8 top Milwaukee area golf courses that won’t break your bank

I played my first 18-hole round of golf when I was 15 years old, at Brown Deer Park after riding my bike out there with Bill Hilgendorf from our homes in Whitefish Bay. I quit playing golf when I was 67 because I was sick of spending all that money and time and my favorite golfing partner had died unexpectedly.

I don’t really miss it but I occasionally think of my playing days. I’ve played all the glamorous courses in Wisconsin, public and private. I’ve played places where greens fees are over $300 and other places where locker rooms are nicer than any home I’ve ever been in.

And there a couple of things I’ve learned about playing golf in Wisconsin. One is that you can easily play what I call “status golf” in this state with several courses that are among the best in the country. The other is that I think golf ought to be fun. It’s not fun to spend a small fortune to get your brains beat out by the architect’s nightmare.

You shouldn’t have to drive half a day to play golf. You shouldn’t have to take out a loan. You shouldn’t have to lose an entire day of your life. For example, greens fees at Whistling Straits near Sheboygan are $370. Plus you need to take a caddy for $60. The recommended tip for your caddy is $40. That’s almost half a thousand dollars for one round of golf.

With those thoughts in mind I’ve compiled a list of fun and challenging golf courses within a one hour drive from Milwaukee where you can play a course that demands some skill, provides some challenge and lets you walk away with enough money to take your wife out to lunch.

1. Leading the pack is Brown Deer Park. At just over 6,700 yards it is a sparkling jewel in Milwaukee County. The first hole sets to pace. It’s almost 450 yards and a dogleg right. You need to keep your drive on the left side or you are dead. With a county card you can play this layout for under $50.

2. Naga-Waukee War Memorial Golf Course in Waukesha County has some spectacular views of Pewaukee Lake and enough trees for your average forest. It’s just under 6,400 yards but plays a lot longer and has hills and valleys all over the place. You can get on this course for under $40.

3. Johnson Park in Racine County is a relatively unknown course where it’s easy to get a tee time and it will cost you less than $30 to play. A lot of trees and unusual hole designs make this a challenge that can wear you out if you don’t put your ball in the right place.

4. Just into Kenosha County is the Brighton Dale Links complex. Three courses are available but the Blue Course is my favorite. This place has mature trees and bunkers throughout the course. It’s just under 6,400 yards of interesting hole after interesting hole and it’s usually in very good shape. You can walk this course for $26 or take a cart for $42.

5. Silver Spring Country Club in Menomonee Falls has 36 holes, but the Island Course is the best test. The eighth hole is a par 3 with an island green where you want to be long, rather than short. This is a busy course so it can be tough to get a tee time. It’s $25 to walk and $40 with a cart.

6. Muskego Lakes Country Club in Muskego is the Krause family operation, a fun course with no easy holes to be seen. You can stroke your ego by playing from the blue tees here with a course that measures just over 6,500 yards. You can walk for $31.50 and ride for $44.50, leading to the question, why 50 cents?

7. Washington County Golf Course in Hartford is less than an hour from Downtown Milwaukee and offers a challenge rarely found in the immediate area. For some reason the wind is always a major factor on this course and it’s a difficult place to play. It’s at the high end at $65 a round with a cart but it’s worth the extra few bucks.

8. The Kettle Moraine Golf Club in Dousman is, as you might expect, filled with rolling hills and uneven lies. Right around $30 gets you 18 holes with or without a cart. You can play the blue tees that are under 6,500 yards and water comes into play on six holes.

There are other bargains to play, but these courses can be played for a decent fee and you don’t have to sacrifice fun, playability or difficulty. That’s what golf is supposed to be.