Wisconsin’s Grand Geneva Resort’s two courses are polar opposites, equally fun and testing

The Brute course at Grand Geneva

Wisconsin has always been “the summer place to play golf” for well-heeled Midwesterners and has become more so over the past two decades with the Kohler resorts, Erin Hills and Sand Valley muscling their way into “best of” lists and stealing some of the thunder from the state’s other destinations.

One of those that has been pushed to the back burner is Lake Geneva, which is about an hour’s drive north of Chicagoland and about the same distance from Milwaukee. In the 1960s, this small town was dubbed “Chicago’s Playground” and has a spirited and varied list of course options.

Leading the facilities in the area is the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, which was originally designed and constructed as the first Playboy Club hotel in the United States and is massive and beautiful with every kind of amenity you could think of.  These days, you will still see the occasional bunny but that will likely be a rabbit along the lush edges of the courses.

For our purposes, Grand Geneva is the home of two courses – The Brute and The Highlands – that vary in their appeal to golfers.

The Brute is aptly named, with length aplenty, massive bunkers dotting the hilly, tree-lined routing, and huge, rolling putting surfaces – many of which are raised from the fairways – adding to the difficulty.

The Highlands is the polar opposite from its better-known sister course, with a links feel and wide fairways that end in some demanding approaches. Originally designed by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye and renovated in 1996 by Bob Cupp, The Highlands is a shot-makers course, lush on the edges with scenic hills and trickling creeks to the aesthetics.

Prepare to be worked over by The Brute

The Brute plays and looks as if someone took a layout of a conventional golf course and said, “let’s just make everything 10 times that size.” The Bruce Harris design requires golfers to be long and straight off the tee and features a handful of holes with forced carries and skinny fairways that hug the ever-present water line. 

The hilly, tree lined terrain takes golfers on a rollercoaster ride and demands conviction and execution throughout.

The most evident features of The Brute are its bunkers that influence the golfer’s strategy on nearly every shot.  It’s an odd feeling to land in a greenside bunker but still have a 40-yard shot because the ball has rolled that far back into the sand.

Harris’ creation uses elevation changes, especially generously on the lengthy par 5s. The second hole, for example, features an approach area that’s at least 100 yards long and goes uphill and to the left without a bailout short of the greens complex.

All of the par-5s are legitimate three-shot holes. The sixth hole has a very similar approach area to the second, and both feature putting surfaces that are several stories above their playable fairways.

The closers on both sides make excellent use of a lake shoreline that comes in near the green and presents daunting approach shots even after a good drive.

The Brute’s lists of tests don’t end when the golfer reaches the green. The putting surfaces average about 8,000-square feet and are undulating but not unfairly so. Most of the greens have back-to-front slopes and many of the greens are crowned, making for really tough downhill putts and a lot of challenging two-putt situations.

Everything about The Brute seems massive and accentuated. The course has an awesome look and feel.

While it may not be an “everyday” course due to its difficulty, The Brute – which is carded at a par of 72 and at more than 7,000 yards from the back tees – is definitely a fun and engaging experience that every golfer should try.

It is widely considered one of the best and toughest courses in the Midwest and deserves every iota of that reputation.

The Brute course at Grand Geneva

The Highlands reward great game management

The Highlands course is more than just a change from The Brute – it’s memorable because every hole and tee shot stands out as being different from the last and offers golfers a plethora of options. With short par 4s and long, winding par 5s, almost all your clubs will be featured off the tee.

The fairways on The Highlands are just wide rough that it doesn’t take the driver out of the golfer’s hands but there are times when a 3 iron or hybrid will get the job done all the same. Most tee shots play downhill and the approaches bring you right back up again.

Hole Nos. 7-15 sent golfers to the area’s hilltops with plenty of elevation change for fun booming tee shots, but the real challenge at The Highlands comes after you’re in the fairway. The course offers tricky approaches with plenty of bunkers and elevation changes to demand precision in the short game.

Missing the putting surfaces makes for a tough up and down with several false fronts that could roll you back into the fairways another 30 yards. There are a few holes that showcase large undulations, but for the most part they are straightforward and give you plenty of scoring opportunities.

The 345-yard eighth is a par-4 that entices the golfer to take driver off an elevated tee box and find a path through the trees that line the fairway when a simple 4 iron or hybrid gives you a better chance to hit the green.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the 600-yard 11th, a par-5 that winds left, then right, then left again.  You can try to cut corners with your driver or follow the snake-like fairway with irons up to a green with a very steep false front.

The Highlands is a Scottish-inspired, links-style course, complete with a beautiful landscape weaving and rolling through the glacier-formed terrain, scenic hills, trickling creeks and lush foliage.

Grand Geneva Resort & Spa offers a variety of lodging choices for a unique getaway. The property sports 609 guest rooms, including 358 newly renovated options in the main hotel, 29 luxury Villas and 225 suites at nearby Timber Ridge Lodge.

There’s also an outdoor Adventure Center, the WELL Spa+Salon with its 10,000-square foot fitness center, the Moose Mountain Falls indoor waterpark (at Timber Ridge Lodge), the Geneva Club, large indoor and outdoor swimming pools and 62,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

Wisconsin offers multiple high-end golf resorts that should be on every golfer’s list, and Grand Geneva Resort deserves to have a spot on that roster. With wonderful options of restaurants and villas (and two splendid courses), the resort gives you every reason to stay and never leave.

The Highlands course at Grand Geneva