Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry are best known in the Wisconsin golf scene for their work at Erin Hills, the host of the 2017 U.S. Open, but they had been to the state before. In fact, the pair’s work at Wild Rock (the course of The Wilderness resort) seems almost like a precursor for their next project in the state.
First, Wild Rock is not shy from the tee. Although it may not reach the 8,000 yards of the aforementioned U.S. Open host, scratch players will be able to find all they can handle from the back tees here, which tip out at 7,400 yards. More interestingly, Wild Rock also features significant emphasis on centerline bunkers, both forcing players to think off of the tee, or complicating approaches into the greens.
There is also significant altitude change, although in Wild Rock’s case, that ties back to the property’s former life as a stone quarry. Pockets of rock and piles of boulders add a unique visage to the course, even if they rarely play much of a strategic role.
The course’s showcase hole is No. 15, a short par three (180 yards from the back tees) that plays over the tree line and across a deep quarry, which lends an almost desert air to this Midwestern property.
As has been stated over and over, Wisconsin has an embarrassment of riches in terms of public golf courses. I recently played here and
i think I had different takeaways from the course compared to the below review, but arrived at a similar rating because this course really is fantastic.
The next time this site re-ranks for wisconsin by the powers that be, I would argue (from personal experience) that wild rock should be above troy burne, meadow valleys, the bull, and grand geneva brute. Significantly better than each of these courses. And at its price, a steal.
The course really only has one indifferent hole- the first; sort of a "get you out" handshake, but with a creek to negotiate on approach. From there, you are on a roller coaster ride of one show-stopping hole after another. The holes are beautifully draped over some extreme terrain, often cat-walking along ridges with monster views of the baraboo bluffs. Must see in person; the course is underserved by photographs. Totally uncluttered- they used a lot of land for this course. The holes give width and require decision making on drive, approach, or both. Fairway bunkers and doglegs are positioned so that confident swings can negotiate them. The quarry holes are an unexpected and amazing twist towards the end of the round. Conditioning was top notch... maybe better than usual due to prep for upcoming tournament, but I'll take it.
I have two critiques, which may be common reasons why (other than obscurity) the course is not rated higher by the powers-that-be. The first is the lack of walkability... don't even know if is an option but don't think about it. That extreme elevation change comes at a price. This issue somewhat unavoidable given the land, but I've seen similar courses solve this with tighter routing and engineered walking paths. The second is a bit of an aesthetic issue. The design team is Hurdzan and Fry of Erin hills fame. It appears that they attempted to import some branding/style from Erin hills into this very different setting, on somewhat of a "lite" trim. This works for the green contours- they are tough but manageable and I'm guessing the resort golfer gets around this course better than EH at least in putting out. What doesn't work are all these micro-bunkers they have near some greens (you'll know them when you see them). They pale in comparison to the scale of the rest of the course and setting...just out of place. If they had gone more of a stanley thompson (banff/jasper) vibe, embracing and mirroring the setting with proportionate green surrounds, they would have blown minds. What actually drove this home was hole 18 at wild rock, which actually has a fitting greenside bunker behind which felt like a page out of stanley's book. Why not more of this?
This place was great and it would be the best public course in many other states. I'll be back a bunch because it is accessible to me ($$$ and location) and I had a blast.
One of the hardest things with course assessments comes when making a visit to a State with a healthy mix of quality private and public offerings. Wisconsin has become a major destination for architectural connoisseurs. Credit Herb Kohler for a big chunk of the attention via his efforts at The American Club. Throw in the likes of the emergence of Sand Valley, Erin Hills and you have plenty of firepower. On the older side of things -- you have Milwaukee, Blue Mound and Lawsonia, to name just a few. One can also mention University Ridge and Sentry World.
During the playing of the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits I had the opportunity to chat with a few golf journalists from Wisconsin and they mentioned a few places I should make a visit to play. I took them up on their offer and one of them I am recommending is Wild Rock Golf Club. I was really impressed with what Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dama Fry designed. The tandem worked together for a number of years and for whatever reason do not get much attention although they did a fair number of stellar layouts that have all the right ingredients.
The routing at Wild Rock is out and back. You don't return to the clubhouse at the turn and the benefit in having such a configuration is how the talented design duo routed the holes. There's constant movement and kudos to them both in not overloading the course with plenty of superfluous bunkers. There are bunkers -- but they are judiciously placed in all the right spots. The smart thing the twosome did was allow the land to breathe and slot the holes naturally.
When the US Open was played at Erin Hills in 2017 I made it a point to make a return visit to see if my initial thoughts were still valid. If anything -- my rapture with the course intensified. The only issue is that the turf quality can be inconsistent at times -- I am quite finicky on tees being level and green speeds being uniform. That's not a huge knock because the quality and diversity of the holes is clearly present.
Wild Rock is a rollicking ride where golfers had best deliver when called upon. For those who are planning to attend the '21 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits I highly recommend you schedule a time frame to see what this quality layout clearly provides.
M. James Ward