The Itinerant Golfer

The Itinerant Golfer's Take on Blackwolf Run (River)


Kohler, Wisconsin | Blackwolf Run (River)

Architect: Pete Dye
Year: 1990

1111 West Riverside Drive, Kohler, Wisconsin 53044
(800) 344-2838

driving range available
motorized golf carts and caddies available
affiliated resort accommodations


My girlfriend Brook is the most patient and understanding woman I know. People ask me all the time how she can tolerate me playing all the golf that I do. Just this past week alone I was asked that exact question four times. I have to admit that it’s a complete mystery to me. I’m writing this in early October and to date I have been on 10 out of town golf trips and have two more scheduled for an even dozen this year. On top of all Top 100 golf travel there are also the regular Saturday and Sunday games at home as well as the quick rounds after work 2-3 times a week. I honestly don’t know how she stands it, but I can tell you that I am most grateful that she does.

The reason I bring this up now is because I’m writing about a course in Wisconsin which is not only the dairy state, but also the state from which my dearly beloved hails. Having been born in Wisconsin, Brook lived in Janesville for nine years until her family decided to move to Florida. After college she found her way to Virginia where she eventually met a scrappy golf nerd attempting to play the Top 100 courses in America. The rest, as they say, is history. Although Brook’s immediate family has lived in Florida for years she still has a large contingent of kinfolk in Wisconsin including two sets of grandparents and her 97 year old Great Grandmother, Grandma T, who we affectionately call T-Bird.

T-Bird was born in the late spring of 1914 and every year Brook flies back to Wisconsin to visit sometime around her birthday. T-Bird still lives on her own and is as sharp and capable as any of us could ever dream of being at her age. This year when I suggested to Brook that I travel with her to Wisconsin to celebrate T-Birds 97th birthday, my proposal was met with with a little suspicion. I believe the exact words were “Where do you think you’re going to play golf?” Wow, how predictable I’ve become. To be fair, last time I visited Wisconsin with her I played Whistling Straits and Milwaukee Country Club, so I guess it wasn’t much of a stretch for her.

So our little trip to Wisconsin started out by flying into Milwaukee. We would be staying in Janesville and Stoughton while we were there, but I had a little detour to make first. Upon arrival we went to the rental car counter where Brook’s dad Scott was waiting for us. Once I had my rental car loaded with my bags and Scott’s clubs we loaded Brook into Scott’s car and she headed to Janesville while we set out for Kohler to make a lop around the River Course at Blackwolf Run.

If you have ever remodeled a kitchen or bathroom you are certainly familiar with the name Kohler as a manufacturer of faucets and plumbing fixtures. If you’ve ever looked over the Golf Digest Top 100 list or if you watched the PGA Championship in 2004 and 2010 you are likely to know that Kohler is also the name of the town in Wisconsin where Whistling Straits is located. The fact that the name Kohler is so closely associated with these two distinctly different things is no coincidence.

The company Kohler was founded in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin in 1873. The product that brought them to fame is the “bubbler” which is the early name for what we call water fountains today. A few decades later, in 1912, the village of Kohler opened as a planned community that was owned by the Kohler company. Fast forward to the late 20th century and the company Kohler has grown into a huge multimillion dollar corporation that is now the single largest employer in the town of Kohler. The current president of the company, Herbert V. Kohler, Jr., who is the grandson of the founder and an avid golfer decided that not only should the name Kohler be synonymous with plumbing fixtures, but also with golf. In order to make his wish come true Mr. Kohler dropped a small fortune of the company’s money into developing a top notch golf destination that now includes a hotel, The American Club, and four resort golf courses, two of which – the “Straits” course at Whistling Straits and the “River Course” at Blackwolf Run – are currently ranked on Golf Digest’s Top 100.

Roughly an hour and a half after setting out from Milwaukee Scott and I pulled into Kohler and wound our way through town until we found Blackwolf Run. We dropped our clubs at the bag drop and drove down to the parking lot where we changed our shoes before heading up to the pro shop to check in. Once we were all checked in we grabbed a beer and quick bite to eat at the bar and then made our way out to the bag drop to get our clubs and head to the first tee.

We had decided to walk which is apparently is not customary here because we received some odd looks from the staff when we declined having our clubs loaded onto carts. Sadly, with a few exceptions, I have found that cart golf seems to be the norm at most of the U.S. golf resorts. We didn’t let the norms deter us and once we knew where we were going grabbed our clubs and headed down the path to the first tee.

There were five sets of tees ranging from 7,404 to 5,115 and the scorecard recommended tees based on a players handicap. We elected to play from the 6,507 yard green tees which lined up pretty well with both of our games. Once that was decided we put a peg in the ground and balls in the air.

The 1st hole is a 526 yard par 5 from the green tees that doglegs to the right. The photo below was taken from the tee and the ideal line of play is down the middle or the left side of the fairway. Too close to the right side and the mounds can come into play and block the second shot.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
Below is a photo of the approach shot into the green from a layup position.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
And here is a much closer look at the green. Clearly there is fairly significant movement in the putting surface.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
The 2nd hole plays as a 355 yard par 4 from the green tees. As can be seen in the photo below the tee shot is an unusual angle and a well executed drive is a must here. I hit a 3 wood just to make sure I hit something straight.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
Below is a photo of the approach shot into the 2nd green. Even with a 3 wood off the tee the second shot was just a wedge to the green.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
The 3rd hole is a 395 yard par 4 from the green tees and the number 1 handicap hole. This is an ideal spot for a drive with a cut on it. The photo below was taken from the tee and if you click to enlarge it you can see the golfers on the green to the right of the trees. this is a pretty significant dogleg.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
The photo below is the approach into the 3rd green. The bunker down the left side of the hole doesn’t seem like it should be in play, but if hitting an approach shot from the left side of the fairway it’s a funny angle and an easy shot to slice well short of the green.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
At the 4th hole we have a mid length par 3 that we played from 185 yards. As can be seen in the photo below missing to the right results in having to hit the 3rd shot from the tee. Surprisingly there was more room to miss on the left than it looks from the tee. Both Scott and I hit our tee shots left which I suspect was a result of not wanting to go right.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
After the 4th hole we figured out why we got the funny looks when we declared that we would be walking. Leaving the 4th green we followed the path and the signs that said 5th tee. We walked and walked and then began climbing a hill and then walked some more. By time we got to the 5th tee we were a little winded and had to take a minute to catch our breath. Luckily the view from the 5th tee is a pretty good one. This hole plays 388 yards from the green tee and the elevated tee box makes for a beautiful hole.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
After the tee shot down the hill the approach shot into the green is a short uphill shot. The photo below was taken from about 70 yards out from the green.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
The 6th hole is a great little short par 4 that we played from 333 yards. The tee shot is essentially a blind one and the hole doglegs pretty sharply to the right. The photo below was taken from the tee. An ideal tee shot will cut around the corner and leave a very short shot into the green.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
Below is a photo of the approach into the 6th green.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
The 7th hole is a par 4 that we played from 373 yards. The fairway is slightly uphill so drives don’t get a lot of roll here.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
The approach into the green is uphill as well with a very deep bunker protecting the front right side.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
After a pretty lengthy uphill walk we finally made it to the 8th tee box. This hole is a short par 5 of 492 yards. Again on the tee we weren’t quite sure where to hit our drives so we intended to play the safe route and just knock it out in the middle the fairway. Both of us cut our shots badly to the right over the trees in the photo below and assumed the balls were lost. We hit provisionals in the event we couldn’t find our first shots.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
Low and behold, when we got down to the fairway we found our balls lying about 180 yards out from the green. There was plenty of room to miss to the right of the fairway visible from the tee and there was a huge hill that our drives had bounded down. Mine was in the fairway and Scotts was just in the rough. below is a photo of the approach shot into the green. Note the split fairway.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
And here is a view of the green from the upper fairway. The undulation on the green is apparent even from this far away.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
The 9th hole is another short par 4 which we played from 316 yards. The safe and smart shot here is to pop a 200 yard shot out to the left of the two large trees and have a pitch shot into the green. Of course the fun shot is to hit driver to the right of the trees and try to knock it on the green.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
Below is a view of approach into the green for the smart players who laid up rather than going for the green from the tee.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
So for those of you following along at home we only had one par 3 in the first nine holes which means the par was 37. The second nine holes plays to a par of 35 and features three par 3s, the first of which is the 10th hole. From the green tees this one played a stout 194 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee and the danger is to the right of the green where there is a bunker and a sort of scrubby waste area.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
As we were finishing up on the 10th green we started getting a little rain. It continued off and on for a couple of holes so the camera went into my pocket periodically and I missed a couple of shots here and there. The photo below is of the 12th green which is a 423 yard par 4 and the number 2 handicap hole. I liked the way this green was sort of tucked in among the mounds.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
The 13th hole is another par 3 and this one played the toughest on the course in my opinion. The photo below was taken from the tee and as can be seen there is a big carry over water to get to the green. The hole length here is 192 yards from the green tees. Players who move the ball left to right will have to hit a very high shot on this hole.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
After we putted out on the 13th hole there was a staff member there with a cart waiting to take us to the 14th tee which was quite a long ways away. The course is definitely walkable, but there are a couple of long stretches from green to tee.

The 14th hole is a short par 4 of 304 yards from the green tees that runs parallel to the 4th hole which is a 185 yard par 3. Again the water is on the right so slicers beware. The photo below was taken from behind the green.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
I loved the 15th hole which isa 346 yard par 4 from the green tees. Avoid the bunker on the left as it is tough to hit the green from there. I did not get a photo of the green, but it is down in a hollow past where the fairway disappears in the photo below.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
The 16th hole is a healthy par 5 that we played from 540 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee and the ideal drive is down the middle or the left side of the fairway. The hole bends to the right so shots hit too far to the right could be blocked out a little bit. The bunker on the left will catch balls that stray too far, but it is a very playable bunker.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
It’s pretty tough to go for this green in two because of a.) the length and b.) the tree that is protecting the green. For players who hit drives big enough to be in the go zone, they will have to fabricate a ball flight that will help them navigate the tree. I guess if someone hits a drive long enough to go for it in two, they probably have the game to carve a shot around that tree.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
And here is a look from behind the green back up the hole.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
The 17th hole is a par 3 that played from 175. Note that all of the par 3s at the River Course are within the 175-195 range. I find that a little less than appealing as I would have liked to have seen at least one of the five par 3s be a short hole. This hole has a pond running along the left side of the hole. The photo below was taken walking up to the green.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
The 18th hole is a massive par 4 that plays 440 yards from the green tees. I didn’t really get any good photos of it, but I did take the below photo from between the 16th green and 17th tee.
 
Blackwolf Run - River Course
 
I enjoyed the River Course at Blackwolf Run and thought it was a fun day of golf. There are some long stretches between green and tee, but there are also a bunch of really cool and fun golf holes.

After we finished up at the 18th hole we headed back to the parking lot where we loaded the car up and started to make our way back to Janesville. The drive was pleasant and easy going, unlike driving the I-95 corridor back home on the east coast. The countryside in Wisconsin is pretty and from what I can tell its a fairly laid back lifestyle there. Wisconsin is one of the states I’d never been to before I started my Top 100 Golf Odyssey and its been a pleasure making a few visits and getting to know a little bit about it.

While I was in Janesville Scott and I had a chance to play Riverside Golf Course which is the local municipal golf course. Check it out if you find yourself in the area. It’s a fun little afternoon of golf and a great walk.

  • Steve C

    I am taking a trip to Kohler this summer and i was wondering if you would recommend a caddie at this course. I know it is normal to take a cart here, but i prefer walking the top spots. Any advice would be great.

    • The Itinerant Golfer

      Steve,

      I walked this course and carried my bag. It is definitely walkable, but there are a couple of longer walks between some of the holes. Between 4 and 5 is a long uphill walk and after 13 they had someone there to pick us up and take us to 14 tee. The course is definitely walkable and they have caddies there if you want to take one. I would recommend that over taking a cart.

  • Ryan

    Played the River course yesterday. Completely agree with you on the par 3s, although due to wind I did use different clubs. I really enjoyed it, but would love to play it in its original format before it was blended with Meadow Valleys. The back 9 of MV was the original front 9 on River and I thought was excellent. IMO the composite course would easily be top 50.