My golf adventures here in the midwest have recently exposed me to the work of another Golden Age architect – C.H. Alison. Prior to the past month, I had only played one other course credited to the design partnership of Colt & Alison, and that course had been meaningfully altered. In playing Milwaukee Country Club and Orchard Lake Country Club, my eyes were opened to just how skilled Mr. Alison was at creating golf courses that are at once demanding and beautiful.
Charles Hugh Alison was a protege and partner of the great Harry Colt. He worked on projects with Colt in England, and then set off to head the firm’s U.S. office. According to Adam Lawrence’s profile in Golf Architecture magazine, Alison spent nine years in America, and designed more than 20 courses. He is known for his routings, and large, deep bunkers that he used to test players’ mettle.
That reputation held up in my experiences at MCC and OLCC. However, I would also point out that Alison’s bold bunkering is nicely complemented by the subtlety of his greens. A player who can successfully navigate the hazards to find the green is often rewarded with a straightforward, makable putt. That kind of balanced restraint is sometimes missing in modern architecture where holes that are wild tee-to-green conclude with wildly undulating greens. Alison seems to have known a round of golf is more enjoyable if the difficulty ebbs and flows.
Photos with light commentary are below. My conclusion is this: Based on visits to these outstanding courses, Alison’s other greats such as Bob O’Link, Kirtland, and Country Club of Detroit have risen to the top of my wish list.
(click on images to enlarge)
MILWAUKEE COUNTRY CLUB
Milwaukee Country Club plays over a beautiful piece of ground adjacent to the Milwaukee River. The holes meander up, down, and around a ridge, as well as skipping across the river. The four one-shotters play in different directions to take advantage of the wind. Simply put, Milwaukee CC is a routing masterpiece.
The course’s signature bunkers have to be seen to be believed. They are straight out of the Melbourne sandbelt with deep flat bottoms, and massively high faces. MCC is also a standard bearer for artful grass lines – I have never seen better. Collaborating with Renaissance Golf, Superintendent Patrick Sisk and his team continue to polish this gem through the detail work that separates the good from the world class.
#1 – Par 4 – 434 yards
The opener sets the tone for the round at Milwaukee CC, playing dramatically downhill. It is a slight dogleg right flanked by the signature Alison bunkers.
#2 – Par 4 – 425 yards
The second is a sharper dogleg right played to an elevated green. As a part of the renovation work, fairways have been extended and bunkers moved to place a premium on choosing lines of play.
#3 – Par 5 – 493 yards
The five-pars at Milwaukee CC might not be longest, but they are demanding on the player’s strategic thinking, and ability to execute. The third is a double dogleg that exemplifies Alison’s strategic design principles.
#4 – Par 3 – 181 yards
The uphill fourth is fronted by a large bunker left and has a green with significant slope. Unfortunately, not only is the hole tough, but it foiled my attempts to take a decent picture.
#5 – Par 4 – 433 yards
The fifth plays up over a hill to a blind landing area. The approach plays downhill to an elevated green set an angle to the fairway.
#6 – Par 4 – 409
The uphill sixth requires the player to avoid the left bunker which juts well into the fairway. The green sits atop the hill making depth perception tricky.
#7 – Par 5 – 481 yards
The beautiful downhill seventh leaves plenty of room to play from the tee, but tee shots must challenge the bunker right to have the best angle into a green surrounded by bunkers set at distances that create the potential for awkward recoveries.
#8 – Par 3 – 174 yards
My pictures do not do justice to the scale of the bunkering surrounding the green at the par-3 eighth. Standing on the tee staring down those monsters is a knee-knocking affair.
#9 – Par 4 – 325 yards
The short par-4 ninth plays back to the clubhouse over a valley to a wild fairway. It tempts longer hitters to have a go at a heroic drive.
#10 – Par 5 – 484 yards
Simply one of the most elegantly beautiful holes I have ever played, the tenth has benefited from tree removal that has returned scale, and opened up vistas in the river valley. Both the tee shot and the approach on this reachable par-5 have to fight against the slope running away from right to left.
#11 – Par 4 – 375 yards
The first of the river holes, the eleventh gives the player options to lay up short or take on the bunkers at the inside of the dogleg left. The green features a false front the magnitude of which I have never seen before on a push-up.
#12 – Par 3 – 182 yards
The twelfth plays over the river to a green beautifully set on the bank with bunkers guarding every side. The green is canted and subtly contoured to foil birdie attempts.
#13 – Par 4 – 388 yards
The thirteenth is a dogleg right playing around a large bunker complex to an elevated green surrounded by more gloriously bold bunkering.
#14 – Par 4 – 411 yards
The fourteenth is a slight dogleg right, with the tee shot played over the river. The green has been relocated, and is guarded by a bunker front left.
#15 – Par 5 – 585 yards
A large left-center bunker complex guards the fairway on the tee shot of the par-5 fifteenth. Bunkers short left and front right make the player think strategically about how to approach the elevated green.
#16 – Par 4 – 452 yards
The long and straight par-4 sixteenth plays up over a hill and then down to a green guarded front right by a deep bunker. This hole requires two well struck shots to have any chance at a green in regulation.
#17 – Par 3 – 196 yards
The seventeenth is an uphill reverse redan with plenty of room to run a left-to-right shot onto the large, front-to-back sloping green.
#18 – Par 4 – 426 yards
The home hole is a solid two-shotter with a blind, uphill drive. Cresting the hill not only provides the player with the thrill of discovering the fate of their tee ball, but it also reveals the phenomenal setting of the final green, with the classic clubhouse behind. One of my favorite finishes in all of golf.
For more on Milwaukee Country Club:
- Ran Morrissett’s course profile on Golf Club Atlas
- Billy Satterfield’s course review on Golf Course Gurus
- The Itinerant Golfer’s tour on Golf Tripper
- See the Scorecard here
ORCHARD LAKE COUNTRY CLUB
Milwaukee Country Club blew my mind, but Orchard Lake captured my heart. Some courses just look right in a way that stirs the spirit, and for me, OLCC is one of those courses. The course is routed over wonderfully rolling land, and it works its way up and down hills in a manner that provides both moments of serene seclusion and thrilling vista reveals.
I don’t have the reference point of seeing the course before the renovation work done by Keith Foster, but it is easy to see why the work has been so well received. The bunker design and treatment is artfully rugged. The tree management is among the best I have ever seen, and the fescue throughout is gorgeous. With loving care from Superintendent Aaron McMaster and his team, the course is an immaculate joy to play and a visual treat of contour and color contrast.
#1 – Par 4 – 381 yards
The opener is a slight dogleg left that plays uphill to a green perched on one of the high points of the north section of the property. It gives an indication of the movement of the land to come.
#2 – Par 5 – 471 yards
The second features a challenge that Alison likes to throw at players on the tee – angles that are just enough to make confident line selection and alignment maddeningly difficult.
#3 – Par 3 – 175 yards
The third has redan qualities, playing over a valley to a large green that runs from high front-right to lower back-left, with large bunkers guarding the left.
#4 – Par 4 – 352 yards
The fourth is the first of three consecutive par-4s with more of a parkland feel. It plays as a slight dogleg left to a canted green guarded on both sides by bunkers.
#5 – Par 4 – 395 yards
The fifth plays straightaway down to a large green featuring subtle internal contouring that makes holing putts a real challenge for newbies.
#6 – Par 4 – 380 yards
The sixth turns back and again doglegs slightly left to an elevated green guarded by a deep bunker front-right. Placement of the tee ball is at a premium to gain the best possible angle into the green.
#7 – Par 3 – 207 yards
The seventh is a wonderful long par-3 playing up to a green guarded by a very deep bunker left, with views of clubhouse beyond.
#8 – Par 4 – 380 yards
My favorite hole on the front nine, the eighth is a roller coaster ride of a par-4 playing over heaving fairway to an infinity green benched into a hillside.
#9 – Par 4 – 442 yards
The ninth is a tough par-4 dogleg right that finishes in a sea of bunkers in the shadow of the clubhouse.
#10 – Par 4 – 371 yards
As we finished the outstanding front nine and walked over the road to begin the back, our host commented that he thought the inward nine was better. At that moment, I couldn’t imagine how that could be possible – 9 holes later, I knew what he meant.
The tenth plays up over a hill and slightly doglegs right. It features a canted green that is one of the coolest on the entire course, in both its shape and contours.
#11 – Par 4 – 440 yards
The eleventh is a stout par-4 calling for a drive to a landing area that can’t been seen from the tee. It doglegs right down to an elevated green guarded by a lone, deep bunker right.
#12 – Par 5 – 520 yards
The par-5 twelfth plays along the edge of the property and turns left, with a green set serenely in a wooded corner.
#13 – Par 3 – 170 yards
The thirteenth plays over a deep valley to a green guarded by bunkers left and a steep drop-off right. The tee shot has a pulse quickening do-or-die feel to it that makes it a thrill to play.
#14 – Par 5 – 498 yards
The fourteenth demands that the tee shot navigate several large fairway bunkers and then plays straightaway down to a green surrounded by more bunkers, with a lovely fescue-covered hill behind.
#15 – Par 4 – 420 yards
The final hole in the south section of the property, the fifteenth is a straight two-shotter playing over terrain where level lies are next to impossible to find.
#16 – Par 3 – 145 yards
The short sixteenth is the final of Orchard Lake’s outstanding one-shotters. The green is set beautifully in a valley with bunkers on all sides.
#17 – Par 4 – 367 yards
The seventeenth is a dramatic par-4 playing uphill between nasty but beautiful fairway bunkers. The approach plays over a valley to a green set at the highest point on the property.
#18 – Par 4 – 361 yards
The home hole plays down a severely sloped fairway and then back up to one last thrilling green setting, with the classy white clubhouse behind. One final reminder of just how beautifully Alison’s routing makes use of the land.
For more on Orchard Lake Country Club:
Many thanks to my gracious hosts at Milwaukee CC and Orchard Lake CC. They are proud of their special golf courses, and for good reason. I am grateful to have had these incredible experiences, and to have discovered the work of C.H. Alison. Yet another architect from the Golden Age whose work is a gift to golf geeks.