The River Course at Blackwolf Run May be The Best at Kohler
Of all the rounds of golf I was playing on my Wisconsin/Michigan road trip, the River Course at Blackwolf Run was arguably the one I was most excited for.
I feel like I’ve said that about many of the courses, but when every course you’re playing is rated highly, it gets tough not to be excited.
What I knew about the River Course was that it was incredibly scenic, incredibly difficult, and had some incredibly fun shots.
I’m far from the world’s best golfer, so for me, scenery and fun is of paramount importance.
After getting a sense of what the course would be like from my round at Meadow Valleys the day before, I was even more excited upon teeing off than I was beforehand.
Everything about Blackwolf screams luxury. While my rounds at Whistling Straits were more of an attempt at tradition, the golf carts at Blackwolf were the 2nd nicest I’d ever ridden in (second to Coeur d’Alene), the service was top-notch, and the grounds were impeccably maintained.
This was my third round of the trip and only the second course I’d ever played that was in the Top 100 (first being The Golf Club at Black Rock). I got there early as I wanted to make sure I had a good warmup for this one.
Pulling in, I almost felt like I was going the wrong direction. The driveway takes you literally feet in front of the clubhouse on the way to the parking lot and was full of people who looked like I was bothering them by driving in. That said, a very minor complaint in an otherwise phenomenal day.
The driving range was two-sided, and on both days I was there we were on the far side. Not overly large, but totally ample for getting a solid warm up going.
The practice tee sits right in between the 4th and 15th tees and offers an incredible view of the course. That wasn’t the only thing incredible about this green however. The green speeds were the fastest I’d ever come across. Ever.
I single-handedly blame Pete Dye for my high scores throughout the rest of my trip. These greens were so fast and diabolical, that it seriously messed me up mentally for the rest of the trip. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration, but the undulation in the greens on the River Course combined with the speeds, make for a very difficult combination.
I had six three-putts, but feel like it should have been more.
As I did with most of the courses in Kohler, I played from the green tees which measured a solid 6,507 yards.
Blackwolf Run (River): Just the Facts
- Designer: Pete Dye
- Built in: 1988-1990
- Rank: #63 Top 100 Course. #14 Public Course in the Country. (Golf Digest)
- Location: Kohler, Wisconsin. Part of American Club Resort
- Greens fees: $175-250
- Website: http://www.americanclubresort.com/golf/bwr/river_detail.html
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/americanclub
River Course: Hole by Hole
Hole 1 (Par 5, 526 yards)
I don’t know if it was the 80 degree sunny weather or what, but I found myself oddly relaxed as I prepared to tee off on #1. This was one of those moments where you look around, and simply say to yourself “I’ve made some good life decisions to end up here on a day like this.”
There’s no real warm up to be had at Blackwolf as #1 starts out with a long par 5 that stretches out to 610 yards from the tips.
Luckily on “Snake” the fairways are pretty wide and you have some room to miss right.
I didn’t waste anytime hitting one of my best shots of the trip, draining a 40 foot double breaker for birdie. Talk about a false sense of security. Here I was thinking these greens would be easy!
Hole 2 (Par 4, 355 yards)
A relatively tame, mid length par 4 gets you going on #2. Play it smart, as this isn’t necessarily a driver hole. Links style mounding is abount on the right, and taller grass surounds the left and back of the green. Hit a hybrid or 3 wood for an easy wedge or 9 iron into the green.
Trust me, you’ll want to take every shot at par you can get on this course.
Hole 3 (Par 4, 395 yards)
The par 4 3rd hole is the number one handicap hole on the course – which for the life of me I still don’t understand.
I mean, it’s no slouch by any means, and at 468 from the Blacks, it’s on the out limits of what a par 4 could be – but I just didn’t find the hole to be that difficult. We’d joke on later holes about how we were being lulled into a state of thinking we’d gotten the hard part out of the way 🙂
That said, this can be a tough hole, especially if you end up i nth bunker beneath the trees on the right. For the love of God, don’t hit it in there. As par will become almost impossible.
There’s also a signature Dye bunker on the right, so stay left with your approach. This green was the first one to really scare me, so pay attention to your pin sheets and make sure you got some solid rolls on the practice green to test speed.
Hole 4 (Par 3, 185 yards)
One of my favorite holes on the entire trip.
There’s just something about the severity of it that makes it so interesting. There is a very dramatic drop off all down the right with the lake (obviously) and it’s a long hole, so you’re at the very least busting out a long iron to get it there. I stayed way left and had a relatively benign chip onto the green, but if you skull it from over there, you’re done for.
Hole 5 (Par 4, 388 yards)
If you were to ask me what the most fun shot I hit during my trip was it would be hard to answer. 11 at Arcadia Bluffs, all the par 3s at Whistling Straits or Medinah, the “Bye” hole at Forest Dunes, #3 at Threetops – these would all compete.
But the answer I’d probably give you is #5 at the River Course at Blackwolf Run.
If you haven’t already played Meadow Valleys, this is your first inclination that neither of the courses at Blackwolf Run are walking friendly. To get to number 5 requires a windy drive through the trees and up to the teebox, which is situated about 100 feet above the fairway.
I’ve played one hole similar to this at The Resort at the Mountain outside of Portland, but just in terms of sheer beauty and grandeur this one takes the cake.
It’s your first look at the River where the course got its name, and once you hit it out of the trees and (hopefully) on to the fairway, the work is just beginning. The uphill green is one of the most difficult on the course.
This coupled with a few other shots on the course (#4 tee, #14 tee, 18 approach etc) make the stout $250 green fees worth it. It is worth noting I was surprised for a course of this caliber, that is so clearly designed for riding, that they charge an extra fee for the cart.
Kohler in so many ways is like Disneyland for golfers. It’s one of the happiest places on Earth, but that happiness absolutely comes at a price.
Hole 6 (Par 4, 333 yards)
All appearances point to #6 being an easy hole. It’s a short 333 yard dogleg right, thats the #17 handicap. But if you don’t watch out, this one can bite.
Don’t go too long and straight off the tee, or your ball is gone. On the approach there’s a good chance you’ll be on an uneven lie, regardless of where you are in the fairway, so try and stick to the left side of the green as there’s a bunker and drop off to the right.
Hole 7 (Par 4, 374 yards)
#7 is a mid length par 4 that has a couple areas where you can get into trouble. The ravine you hit over off the tee shouldn’t prove to be too much of an issue, but the bunker on the left could be.
There’s some room if you miss hard right, like one member of our group did, but you’ll have a tough second shot.
Once again there are some uneven fairways, and the bunker at the base of the green is a very tough up and down should you find yourself in it.
As we walked off 7 the marshall asked us to speed it up. One of the guys in our group was over 70 and had recently had major surgery to both legs. The guy was a trooper though. I can only hope I’m still playing golf when I’m his age.
That said, he took a hole off, and speed was never an issue for the rest of the round.
Hole 8 (Par 5, 492 yards)
The par 5 8th hole is another one that features shots you just don’t see very often.
Your high up on the tee and you’re basically hitting over trees, or through a tight hole down to the dogleg right fairway below.
I went farther over the trees on the right than I’d anticipated and had no idea how I’d end up. Luckily I was in great shape just in the fairway.
From there the hole splits into an upper and a lower fairway which gives you some choice depending on the day’s pin placement. I hit a hybrid that went much farther than I’d anticipated and rested just off the green. Still settled for par however.
Reminded me of hole #8 at their next door neighbor The Bull at Pinehurst Farms.
Hole 9 (Par 4, 316 yards)
Ah, the hole I was waiting for.
This short par 4 gives you all sorts of risk reward options. You can play it safe and go left. You can knock it over the tree in the middle, or if you’re feeling really gutsy you can go for the green over the river.
With three fairways you have all kinds of choices, and thus you also have one of the most fun holes on the course.
This is one of the first times the river really comes into play, especially if you take the gutsy (but more fun) play to the far right fairway. Assuming you survive the tee shot, the approach is relatively benign by Blackwolf Run standards.
Hole 10 (Par 3, 194 yards)
Neither of the Blackwolf Run courses return to the clubhouse at the turn, and here you feel like you’re on the far reaches of the property. This was not part of the original course that was built in 1988, but rather holes 5-13 were the last 9 to be added in 1990, and the modern “River Course” was born.
Like all of the par 3s on the River Course, #10 is long coming in at 194 from the greens. It’s also worth noting that Blackwolf has an interesting routing going out at 37 and coming in at 35 for a par 72 featuring 3 par 3s on the back.
The green on #10 is pretty dangerous as it features numerous layers of trouble. Miss the ball a little bit right and you’re in the sand, a lot of bit right and you’re in the water. Bailout is short and left if you don’t think you can get it there.
Hole 11 (Par 5, 536 yards)
11 has one of the most scenic and dangerous approach shots on the course. Featuring a pretty straight forward tee shot, for your second shot on this long par 5 you get to decide how much of the River you want to bite off. If you just want to play it down the fairway you’re going to leave yourself a long approach, and have sand to contend with. But this green is tucked all the way around the water, so pretty much anything but a perfect ball is going to be punished in one way or another.
My approach landed in the mud down off the green.
I played it.
My shorts and shoes that were now caked in mud said that was a bad choice.
Hole 12 (Par 4, 423 yards)
This one just made my mad.
Called “Long Lagoon” your tee shot is over exactly that. Farther right you go, the shorter the lagoon gets.
Well it didn’t look that far to me, and just absolutely nailed my drive and thought I’d have no problem clearing the water.
Nope, 5 feet short. Wasn’t happy about that one.
Keep in mind, this is a 423 yard par 4, so by bailing out right, you’re leaving yourself a very tricky tee shot. There’s also sand in between the fairway on the right and the water, so this hole pretty much just sucks.
I mean it’s great, but it can be fairly penal if you don’t hit it just right. I ended up with two penalties and my first blow up hole of the round.
This was the number 2 handicap, but in my mind this hole was about a thousand times more difficult than #3.
This was also the start of a pretty steep skid for me and my round. I felt great about my 45 on the front, but this stretch of 5 holes was certainly a big test for my game.
Hole 13 (Par 3, 192 yards)
Tall Timber. Whoever named these holes did a pretty good job.
From most tee boxes, you have to hit over a giant tree on this par 3. Our tee box was left of the tree, but that didn’t necessarily make the hole that much easier.
I kind of wish I played this one from the back tee box. While it was much shorter, I didn’t particularly like the hole that much, and I think the tree could have totally changed that.
It was somewhere around here, I also came to the realization how much I disliked their water cooler system on the course (which is the same at all 4 Kohler Courses). Apparently it has a built in purifier in which you have to keep pumping it in order to get any water out. It takes a solid minute to get half a cup of water (or at least it seemed like it). Not sure if the water really is that bad in Wisconsin, but I would have gladly taken tap if it took less time.
Hole 14 (Par 4, 304 yards)
After another long cart ride, we were back out to the last stretch of holes which were also part of the original design.
This one is really fun.
A short par 4, which is my favorite type of hole, dogleg left around the lake. Similar to your 2nd shot on 11 you get to decide just how much of the lake you want to bite off. I nailed my drive and thought it went too far right, but didn’t see a splash. To my delight it was in the middle of the fairway 60 yards from the pin.
In case you were wondering, I did not capitalize on this opportunity 🙂
Hole 15 (Par 4, 346 yards)
15 is another shortish par 4, where the green is tucked down a ways and there is a serious bunker on the left hand side.
Stay left, as anything that hits the birm is going to roll back into the sand as we learned.
In my mind this can also be one of the most difficult types of sand shots.
Your not far out, so you can’t just hit it like a normal shot, but you’re not green side, so you cant just scoop it out.
A great chance for par as long as you avoid the bunker.
Hole 16 (Par 5, 540 yards)
The home stretch, and I’m not going to lie. After a series of rough holes, I was starting to feel it.
I was about to say this was my favorite par 5 on the course, but then as I was thinking back to them, they all are really good, save for maybe the first hole which is relatively un-interesting compared to the rest of the course.
You’ve got a visually intimidating tee shot with another Dye bunker on the left, and trees you don’t want to mess with on the right. If you get some pop on your drive, you should get some good roll down the hill.
This hole could also probably have been called “Snake” as you have a dogleg right off the tee, only to have it break back to the left around the river at the green. Also a great example of the railroad ties you so often see on Pete’s courses.
Hole 17 (Par 3, 168 yards)
A little bit shorter than the other par 3s at 168, but you have water all along the front and left. Use enough club to get it there, and soak everything in. As your dream round is getting ready to come to a close.
Hole 18 (Par 4, 440 yards)
18 is a monster of a finishing hole. 440 yard par 4, with a spectacular view of the log cabin style clubhouse looming over the double green that is shared with the 18th on the Meadow Valleys Course.
This hole also features what must be the longest bunker I’ve ever seen, as it stretches for the entirety of the hole down the left side.
Final Thoughts on the River Course at Blackwolf Run
If you ever have a chance to play the River Course at Blackwolf Run, absolutely take it. Seriously, jump at it, pay whatever the going rate is, and trust that you’ll have one of the most enjoyable rounds of golf of your life.
The day before when I was playing Meadow Valleys one of the guys said “I’d pay the greens fee just to be able to walk the River Course, it’s that beautiful.” Now that’s a lot to live up to, but I’ve gotta say, it really was one of the most beautiful golf courses I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. 100% different from its sister course Whistling Straits, I enjoyed playing just as much, if not more.
While the course might be hard, you’ll hit golf shots you just won’t see anywhere else. And if the weather is favorable late in the season, take advantage of some of their stay and play deals. Not to mention the fact that during this time you get the pleasure of playing when the leaves are turning which is an experience in and of itself.
I originally played and wrote about the River Course in October 2013.