Golf in Wisconsin dates back to circa 1890 and the Milwaukee Country Club is one of the oldest in the State. Although Milwaukee was founded in 1894, golf in those days was played to the northeast the city before moving in 1910 to River Hills, its present location, on the Milwaukee River.
The current Milwaukee layout was fashioned by the hand of Charles Hugh Alison in 1929. Robert Trent Jones made some minor revisions to the layout ahead of the 1969 Walker Cup matches.
Host venue for the 1988 USGA Senior Amateur, Milwaukee Country Club is a demanding course that requires accuracy from the tee. This is epitomised by the outstanding par four 9th which has a narrow landing area from the tee followed by an intimidating uphill approach shot to a green which is protected by a cavernous bunker set short and right of the green.
Milwaukee Country Club was once more under the spotlight when the club played host to the 2008 Mid-Amateur Championship. Steve Wilson of Mississippi lifted the Robert T. Jones Jr. Trophy at Milwaukee and earned an invitation to the 2009 Masters Tournament in the process.
Tom Doak commented as follows in his January 2020 newsletter:
“Don Placek and Brian Schneider are in the home straight of restoring C.H. Alison’s design, which began when Don and I visited the club in the fall of 2004. We won’t put back the old 9th green, because there’s a swimming pool in the way, but once we get the 11th through 15th holes back in shape this fall, it will be a wrap.”
Shortly after I introduced myself to my host at Milwaukee Country Club, he asked, “How did you like Black Wolf Run?” I shared my opinion, and he then revealed that prior to becoming executive director of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, he worked for Herb Kohler and was in charge of developing the two golf courses. Oops! Open mouth, insert foot. I was not off to a good start with this guy I thought.
MCC was fantastic. When Pete Dye was asked about MCC, he thought for a few moments and then said, “Great grass.” MCC is in pristine condition, featuring streams, fast greens, and challenging bunkers. On Number 11, I hit into a greenside bunker on such a steep face that I could hardly get a stance in the trap to hit the ball, but I got it on the green and two-putted for my bogey. My host and I became friends, and a few months later, he invited me back to play in the MCC Invitational. We played in both his and my invitationals for three years, and I went with him to the Tournament Players Championship for three years in a row… He and I subsequently played a few other Top 100 courses together, and through him I met Johnny Koss (the Koss headphone Koss), who is also working on playing the Top 100, but he still has a way to go. Larry Berle.
The club was founded in 1894 and one of the pioneering golf clubs in the mid-west with a great sense of tradition. You feel it the moment you turn onto the entrance road, a country lane sheltered by towering maples. The impression is even stronger when you reach the clubhouse, a massive Colonial mansion perched on a bluff above the Milwaukee River. You take a step back in time upon entering the house and can immediately recognize the ‘museum’ like feeling of the décor and furniture. This is the mid-west answer to Yeamans Hall.
The first 18 hole layout was designed primarily by committee members, but was redesigned by Walter Travis in 1924 when an additional 77 acres of land were purchased. The Travis course was not well received, and in 1928, Charles Alison was employed to build it again. Accordingly to club history, Alison convinced the club to acquire an additional 10 acre piece of land, which enabled him to devise an entirely new routing. The Alison course remained intact until Robert Trent Jones made minor changes (eg: removing fairway bunkers) in 1974. The club is currently utilizing modern-day architects to return to the designed laid out by Alison.
This golf course gets little or no attention, and its quite tough to even find a photograph of the layout. This is a great shame as I’ve played the Top 100 courses in the US, and when people ask me about which courses surprised me the most, I always say “Milwaukee” among a small handful of others.
Some of the best stretches of holes are 8 through 10. The 8th is a short par 3 with a pushed up target surrounded by bunkers, which will get the heart racing and will ensure that the player stares down the ball until it comes to rest. The driveable 9th has a huge downhill dip which chases back uphill to a brilliant green built on a ledge with a brutal false front. The long par 4 10th had significant tree clearance to the left of the hole to allow a breathtaking view of the Milwaukee River, to a green cut out of a ledge. This hole is a painters paradise. The back nine has mostly enjoyable holes, flowing doglegs and an uphill 18th hole featuring a tiered target that is not visible from the fairway.Milwaukee is arguably the most underrated golf course in the United States and will be one of the most memorable experiences of your golfing life.
A review of Milwaukee Country Club could not be complete without a mention of Manuel de la Torre. He is a retired golf pro at MCC, and continues to teach amateurs and professionals onsite. His concepts for golf instruction have stood the test of time for over 60 years. He was the first member of the PGA to be awarded their Teacher of the Year Award in 1986. He is one of only several golf instructors to be inducted into both the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame as well as the PGA Hall of Fame. He is a living legend at Milwaukee Country Club and his legacy complements the fabled history of the sheltered golf property.