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Phil McDade

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Wisconsin's Blackhawk CC w/ photos
« on: October 12, 2009, 09:20:04 PM »
Blackhawk Country Club, in the Madison WI bedroom community of Shorewood Hills, was founded in 1921. The course history attributes the original design to Charles Mayo (original nine) and J.C. Hackbarth (second nine). But after just 15 years, the club brought in A.W. Tillinghast to develop a master plan for the course.

Working on a very small site (the course is packed into fewer than 100 acres, and is squeezed in between Lake Mendota and a railroad line), Tillinghast made significant changes on seven holes and recommended changes on several others. In the end, Tillinghast had a hand in 11 of the course’s 18 holes.

The course, which lays astride a large hill adjacent to Lake Mendota, is notable for several reasons. It was the first course in Wisconsin to install an irrigation system in 1938. It’s a golf-only club – no pool or tennis courts here. (A number of winners of the Madison city men’s golf tournament have come from Blackhawk.) Native American burial mounds dot the course…

…and the collection is so significant the course worked to include them on the National Park Service Register of Historic Places. The course is perhaps best known for its interesting assortment of par 4s, several of which could be characterized as half-par holes, and thus makes for a wonderful setting for match-play. (For these reasons, it has been described on the GCA Discussion Board as one of the great gambler’s golf clubs around.)

Course details: Blackhawk plays to a par of 72, with a somewhat unconventional array of holes – three par 3s, three par 5s, and 12 par 4s. The course tips out at 6,175 yards (rating 70.5/slope 126), with tees at 5,939 yards (69.5/123) and 5,575 (68/121). The front nine plays nearly 400 yards longer than the back nine. The back nine features the kind of quirky hole yardages and arrangements you rarely encounter (at least in the U.S.) – three par 4s under 275 yards, back-to-back par 5s of identical length, and a par 3 18th hole. For a private club, Blackhawk has an excellent website, with a good review of the course’s 18 holes:  (As an aside, at least two fairly regular GCA posters know this course a whole lot better than I; let’s hope they chime in with a few thoughts.)

Hole descriptions (yardage from tips):

No. 1 (par 4, 375)

A severely downhill tee shot – the ball just seems to hang in the air forever.

Blackhawk isn’t littered with bunkers, but the ones it does have are usually big and feature high lips. Blackhawk golfers are known in the Madison area for being some of the best bunker players around.

The 1st green, guarded by a bunker left. The entrance to the green is level with the fairway, but the greensite features severe falloffs left and right and especially in the back. Because of the small size of the greens, and the trouble that often surrounds them, Blackhawk puts great demand on approach shots into greens.

No. 2 (par 4, 309)
From an elevated tee, the drive is through a valley to a sharply uphill fairway. Although some may view the course as too heavily tree-lined, its short length necessitates putting other demands on players. Accuracy is a key component to Blackhawk’s ability to defend par, so I don’t view the trees here as a detriment.

Even from less than 100 yards out, the green’s surface can’t be seen (and it’s a pretty small green). It’s just to the left of the little green shack middle-right of picture.

The small, two-tiered green at the 2nd; the tee can be seen in a grove of trees, to the left of where the cart path ends. I’m told two-putting this green from the upper tier to a pin on the lower tier is an adventure.

No. 3 (par 4, 398)
A par 4 that moves gently downhill with a slight turn to the left. The only hole on the course that moves due south; nearly every other hole runs east or west.

No. 4 (par 4, 319)
This hole lies parallel to No. 3 – the only hole to run due north. The drive from the tee, back beneath the blue-painted bridge, is uphill and must carry a ridge near the fir trees bracketing the fairway, or…..

…..the golfer will be left with this blind approach. A bird house, in front of the fir trees middle of picture, serves as a directional aid.

The 4th features one of the largest greens on the course.

No. 5 (par 3, 188)

A terrific par 3; I think it’s one of the best in the Madison area. The tee shot (to the right of where this photo was taken) is downhill, mitigating some of the hole’s length. Still, it’s a demanding shot over a pond and bunker to a kidney-shaped, two-tiered green angled away from the player.

The 5th green – maybe the best green on the course.

From this angle, you can see the significant tilt from the back-right corner of the green to the front-left portion.

No. 6 (par 4, 364)

The next three holes move over the flattest portions of Blackhawk, and thus hold less interest than the rest of the course.  The 6th doglegs sharply left, and three bunkers break up the fairway at the corner of the hole.

Here are the bunkers; the green and flag can be seen through the skinny trees middle-left of picture.

No. 7 (par 5, 578)

The longest hole on the course runs alongside an active railroad line and a large power plant. One of three holes on the course without bunkers.

No. 8 (par 4, 397)

A par 4 that moves gradually downhill to a smallish green.

No. 9 (par 4, 347)

The course returns to more interesting terrain, as the front nine closes with this nasty little par 4. A drive to a narrow fairway leaves an uphill pitch to a sliver of a green, perched up on a shelf and completely invisible from the fairway. The hole, appropriately, is called the Eagle’s Nest.

Here’s the approach from 150 yards. The photo doesn’t do justice to the uphill nature of this approach shot. Short and right and your ball ends up in a patch of deep and quite penal bunkers. Deep, thick woods lie a few feet beyond the green surface, making the approach shot all the more exacting.

Here’s the shelf-like green of the 9th; a bank left of the green can be used for those hoping to avoid the fate of those who come up short-right on this hole. The green here is all of 16 yards wide, one of the smallest on the course.

No. 10 (par 4, 310 yards)

After the wonderful 9th, the quirk factor at Blackhawk goes into full drive on the back nine. The tee shot at the 10th is the same as its next-door neighbor the 1st – severely downhill from a tee adjacent to the clubhouse. At 310 yards, from such heights, the golfer may think of driving the green. But the bunkers here are some of the largest (and most artful) on the course.

The enormous clamshell bunker left of the 10th green; here are two looks at it.

No. 11 (par 4, 274)

The first of the trio of very short par 4s on the back nine, this parallels the 2nd hole and plays much the same way – elevated tee shot over a valley to a sharply uphill fairway.

These two bunkers make an approach shot even from 75 yards away blind.

No. 12 (par 5, 526)

The first of the back-to-back par 5s, this is a rugged hole that plays uphill all the way to the green after the drive from an elevated tee through a valley. The 12th begins a run of several holes on the back nine that are routed on the side of the hill sloping toward Lake Mendota, creating awkward (often side-hill) lies in numerous spots on the fairways.

The hole gradually turns to the left, and is further complicated by an offset green left that sits up on a shelf and is protected  by a series of bunkers short-left. It’s a green very similar to, if not as severe as, the strategy of the 9th green.

Here’s the green at the 12th; even those taking the conservative, three-shot route to the green will be left with a tricky approach.

No. 13 (par 5, 526)

This downhill hole runs in the opposite direction of the 12th, and is reachable in two shots .

This is the approach from 200 yards; even from this far away, you can make out the pronounced tilt to the green.

The 13th green – stay below the hole!

No. 14 (par 4, 274)

The strange, disconcerting, maddening 14th – a new candidate for my all-quirk 18. This is the tee shot – where, exactly, is the fairway?

Here’s the first portion of the fairway – slanted so hard toward Lake Mendota that a wedge doesn’t seem capable of holding it. And still no sign of the green.

The severe cant of the 14th fairway, a hole carved among massive native oak trees. The tee is to the left of this picture; just to the right, the fairway turns sharply left to a green hidden on top of a rise. You can make a legitimate argument for playing this hole 8-iron/8-iron, or something similar.

Here’s where some tee shots end up – in the rough right of the fairway, with a pitch to the tiny green (16 yards wide, 25 yards deep). The flagstick can be seen just to the right of the telephone pole. Further complicating matters is a long, narrow bunker on the backside of the green that’s blind to the golfer until he steps foot on the green.

No. 15 (par 4, 273 yards)

The somewhat lesser evil cousin of the 14th still presents a stern challenge, as the slant of the fairway feeds balls toward the out-of-bounds road that runs alongside the entire left side of the hole.

The approach to the 15th, another bunkerless hole. The golfer comfortable hitting a running draw through a narrow corridor of massive trees, with OB lining the entire left side, will do just fine here.

No. 16 (par 3, 170 yards)

Players cross Lake Mendota Drive to play this par 3 that overlooks the lake. It’s a dead-flat tee shot to the deepest of Blackhawk’s greens, fronted by a lone bunker left.

No. 17 (par 4, 406 yards)

A very tough par 4, probably the toughest on the course. The play is uphill most of the way over a severely slanted fairway that once again feeds balls toward the road that is OB and lines the entire hole. I’m not sure a level stance can be found on this fairway.

The severe cant of the 17th fairway; the green and flagstick are visible in the distance, just to the left of the gray house.

The small green is benched into a hillside, with a severe falloff left. Even without a single bunker, the 17th’s canted fairway, uphill drive, unlevel lies, and small target of a green make this a very demanding hole.

No. 18 (par 3, 141)

The odd finish to a course full of quirk. It’s an uphill tee shot –add at least a club – to a mostly blind green bunkered left and right. But it’s a fairly deep green, and presents an accommodating target.

Another look at the 18th hole and its green.

Blackhawk retains a certain charm from what might be a bygone era, when 18 holes were simply fit onto the land available. It has resisted lengthening, mainly because there’s no room to do so. Still, its tight playing corridors, small greens, and frequent uneven fairway lies provide a solid challenge for the golfer.

« Last Edit: October 13, 2009, 06:04:27 AM by Phil McDade »

Brad Swanson

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Re: Wisconsin's Blackhawk CC w/ photos
« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2009, 11:36:19 PM »
Well described Phil.  Blackhawk is my home club and a wonderful walking course located right in the middle of town.  Thankfully a large percentage of the membership choose to walk despite the hilly terrain.  On the surface, Blackhawk is the antithesis of what the average GCAer would promote as their type of golf course.  It is maintained very green (but not terifically soft mid-summer) and is tight and tree-lined.  Scratch a little deeper and you find a bevy of risk reward/holes and some downright befuddling greens.  The greens don't have that much internal contour, but their tilt is very difficult to judge due to the hilly nature of the terrain.  The back nine has (technically) 4 drivable par 4s (2 drivable with hybrids as I can personally attest) and finishes with a par 3.  Doesn't get much quirkier than that. 

Of further note is the membership's devotion to the game (no tennis or pool) and an enthusiastic acceptance of junior golfers.  I spent quite a few late weekend afternoons on the range or hopping around the course with my 3 year old, to the delight of both of us.

IIRC, these photos were taking during the Madison Mid-Am in May, where Phil thankfully avoided any photo documentation of my poor performance in the final group (at my home course no less and only trailing by two going into the final round).

Phil McDade

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Re: Wisconsin's Blackhawk CC w/ photos
« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2009, 11:55:46 PM »

A friend of mine who has played there said his rule of thumb at Blackhawk is always know where both the lake and the railroad tracks (running alongside the long par 5 8th) are. Putts on one side of the hill break toward the RR tacks, and putts on the other side of the hill break toward the lake.

Funny what you learn about a place after living in the area for 20-plus years -- I had no idea Blackhawk had such an interesting collection of burial mounds.

Chuck Brown

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Re: Wisconsin's Blackhawk CC w/ photos
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2009, 01:30:55 AM »
That's a terrific tour, Phil.  I enjoyed that.  Any thoughts from you or Brad as to any tree-elimination at Blackhawk?  I thought that the evergreens in particular were a bit much.  The specimen hardwoods were much more tolerable.  In your photos, although the terrain is evident, I think you'd agree that Blackhawk actually conceals, and downplays, much of the available elevation changes.  Shorewood is a very hilly neighborhood.

Brad Swanson

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Re: Wisconsin's Blackhawk CC w/ photos
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2009, 08:19:01 AM »
There are a number of stands of pine trees throughout the course, but they are all placed for safety reasons.  Blackhawk is on a very tight piece of property and with several holes running parallel to each other, the pines are "necessary" in spots.  It certainly is a heavily treed course, but all of the hardwoods are "limbed-up" such that one nearly always has a shot out (unless you are stymied by a stand of pines).

That is a good rule of thumb for most greens, but some are reverse benched into the side of the hill, like#12, to keep you honest.  Quite often my eyes are telling me one thing on the greens but my feet are saying another (and in general you should trust your feet IMHO).


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Re: Wisconsin's Blackhawk CC w/ photos
« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2009, 08:22:40 AM »
A lot of what is in those photos is actually from Killian and Nugent redos in the 70's, I believe. At least, I remember going up there to survey many greens, and the style looks familiar.

I also recall one of my first KN projects was a plan to replicate some of those burial mounds on the course.
Jeff Brauer, ASGCA Director of Outreach

Brad Swanson

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Re: Wisconsin's Blackhawk CC w/ photos
« Reply #6 on: October 13, 2009, 08:35:26 AM »
   K&N's work is very evident.   The par 3 #5 is an obvious redo that is a little out of character with the rest of the course, but it is a very good test.  I believe it was built to allow for the current driving range space.  Many of the bunkers look like work from K&N as well.

Mike McGuire

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Re: Wisconsin's Blackhawk CC w/ photos
« Reply #7 on: October 13, 2009, 08:57:33 AM »

18 is easy.


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