Review: The Bull at Pinehurst Farms

Course Name: The Bull at Pinehurst Farms

Designer: Jack Nicklaus (2003)

Location: Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin

History: The Bull has an interesting history. For over a century, Pinehurst Farms produced champion cattle on the grounds of the current golf course. Two barn fires in 1982 and 1993 and the success of the nearby American Club convinced the owners to invest in their own golf course. They enlisted the help of the Golden Bear himself Jack Nicklaus with the design, and the course opened to national acclaim in 2003. It is currently ranked by several national publications:

  • #84 Best Public Course in America – Golf Digest (2017-2018)
  • #10 Best Public Course in Wisconsin by Golf.com (2016-2017)
  • #9 Best Public Course in Wisconsin – Golfweek (2016)

Conditions: 9/10, The Bull is in marvelous condition on par with the Destination Kohler courses. The fairways, teeboxes, and rough are some of the best I’ve ever played on, while the Bent Grass greens were smooth and consistent.

Value: 6/10, For a top 100 public course, The Bull offers pretty good value, especially in the off-season and at twilight. We were able to play 18 with a cart and range balls at twilight for $55, which is an unbelievably good deal. It’s worth waiting until the afternoon, as early morning rounds cost $150 in season.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Bull                          72           7354               76.3              147

Blue                         72           6867               73.8              144

Green                      72           6424               71.7              138

White                      72           6027               70.1              135

Red                          72           5087               70.4              130

Best Score: 96 (Green Tees), 6/27/2017 with Will S.

Front 9 Best: 51 (Green Tees), 6/27/2017 with Will S.

Back 9 Best: 45 (Green Tees), 6/27/2017 with Will S.

Hole Descriptions: Coming straight from Whistling Straits, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from The Bull. Most Nicklaus designs are polarizing and The Bull is no exception, with several people telling me to avoid “Bullshit at Pinehurst Farms” like the plague and others telling me I’d love the design. Upon arriving at the Proshop, one thing was clear: the atmosphere is much different than the next-door Destination Kohler courses. The Bull is family-owned, laid back, and far less commercial than the other courses, and this alone will appeal to many people.

We were told this course was exceedingly difficult, and fully expected to be gored by the Bull, but I actually found this course more playable than every course at Destination Kohler except for the Irish Course at Whistling Straits. This is especially true of the greens, which are much flatter and can yield more birdies. However, don’t get me wrong – there are some very difficult holes out here (especially 5, 6, 9, 16, and 18).

I read somewhere that Jack Nicklaus believes in the philosophy of giving players a warmup hole on the 1st hole. Judging by the opening hole at the Bull, there might be some veracity to that statement. Playing at only 365 yards, the 1st is relatively open and straightforward with a trio of bunkers on the right side of the fairway 210 yards from the tee and a deep bunker just short of this green. I had a tap-in par here, and undoubtedly gave myself a false sense of security.

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The wide-open first is a good scoring opportunity

The 2nd hole at The Bull runs 378 yards to the right with water lining the entire right side of the fairway. There’s a lot of room to bailout left, but a bunker 225 yards down the left side of the fairway looms for those who go too far. The approach shot here is one of the hardest on the course, with four deep bunkers guarding this two-tiered green.

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The 2nd hole feels straight out of residential Florida

The first of a strong set of par threes, the 3rd hole plays 184 yards over water to a narrow, diagonal green guarded by bunkers short and long. The only safe bailout is short left, and this isn’t a bad play when the wind is howling.

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Don’t go too far right on the par 3 3rd

The reachable 481 yard par 5 4th hole offers another great chance at a birdie or better. The drive here is pretty open but bunkers line both sides of the fairway at 215 yards. The most difficult aspect about this hole is the lay-up/approach, as this fairway tightens considerably with trees lining both sides for the final 150 yards.

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The 4th hole is a transition hole from the open first few holes to the tight tree-lined rest

Ahh, the 5th hole. Visually one of the most intimidating holes I’ve ever faced, I’m shocked this 388 yard C-shaped dogleg left has received so much praise by other reviewers. This is one of the most contrived designs I’ve played, with a tight fairway lined by trees snaking around the bend. The real difficulty in this hole lies in the fact that you literally can’t even see the hole until about 140 yards away, requiring a drive of at least 240 yards to have a shot at going for this green in two.

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The intimidating view from the 5th tee
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The approach shot on 5, with the green around the bend

The 173 yard 6th hole is undeniably another target golf hole, but a good one as a challenging par 3. Surrounded by trees, this one-shotter features a forced carry over a ravine to a large green guarded by bunkers on both sides. I’m seeing a lot of love for the 281 yard par 4 7th but I really don’t understand why. Yes, this hole is absolutely stunning from an elevated teebox, but is way too tricked out for my liking. A drive of about 160 yards is needed to carry brush to a tight fairway, but must remain short of 230 yards to avoid a giant mounded bunker before this green. From this fairway, the pin is blind due to the bunker, which I thought was just gimmicky.

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The view from the elevated 7th teebox
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Your blind approach on the 7th

At 500 yards, the 8th hole offers players plenty of options. Your drive here should go about 250 yards to reach the dogleg right and stay short of the river that lines the fairway. Two bunkers at the corner of this dogleg 235 yards out are to be avoided. From here, you can choose one of two fairways to layup to – a more direct, but skinny fairway to the right or a wider left fairway that gives you a tougher angle. Approaches from both fairways must carry the river to reach this wide, but shallow green. I imagine the choosing a fairway is largely dependent on pin position.

The finishing hole on the front side of The Bull is a fantastic strong par 4 playing 407 yards uphill. This hole is generous off the tee compared to the last several with the only real danger being a bunker on the right at 240 yards. This approach shot is difficult to an elevated green guarded by a deep front bunker. Par is a great score here.

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Your approach on the beautiful par 4 9th

Playing as a sharp dogleg right at 371 yards, the 10th hole is one of the easiest on the course and a hole you must take advantage of. This fairway is generous, but bunkers at the tip of the dogleg about 200 yards out force you to lay-up short on the drive or go right. A giant bunker guards the right side of this green.

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The dogleg right 10th from the tee

The 11th hole is easily one of my favorites at The Bull. At only 320 yards, this hole also gives players a lot of options off the tee. With two fairways divided by a large pond, players can take long iron out and be safely in the left fairway or challenge this green with wood and aim for the right fairway. While the teeshot is certainly more difficult to the right, the approach shot is longer and back over water from the left fairway.

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I played from the left fairway on 11 and don’t really see why you wouldn’t

At 210 yards, the par 3 12th is the longest at The Bull. This beautiful par 3 is notable for six bunkers which are intimidating off the tee and guard this right-to-left sloped green well.

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The par 3 12th

The par 5 13th plays 523 yards as a dogleg left with all sorts of danger. A short carry over water is required off the tee to a well-bunkered fairway with multiple bunkers lining it. The fairway is split about 175 yards before this green by three giant crossbunkers and a cart path. Like the 7th, the approach to this long, narrow green is inexplicably blind, with a giant mounded bunker obscuring your view.

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Can anyone tell me where the 13th green is?

At 396 yards, the dogleg right 14th appears wide open off the tee, especially if you don’t challenge the dogleg. A bunker on the left side of the fairway about 220 yards out catches golfers who bail out left. You’ll likely be left with a longer approach shot than you’d expect to this shallow green guarded by a bunker short right.

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The rather innocuous looking 14th teeshot

The last of a great set of par threes, the short 145 yard 15th packs a punch, as water lines the entire left side of the hole. A bunker guards long of this narrow green, leaving short right the only acceptable bailout.

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The beautiful par 3 15th

Playing only 345 yards, the par 4 16th appears simple on paper but is actually one of the most challenging holes on the course. This dogleg left requires an uphill drive of at least 150 yards to a skinny fairway. Anything left or long of this fairway will be lost. The approach shot here is arguably the most difficult at The Bull, requiring players to navigate a tight window of trees over a ravine to a heavily undulating green.

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The intimidating teeshot on the par 4 16th
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The approach on 16 is a tad bit scary

Just like the front 9, I was feeling pretty good through 16 at only +4 on the back side, but a disastrous triple-double finish loomed. The 525 yard 17th is much wider than it appears off the tee, but a forced carry over a ravine and trees on both sides obscure most of the landing area. From the fairway, this strong par 5 runs downhill over a river to a very well-bunkered elevated green.

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The downhill approach to the par 5 17th

I had constantly read how challenging the finishing hole at The Bull was and they were not wrong. Playing a stout 432 yards into the wind, this monstrous par 4 features water down the left side of the fairway and a trio of bunkers on the right. While the drive is difficult, I’d say the most challenging part of this hole is the approach to this diagonal green that juts out into marshland. Many players going for this green with have long iron or wood, and I can’t imagine there are many GIRs here.

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Remnants of the old barn can be seen in the distance

Best Par 3: 6th Hole, “Elation”, 173 yards, 15th handicap. I had a difficult time choosing just one of these well-designed par threes, but the 6th was the most memorable one and probably the most difficult. Visually intimidating, this undulating green seems to float above a ravine you must carry.

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Short = death on the par 3 6th

Best Par 4: 9th Hole, “Dynasty”, 407 yards, 7th handicap. With an approach shot framed by the beautiful clubhouse patio, this great par 4 plays uphill to a tabletop green guarded by a bunker short. I imagine there are few GIRs here, making par a coveted score.

Best Par 5: 17th Hole, “High Life”, 525 yards, 4th handicap. The key to this downhill par 5 is a good drive, which unfortunately I didn’t have. The view from this tee is one of the most intimidating I’ve ever played, with dense trees lining a forced carry over a valley.

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There’s not much room for error on the 17th teeshot

General Comments: The practice facilities at The Bull are fantastic with a large driving range and practice green near the 1st tee. Pace of play was also very brisk when we played, and several groups even let us play through. The carts at the Bull were some of the finest I’ve ever ridden, complete with GPS and scoring capabilities. Everyone from the Pro to the bagdrop guy was extremely pleasant…The Bull is the only Jack Nicklaus design in Wisconsin…Every hole is named after a famous bull raised at Pinehurst Farms.

Verdict: More affordable than the Destination Kohler courses and in similar condition, there’s no doubt that The Bull is a fantastic public track that should be on the radar of anyone traveling on a golf trip to Wisconsin. However, Nicklaus’s design is target golf on steroids and trails behind all of Pete Dye’s nearby courses in that regard.

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