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Horseshoe Bay Golf Club a Lake Michigan masterpiece

By Kiel Christianson, Equipment Editor and Senior Writer

EGG HARBOR, Wis. - Door County, Wis., has been called "the Cape Cod of the Midwest" and "the California of the North." Egg Harbor is the first of a half-dozen tiny, tony towns that ring this peninsular spike of land separating Green Bay from the rest of Lake Michigan. With panoramic vistas, Rockwellian villages, and a plethora of relaxing diversions, it is no wonder that Fortune magazine named Door County one of the top 10 vacation destinations in America.

Curiously, until just recently, golf has not been prominent among the attractions of Door County. In 2000, however, Horseshoe Bay Golf Club opened its doors to Door County residents and visitors alike - with one catch: This unique, artistic layout will turn private in 2004, reserved for residents of the several upscale residential developments surrounding portions of the course.

There is one way, however, for tourists to Door County to continue playing here, without buying property. There are eight magnificent two-bedroom condominiums that will be available for rent. And guests lucky enough to stay in the condos will have not only full access to the 7,101-yard track, but also the posh country club amenities, including pool, tennis courts, and a beach house worthy of MTV's Spring Break, overlooking the placid, cerulean waters of Lake Michigan.

Considering the instant adoration Horseshoe Bay GC has earned in just two short seasons (readers of Great Lakes Golf magazine recently voted it their second favorite course in the state behind only The Straits Course at Whistling Straits), the savvy golfer planning a visit to Door County might need to book one of these condos plenty early so as not to miss out.

An Engineering Feat

Door County - or really, the craggy point of land upon which it is built - is a bit of a geological oddity. The landform is part of the Niagara Escarpment, a spine of dolomite limestone running essentially from Niagara Falls through north-central Wisconsin. This limestone, in fact, lies so close to the surface in Egg Harbor, that Horseshoe Bay GC turned out to be a unique challenge for golf course architects Rick Robbins and Brian Lussier.

"We had to treat Horseshoe Bay as if we were building a course in the desert," says Robbins, with more than a hint of satisfaction in his voice, "because of the limestone being so close to the surface." It is just beyond the line of exaggeration to say that an extraordinarily deep divot might find bedrock.

Robbins & Lussier and the owners of the one-time dairy farm and cherry orchard, the Frank Murphy Cowles family, were confronted with the astronomical costs of blasting away portions of the limestone, along with chiseling into the rock in order to fit an irrigation system under the turf. Fortunately, the skilled hands of Robbins & Lussier and the deep pockets of the owners delivered an absolute gem of a course, despite the daunting engineering challenges.

Even the practice putting green is a mini-masterpiece. It is screened from the rest of the course and the clubhouse by decorative pines, has its own view of Lake Michigan, and contains enough variety to keep you from getting bored, even if you work all day with your flat stick. "The putting green is one of my proudest accomplishments," beams Robbins.

Defined by Wind, Water, and Rock

The routing of the course was also a test of patience and ingenuity. From the start, everyone knew the green of the 18th hole would overlook Lake Michigan. But that meant that not only would it have to face due west, creating some harsh lighting for late-day rounds, but also that the opening hole would have to face east. It is awfully hard to keep an eye on those unpredictable first-hole tee shots when you're blinded by the rising sun!

Then, after numerous routing schemes, and a solid start on construction, a tornado ripped through the property, completely changing the landscape on the 521-yard, par-5 4th and the 207-yard, par-3 5th. These holes had to be redesigned after the storm, and are today named Tornado Alley and Twister's Gulch in memory of Mother Nature's chicanery.

The dolomite limestone lurking just below the immaculate bent grass turf is evident almost immediately: Many fairways appear shelf-like, dropping off on either side into usually wide swaths of primary rough. The greens are sharply tiered, placing a premium on controlled iron shots. If you land on the wrong tier, it will require a deft touch to get the ball anywhere near the hole on your first putt.

It is often said of better courses today that they contain 18 signature holes. At Horseshoe Bay GC, this cliché is, in fact, quite apt. Beginning at No. 2 - a wonderful 403-yard par 4 that requires a precise, gutsy approach over a sparkling pond - there is nary a hole that does not stick out in one's memory.

At Nos. 4 (521 yards, par 5) and 8 (535 yard par 5) the limestone is readily apparent. On No. 8, a dotted line of rock outcroppings run down the center of the fairway, effectively splitting it into two halves. There are lots of options, and lots of decisions to be made.

No. 13, though, is the quintessential strategic golf hole. This 584-yard brute has another split fairway, which is divided by trees and rough at about 240 to 280 yards from the tee (depending on if you play the blues or the blacks). From the split in the fairway, the golfer is presented with a magnificent view of the snaking, winding path down to the green, which is set on the edge of a ridge that drops precipitously off to the left.

The 13th green in fact looks like a mini-me version of the hole. "The entire hole wobbles around," says Robbins as he does an admirable job of two-putting for par, and thus taming one of his own evil creations, "and we wanted to do the same thing with the green."

No. 18 is the hole most everyone here remembers best, and talks about most. This 604-yard par 5 is not only noteworthy for its length, its narrow fairway, or the limestone ramps that can only be seen looking back up the fairway toward the tee. It is the view of Lake Michigan from the green that has enticed more than one affluent public golfer to lay down the cash for a piece of property here and a lifetime membership to Horseshoe Bay GC. Even if you are blinded by the sunset, you cannot help but feel grateful that someone finally had sense and skill enough to build a golf course on this singular chunk of land.

Fitting In with the Well-Heeled Crowd

Those golfers fortunate enough to be able to afford one of the many residential options currently under construction on the property will not only be privy to one of the best courses in the Badger State. They also will have at their disposal a wide range of year-round activities, from Coho salmon fishing to scuba diving, from snow-mobiling to cross-country skiing. There are nine different residential communities on the property, ranging from $270,000 condominiums to million-dollar mansions with views of Lake Michigan that simply take your breath away.

According to Tom Brown, one of Horseshoe Bay's broker associates, the condominiums "are selling like hotcakes, and we haven't even advertised them. People just want to be sure they can play the course once it goes private."

And although it is true that eventually, many of the fairways of this pristine track will be lined with housing, there will be ample buffers between the fairways and the yards. Rich folk don't like their picture windows shattered, after all.

Just remember, even if you don't want to buy the cow, you can still get a taste of the milk (metaphorically speaking), as long as you book one of the eight rental condos early enough. President of Horseshoe Bay GC, Rick Hearden, and his gracious staff will make temporary visitors feel so welcome, they might just consider buying, too. The complimentary wine and assorted golf paraphernalia - not to mention the Jacuzzi tubs and decks with lake views - make you feel like you're a member of the club, if only for a brief time.

Horseshoe Bay Golf Club

5335 Horseshoe Bay Road
Egg Harbor, WI 54209
Tel: 877-599-GOLF
Web: www.horseshoebayfarms.net

Rates: $95 weekdays, $115 weekends
Yardages/Ratings/Slopes: 7101/74.0/134; 6601/71.8/129; 6117/69.6/114; 5386/71.0/122

Door County Information
Web: www.doorcounty.com

Alternative Accommodations

Two letters - B&B. Over 40 B&Bs are listed on the Door County website, and any one of them could make a devoted Cape Codder homesick faster than news of another untimely Kennedy death.


Local favorites are good, hearty Midwestern dishes like Lake Michigan fish, venison roast, and cheese, glorious cheese. If you're averse to elevated mercury or cholesterol levels, the yearly influx of the hoi polloi assures an abundance of lighter, more expensive but less filling cuisine. (But give me cheese curds or give me-gack!.)

The most visible local eatery in Egg Harbor is Shipwrecked Brewery & Restaurant, right on the main drag, which features hand-crafted brews and large Midwestern portions. For in-between meal snacks, check out The Chocolate Chicken, kitty-corner from Shipwrecked. Here you'll find some of the best confections and coffees in the county.

Other Attractions

The other prominent golf course in Door County is The Orchards at Egg Harbor (920-868-2483), designed by Michigan course architect Bill Newcomb.

If you have time, be sure to drive further north to visit the towns of Sister Bay, Fish Creek, and Gills Rock, where diversions from wineries to dive tours of local shipwrecks can be found.


Conditions: 5.0
Scenery: 4.0
Layout: 4.25
Service: 5.0
Practice Facilities: 5.0
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: 5.0
Pace of Play: 3.75
Par 3's: 3.85
Par 4's: 3.75
Par 5's: 5.0
Value: 3.5
Overall Rating: 4.3

Kiel ChristiansonKiel Christianson, Equipment Editor and Senior Writer

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.

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