Aptly named as the University of Wisconsin Golf Course, University Ridge is consistently considered one of the state’s best courses. Having hosted many fine state championships as well as multiple Men’s and Women’s Big Ten Championships, U Ridge is a tremendous test from any of the five tee boxes.
The front nine is more of a prairie style with a few trees coming into play and the back nine weaves through a heavily wooded area requiring precision with your tee and approach shots. As we are getting used to in Wisconsin, the Ridge boasts immaculate Bentgrass fairways and newly opened 007 Creeping Bentgrass Greens to improve consistency and performance for the future. One of the most defined golf courses I have seen, it is obvious where you can and cannot hit the golf ball here.
The opening nine has a unique 3-3-3 layout with 3 Par 3’s, 3 Par 4’s and 3 Par 5’s giving you ample opportunities for scoring as long as the challenging Par 3’s do not get you . The Par 5, 2nd hole gives you multiple choices on both, your tee shot and approach / lay-up, depending on the wind direction. The tee shot requires a carry of about 220 yards which on most days is not a scare but with a 20 mile per hour wind in the face, a slight mishit may not make it. If you navigate the tee shot successfully, a decision to go for a very well protected green, layup on an aggressive line to the left or out to the right awaits you. A huge oak tree protects the front, left side of the green, a ravine catches shots that come up short and a bunker deep makes getting up and down tough on a green sloping away from you. Par was an excellent score for us that day and I think is a good score most days.
The Par 3, 8th hole and Par 5, 9th hole are a great variety in the closing stretch. The 8th is a severely downhill mid-length Par 3 that on many days would be a simple 8 or 9 iron, but with a creek short of the green and the wind howling a 4 iron was no bargain. Only one of our four balls made the green and the average of 4.5 ended up being one of the toughest holes for us on the day. Playing a downwind Par 5 to finish the nine was a welcome relief. Until of course we noticed the approach shot to this elevated green, even a wedge shot of 75 yards was daunting. A great match play hole if you had the length to go for it in two.
After the turn it was obvious we would be facing a slightly different and tree lined challenge. Holes 10 – 14 demand accuracy from tee to green and around the greens to walk away with Par or better, no gimme holes here. The fun really begins at 15, a slightly downhill, sharp dogleg right, risk vs. reward hole. At just over 300 yards, a simple 180 yard layup leaves a wedge but must be placed down the left side to clear the trees on the right. While unable to reach the green we mostly chose to try to cut driver around the corner and with only one successful attempt, only a 50 yard pitch shot remained, advantage gained. With the shot down hill and the green sloped from back to front you needed to take it in low or a perfect Steve Stricker dead hand wedge to get it close. Then you reach the 16th tee and the most fun hole on the golf course. The Par 5 presents two options off the tee, play safe to the left or try to blast it over the trees between you and the green and hope you get a good lie in the fairway or rough, if you carry it long enough. If you make it you have to then go for the green, because why else would you risk it? An uphill shot to a very wide green that is protected by a large tree short, middle, a huge slope short and what seems like acres of bunkers if you do not carry it long enough. If I hadn’t mentioned it yet, the rough was consistently thick throughout so missing the green in two would not leave an easy up and in for birdie. I felt a wave of confidence after making a long birdie putt on 16 only to see it leave my body quickly on the next tee box. A Par 3 of 192 yards with nothing but water staring at you all the way to the front of the green. A beautiful hole if you just closed your match out on 16, but a make it or break it hole if you are still competing. Luckily my poorly struck 4 iron found dry land right of the green, I was thrilled with a chance at Par or the likely Bogey.
It is easy to see why University Ridge (U Ridge or The Ridge as we heard it called), is widely regarded as one of the best in not just Madison but the entire state. The beauty of an Audubon Sanctuary Cooperative paired with a challenging, but fair, Robert Trent Jones Jr. design have clearly established The Ridge as a top facility in all of the Big Ten. This is a must play for any golf trip to Southern Wisconsin.
To learn more visit www.universityridge.com.