Kilkarney Hills Golf Course – A Touch Of Ireland In Western Wisconsin

By Tim Cotroneo

If your golf dream budget can’t quite accommodate the dollars needed to fly eight hours to Ireland, there is a wonderfully economic alternative in River Falls, WI. Kilkarney Hills is just a 25-mile trek from St. Paul. The golf course is Pat O’Malley Sr.’s fond tribute to the landscape he viewed while flying over Ireland as a American Airlines pilot back in the 1980s.

“When my dad purchased these 160 acres, he remarked how much the terrain reminded him of Ireland’s rolling hills. The course’s name comes from his combining the south central Irish towns of Kilarney and Kilkenny,” General Manager Pat O’Malley recalled.

If your first word association for Ireland is the color “green,” then you won’t be disappointed upon seeing Kilkarney’s shamrock sign and ultra-lush fairways flanking the rows of maple trees planted on either side of the course’s entrance. The rainfall that nourished the St. Croix Valley in August has September’s Kilkarney looking as emerald green as any time since the course first opened its doors in 1994.

Picture The Patio
If one of your favorite elements of playing golf is rehashing the round while sipping a cold one, take a preview peak of the views from the clubhouse’s wrap-around patio. The western exposure patio view features stadium-like seating that looks out onto the 10th hole and beyond to a Norman Rockwell farm setting backed by the western horizon. One can’t help but make a mental note that this vantage point is something you have to checkout after your much-anticipated 18 holes. “My dad insisted that we place the clubhouse in the middle of the course property. When you look at the views we enjoy today, I guess it’s safe to say he knew what he was doing,” Pat said.

As you pull your golf cart up to the first hole tee box, it’s almost as if you can hear Bing Crosby singing the Irish lullaby “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra” quietly in the distance. Kilkarney’s ultra-green surroundings reinforce what Mr. O’Malley envisioned from the cockpit of his Boeing 727.

If it’s been a few years since you’ve last played Kilkarney, it’s amazing how the course has matured. Young trees are now blooming in all their glory. “The course is definitely more challenging than in the early days,” Pat said.

Scores Can Be Had
Challenging could be the Kilkarney description for golfers who simply bomb away. The Yin to this challenging Yang is that Dr. Gordon Emerson designed a course where you can definitely score low if you take advantage of the numerous holes featuring ample fairways. Emerson’s design philosophy was partial to assisting golfers in savoring their 18-hole experience. Kilkarney’s short grass is there for the golfer who acknowledges the risk reward possibilities.

R&R is plentiful on the hole that many consider Kilkaney’s most demanding. Members have labeled the 580-yard par five 11th hole as “Hell-leven.” With trees and bunkers surrounding the green for your third shot, O’Malley revealed that Kilkarney’s number one handicap hole is one of the toughest in Western Wisconsin.

Another hole that places a premium on strategy is the 262-yard par four 15th. That’s right; this par four is definitely reachable with a well-struck baby fade. Then again, a precise six iron off the tee leaves you with a great chance at birdie on one of Kilkarney’s most scenic holes.

The back nine’s second par 5, the 518-yard number 17, is one in which golfers must calculate the dogleg left, and then carefully measure their shot onto the green. That’s because in front, water buttresses two-thirds of the green.

September’s Special Colors And Special Pricing
Fall is the most spectacular season to play Kilkarney Hills. The orange, red, and golden leaf colors add a beautiful accent to Kilkarney’s emerald green fairways. To celebrate the recent completion of the road construction leading to the golf course, Kilkarney is offering its best deal for 18 holes, with cart included.

“If you bring a foursome to Kilkarney, seniors pay just $20 and everyone else pays $25 on weekdays. On weekends, the price is $29 and that includes a golf cart,” O’Malley said.

After taking in the colors and realizing this might be your last round of the year, head into the clubhouse for an ice-cold, locally brewed Rush River beer. If you like your beer uber fresh, consider that Rush River is brewed right next to Kilkarney’s 6th green. Regardless of your nationality, as you look out on the beautiful scenery from the Kilkarney’s elevated patio with beverage in hand, there’s no way your Irish eyes won’t be smiling.