Grand Geneva Resort is one of Wisconsin's best

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

LAKE GENEVA, Wis. -- Main Street in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin reminds one of Mayberry, that idyllic, old-fashioned Southern town brought to life on TV's "Andy Griffith Show." There are ice cream shops, cozy diners and friendly people and at least one local waitress who looks a little like Aunt Bea.

Grand Geneva Resort - Brute golf course - 18th
Grand Geneva Resort & Spa overlooks the 18th green of The Brute golf course.
Grand Geneva Resort - Brute golf course - 18thGrand Geneva Resort - Highlands G.C. - 14th
If you go

But unlike the made-for-TV town of the 1960s, Lake Geneva has a racy past, a sexy side that is at least partly responsible for putting one of its most famous attractions on the map.

In 1968, what is known today as Grand Geneva Resort was then The Playboy Hotel and Country Club. There were scantily clad Playboy Bunnies, celebrity shows from Sonny and Cher, Bob Hope and Sammy Davis Jr., fancy restaurants and swinging lounges. And not a single waitress looked a thing like Aunt Bea.

Although golf has always been a major part of the resort, things certainly have changed since the late '60s and the Grand Geneva Resort is a far different place. Now, it caters to families, couples and foursomes with the main focus on the subtleties of putting surfaces not shapely young ladies in skimpy one-piece bathing suits and bunny ears.

Grand Geneva Resort

The Grand Geneva is the largest resort in Wisconsin, and because it's just over the border from Illinois and only 90-minutes from Chicago, it is one of the Midwest's most popular.

Within the last year Grand Geneva completed a huge renovation project to update its 355 guestrooms and 37 suites, and add a full service spa. The biggest transformation to the spa is the creation of a 10,000 square foot sport and activity center that includes basketball and volleyball courts and a rock-climbing wall.

The changes to the rooms are extensive. New custom-made beds have been rolled into each room and a completely new color-scheme has added spring and summer hues to the look. New soft lighting and artwork helps to make the rooms quite inviting.

Grand Geneva covers more than 1,300 acres, has its own airport, offers 50,000 square feet of meeting space and three critically acclaimed restaurants. There are also 15 runs on its ski hills and a companion attraction called Timber Ridge Lodge and Waterpark, a 225-suite resort with a giant water slide, inner tube floating area and a barbecue restaurant made for families.

But for many, golf is the reason to come to Grand Geneva.

Golf at Grand Geneva

Grand Geneva continually is recognized as one of the most acclaimed golf resorts in America's heartland. It's been recognized by GOLF magazine five years in a row as a Silver Medal Resort and its two courses, The Brute and The Highlands, are compellingly complementary. The courses are like two brothers who get along famously, but have completely different personalities.

The similarities: Both are in excellent condition, both dramatically tumble and roll through the Wisconsin hills, and both are no-nonsense challenges.

The differences: One is long. The other is short. One loves water, the other doesn't. One has been in the Hollywood spotlight, the other likes to be quietly famous.

Grand Geneva's Brute golf course

Grand Geneva's Brute golf course takes after its name. It's the tougher of the two playing at over 7,000 yards and has had a bit more star status. In 2001 and 2002, this Robert Bruce Harris design, hosted the Tom Dreesen Celebrity Invitational on the Celebrity Players Tour and it was the backdrop for the taping of Comedy Central's golf show "The Sweet Spot" staring Bill Murray and his brothers.

The Brute has more than 68 bunkers and some of the largest greens of any course in Wisconsin or Illinois. The two most memorable holes are the 6th and the 18th.

Six is a par 5 and the no. 1 handicap hole. From the back tees it stretches to 520 yards and gives you a big risk-reward option on your second shot. In the middle of the fairway is a large lake, (some of that lovable water), making flirting with going for the green in two an intimidating decision.

The 18th is a long par 4. From the back it's 464 yards but even from the regular tees it's still a haul at 437 yards. Fairway bunkers on the right side can play havoc with an out of control fade.

Grand Geneva's Highlands golf course

Grand Geneva's Highlands golf course originally was created by Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus in 1970 and redefined in 1997 by architect Bob Cupp. It measures out at 6.633 yards; short by today's standards. But it is far from an easy test mainly due to some of the trickiest, most strategic, short par 4s anywhere.

Nos. 8, 10 and 15 are superb designs. Not one of them is over 320 yards from the championship tees and each has a rolling, up-and-down fairway with few flat lies and a green with devilish undulations. These are the best of the thinking man's holes.

The Highlands also has four wonderful par 3s. The shortest is 153 yards from the blue tees and the longest is 199 yards. The favorite of many is the 146-yard seventh. It calls for a daring shot over a cavernous valley to a pin that is many times tucked left and dangerously close to the green's edge. An errant shot will take a big fall down a grassy hill.

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner

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