The road trip and the golf trip are two classic America getaways that go beautifully together. While many golfers opt for a single setting with one or two golf courses to play, others hunger for a new course every day. And if you’re not afraid to do a little driving, the golf road trip can be an epic, rewarding experience.
For this list, we’re focusing on an unexpected destination for some of the best, most interesting golf the US has to offer: the Upper Midwest. With four Wisconsin destinations and a ferry to Michigan, you’ll play several major championship venues and see plenty of gorgeous terrain.
Pick #1: Geneva National Resort
Starting with a night on the town in Chicago (check out The Signature Room at the top of the Hancock Tower for the best view of the city), wake up early and head up to Geneva National Resort. Geneva National, just 90 minutes North of Chicago, sports three championship golf courses. The Palmer and Trevino courses are impressive enough to be hosting the Wisconsin State Open (previous winners include Jerry Kelly and Steve Stricker) in 2019.
But my favorite course at Geneva National is the challenging Gary Player course. Set amongst numerous lakes and winding streams, water is in play on 12 holes. The luxurious tree-lined backdrop provides a lovely setting, and clever design featuring large elevation changes and strategically placed mounds keeps you on your toes.
After a couple of 36-hole days at Geneva National, it’s just a little over an hour drive north to Erin Hills, site of Brooks Koepka’s first major championship victory, the 2017 US Open.
Pick #2: Erin Hills
Erin Hills is a long, beautiful golf course that’s built amongst the wandering rivers left behind from the last glacier to cover Wisconsin thousands of years ago. The golf course is nestled into the lovely natural terrain, giving a links feel with its hidden bunkers and lack of trees. The wide fairways are very forgiving, but wander into the fescue and risk big numbers. The double-dogleg 12th hole is a perfect snapshot of the brilliant, minimalist design.
After getting beaten up by Erin Hills for a day or two, head two and a half hours northwest to the incredible destination of Sand Valley. Stop by the Wisconsin Dells on the way for a duck boat ride, some top-notch ziplining, more waterparks than you could imagine, and some extremely kitschy shopping experiences.
Pick #3: Sand Valley
Sand Valley, a new gem continuing the Coore/Crenshaw design team’s tradition of flat-out winners, was named the Best New Course of 2017 by Golf Digest. And in 2018, the resort added Mammoth Dunes, which promptly earned Best New Course of 2018 from Golf Magazine.
And there’s The Sandbox, a 17 hole “short course” (holes range from 40-140 yards) from Coore/Crenshaw that’ll give you some relief after the length of Erin Hills. All the Sand Valley courses are walking only and feature stunning landscapes of mountainous sand dunes that tower over the wide, gently sloping fairways. Students of golf architecture will fawn over the amazing designs, but all golfers will love the beauty and challenges presented at Sand Valley.
From Sand Valley, you’ll head 2 and a half hours due east to Whistling Straits, site of the 2004, 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships, as well as the upcoming 2020 Ryder Cup. The Pete Dye design is diabolical, with more bunkers than just about any other course you’ll ever play. Your caddy will be happy to point out the historic spots on the course, like the bunker that DJ accidentally grounded his club in 2010 or Jason Day’s monster tee shot on 15 to set up birdie in 2015.
Pick #4: Whistling Straits
Set along the coast of Lake Michigan, Whistling Straits offers unexpectedly eye-catching vistas. With the deep greenery and sharp elevation changes, it’s a memorable and at times jaw-dropping experience.
There’s another lesser-known but worthwhile course at the Whistling Straits resort called The Irish. Slightly more inland, the Irish lives up to its name with a transportive experience. It’s a links course that feels like it’s transplanted directly from the old country.
Pick #5: Forest Dunes
To cap off your midwestern dream trip, you’ll hop on the Ludington – Manitowoc ferry across Lake Michigan and then drive up to Forest Dunes for a couple of days. Forest Dunes Golf Club is the home of Tom Fazio’s “The Loop”, which may be the most interesting golf course in the entire country. It’s 36 holes, but there’s only 18 tees and 18 greens. The thing is, you play it in one direction one day and the other direction the next – perfect for mid-handicappers golfers.
A true architectural marvel, The Loop would be a phenomenal golf course if you could only play it in one direction. The fact that you can turn around and play it backwards and have a completely different, but completely great experience the next day is really mind-blowing.
It’s a great way to cap off a unique road trip that takes you to some of the most exciting, beautiful public courses US has to offer.