exploring the signature holes of some great local golf courses
When golf-lovers hear the name TPC Sawgrass Golf Course, many immediately think of their par-three 17th island hole. For Harbour Town Golf Course, the 18th hole comes to mind with its iconic red and white lighthouse. These are the signature holes of those golf courses; the holes that help give unique identities to the courses.
What are the signature holes of the Eau Claire/Altoona golf courses? I set out to find those answers with the help of various golfing companions. Just to let you know, I am fairly new to the game of golf. I picked it up in my mid-50’s because my two oldest daughters married golfers. They, in turn, have taught me the love of the game, despite the fact that after five years of golfing, I pretty much suck at it. I usually hit a nice straight drive off the tee box and two-putt once I’m on the green. It’s the in-between shots that make my neck veins appear. One day, I’ll hit a beautiful 150 yard second shot, land it on the edge of the green and say to myself, “now I’ve got it!” On the very next hole, I’ll send the ball off in the direction of Dunn County while facing Trempealeau. A double-bogey is a “Rob Reid Par.” I’m to golf what Bill Byrson was to the Appalachian Trail: an unskilled amateur looking for a good story. So, amble with me on this fun quest and no snickering. The courses are listed in the order I played them.
Princeton Valley | 2300 W. Princeton Ave., Eau Claire | PrincetonValleyGolf.net | 715-834-3334 | Holes: 9 Par: 36
The Signature Hole: Number 6
Princeton Valley is a nine-hole public course that can be found near the intersection of the North Crossing and the Highway 53 bypass. Dave Morley, a familiar face on area golf courses, joined me on a cool, overcast June afternoon. The retired teacher and school administrator gives lessons and makes golf clubs. He made my clubs. Along with my son-in-law Steven, Dave taught me how to play the game a few years back.
Manager Don Rassbach didn’t hesitate at all when I asked him what he considered Princeton Valley’s signature hole. “Number six, because you have water in front of the hole as well as behind.” The tee box is at the edge of the woods but has a nice large fairway to hit into. The challenge is to put your ball on the green with your second shot. The green sits on a peninsula. And it slopes. Towards the water.
Six is a par four hole that plays 260 yards from the white tee (where both Dave and I hit), 285 yards from the blue tee, and 230 yards from the red tee. Dave told me that good players will aim straight for the hole with their second shots. Cautious players will hit to the right of the peninsula where an errant shot will most likely hit land instead of water. I’m a cautious player and that was the plan.
Dave hit his drive slightly beyond the fairway near a tree. It turned out that he had a good clear shot at the hole for his second shot. For the first five holes that day, I had been nailing every single fairway with my drives – right down the middle. Until this hole. Sort of. My drive went to the right and hit a tree. The tree must have thought I was The Lorax because it scooped up the ball and threw it back to the left. I found my ball in the middle of the fairway. My second shot was awful and put me on the other side of the tree where Dave was. Dave hit his second shot and it landed just shy of the green. My third shot stopped short about 12 feet from the green. I was inching my way up and making too much work for myself. I then chipped my fourth shot and the ball landed 6 inches from the hole. That chip made my day. I tapped it in for a bogey 5. Dave got on the green, two-putted, and also made bogey. Bogey is very, very good for me. Dave, a scratch player, is not so happy with bogeys.
Wild Ridge | 3905 Kane Road, Eau Claire | WildRidgeGolf.com | 715-834-1766 | Holes: 18 Par: 72
The Signature Hole: Number 18
Wild Ridge is a public championship eighteen-hole golf course on Eau Claire’s west side. My son-in-law Steven joined me as we played #18 just across the street from the newly renovated clubhouse.
When I talked to golf pro Jim Buyze about signature holes, he laughed and said those in management couldn’t agree on a signature hole for Wild Ridge. When I explained the nature of this article, he said let’s go with #18. It’s a par four hole that looks directly at the newly-renovated clubhouse from a hill. In the evening, there’s often a beautiful sunset right behind the tee boxes. It’s multi-tiered with three bunkers protecting the green as well as water on the front right. The Tournament tee for this hole is 428 yards, the Championship is 400 yards (where Steven played), the Blugold/Ridge is 384 (where I played), and the Resort is 360.
Both Steven and I hit our drives on to the left side of the fairway (beautiful grass, by the way). I “squibbed” a shot and then hit my 3rd shot just left of the green. I “squibbed” another shot, and then hit my 5th on the green. Two puts for a double-bogey (or a Rob Reid par). Steven wound up with a bogey. Someday, I’ll magically get rid of my squibs. We both fell in love with the hole, mostly because of the look from up high on the tee looking down. It allowed us to stand for a long time and admire our towering shots. While typing in “Wild Ridge Golf Course,” as the heading of this section, I misspelled it “Wild Ridge Gold Course.” I probably should have left that typo in because that’s how I feel about it after playing it for the first time.
Mill Run | 3905 Kane Road, Eau Claire | WildRidgeGolf.com | 715-834-1766 | Holes: 18 Par: 70
The Signature Hole: Number 5
Mill Run is a public course and is located next door to Wild Ridge as a companion course. It also has eighteen holes. You can see some of those holes right off from the North Crossing. Steven and I left Wild Ridge and immediately turned into Mill Run.
Jim Buyze identified the par five #5 as Mill Run’s signature hole. It has water on the left and is fairly long with 496 yards from the Blue tee, 480 from the White, and 419 from the Red. Jim mentioned that #5 often has bald eagles and wild turkeys hanging around it. Jim once came upon an eagle that kept the water between it and Jim. Jim would move one direction and the eagle would counter his move. Trevor in the clubhouse had a fun anecdote about this hole. Some golfers spotted a bald eagle grab a turtle out of the pond. The person driving the beverage cart later that day found a turtle shell on the fairway, no turtle.
I want to preface this paragraph by saying proudly that I did par both #4 and #6 that day. I didn’t fare so well on the signature hole. Suffice it to say, I hit into a very strong wind, wound up on some rocks along the water and three-putted for a disgusting 9 (quadruple-bogey). Steven also hit into a very strong wind. He avoided the rocks and got his par. Personally, because of my humiliation, I’m publicly claiming #4 or #6 to be the signature hole – and the other two holes I parred that day. No bald eagles showed up for us but I did see baby ducks and mama duck earlier on #1.
Eau Claire Golf & Country Club | 828 Clubview Ln., Eau Claire | ECGCC.com | 715-836-8420 | Holes: 18 Par: 71
The Signature Hole: Number 5
The Eau Claire Golf and Country Club is a private championship eighteen-hole course that sits along the Eau Claire River. When they built their new clubhouse, they technically became an Altoona address.
PGA pro Jim Julsrud mentioned that they, too, have trouble picking one signature hole, but reasoned that the hole most golfers will probably remember is #5. This par-four course is stunning to look at with a pond on the right, Otter Creek on the left, and the Eau Claire River straight ahead. Jim calls it their “confluence hole.” When you cross the bridge on Hastings Way going north, and look down to the right, this is the hole you see. There are several designations on the tee box. I hit from the Senior Middle spot at 332 yards. The Back is 434 yards, the Middle is 397, and the Forward is 328 yards.
Jim hosted my play since I’m not a member. He drove the cart and gave me a brief history of the course but didn’t play himself. Was I intimidated being watched by a professional golfer? Nah! Just look at my score. My drive was my usual pretty straight shot that just made it over Otter Creek. Jim mentioned that a lot of balls wind in the creek from the tee box, so naturally I was proud. My ball had landed smack in the middle of the fairway. My next shot was also very, very straight. And very, very low. As were the next two almost identical shots. Hey, a pro golfer was watching me play! My fourth shot got near the fringe where I then three-putted for a quadruple-bogey. Jeeeesshh. Jim and I then gazed at the Eau Claire River for several moments, quietly.
Hickory Hills | E4080 Hickory Rd., Eau Claire | GolfHickoryHills.com | 715-878-4543 | Holes: 18 Par:63
The Signature Hole: Number 7
Hickory Hills is an eighteen-hole public course located south of Eau Claire next to Highway 93. The back nine is particularly friendly for beginning golfers with three par-four holes and the rest all par-threes. My friend Julian Emerson joined me. Julian hadn’t golfed in five years and has a bad back but he was up for the game.
Megan Norby, the clubhouse manager and daughter of owner John Norby, told me they had a couple of signature holes but settled on the par-three #7. It’s a pretty flower-decorated hole located between Hickory Road and the clubhouse. Megan mentioned that many golf balls end up in the water, both on the left and the right. I’ve donated a few lost balls myself over the years as I often golf at Hickory Hills. My wife buys me a Hickory Hills punch-card for my birthday each year. Megan also mentioned they hold several weddings on #7’s tee box. The hole is closed during the actual ceremony which kinda makes sense to me but in my mind, I think it would be fun to let golfers continue to play through.
Redemption!! I landed my drive hole-high on the right fringe. Julian didn’t know his own strength and hit his ball way beyond the hole over by the road. My 20-foot birdie putt lipped out and I finished with a par. I am a happy man as well as the greatest golfer ever. Julian finished with a double-bogey or (everybody say it with me) a “Rob Reid par.”
Pine Meadow | 4324 Fairfax Park Dr., Eau Claire | PineMeadowGolfClub.com | 715-832-6011 | Holes: 9 Par: 27
Pine Meadow is a small course off of Golf Road on Eau Claire’s south side. Each hole there is a par-three hole. I talked to Jodi, the manager, who said they don’t really have a signature hole. They are basically a course for beginners, seniors, and folks who want to work on their short game. I tried to play a round with my son-in-law Kirk anyways but we ran into a downpour. I talked briefly to Pine Meadow staffer Jon Lepsch who had a great story about Mill Run’s signature hole. One of his golfing buddies lost his grip on his club and it flew into the pond. The friend then stripped buck naked to wade into the pond after his club. And yes, he found it. Jon said, “You probably don’t want to add that story to your article.”
Yup, Jon. I sure do.