Sleeping Giant

Wisconsin’s Sleeping Giant – The Brute Course at Grand Geneva
George F. Karioris and John Schneider

Just a few miles outside the popular resort town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin lies a sleeping giant.  And while this particular giant slumbers quiet and serene, it draws its strength from the roots of the Earth.  The Brute course at the Grand Geneva Resort has a storied history going back to 1968 when it was built as one of the longest golf courses in the country.  The course has been refined and enhanced over the years, but what still draws golfers from around the world to this idyllic setting is the challenge of its enormous scale.

The long gently twisting entrance road into the Grand Geneva Resort provides golfers with a luxurious preview of The Brute course.  Following past the resort lodgings and pool facilities, golfers will reach the club house for both The Brute and The Highlands courses.  The Brute is the original course at this venue having started its existence as part of Hugh Heffner’s Playboy club on the same site.  Changing times and perspectives have long ago relegated the cotton-tailed “bunnies” into pure history here.  Clearly the current objective of this 5-star behemoth is to present customers with the perfect golf experience.  At that, it is exceedingly successful.  With no exception, no pretense, and no excuses; The Brute at Grand Geneva delivers golf in a giant way.

Because of The Brute’s size and scale it is managed as a cart-only course.  With the Championship tees running in excess of 7,000 yards of bluegrass fairways, walking this course would be too time consuming and could diminish a spectacular day of golf into a long day of hiking.  Each cart is equipped with a high end interactive GPS system.  The large touch-screen does a great job of displaying yardage to all significant course landmarks.  Flag placement, front and back of the target green, and bunkers on each hole are easy to visualize.  There is also a very cool “fly over” animation which provides an in-motion aerial track from the tee to the flag stick.  As you board your cart at the beginning of the round you’ll find a petite gift bag containing a handful of tees and a resort logoed bronze divot repair tool.  Additionally each cart is equipped with a small cooler for drinks.  On a hot day be sure to ask the nice bartender in the clubhouse to fill it with ice before you start your round.

The Brute course and the Grand Geneva Resort have earned countless awards.  Golf Magazine gave them a “Silver Medal Resort” award in 1998.  For the past decade they have consistently been selected as one of the top 50 golf resorts in America.  Par Excellence rated The Brute in the top ten of Midwest courses.

Golfers will be pleased to find and utilize a well stocked practice area near the club house.  Range-balls and tees are included as a complimentary part of your overall golf experience.  From an elevated ridge you can practice drives, fairway irons, and chips to several target greens.  One extremely large practice putting green will help to sharpen the skills of golfers heading out to face the huge greens of the course.  There are 15 or more holes to target on this undulating and sloping green.  Don’t be afraid to try some really long puts across the practice greens; they’ll be needed for play on the Brute.

Standing at the first tee elevated high above the lake with its fountains, there is a sense of welcome to the course.  From that vantage point one perceives the subtle visual illusion that the greens and traps are traditionally sized.  It’s not until you’re within striking distance of the greens that the truth hits you.  The bent grass greens are enormous… averaging 8,000 square feet in size.  So, by the way, are the plethora of sand traps that often surround them.  But fear not, this is by far the best resort golf you’ll find anywhere.  The greens roll fast but fair and the traps, while having lots of acreage, are not miles deep.  One noticeable and very positive aspect of the course is the high quality and care of the sand bunkers.  The traps are full of sugar-fine sand; firm and shape holding, but yield perfectly to the blade of a sand wedge.  It’s comforting to know that the 68 individual bunkers are so perfect, most golfers will undoubtedly end up in several during their round.  At The Brute getting onto the green in regulation does not guarantee or even imply a par for the hole.  Because of the enormity of the greens, a dreaded 3-putt or even an ego-crippling 4-putt is not out of the realm of possibility.  Be fearless, be bold, stroke the long putts with confidence and enjoy the ride.

The Brute can be played by a wide variety of skill levels and enjoyed by all.  However you should not expect to walk off the course with any free pars or birdies.  Consistency and smart play, like on most courses, will benefit your score card.  There are several places where cutting the corner on a dog-leg might benefit the second shot’s lie, but generally the wide fairways are the place to be.  The fairways on this day’s outing were beautifully manicured, soft and generously sized.  The rough was even a bit hacker-friendly, deeper than the fairways for sure, but generally leaving the ball with an accessible lie and a manageable “out”.  There is plenty of water on the course with several mid-lake fountains putting out a steady bloom high into the air.  Like water hazards on many courses the lakes and streams here seem to have an oddly magnetic effect on golf balls.  Each of our foursome contributed a ball or two to the water Gods.

Clearly this golf course is challenging.  Playing the 7,085 yards the championship tees, with a slope of 136 and rating of 73.8, will be a test for any golfer.  The regular tees (6,554 yards, 131 slope, and 71.9 rating) make the course a little more manageable for the everyday golfer out there.

In addition to The Brute course, The Grand Geneva Resort is also home to The Highlands course.  The Highlands course is a Scottish style course that was originally designed by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye.  In 1996 and 12006 the course was further enhanced with major renovations to three of the holes.  The championship tees on this course run 6,659 yards with a slope of 125 and a rating of 71.5.

While at The Grand Geneva Resort (800 558-3417l; you have plenty more to do after your rounds of golf are complete.  This is a full service luxury resort with all the comforts you and your entire family would expect.  Spa & salon, fitness center, tennis courts, swimming pools & water park, horseback rides, biking, hiking, and even downhill skiing in winter all await you.  With over 350 guest rooms and 62,000 square feet of meeting space, Grand Geneva is one of the Midwest’s premier meeting and conference centers.  The resort is only an hour or so drive from Milwaukee, Chicago, or Madison, but they even offer an executive airport if you need to fly in for that next round of golf.  The resort offers many “stay and play” packages that allow you to take full advantage of both of these wonderful courses.  If dining is your interest (and who isn’t interested in great meals?) the Resort and its chefs boast 2 high end restaurants; The Geneva Chophouse – an urban steakhouse, and Ristoranté Brissago – a contemporary Italian dining experience.  Ristoranté Brissago is the winner of’s 2011 Diner’s Choice award, and is further rated as one of the top 10 restaurants in Wisconsin.  There are also 2 cafés providing more casual dining and expansive coffee services.  Rounding up the quorum of dining venues are two bar & grill locations, one at the ski mountain and one in the golf clubhouse.

Grand Geneva Resort’s overall amenities, while a bit understated for a venue this great, are truly superior in quality.  The club house has a fine selection of golf clubs, balls, and a wide variety of resort soft goods.  They carry a vast selection of logo golf shirts, vests, and jackets, many on sporty, breathable fabrics.  The Links Bar & Grill restaurant in the clubhouse has windows overlooking the 10th tee and the lake fountains.  We stopped for a post-round meal and were exceedingly pleased with our simple, yet delicious meals.  As golfers make the turn or complete their round, a stop at the club house’s valet station is definitely a must.  There you’ll find a cooler stocked with icy bottled water and also a cooler supplied with chilled and rolled face towels.  Following a hot day on the links, the combination of bottled water and the freshening towels can really be rejuvenating.

Grand Geneva’s Brute course is large, challenging, and can even be a bit intimidating, yes… it’s a brute.  The elegant elevation changes, amazingly scenic holes, and the generous amenities make it both civilized and welcoming.  Our advice for you is: Come to Lake Geneva and challenge The Brute at Grand Geneva on your own terms, you’ll have a great day and walk away feeling like a champion.

Published June 2011

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