Most golfers on a vacation to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, may be slightly confused during the first portion of their round with the Arnold Palmer Course at Geneva National Resort.
With all the hype surrounding the title lake, the course spends its first 15 holes traversing through the wooded area surrounding the resort. Palmer knows how to finish, however, bringing the three final holes down to the shores of the lake (Lake Como, not Lake Geneva) for a fine culmination.
Palmer himself, generally humble, was rather proud of the par three at No. 16. Given an opportunity to create a “Dream 18” of his own holes, he included this one at No. 11. The hole plays out from the woods to a green, with the ever-distracting panorama of the lake in the background.
The allure of the lake may sour, depending on how you handle the next hole, a par five that wraps around the shore and creates a dead zone for any ball that works its way left of the fairway. Those who have played Palmer’s longtime home at Bay Hill may find this concept painfully familiar.
The Palmer course is honestly kind of mickey mouse golf, as is typical with many Palmer designs. Its a goofy routing with a lot of weird doglegs and awkward greens. It does have great views and is in great shape, however, so that's definitely some people's cup of tea. My favorite hole was the dogleg left 17th which is a gettable par five wrapping around Lake Como, the only hole on the property that plays down to the Lake.
Its a shame that for a town which is typically bustling with tourists and families, there really aren't any great public affordable options. I've heard the nine hole Country Club Estates is a really cool old school cheap course that is a lot different from anything else in town, but its definitely in need of some tender loving care. Lake Geneva and Big Foot are two great private courses, and Abbey Springs, which overlooks the Lake on the most claustrophobic and shaggy greens imaginable, is getting a facelift next year. While the private scene thrives, it would be great to see the public side of things be able to compete, as it would be a great fit for the town.
The Palmer Course at Geneva National starts with a dogleg right uphill par 4. Not long, but a creek does bisect the fairway and then juts back in front of the green. This green has a sever tilt back to front. The 2nd is another dogleg right with various trees on the inside elbow and two bunkers on the outside. This green slopes hard front to back. The first par 3 is short, but uphill. Probably best to take an extra club. Balls that are short left may roll back down the incline and those right will end up in a bunker. The first par 5 is also a dogleg right. I am starting to think that this may be a Nicklaus design. This par 5 is reachable. Off the tee aim just left of the right fairway bunkers. Finally, a hole that goes left. If you can carry the left fairway bunkers on the 5th, you set up an attack iron to the green. The further right you are off the tee, the longer the approach. Left of the green is big trouble. The 6th is also a dogleg left. I am not sure why it is ranked the third hardest hole on the course. From an elevated tee, one should consider hitting a utility. We both drove through the fairway. Much harder to par from the bunkers or the trees. The 7th is a tree lined, narrow and quasi-reachable par 5. Favor the left off the tee if you are going to try to go for it. Too far right, may leave you blocked out. Also, OB left and right. The 8th is a long par 3 with water right. Aim at the middle of the right bunker and the contour will kick the ball right. The 9th is the longest par 4 and the number one handicap.
The back starts with a good birdie oppty. Aim just inside the right fairway bunkers. The green sits on a small ledge. Make sure your approach gets there. The 11th also leans right. Favor the right as there is a fairway bunker left and you could also end up being blocked out by the trees. The fairway narrows significantly and slopes right. The 12th is one of my favorite holes. A blind tee shot, to avoid a downhill lie, stay back at least 130 yards. Also, there is small water hazard in front of the green that you cannot see off the tee. The13th is a short Florida par 3 with carry over water and water right. The 14th is a very narrow dogleg left up and then downhill narrow par 5. Play it as a 3 shotter. Favor the right off the tee. This green is sloped hard front to back and does not hold. I landed short of the green and barely hung on. I would suggest playing at least one club less. The 15th is a dogleg right, good risk reward hole. There is water hazard on the inside elbow, only the brave and foolish should consider this option. This green slopes hard right to left towards the lake. The last par 3 is downhill with Lake Geneva as a backdrop behind the green. The last par five parallels the lake and is a dogleg left. Favor the right off the tee and the second shot. The green also tilts towards the lake. Good hole. The 18th is a tough hole. Long, uphill with lots of bunkers. Off the tee aim just left of the right fairway bunkers. The green is protected by four front bunkers.
Overall, good but not great.