William Langford and Theodore Moreau designed the original 9-hole course at West Bend Country Club, which opened in 1930. Thirty years would pass before an additional nine was appended by David Gill to form a regulation 18-hole layout.
Unfortunately, the second nine holes were laid out in a different style to the first nine so in 2008 the club engaged St Louis-based architect Kye Goalby – who was familiar with the design style of Langford & Moreau – to restore the course to the way it might have looked eighty years previously.
This initially involved the removal of trees and the reconstruction of bunkers on the original nine but work then started on the other holes with the 14th in 2012 and by the summer of 2019, holes 10 to 15 had also been refurbished. The last three holes are still to be completed.
During my coverage of the Ryder Cup matches I had a bit of free time to do some golf course exploring near to Kohler.
The thrill in playing West Bend starts with the opening hole. It's a challenging two-shot par-4 and the tee shot needs to be played with great care. The hole rises slowly in the drive zone and there is plenty of ground movement in the fairway. Most interesting is the pinching in of the drive zone on the right side the further one attempts to get the ball down the fairway.
Langford and Moreau did the outward half of holes and the green at the 1st showcases their grand style. The putting surface is elevated and requires a deft touch to get near to the hole position. There are no greenside bunkers nor does there need to be. A superb starting hole.
The rest of the front side is filled with holes that provide land movements in the fairway and complimented by various green configurations that are hardly pedestrian. The detailing is clear for those with eyes to see and the holes are testing without being physically backbreaking.
The par-5 6th is a good example of the land movement. The tee shot encounters a fairway that drops off to a landing area one cannot see. Long hitters can get to the bottom but when doing so are left with a 250-yard blind shot to a green in the nearby distance. Players can lay back to have direct view of the distant green but that choice precludes getting home in two shots. The desire to keep players off balance is a constant theme at West Bend.
Things really hit a high note with the par-4 7th that follows. The hole is roughly 360 yards and it's a true joy to play when you execute at a high level. Any shot played in a half-hearted manner will meet a swift and certain punishment. The most meaningful aspect is the terrain found at the 7th hole. The hole turns left in the drive zone and the fairway features a number of movements. Long hitters can be tempted to cut the corner and go for the green but it's a foolish play because to reap the ultimate reward and land / stay on the green is nothing short of a miracle shot that's blessed by the Almighty himself.
The green sits atop a high knoll and there are fall-offs on all sides. The green is also sloped from back-to-front and given the pitch it's very easy to have a downhill putt and see it proceed off the green and then scamper many, many yards away. Tread carefully.
It's a great hole because it takes nerve and exacting skill. While length can help, the hole emphasizes even greater concern for precision. Incredibly, not a single bunker on the entire hole -- fabulous stuff.
The front side concludes with a quality long par-4 of 470 yards and like the other holes already faced the 9th has a green with plenty of movement -- both subtle and dramatic. It would help matters if there was some fairway bunkering because long hitters can have free rein to simply bust one from the tee.
The final nine has its moments but not as consistently exhilarating as the initial nine. I did like the par-5 11th which really should be listed a par-4 given the nature of how steep the land falls away in the drive zone.
The 12th thru the 14th are interesting but hardly riveting. The par-5 15th is a quality hole and it's helped by a compelling green that is quick to unearth those with the shakiest of strokes.
The last three holes are a good mixture but matters would be helped considerably if the ending trio had a bit more pizzazz. The 16th can be had with an aggressive tee shot down the left side. Since there's no fairway bunker on that side the situation allows for players to simply hit away with little penalty save for a lone tree that does have a presence but not enough to coral those with serious length. The penultimate hole is quite attractive and one does see the letters of the club on the far hillside in the nearby distance which use rocks to provide the initials.
The closing hole is attractive but once again the drive zone is not ably defended to protect against long hitters taking extreme liberties. The downhill turbo boost long hitters receive can mean a simple wedge shot to the putting surface. Having the fairway tapered and or adding bunkers in some form of pattern would be helpful to provide a needed balancing act between those with extreme length and those with far less so.
Overall, West Bend is good fun and the turf preparation is a real treat to enjoy. The challenge is clearly presented at various intervals -- more so the front than the back. With the exception of long distance hitting low handicappers the test of golf can be rigorous given the overall speed / contour of the greens. Candidly, I believe the greens can get too fast -- much to the delight of the club's membership. When speeds exceed 12 on the Stimpmeter it makes it likely you will see more time spent on the greens and it also places a limit on possible pin locations.
The central issue is getting the final nine holes in a better alignment with the front side. Kye Goalby did a fine job but the sum total of the holes on the back nine are just not at the same level as those on the front side.
West Bend, nonetheless, deserves attention from those wishing to sample the imaginative Langford / Moreau contribution. The potential for something really special is there should the club opt to do some fine tuning in the years ahead.
M. James Ward
West Bend is one of the most unique courses I have ever played, and you know right from the first hole that you are in for something special. The famous Langford and Moreau (of Lawsonia Links fame) designed the original front nine, and the massively elevated green on the first hole indicates what you are in for. Outside of Lawsonia, I've never seen greens quite like these in terms of their slopes and elevation. If you happen to overshoot the second green, you will be coming back up something much like the "boxcar" green at Lawsonia or worse. The seventh hole is absolutely spectacular, as it curves to the right across a very undulating fairway to another high, elevated green.
The back nine was designed later, but it was meant to closely match the Langford and Moreau style. A scenic set of wholes (particularly 11-14) in their own right, they do not quite match the front nine, especially with the greens. The entire course is always in excellent condition.
West Bend is also a great club in general with a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere. It is without a doubt one of the great "golden age" courses in Wisconsin, and you won't soon forget your round here.