Seven courses are set here in the ‘Cape Cod of the Midwest ‘
STURGEON BAY, Wisconsin (May 18, 2021) – Bucolic Door County, Wis., which encompasses the arm of land extending northeast that separates Lake Michigan from Green Bay, is known for its lakeside towns, cherries and as a haven for tourists from nearby states. The place is a step back in time; the pace of life is a little less hectic, prompting locals and tourists to refer to the area as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.”
Golf belongs on the to-do list for the region as well, as seven courses in various configurations, states of condition and challenge welcome players along the peninsula. Many of the tracks feature routings along the huge lake or bay, with extensive views of the water and nearby islands.
Other tracks sport signature drop-off holes, places where a golfer stands on the tee and has really no idea what club to hit or how to even keep the ball on the microscopic greens below.
Some of the courses date back almost 100 years, and most take advantage of the area’s limestone outcroppings of the Niagara Escarpment, which are visible on both shores of the peninsula but are larger and more prominent on the Green Bay side. Progressions of dunes have created much of the peninsula’s shoreline, especially on the eastern flank.
The middle of the peninsula is mostly flat or rolling, cultivated land. Soils overlaying the dolomite bedrock are very thin in the northern half of the county as 39 percent of the region has less than 3 feet of soil atop the bedrock.
During a recent trip to the county, I played five of the area’s facilities: here we’ll concentrate on the oldest two – Peninsula State Park Golf Course in Fish Creek and Idlewild Golf Club in Sturgeon Bay. All offer unique routings and are close to beaches, shops and restaurants, offering welcome reprieves from a day on the water.
Pack a lunch – & maybe dinner – for the round at Peninsula State Park GC
What is now Peninsula State Park Golf Course is considered one of the most scenic in Wisconsin. Designed by Larry Packard, it was proposed as two nine-hole layouts but actually opened as a six-hole course in 1917, grew to nine holes in 1923, and finally settled in as an 18-hole venue in 1931. For the first 10 years the course “featured” sand-and-oil greens; today Peninsula State Park Golf Course is lush and green and a real test of golf, one that, at times, also tries your patience.
The course, which offers marvelous views of Eagle Harbor and the village of Ephraim, is set among forests of white cedar, oak, beech and maple. The most talked-about hole is the steeply downhill, 69-yard par-3 eighth, which drops 70 feet from the tee to its postage-stamp green. Sandwiched between the ridge where the tee sits and the park’s entrance road beyond the green, many golfers overshoot or undershoot this target in an attempt to adjust for the elevation change.
The back nine sports many holes with more rises and falls along a ridge, including the dogleg-left, 353-yard 10th (which moves uphill to a protected putting surface) and the drop-off, 186-yard par-3 17th, whose green is turtle-backed and falls away on all sides. The round ends at the tough, 440-yard par-4 18th, which bears out-of-bounds and a road to the right; a bunker on the left side of the green helps save errant shots from going into woods.
Of historical note, along the ninth fairway at Peninsula State Park Golf Course is a 40-foot-tall memorial pole dedicated to the Potawatomi Nation. Members of the tribe occupied the land in Door County in the 1800s. Near the pole is a large stone marker dedicated to Chief Kahquados, the last chief of the Potawatomi Nation. The bear perched atop the pole is depicted in the golf course’s logo and serves as a reminder of both the park’s and Door County’s history.
Because the course is set in a state park – the only such facility in the Badger State – and play is plentiful, expect to spend at least five hours playing Peninsula State Park Golf Course. With a little patience and some skill, you can have a great time here.
Marshes & more at Idlewild
Set in the Door County seat of Sturgeon Bay, Idlewild Golf Course opened in 1976 and is the flattest of the two courses featured here. The views are long and wonderful, whether you’re peering down the fairways or over the surrounding treetops toward the escarpment rising in nearby Potawatomi State Park. The golf course is beautifully manicured and maintained, and the greens and bunkers are exceptional.
Set in a marshy area between the ridges and against the bay, the course’s natural flora and fauna define its fairways, which venture left and right along tree-lined routes.
At Idlewild, the challenge begins at the first hole. A good drive left of the fair¬way bun¬ker leaves a short- or mid-iron approach to a raised green guarded by a large ash tree and sand trap. Shots hit over the green leave an extremely difficult chip back.
The 424-yard par-4 fifth is the signature offering at Idlewild, requiring a lengthy tee shot between the lake on the right and lateral hazard left. The approach must carry Lost Creek and avoid a tall ash tree guarding a fairly flat, elevated green tucked into the woods, with a sand trap left and mounds at the rear.
Two par-4s, the 438-yard 17th and the 407-yard finishing hole, allow players to end their rounds at Idlewild with a bang.
The left-turning 17th will challenge the longest and most accurate golfers as Lost Creek stretches down the left edge before cutting back through the fairway. The drive must stay right of the creek, miss a fairway bunker and be long enough to clear the corner for a unfettered view of the green. The approach, with a fairway wood or long-iron, must split a pair of greenside bunkers to settle safely onto this softly sloping target. At No. 18, the green is surrounded by water. Place the tee shot in the left side of the fairway for a glimpse of the putting surface.
Playing at 6,876 yards and to a par of 72, Idlewild Golf Course carries a rating of 72.3 and a slope of 129.