Review: The Meadow Valleys Course at Blackwolf Run

Course Name: The Meadow Valleys Course at Blackwolf Run

Designer: Pete Dye (1988 – Back 9, 1989 – Front 9)

Location: Kohler, Wisconsin

History: One of two courses at Blackwolf Run (the other being The River Course) and four courses at Herb Kohler’s golfing paradise, the Meadow Valleys Course opened in 1988 with today’s current holes 11-18. The original course also consisted of holes 1-4 and 14-18 of the River Course and an additional hole no longer in use by either course. This design was met with acclaim and was awarded “Top New Public Course” for 1988 by Golf Digest. Over the next two years, 18 additional holes were added to the property, with the Meadow Valleys course being completed in July of 1989.

Although the two courses are separate, the original composite course is still used in championships, including the 1998 and 2012 U.S. Women’s Opens. The Meadow Valleys course is not as highly regarded as its sister course, but is still ranked in numerous publications including:

  • #60 Best Public Course in America – Golf Digest (2017-2018)
  • #9 Best Course in Wisconsin – Golf Digest (2017-2018)
  • #8 Best Public Course in Wisconsin – Golf.com (2016-2017)

Conditions: 9/10, Like all courses at Destination Kohler, the Meadow Valleys Course is in superb condition. It’s worth noting that like its sister course at Blackwolf Run, the primary rough here is short and often provides flyer lies. What makes Meadow Valleys so difficult is the fescue which acts as a hazard on most holes. The bentgrass greens are fast and true but not nearly as undulating as the River Course.

Value: 5/10, The cheapest option of the Destination Kohler courses, you’ll be able to play 18 with a cart for about $200 at peak times. Many golfers come to Kohler on all-inclusive golf packages, but I’d be willing to bet that the Meadow Valleys course gets a fair bit of local daily play.

Scorecard:

Tee                     Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Back                  72            7250               75.1              145

Blue                   72           6830                73.2             139

Green                72           6450                71.5             136

White                72           6140                70.3             132

Red                    72           5065                70.4             118

Best Score: 95 (Blue Tees), 6/26/2017 with Will S.

Front 9 Best: 46 (Blue Tees), 6/26/2017 with Will S.

Back 9 Best: 46 (Blue Tees), 6/26/2017 with Will S. and 2 people we met at the course

Hole Descriptions: Reading that Meadow Valleys is the easiest of the Destination Kohler courses, my friend and I scheduled this teetime first, hoping to use this round as a warmup for the bigger and badder courses. We could not have been more wrong. The Meadow Valleys Course is a relentless challenge tee-to-green, with several holes that I consider to be some of the most challenging on the whole trip (notably 6, 8, 14, and 18).

The front side plays long and flat at a stout 3468 yards from the Blue Tees. Clearly the “Meadows” side of the course, most of these fairways are lined by thick meadows of fescue that will inevitably lead to double bogey or worse if you’re so unlucky to find them. The “Valleys” back nine is a bit shorter at 3362 yards, but plays tight through tree-lined woods and a more sloping terrain. Many of these holes feature semi-blind to completely blind teeshots that make it hard to commit to a shot the first time you play. This is definitely a course where local knowledge helps a great deal.

The opening hole is one of the shortest holes on the course playing straightaway at 368 yards. Water lines the right side for the first 210 yards, while two large fairway bunkers line the left side of the fairway between 220 and 270 yards. Drives in the fairway should only leave wedge into this kidney-shaped green guarded by three bunkers.

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The hardest part of the 1st hole is the drive

At 392 yards, the straightaway par 4 2nd hole is generous off the tee with the exception of three bunkers that line the left fairway. Nicknamed “Table Top”, this elevated green sits on a pedestal. Approaches short left will trundle down a steep bank and make up-and-down a near impossible feat.

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The approach on the 2nd – “Table Top”

Playing from a chute of trees back into open meadows, the 176 yard 3rd is undoubtedly the easiest of the par threes at Meadow Valleys. Two deep bunkers guard this undulating green on both sides.

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The 176 yard par 3 3rd – “Pine Valley” Curious name if you ask me

The 539 yard 4th hole is the first par 5 at Meadow Valleys and my least favorite. Playing uphill and to the right, this hole named “Gamble” wasn’t close to being reachable when we played into the wind. An 100-yard long fairway bunker cuts the fairway in two until 265 yards, and any ball that finds it will have a blind approach to the smallest green on the course.

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A giant fairway bunker features prominently on 4

The 380 yard 5th hole was one of my favorites on the trip and the first hole at Meadow Valleys that made me step back and say “wow, this is a fantastic golf course.” This fairway snakes from left-to-right with three deep fairway bunkers on the right and one large one on the left at 260 yards. Accuracy off the tee is imperative on this hole because tall trees converge on the fairway about 60 yards out, making any shot off the fairway blind or blocked out. A large, hidden bunker left of this green lies for those worried only about avoiding the trees. One cool feature on this hole is the fact that the world’s tallest flag, the 400-foot high Acuity Insurance American flag can be seen behind this green.

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The beautiful approach on the par 4 5th

The number 1 handicap par 4 6th plays a monstrous 470 yards uphill. It was into the wind the day we played, and probably was playing closer to 500 yards in reality. Large bunkers and thick meadows line this fairway. This is easily one of the most difficult holes on all four courses, and one my playing partner and I were none too fond of – it was one of the worst-designed and least visually appealing on the course, and it didn’t help we both grinded for triple bogey. At a short 494 yards, the downwind par 5 7th hole plays shorter than the preceding par 4. This hole is reachable for most players but the entire left side of the lay-up area and green is lined with water, making it a risky play. I played long-iron, mid-iron, pitch and lipped out for birdie. Pars at Blackwolf Run come at a premium and I have no regrets playing this hole conservatively.

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The reachable par 5 7th – beware of going left on the approach

After one of the only breaks of the day you get with the 7th hole, the 8th hole is an extremely challenging long par 3 that plays 187 yards from the Blue Tees, but was moved back to 225 yards the day we played. Water hugs the entire left side of this hole, and it appears the right side is deadly off the tee as well. In reality, short right is a good play, but many players are already one or two deep in the water by the time they discover this…

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The stunning, yet brutal par 3 8th

After starting out par-par, I limped into the finishing hole on the front and was met with another brutal 462 yard par 4. This hole plays downhill and downwind, but is still lengthy, especially considering you need a carry of over 210 yards to reach this fairway. Woods line the left side of the drive, while a giant bunker runs along the right. The approach here is one of the most challenging on the course, as water lines the entire right side.

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The devilish 462 yard par 4 9th

While golf critics (including me) almost unanimously agree that the back 9 of this course is the better design, many people (including me) don’t like the par 4 10th. This target-golf 366 yard dogleg right feels right out of nearby Bull at Pinehurst Farms with the tightest teeshot I’ve ever played. A drive of at least 210 yards is needed to reach the dogleg but a drive over 240 will run through the fairway. This tiny green runs hard back-to-front. Reviewers argue that this hole doesn’t seem to belong with the others, and I can only agree, seeing how it was the only birdie I had in 27 holes here.

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You better be able to hit something straight on the 10th tee

In stark contrast with the preceding hole, the 514 yard dogleg left 11th hole plays back out in the open, with a wide fairway and meadows of fescue. The most challenging aspect of this hole is a brutal 90-yard bunker that lines the left side of the fairway for most of the landing area. If you can avoid it, this is definitely one of the best birdie chances on a very challenging back nine.

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The par 5 11th – “High Country”

At 438 yards downhill, the par 4 12th is a difficult hole, but one I didn’t think was deserving of its number 2 handicap. Why? Simply because everything was laid out in front of you. The fairway is pretty generous with the exception of a bunker on the right at 260 yards. Your approach here will be uphill to a green surrounded by grass bunkers. The 13th hole was where the wheels started to fall off for me. On the scorecard, this 335 yard dogleg left appears innocent enough, but is actually a beast. A drive of about 200-240 yards is needed on the left side of this fairway, but anything too far left will be lost. The approach here is one of the most intimidating I’ve ever played, as this green is a good 50 feet above you on a pedestal.

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The daunting 13th teeshot
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The even more daunting 13th approach shot straight uphill

The 409 yard par 4 14th is my favorite hole at Meadow Valleys and one of my favorites on the entire trip. An intimidating blind, downhill teeshot greets you on this dogleg right. The approach shot runs straight downhill to a green surrounded by water on three sides. More about this hole below.

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The downhill approach on 14

After crossing the railroad bridge, you face the challenging 196 yard 15th. The best par 3 at Meadow Valleys, this hole necessitates all-carry over a ravine to a giant two-tiered green. At 544 yards, the uphill 16th is the longest and arguably toughest par 5 at Meadow Valleys. A lot of that has to do with its teeshot, which is completely blind and uphill. Once you reach the fairway, this hole is fairly open but a giant bunker plays down the final 100 yards on the right side. You have to be short of this bunker on the lay-up. The 18th handicap 17th hole is the final par 3 on the course and one that my friend and I had differing opinions on. Playing only 165 yards, this hole plays over a ravine just like the 15th. Pete Dye left a maple tree just short of the right side of the green you must carry if you want to hit that side of the green. Is it tricked out? Maybe, but it seems this tree is more of a visual nuisance than an actual factor.

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The par 3 17th – “Maple Syrup”

Named one of Golf Magazine’s Top 500 Holes in the World, the 18th at Meadow Valleys is a dramatic finishing hole that features two separate greens. If you didn’t know any better, you’d probably aim for the left green, which is supposed to be for those playing the red tees. The other green is massive and shared with the 18th on The River Course. You must carry the Sheboygan River and a short left bunker to reach this green.

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Me on the 18th green with the Sheboygan River in the background

Best Par 3: 15th Hole, “Mercy”, 196 yards, 16th handicap. The par threes at Meadow Valleys are fantastic but none are more dramatic than the 15th, a hole that will have you begging for mercy. Requiring a carry the entire way over Weeden Creek valley, this hole features the largest green on the course. A large ridge in the middle of the green makes many well-struck GIR’s leaving with bogey or worse.

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The intimidating all-carry par 3 15th

Best Par 4: 14th Hole, “Nature’s Course”, 409 yards, 6th handicap. One of the most beautiful par fours I’ve ever played, this is also one of the most challenging. Playing downhill and to the right, this hole is blind off the tee with only trees and a flowing river to the right visible. The landing area is actually pretty generous once you get to the fairway, but drives that go too far left or over 265 yards will run through. From the fairway, your approach is straight downhill to green protected by water to the right, back, and left. Pete Dye’s famous railroad ties are on full display here, and the bridge connecting this hole to the 15th is an actual railroad car, which I thought was a nice touch.

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The intimidating blind teeshot on the 14th
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How cool is this??

Best Par 5: 11th Hole, “High Country”, 514 yards, 14th handicap. Having just watched the 2017 U.S. Open, my playing partner and I both exclaimed on the 11th tee, “This looks just like Erin Hills!” The resemblance is uncanny on this wide open dogleg left that’s lined with beautiful dunes on both sides. The most intimidating danger off the tee is a gigantic 90-yard long bunker that lines the left side of the fairway for most of the landing area. Long hitters can choose to cut off some of the dogleg by hitting over the bunker but be careful not to bite off more than you can chew. The lay-up area is tight, with mounds of rough lining both sides of this fairway. The approach to this back-to-front sloped green is slightly uphill, with beautiful mounds of fescue framing the background.

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I’ve seen beaches smaller than this

General Comments: While caddies and forecaddies are available upon request, the majority of golfers tackle the Meadow Valleys by themselves. Compared to Whistling Straits and The River Course, pace of play was strong on this course. We even played the back 9 again at sunset and practically had the place to ourselves. The practice facilities at Blackwolf Run are fantastic, with a full driving range always stocked with NXT Tours, a large putting green, and a comprehensive short-game area. The locker room and patio overlook the course and are world-class facilities…The name Blackwolf Run comes from Chief Black Wolf of the Winnebago Tribe that inhabited this land in the 1800s.

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The large grass driving range at Blackwolf Run

Verdict: Caddies told us that most golfers on packages completely neglect the Meadow Valleys Course. While it’s true this course lacks the dramatic backdrops of Whistling Straits, Meadow Valleys holds its own and rightfully belongs in the Top 100 public courses. My playing partner and I were extremely impressed and highly recommend this course to anyone going on a golf trip to Wisconsin.

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3 thoughts on “Review: The Meadow Valleys Course at Blackwolf Run

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