I have played Wild Rock a few times over the years. The most recent time was for the 2018 Wisconsin vs. Illinois Writer’s Cup, an annual Ryder Cup style competition between golf media from Wisconsin vs. our counterparts to the south.
Every time I’ve played it I’ve walked away impressed. Every time I’ve been wowed, in fact, but I still never see it on anybody else’s top 10 public courses in Wisconsin lists.
That’s changed for me:
As my Saturday morning activity during a recent family weekend in the Dells (full writeup linked here), I had the opportunity to check out Wild Rock again, and – once again – came away floored by the quality of the overall golf experience.
The golf course is exceptional in all ways: It’s got as much drama and land movement as any in the state with an interesting Hurdzan/Fry layout that spends measured time in three distinct environments including a prairie, woodlands and rock quarry.
Wild Rock has great variety to its par threes and fours, strong par fives, terrific conditions and multiple, extremely memorable “signature holes.”
What’s not to love about that? And, in what ways does it not contend with the perennial top ten publics? Is it because it’s a resort course? So is everything at Kohler and Sand Valley. Is it because it’s modern in style? Big whoop – it’s done beautifully. Is it because peak rates only cap out at $115 in a state where top public courses regularly rise above $250/round? The Links course at Lawsonia is around there now, too.
What else could you want?
The two things I probably get asked for most are 1) My favorite “Hidden gems,” and 2) Central Wisconsin course recommendations to add to Sand Valley visits. The courses I mention every time that out-of-staters never seem to know about are Wild Rock, Stevens Point and Bullseye (SentryWorld, Lawsonia, etc. are typically already on their radar).
While it’s been five years since the last time I played Wild Rock, it’s been eleven since the last time I wrote anything significant about it. As you can see from that 2011 course review, I like to think the quality and sophistication of my content has come a long way.
I’ve especially been excited to re-review Wild Rock over the past few years since I started doing higher-level drone photography, but timing’s never seemed to work out. Being slightly past bachelor party age, any trip to the Dells is now typically a family one, and leaving my wife with our two little kids (four and six) means leaving her open to a potentially rough morning and/or afternoon if they’re not well-behaved. With this trip being scheduled around finally making Wild Rock happen again, though, we made it work.
Joining me Saturday morning was WiscoGolfAddict.com Contributing Writer Brian Murphy, one of my best friends since I was a little kid my son’s age, Dan, and his son, Peter, who is going into his junior year of high school and plays on the Waunakee golf team. A college professor at Madison, Dan’s living my dream with a son who now loves golf the way he does, allowing them to enjoy one of their favorite pastimes together. I’m obviously hoping that happens with my own son, Charlie, and/or with our daughter, Quinn. We’ve got a long way to go before 6,500-plus yard rounds at courses like Wild Rock will be on the agenda, but a dad can dream!
Opened in 2008 (two years after the debut of the same design team’s (minus Ron Whitten) masterpiece at Erin Hills), Wild Rock is the kind of course that, when mentioned to serious golf enthusiasts, they always say “Oh, I love that place!”
I do, too. And everyone has a favorite hole at Wild Rock. Many say the par five sixth, some the par four 12th or par five tenth, the short four 17th or, of course, my personal favorite: The par three 15th.
My #1 par three in the state of Wisconsin
The 15th is a golf playground. It is a masterclass on how to create the most satisfyingly fun, challenging and diverse area for golf on a fairly small, square-ish piece of land. With six separate teeing locations encircling a perched green above the quarry, the hole can play anywhere from 110 to 190 yards – all with tremendously different angles and strategies of attack.
The 15th at Wild Rock Golf Club
A course with great par 3’s
Really well-designed golf courses provide variety in their par threes, and there’s solid variety in the one-shotters at Wild Rock:
The course’s first par three, for example, features a challenging shot over and alongside water on the fourth hole. With an overall length of 7,414 yards from the back, black tee boxes, the fourth can play as long as 223 but is typically teed up from 186 from the blue tees or 164 from the whites.
The 4th at Wild Rock Golf Club
The ninth, the course’s next par three, is a bit shorter at 211 downhill from the tips, 179 from the blues and 146 from the whites.
This hole was part of my epic hole-in-one extravaganza in 2013 where in the span of four days I witnessed three holes-in-one (two at North Hills Country Club and one on the ninth at Wild Rock). I told Dan, Peter and Brian about this before teeing off, then hit my tee shot to two inches. We all thought it was going in.
The 9th at Wild Rock Golf Club
The course’s next par three, the eleventh, is a beast. Playing as long as 241, the next sets of tees are still quite strong in length at 223 and 182 yards, respectively. This hole is fairly flat in nature, though, and plays a bit more straight-forward than the rest.
The 11th at Wild Rock Golf Club
Then we come to the fifteenth. As I mentioned earlier, it’s perfect. In fact, I recently named the 15th my #1 par three hole in the entire state of Wisconsin. You can check out that article and all the great holes included in the rankings here:
Wild Rock’s dramatic par 5’s
The two most scorable of the course’s par fives are the first and fourteenth. The first has a wide fairway that allows players to get their jitters out on the opening tee before requiring them to make a decision: Try to fly the stream or lay up short and put wedge in their hands?
The pond between one and four comes into play just past the green, and with the incredible speed Wild Rock builds into their greens it’s imperative players going for it don’t overcompensate with club selection.
The 1st at Wild Rock Golf Club
The fourteenth plays to only 514 from the blues or 487 from the whites, and narrows as players approach the green surround. With the quarry looming right of the last third of its layout, it’s easy to get yourself into position but the third shot will demand precision.
The 14th at Wild Rock Golf Club
Now we come to the knee-knockers. The sixth and tenth are goliath par fives, especially the tenth.
The sixth features one of the most beautiful tee shots you’ll ever see, laid out high above the fairway and with views on clear days out 35-plus miles over Baraboo and the surrounding Dells area.
It’s difficult not to get sucked into the grandeur of your surrounds here, but focus up enough to hit a long shot straight enough to get this par five started.
The 6th at Wild Rock Golf Club
The tenth, teeing off well downhill, is played over two centerline fairway bunkers before heading directly uphill and right again. This minute, heavily contoured green is always difficult to hit and has always seemed to invite the largest scorecard numbers in every round I’ve played at Wild Rock.
The 10th at Wild Rock Golf Club
The excellence of this course extends well beyond its par threes and fives. Great variety is found in its standard fours, as well:
If you’re playing the tips at Wild Rock (7,400+ yards) then you are honestly a glutton for punishment and deserve all the 400-plus yard par fours and 200-plus yard par threes they throw your way. But, if you’re realistic and there to have a good time – especially playing the white tees ~ 6,400 yards, then you’ll see there are few similarly distanced holes.
This is one of the things I love about Wild Rock is its variety. I love playing the seventeenth, for example, from 306 where the ball will filter toward this incredibly challenging green complex.
The 17th at Wild Rock Golf Club
I enjoy playing the second from a distance where I have to decide if I’m going to hit hybrid to the fairway or driver over the right-side trees to set up a short wedge.
The 2nd at Wild Rock Golf Club
I enjoy hitting a reasonably distanced carry over the canyon on three – it’s otherwise almost a 200-yard carry from the back tees and then still barely affords a look at the green.
The 3rd at Wild Rock Golf Club
And I love, love the way the eighth allows me to carry most of the hazard if I really connect. That green is so hard to hit from anywhere to start with, but was the first of my consecutive tap-in birdies during Saturday’s round.
The 8th at Wild Rock Golf Club
Of all the par fours at Wild Rock, though, I don’t think any are as strong as the twelfth. Playing downhill to a right-to-left fairway, a beautiful rock wall borders the right side of the approach zone, making a tee shot toward the left side of the fairway beneficial in leaving a gettable approach.
The 12th at Wild Rock Golf Club
That leaves the thirteenth. This hole has so much potential, but it’s confusing and difficult to play if you’re not familiar with the course. Let’s be honest, from the blue or white tees an aggressive line over the left-side tree line (like Peter hit) can leave a short wedge in, but as a first-time player (or first time in a while) you’d never have any idea that’s possible because you can’t see anything.
Brian brought up a great idea: Remove all the trees on the left side, exposing the incredibly photogenic and intimidating quarry, and move the tees up to create a true risk/reward par four over the great hazard (similar to a “road hole”).
Make it 300 yards. Make players choose a line they know is going to be a challenge versus them hitting a long shot toward the bend in the fairway and leaving 180-200 yards in with very little room to miss.
I love it.
Either way, this is a gorgeous golf hole but I don’t think it’s reaching it’s potential because the quarry never comes into play visually until you’re on or near the green. And, even then, you don’t have to think about it until you’re already there. This course has length in abundance – I say make it a shining example of exciting, daring golf toward the back half of a round that doesn’t need any more mid-iron approaches.
The 13th at Wild Rock Golf Club
A town of 6,500 permanent residents, over four million people visit Wisconsin Dells every year, and I can’t think of any who’ve played Wild Rock and didn’t tell me they loved it.
I’m in that boat. Whether it’s familiarity or recency bias, it’d simply fallen off my radar for a while but man is it back on it. This is a top ten public course in the state no matter what way you slice it, and I’d love to hear from anyone who disagrees.