Tee to Green: Traversing Eagle Ridges Majestic Fairways

Tee to Green: Traversing Eagle Ridges Majestic Fairways

Chasing Perfection at Dawn’s First Light

“Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get.” This iconic Forrest Gump quote is undeniably true about life in general, but it’s also an apt analogy for another endeavor that I have become intimately familiar with this season: the early morning golf photography shoot. [1]

Sunrise photography is the most feast-or-famine proposition I have experienced in a long time. The right combinations of light, cloud cover, wind and other weather conditions must all be present to produce great shots, a set of unpredictable variables completely out of the photographer’s control. I have attempted quite a few sunrise shoots this year, with roughly half of them turning out fantastic and the rest busts. Yes, the morning photography shoot is a leap of faith, one that requires rising at extreme early hours in the hope of catching that perfect sunrise. But as I’ve learned after a season of photography, the risk of coming up empty is totally worth it.

Serendipity at The Bull

Case in point, an early morning October shoot at The Bull at Pinehurst Farms with fellow WiscoGolfAddict writer Paul Seifert (this article includes both of our photos) proved that no matter how suboptimal the conditions look in a forecast, you might still come away with a home run photography shoot. [1] Also aiding the photography were near-peak fall colors that were just starting to pop, especially in the course’s signature stretch through the forest on holes 5 through 7. Our video on WiscoGolfAddict’s YouTube Channel illustrates the dynamic beauty of The Bull that we experienced that day. The golf round that followed the photography also proved that “you never know what you’re gonna get” from fall golf on a great property.

The way our visit to The Bull came together was serendipity in and of itself. Originally scheduled to play in the Writer’s Cup in Illinois that day, an 11th-hour reschedule left Paul, myself and Troy Giljohann with wide open calendars, making it the perfect time to find a great place to play while the season was nigh. [1] The Bull at Pinehurst Farms was a spot that we had been targeting for a fresh course review on WiscoGolfAddict, and after the Writer’s Cup was rescheduled it made perfect sense to seek out a round at the highly-regarded Sheboygan Falls venue. To our delight, The Bull was able to accommodate us that day, and after enlisting Paul and Troy’s neighbor, Nate, as our fourth, we had pulled the perfect switcheroo to arrange a fantastic late-season outing at one of the state’s best public facilities.

Rediscovering a Hidden Gem

This season, I’ve made a point to check off some of the state’s top courses that I hadn’t yet played, and The Bull turned out to be one of the highlight additions to my “first play” list in 2023. Perennially ranked among the state’s best courses, it’s a property I was very excited to finally check out, but it’s also one that has traditionally been overshadowed by Destination Kohler just down the road. [1]

Even though The Bull has made consistent appearances in best-in-state rankings since its inception, when talking elite Wisconsin public golf other big-name properties tend to dominate the discussion, including usual suspects like Whistling Straits, Blackwolf Run, Erin Hills, Sand Valley, SentryWorld and Lawsonia. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms has been the red-headed stepchild of this bunch, even though in many states it would probably be in the running for best public property. Over the past couple years, The Bull at Pinehurst Farms has rightfully come back into the spotlight as a featured course in the WSGA’s social media campaigns, starting with 2022’s “Wisconsin Captured” series highlighting the state’s top 10 public courses. With WiscoGolfAddict’s Paul Seifert serving as host content creator at The Bull, “Wisconsin Captured” showed off just how spectacular this property is and why it shouldn’t be overlooked by golf enthusiasts visiting the state.

Beating the Odds at The Bull

The Bull at Pinehurst Farms may have been the biggest gamble in Wisconsin golf development history. Originally, the property was home to Pinehurst Farms, a large-scale cattle-producing operation (notice the tie-in to the course name?). [1] The property occupies a dramatic setting over wild topography through the forest and meadow with the beautiful Onion River winding through its center. In many ways, this property is similar to nearby Blackwolf Run, a majestic riverside adventure in its own right. Indeed, the gorgeous natural landscape of the Sheboygan area is ideal for golf, and The Bull’s original owners saw its enormous potential after observing the smashing success of Destination Kohler’s layouts.

Building another upscale public course so close to Kohler meant that it would also be competing directly with one of the nation’s premier golf destinations, though, setting it up for risk of failure from the get-go. Pete Dye had just wrapped up his final Kohler installment, the Irish Course, in 2000, making Destination Kohler a four-course behemoth that stood unmatched in the Wisconsin golf ecosystem. Under these circumstances, The Bull was a project that had very little margin for error, but it also had a tremendous opportunity to add variety to the Sheboygan area golf scene which, frankly, was a bit Dye-heavy. In that vein, the owners did the project justice by bringing in a big gun for the design, enlisting golf icon and one of the top architects of the time, Jack Nicklaus. This would be Jack’s first solo effort in the state, and to this day it is the only signature Nicklaus championship design in Wisconsin. While he had collaborated with Pete Dye at the Highlands Course at Grand Geneva Resort, The Bull represented an opportunity for the Golden Bear to install all of his signature design features on a gifted property without the constraints of a co-architect.

Taming the Beast

One thing I had consistently heard about The Bull is that it is challenging. As in, one of the state’s toughest courses, with a murderer’s row of intimidating carries, tight tee shots, infringing hazards and demanding approaches. [1] Only a few weeks removed from a humbling weekend at Destination Kohler, where my struggling golf game fell victim to Pete Dye’s relentlessly penal layouts, I was legitimately worried that another trip to the woodshed was in store.

Some courses just set up well to the eye of the player, though, and there was something about the setup of The Bull that made me relax and execute my golf swing that day. In fact, I only lost one ball over the course of the round, compared to sleeves of Pro V1’s sacrificed to the golf gods in my weekend at Kohler. That’s not to say I breezed through the round – the course had plenty of bite even after keeping it in play, but I was still thoroughly satisfied to come away with an 83 on a day that I thought breaking 90 would be a challenge.

A Tale of Two Nines

We arrived at the first tee of The Bull at Pinehurst Farms towards the end of our round, a product of unusual circumstances. After a cart mishap during morning photography, we kicked off the round later than planned and found ourselves stuck behind a plodding foursome on the first tee. [1] Fortunately it was fall golf, and a sparse tee sheet meant that we could skip ahead to start on the 3rd and play at our own pace. Of course, that meant we had to loop back for the 1st and 2nd at the end.

The opening four holes on The Bull meander through a prairie setting adjacent to a neighborhood, not at all a representation of what to expect for the rest of the round and easily the weakest stretch on the course. On their own merits, these are strong golf holes that you’d expect to find on a similarly upscale residential course, but at The Bull they do seem out of place. The upshot is that you’ll get them over with quickly, with no houses in sight on the last 14 holes.

Having already used all eight shots spotted to me by Troy in our battle for the WiscoGolfAddict traveling title belt, we found ourselves all square through 16, meaning I would need to beat him straight up on the course’s two challenging opening par fours. [1] It would prove to be a thrilling finish in the match, with Troy birdieing the 1st to take a one-up lead, followed by my own birdie on the 2nd to force a playoff. Even though I would fall short in the ensuing playoff hole at the par 3 third, it was still a very memorable conclusion to a friendly match.

The 4th is The Bull’s transition hole, a reachable par five bridging the gap between the residential and natural settings of the property. Drives that challenge a cluster of fairway traps up the left side will cut off distance and provide a better angle into a small, elevated and well-protected green framed by the forest. After a relatively subdued start, things get real on the 5th as the routing dives headfirst into The Bull’s wild landscape with one of the most demanding and dramatic par fours in the whole state.

Scaling the Rocky Heights

The first order of business here is to thread the needle and stripe a tee shot down a narrow fairway with deep woods on both sides offering no chance at recovery. What the trees hide from the tee, though, is a hazard of nightmarish proportions down the left side. As you advance down the fairway, a massive gorge comes into view cutting straight into the fairway all the way up to the green. This is a precipice to behold, a canyon descending into the Onion River valley some 50 to 100 feet below. [1] The dramatic transition from a neighborhood into this National Park-like setting in just one hole was jarring, and even after summarily carding a double bogey here, I walked away stunned at the majestic beauty of the 5th.

The sixth keeps pumping the drama full-stop, a mid-length par 3 leaping downhill through the woods to a heavily sloping, tiered green. Another potentially scorecard-crushing ravine lurks short and to the left, which left me completely oblivious to the importance of hitting the correct section of the green. After what I thought was a well-struck tee shot to the right of the green, I found myself on the back tier, well above the hole and with little chance to lag it close. [1] I was completely awestruck by the drama of the 6th, in my opinion the best par 3 on site by a wide margin, and my favorite hole on the course, overall. Clocking in at #22 on WiscoGolfAddict’s Top 33 Par 3’s in the State, this beauty could arguably be ranked even higher, and was a pure delight to experience for the first time.

The 7th is another beautiful spot in the woods, and is one of The Bull’s several half-par holes with risk/reward options. For the shorter hitter like myself, only one option is realistic off the tee – a 200-yard drive down the middle to set up a wedge in and to stay short of a massive bunker that cuts the fairway off short of the green. For longer hitters, however, the sub-300 yardage presents the temptation to go for glory and launch one at the surface, despite the narrow width of approach to the green with sand, forest and the Onion River lurking in the immediate vicinity. [1] After Troy hit a routine iron layup to the middle of the fairway, he asked us to toss him a shag ball to give one a go at the green for fun. I reached deep into my bag and pulled out a crusty old “Senator” ball that I must’ve found in the woods in a recent round, and handed it to Troy with a sheepish grin. This 70’s-era ball had seen its day, to say the least, and even after Troy ripped a straight one right at the green it still came up woefully short in the bunker. It was a good lesson for Troy – be careful what you wish for when you ask your playing partner for an extra ball. 🙂

Mastering the Onion River Gauntlet

The 8th is a wild par five playing around and over a severe “S” shaped bend in the Onion River. Nicklaus dialed up the drama to the fullest extent here, making maximum use of the river to add challenge and options. [1] It’s a complicated hole, but can be simplified into two primary routes of attack – either play left to an alternate fairway across the river on the second shot to optimize the angle into the green, or play down the right side to shorten the distance and accept a tough angle of approach. While my natural fade pushed me in the direction of the option to the right without any decision-making required, I am still pondering why the play to the left fairway would be advantageous under any ordinary circumstances. That route would require a very precise (and longer) second shot with water very much in play to the right – a risk probably not worth the reward of a better angle to the green on the next shot. Regardless, the design of the 8th is incredibly unique and interesting, making full use of the property’s signature natural feature in the Onion River.

The ninth is a challenging uphill par four playing out of the woods back up to the clubhouse area. A generous tee shot paves the way for a tough, long iron approach that must skirt past a deep bunker to the left, a shot best attempted from the center of the fairway. While the second half of the front nine was full of exhilarating drama and challenge, I found the back side to be a brute on a different level. Despite not losing a single ball on the inward loop, I still had to grind for bogeys on multiple occasions and constantly felt under the threat of a looming disaster. [1] While the front side offers a slight reprieve out of the gate on the more generous opening four holes, the back nine doesn’t hold back any punches from start to finish.

The Back Nine Test

The tenth is a dogleg right par four that will vary considerably in yardage depending on the tee selected. From the black or blue tees, this is a monster that stretches out to around 450 with a dramatic downhill drive from a tee perched atop a hill next to the clubhouse. We played the more manageable green tee that starts from the bottom of the hill, attacking the tenth as a shorter par 4. From that vantage point, it’s wise to cut the dogleg to avoid a fairway trap through the left corner. The approach to this severely elevated green fronted by a giant pondside bunker is best pursued with a wedge in hand. [1]

The 11th is a memorable short par 4 featuring more of The Bull’s signature use of binary options to add fun and strategy. Traversing a pond from tee to green with distinct fairways on each side, players must make a decision at the outset to either reduce risk or maximize reward. The option to the left is a smart move for most, an iron or hybrid shot with plenty of room to avoid a wet fate to the right. The problem with that route is a suboptimal angle to the green with a carry over water and a bunker fronting the left half. I chose the left option and even after executing two good shots had to work hard for my par, as my downwind approach rolled into a chipping area behind the green. The option up the right side features a long carry off the tee to a sliver of a fairway, but those who execute the shot will be rewarded with a short pitch into a receptive angle, and a great chance at carding a 3. [1]

The routing takes another tour through a natural area of forest and meadow from 12 through 17, a section of the property that isn’t as visually stunning as the earlier stretch from 5 through 8, but is beautiful in its own right with frequent wildlife sightings, more encounters with the Onion River and thrilling shots over ridges and ravines. The 12th is a long, challenging par 3 teeing off from atop a ridge. Long hitters carry a significant advantage here, as the approach to this undulating, well-guarded green is much easier if you’re hitting a mid-iron instead of long iron or hybrid. [1]

The Finishing Stretch

The 13th is a long, challenging uphill par five with an array of sand traps, demanding three sharp shots to score well. Bending to the left around the forest, only the longest of hitters have a chance to go for the green in two which would first require an aggressive tee shot over a fairway trap up the left side. [1] The steeply uphill approach shot is likely to be a blind one, putting distance control at a premium. Fortunately I was able to get a reliable distance reading from my rangefinder and dialed in an approach to within 10 feet. The walk up to the green after firing a dart into a blind shot is a feeling I love, even if it turns out that the ball skirted past the cup as it did here.

The 14th bends to the right around the Onion River, another stout par four that requires two excellent shots. [1] In this section of the property, you really start to feel far-removed from civilization with the The Bull’s residential area a distant memory. Case in point, during morning photography I approached the tee area to find a family of deer hanging out next to the woods, totally calm and not alarmed by my presence as my drone whizzed over their heads. Playing the 14th proved to be a more taxing experience than that morning moment of zen. After my best tee shot of the day right down the middle, I still succum

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