whole new meaning to the proverbial “volcano template.” It is by no means an easy hole, and wayward shots are severely punished. Both times through I missed and paid the price in a full stroke.
The par 4 third hole offers a risk reward offer water on a hole that lists left to right. The approach offers some visual deception. From afar the green looks as flat as a billiards table, but upon closer examination there are a variety of tricky pins that make the green hard to hold in fast conditions.
The par 4 sixth is an uphill par 4 with a half pipe shaped landing area. This allows well placed drives to feed into the fairway, but shots off the mark are subject to tall grass and tree trouble. A delicate wedge to the elevated green caps off a fun hole. The green on the par three 7th is massive for this course. It offers you the ability to take on pins with the feeding slopes. The bunkering on the par five 8th features beautiful and shallow eyelash bunkering; a nod to the homegrown nature of the course.
Every hole is fun and engaging.
The story of this course is entirely unique. It’s been a family affair that has spawned generations. The ambiguity of assigning the designer credit may cause some to scoff, however after experiencing the course, you can sense history. You can still see the man made features that were likely done with care and passion in a bygone era. The only explanation for the multi-generational success of this off-the-beaten-path location is that same passion. It is felt in the layout, the quirk, and the conditions, and it is an homage to all golfers past and present.
Eagle Springs is everything it is cracked up to be. It is indeed like a trip back in time. As you drive down the resort lane, and pull up to the little, ancient clubhouse, it feels like being back in the early 20th century. Expect no frills here, though the interior of the clubhouse has a nice, rustic feel. The first tee is feet away from the clubhouse door, and right away, you can tell you are in for something unique.
The first hole is a short par four, with an incredibly intimidating blind tee shot (there is an alternative non-blind tee) up a steep hill, tightly guarded by trees. The good news is it is very open beyond the hill and the trees. From there, the hole winds down and the left. The green is incredibly undulating, and before the green is a razorback mound to guard it.
Hole two is what most people come here for I imagine--the volcano hole. No picture can do this thing justice. The elevation of the small green is impossible to really describe, but it makes the famous boxcar hole at Lawsonia look positively tame. It's hit or miss here. If you miss even slightly to the right, as I did, welcome to the bottom of the slope and a crazy pitch shot back up.
The third hole is nothing special--one of only two relatively boring holes on the course. It's just a short par 4, dog-leg right around a pond, to a small, basically flat green. The challenge here is not hitting through the fairway into the tree line on the left.
Four is another spectacular hole--a longer par four uphill to a hidden green with some severe slopes on the left. Drive up to see what you are dealing with, and missing left is going to be death.
Five is the other relatively non-interesting hole on the course, though it has a nice elevated tee shot. It's a standard par four, running downhill back toward the pond from three. There is a bit of water in front of the left side of the green, which is flat and unremarkable.
Six begins the final stretch of great holes. It's a short, uphill par our. The fairway is V shaped in slope, so a modest miss left or right will feed right back down the center. The green is a bit elevated, with a classic looking, thin bunker surrounding the entire back side.
Seven is a wonderful 133 yard par three from a very elevated tee down to what I can best describe as a half-punchbowl green with some elevation with a thin bunker surrounding the front half. Any shot a bit to the left will feed back down into the center. A beautiful, fun hole.
Eight is the only par five, and it has another scary blind tee shot up a very steep hill. Two huge trees provide tight goal posts to clear, but things really open up once you are at the top--tons of room on the left especially. The fairway then runs back down to a small green with a lot of slop front to back and another one of those thin, semi-circle bunkers covering the back side.
Finally, nine too begins with a semi-blind tee shot. There is no steep hill here, but you need to walk or drive up to really see what to do. The big tree out in center is a good marker, with the fairway running in a crescent shape out to and around it. Going through the grassy, mounded area to the left is a great short cut. The fairway then runs down in front of an elevated green and a steep drop-off on the right side.
The course was in good condition when I played--nicely kept green fairways and greens. The greens were in great shape and of moderate speed, but honestly they would be beastly if running fast. Overall the course is scruffy around the edges, and everything has a pretty basic, rustic feel.
For $18 walking for nine holes, this has got to be the best golf deal in Wisconsin. It's an amazing little golden-age course. Nobody really knows who designed it, but it looks like something Langford and Moreau (Lawsonia) would have built. Of course, remember going here that it is a very small, family run operation. Even though it is only about a half-hour drive from Milwaukee, it feels like you are up in the north woods. Anyone who appreciates classic golf courses has to play here. None of the holes are bad, and seven of nine are really fun and interesting in a style very much like Lawsonia Links or West Bend Country Club.
I love nine-hole courses. They're often an invaluable asset to communities that are not able to support a larger-scale and more land- or resource-intensive golf operation, in both rural and urban areas, due to their smaller footprint. They're great for being able to play golf without having to devote a huge chunk of your day, although if you want to spend more time there, you can always make another loop! On top of those benefits, for some reason playing them always seems to feel less serious/more relaxing than playing an eighteen-hole course. With that in mind, it's quite safe to say I enjoyed my visit to Eagle Springs, located somewhat in the middle of nowhere southwest of Milwaukee. The golf internet has been gushing about this historic rural nine for a while, led by The Fried Egg among others, and it did not disappoint despite the decent amount of rain the area had received the few days prior. The oldest golf course in the state of Wisconsin, Eagle Springs is loaded with quirk, starting right out of the gate; the tee shot on the first hole requires a leap of faith over a blind hill to a heavily mounded fairway. The green is divided into two very distinct areas, with a higher portion to the left and a lower “punchbowl” section to the right, somewhat hidden behind a large mound in front of it. It’s a downright bonkers green complex, but it often gets overshadowed by the one that immediately follows.
The iconically severe "Volcano" second is the big draw at Eagle Springs, and rightfully so. The severity of the slopes off the edge of this very small green have to be seen to be believed; it’s a good twenty feet from the fairway below that loops around the front up to the green on slopes of varying steepness; the left side is particularly vertical, and nearly impossible to walk up. An up-and-down from the left side, however, is not impossible (#humblebrag alert) as I proved with a deft bump-and-run into and up the slope and a ten-foot putt into the heart of the cup; mission accomplished. After the fact, I noticed that an alternate second hole existed back farther in the woods, designed for older players who have difficulty walking up the steep slopes to the Volcano per the Fried Egg article on the course. I didn't think to look for this hole while on the course and wish I'd gotten the chance to play it.
The third is the only hole on the course not featuring some sort of vertical movement, but even then, the ever-so-slightly raised green features a subtle swale that cuts diagonally across it to provide just enough interest so that it is not a throwaway. The next two holes play up and down the side of a hill, with the fourth being a particularly great hole; the tee shot provides a look into the left half of the fairway, which provides a better look into the green sunken behind a ridge in front of it, but a much worse angle of approach than from the right side of the fairway. As a left-to-right player, I was happy to find the proper side. Alas, I was not aware of the cool kicker slope coming from the front right of the green, but my friend provided excellent advice not to miss left into what proved to be quite a deep drop-off. The fifth plays back down the hill in somewhat less exciting fashion, once again favoring a left-to-right shot off the tee.
The sixth begins the excellent stretch of closing holes; an uphill but drivable par four at less than 300 yards, the green is nonetheless surrounded by bunkers and mounds and slopes heavily towards the front portion. The downhill seventh, at all of 140 yards from the longest tees, plays over a valley to a green featuring a bunker wrapping around its front and an enormous slope feeding balls onto the green from the back left. While it's a rather simple hole in terms of knowing where not to miss - don't be short! - it's nice to have options on how to play the shot, and though I didn't experience I'm sure it's pretty cool to see your ball feed off the slope toward the flag. The eighth is the only par five on the course, but doesn’t particularly play like one. Because the green abuts the edge of the property and the tee box is stretched to the end of a steep ledge, the hole unfortunately cannot be lengthened; as the hole stands at 450 yards, it only requires a drive and a mid-iron to get to the green in two shots for most good players. Still, the green sits below a ridge and only the top of the flag can be seen from the fairway, leading to an intimidating approach where one should err on the shorter side.
To close out the round, Eagle Springs offers right-to-left players penance after the difficulties they experienced in the middle of the round. The hole bends uncomfortably around a tree which no longer comes into play and threads between some mounds, before traversing over a ravine to a humpback green that falls off both front and back (although more far severely in the front). This approach is one of the more photogenic spots on the course, highlighted by an old silo poking out of the woods behind the green.
It’s a hard sell for a lot of people to travel a bit out of their way to play a nine-hole course, for sure. On top of that, Eagle Springs is no Dunes Club, Whitinsville, or Sweetens Cove – a “destination” nine-holer like the cited examples. But if you’re looking for fun and quirk in a simple, low-key environment with the typical quality golfing turf found in Wisconsin, Eagle Springs is the perfect place to spend a day, morning, afternoon, or even just a couple of hours if you find yourself driving by.
Played June 28, 2021
Over the past 25 years Wisconsin has become America's hottest new golf destination, with resort courses costing an arm and a leg to play. However, the oldest course in the state, a "resort course" without a resort, is just $19 to walk for 18 on the weekends.
Eagle Springs is unlike anything I've ever seen in the golfing world. Its a true mom and pop classic. In the middle of nowhere, with tons of quirk and charm, it embodies the spirit of the midwest. The first tee is a bold introduction. Just feet from the original clubhouse and guiness on tap you launch your tee ball over a 30 foot ridge to start the day. The fun continues when you find your ball and figure out how the hell you're supposed to navigate your next shot. The green on the first might be my favorite in the world its a wild punchbowl where you can literally putt it 180 degrees. We literally spent 10 minutes just knocking balls around the green.
The second is the postcard hole, a miniscule green perched atop a massive volcano. In many other bold volcano type holes like LuLu or Lawsonia I've noticed that the green typically sits somewhat naturally into the land, and yet this one shoots straight up out of the ground. The fact that it was built 100 years ago is a pure feat of engineering. I stepped up first and knocked a pitching wedge to a foot. The rest of my family, all single digit handicappers in their own rights, all missed the green, all making 5 or more. Its a true hit and hope hole, and if you think about it strategically off the tee its not much different from an island green. But wouldn't it be way more fun if you would be able to find your ball, play it, and make 6 without dropping two pro v's in the water? The 2nd at Eagle Springs is a great example of bold, nontraditional hazards, and one of my favorite holes in the world. We struggled to hit it with our modern clubs, I can't even imagine trying to hit it with a mashie.
The third is a cape style hole doglegging around a pond that you can bite off as much as you can chew to get a good angle into the green. The hole is likely the dullest on the course, but still offers great strategy. The fourth plays back uphill to a blind green set off to the right somewhat similarly to 13 at Pine Valley. Approaching the green to find where your ball funneled to is a ton of fun, making for another wild experience.
Five plays from back atop the ridge down to a green just over a creek. If you look to the right you can spot an old hunting lodge to the right of the tee box. One of my favorite parts that surprised me at Eagle Springs is how true the course plays to how it was intended to. The greens are perfect and still hold the same original fill pads, and are surrounded by short grass allowing balls to run off the sharp edges. Six plays back uphill through a wild fairway shaped almost like a halfpipe. The green is guarded by two pot bunkers that prioritize a good drive.
Seven is another awesome par three. A long narrow trench bunker fronts the green which is set into the side of a hill providing a huge backstop. My brother landed it near the back fringe, allowing his ball to trickle down to the hole for a near ace! Definitely one of the coolest shots on the course, and a reminder of how fun it is to be able to use slopes creatively on an approach shot.
The eighth is the sole "par five" on the course playing over a blind ridge down to a semi blind green that is backed by a horseshoe shaped bunker. Nine is a massive sweeping cape hole that allows you to cut off as much as you can over the prairie of native grass. The green slopes dramatically from back left to front right over a ravine that makes you think your right miss will almost run down into the parking lot. After finishing on 9 all you'll want is to head back to the first tee.
Eagle Springs doesn't have an architect listed to its name. There's some legend revolving around former Cubs owner AG Spalding, but even the current owner who is the fifth generation of the Touhy family doesn't know who built the course. Most likely, it was assembled by Wisconsinites in a mish mash manner. Its not a course you go to to check off an architect off your list, but rather to experience rural Wisconsin charm. It's a quirky yet inviting course, with a strong emphasis on fun. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. You could argue that some of the flatter holes like 3 and 8 come out a little dull but its still about as much fun as you can have on a golf course. You could drive thirty minutes from Eagle, WI to pay $350 to play Erin Hills, but you'd honestly have more fun at Eagle Springs. Plus, you could play 331 holes for the same price! I highly recommend anyone in Chicagoland make the drive up to Eagle Springs