OCONOMOWOC, WISCONSIN | Though the golf course at Erin Hills takes up less than 40 percent of the total acreage of the property, I am told that owner Andy Ziegler has no plans to add a second 18 holes. In some ways, that seems to be too bad, as there is plenty of good and interesting terrain for a companion track. But Ziegler appears to be pleased with what he already is able to give guests.
And in addition to the big course, there are lots of other ways to enjoy the game there, whether on the five-hole Kettle Loop that is a part of the main track (which opens 45 minutes after the last group of the day has teed off), the Drumlin putting course designed by architect Dana Fry and business partner Jason Straka (open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily) or the Toptracer range. Golfers also can access an extensive short-game area.
For the uninitiated, a kettle in geological terms is a depression in the ground created when the ice from a glacier melts. Conversely, a drumlin is a low hill or mound that was also formed by past glacial action.
I am all about first impressions, and the welcome presented at Erin Hills was a good one. A person at the front gate took my name, and members of the bell staff were waiting for me when I pulled up to the clubhouse. One fellow grabbed my luggage, another took my car to a parking lot and a third led me into reception. I quickly registered and when I walked into my room in the Lodge a few minutes later, I found my bags already had arrived.
Guests can stay in one of Erin Hills’ five cottages, each of which has four bedrooms, or in one of the suites and rooms in the Lodge. All told, the resort offers 37 beds.
The clubhouse, made of stone and wood like most resort structures, features a classic steakhouse for evening meals, with seating inside and out, as well as breakfast and lunch. As for the Irish Pub, it offers rustic fare in a more casual setting and has a brick terrace with gas fire pits for those who want to eat and drink al fresco. Both eateries have a full bar and a wide selection of beer and wine.
Another after-dinner option for golfers at Erin Hills is the Caddie Barn, where they can unwind with drinks as well as games of pool, ping pong and darts.
There is no lodging at Lac La Belle. At least not on the grounds. But I found the Inn at Pine Terrace, a 10-minute drive from the club, to be a superb retreat. The B&B is housed in a Victorian home built in 1879, some 20 years before the club came to be. And I relished the comfort of those accommodations as well as the sense the period décor provided about what that time in U.S. history must have been like.
Lac La Belle does have a couple of fine places for food and drink, however, beginning with the Rivalry Pub, so named to commemorate the competition between the club’s first head professional, two-time U.S. Open winner Alex Smith, and the third person to hold that job, Willie Anderson, a four-time U.S. Open champion. What makes the spot especially enjoyable is the way it opens up to an expansive terrace with vast views of the golf course and Lake Oconomowoc beyond. There are not many better hangs in golf.
Matt Morse made his money with a company that he started in 1977 called The Prestwick Group, which is best known for making and selling outdoor golf furnishings. Family members say he always wanted to buy a course, and Morse was understandably thrilled when he closed on the deal for Lac La Belle in 2018. He was also very involved in Craig Haltom’s efforts to “re-create” the layout and said to be pleased with the results. But in early 2022, Morse died at age 64. Fortunately, his family is determined to carry on his legacy, with Morse’s son, Tyler, now serving as president and general manager.
Caddies are available at both courses, with Erin Hills having an extensive program composed of 150 loopers. I used one for each of my rounds, Aidan Feherty and Luke Carroll, and they were good company and very good at their jobs. Thanks to the use of the Tagmarshal tracking system, they and their fellow loopers also were able to keep our pace of play brisk. Given its proximity to Erin Hills, Lac La Belle can provide one of that resort’s caddies for players (by request). I also had the option on my two playing days of using one of the Evans Scholars junior caddies, and I cheerfully took advantage of it. The lads who carried for me did a bang-up job, and it was nice to see youngsters on a golf course toting a bag in this day and age.