Big Fish Golf Club – The Big Catch
By E. Nolan
Legendary golf course architect, Pete Dye, did plenty of great work in Wisconsin – leaving the public golfer a legacy collection worth researching, playing and then revisiting (over and over again). Dye’s northernmost project in Wisconsin sits near the popular, multi-lake getaway of Hayward – at Big Fish Golf Club (currently ranked 14th on Golfweek’s “Best in State” list). The existence of a top-tier golf course in Hayward is critical information to the thousands of local and long-distance vacation planners (men and women) looking for both a little luxury and a little leisure in their visit to “The Brainerd of Badgerland” – or what locals simply call “The Golf Capital of Wisconsin.”
“Big Fish is the premier golf course in one of Wisconsin’s most-visited family vacation destinations,” General Manager Indy Thompson says (a fellow Hospitality Management graduate from UW-Stout). He knows what he has, and why people come from all over to play it. He’s as thrilled to be there as his daily guests are. The Pete Dye pedigree helps, of course, but it’s not really something the regulars consider a necessary point of emphasis. “Many of the golfers who come out here to play don’t know anything about the architect, and don’t really care,” one member says. “They’re far more concerned with the incredible conditioning, the scenic beauty scattered throughout the course, and the combination of fun and challenge the course presents.”
True to those words, you’ll witness players of all ages and skill levels exploring the course. The front nine is links-style – open and fast, with plenty of fescue and mounding but no trees. The back nine ducks into the woods with narrower fairway corridors, more elevation changes and my favorite hole on the course at the 3-par 16th. All told, Big Fish is a dramatic and diverse 7,231 yards of golf from the tips, with four other yardage options (down to 4,940 from the forward tees) for players of various handicaps to select from.
Most golfers find that the front side plays tougher than the back, largely due to the exposure to the wind and firmness of the turf. Pete Dye’s signature pot bunkers are present throughout and perfectly penalizing to errant shots. On the other hand, beyond the bunkers and a bit of water, beginners love the relative lack of trouble on the front and freedom to swing away. It seems, from an architectural standpoint at least, that Big Fish possesses a certain “happy medium” for all players. I, personally, love how remote it feels while still being so close to all the Hayward action, and enjoy the fact it feels like I’m playing TWO different golf courses in ONE round. I can’t think of another place in America where Pete Dye replicated that feat.
“We get plenty of golf groups that come to play,” Mr. Thompson says, and we can cater to them with ease. Our practice facility includes a full driving range, practice bunkers, a chipping green and a large putting area that mimics the speeds and conditions found on the course.” The Mulligan’s Pub restaurant between the 9th green and 10th tee can feed a few or a frenzy with an assortment of food and space for 30. “Plus, we have a great wedding and event area,” Mr. Thompson adds. “We’ll take care of you, whatever you’re coming here for!”
Big Fish is less than 150 miles from the Twin Cities, no matter which road you take. And at only 80 miles from Duluth, 100 miles from Eau Claire and just 75 miles south of the famous Apostle Islands National Lakeshore it can serve as a day trip, weekend getaway or a detour on a bigger Midwest trip with ease. If you’ve never been to these northern Wisconsin lakes, I recommend you stay a while if you can and Big Fish meets your needs there, too.
Every year the Stay & Play packages seem to get more attractive, and this year Big Fish has partnered up with FIVE different hosts in the area, from the Blue Musky (basically next door) to the Sevenwinds Casino just down the street, the Treeland Resort’s six vacation homes, The Landing cabins and campground on the Chippewa Flowage, and the Grand Pines Resort with their 20 cabins and 10 motel rooms. Each host offers different lake, river and family amenities to different crowds – determine what you’re looking for, and one of those five is bound to be a match. There are different deals and steals based on how much you want to stay and how long you want to play. Bottom line: You know where you’re playing, just figure out where you’re staying!