Brown Deer golf course: Home of Tiger's pro debut is an everyman's Milwaukee golf delight
MILWAUKEE - Kyle Kempka couldn't help but think about it when he hit a good shot. Or shanked a bad one into those old hulking billowy trees. Tiger Woods did this, too - on this very golf course.
Well, except the shanks.
"Knowing Tiger Woods played here makes it that much more cool," Kempka said.
"Here" is Brown Deer Golf Club, the Milwaukee park system municipal course where the U.S. Bank Championship is held every year. Tiger made his pro debut here - in Milwaukee, believe it or not. So, the golf course that is anything but trendy - this is as traditional as traditional golf gets - carries something of a cool sheen.
You'd want to play Brown Deer if only Earl Smith and his cousin Egor had hit shots here, though. This is a true democratic golf course (in the real sense of the word, not the political party), from price to the skill level required to play it.
Whether you're a near scratch who takes golf more seriously than your real job or a beginner who is just getting into hacking around the course to have some fun, you'll love Brown Deer. There is not a hint of resort-course pretentiousness - and anyone who's played high-profile, big-dollar municipal courses like Torrey Pines and the Seattle area's new kid wonder Chambers Bay knows that's not always the case.
When your green fees dip as low as $25 walking fall weekday afternoons, no one's putting on airs. Even if Brown Deer's clubhouse building looks like a small mansion on a hill lifted straight from a romance novel.
Brown Deer is a big public park about 15 minutes from downtown Milwaukee that has this top-notch golf course right in the middle of it. Let's see ... softball fields, tennis courts, picnic areas ... PGA Tour host site. Which one of these things doesn't belong?
Only it does.
Brown Deer is made all the better because of its setting, for the fact that pop music star Justin Timberlake and bus drivers with a discount card have all played the same course.
They manage to run a world-class, old-school golf course with great green fairways (even on this fall season/cold weather play) right in the middle of a park. It makes you wonder how cool New York's Central Park could be if a golf course architect had only gotten his hands on it back in the day.
George Hansen did an impressive enough job with Brown Deer back in the 1920s. There have been some renovations and a redesign from Andy North and Roger Packard, but mostly Brown Deer is still largely what it was from the very beginning: Golf through the countryside with large trees and uphill doglegs that have both withstood the test of time.
It starts tough and ends tougher. No. 1 is a 461-yard par 4 that curves by a pond with a shooting fountain to a green up on a plateau with bunkers as protective of it as the secret service. No. 2 is one of the most difficult and fun dogleg-left par 4s you'll play anywhere, going straight uphill around a sharp turn of trees and continuing on an even higher climb to the green.
Banish any thought of a nice, leisurely stroll through the flat woods. Brown Deer takes you on climbs. Your legs will really feel it by about hole No. 14 if you're walking, the best way to play Brown Deer. Holes like No. 4 and No. 10 start with shots from plateau tees down into fairways that begin wide and shrink on the way to the green.
Brown Deer is a pretty strait-laced and conservative golf course with no use for flashy features or tricked up gimmick holes. Rush Limbaugh would love it (even if it often doglegs left). It still stands up under the onslaught of today's best players using every modern equipment advantage because of its turns on the trees and taxing approach shots.
At the same time, it's still great for high handicappers, because there are hardly any forced carries off the tee. No. 12 with a pond clear on first shot is one of the few exceptions. Instead, Brown Deer saves its creek clears for closer to the green like on No. 2, giving less-skilled players a choice of how they want to take on those carries.
No matter how bad you are, you should be able to keep your ball in play at Brown Deer. This isn't one of those golf courses where you can leave an army of golf balls behind.
"All my soldiers are coming home with me," local Dale Switzer said. "I'm proud to say ... one ball for the whole round. I won't tell you what I shot on that ball ... but one ball."
That's pretty cool, too. Maybe not Tiger Woods cool but sweetly satisfying all the same.
The verdict on Brown Deer Golf Club
Not all PGA Tour host courses are must-plays, but Brown Deer Golf Club is one of those that is. You're not going to leave with the great scenery stories you'd have from a Torrey Pines or the one unforgettable hole you'll take from a TPC Sawgrass.
But it's a day of golf, a walk through the trees, you'll probably think about for a long time. And not because you're staring at some monstrous credit card receipt a month later.
"How many PGA Tour courses can you play for $30?" Kempka said. "It's an unbelievable deal. I get out here whenever I can.
"It means something to me that Tiger played the same course I'm playing for 30 bucks. You bet it does."
If you're looking for an experience downtown, the Ambassador Hotel will really give you one. This is a historic old hotel (it even has the old gold-colored elevator doors that you have to pull open when the lift arrives) that's been converted into a four-star art deco hotel with a hip restaurant. However, it's in anything but a great neighborhood, removed from the other big downtown hotels.
The Ambassador, though, does provide a free shuttle to the parts of Milwaukee you'd actually want to walk around at night.
March 12, 2009