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Deer John...
Gary Van Sickle
June 10, 2002
My favorite course broke my heart—and then recaptured it
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June 10, 2002

Deer John...

My favorite course broke my heart—and then recaptured it

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I lived in Milwaukee for 12 years and played mostly at Brown Deer, the county's crown jewel and now the site of the Greater Milwaukee Open. When I moved to town in 1977, it cost $3.75 to play Brown Deer on a weekday. Today, at 6,759 yards, the course seems short for a Tour venue, but trust me, 25 years ago it was a 6,668-yard brute. The opening hole was 426 yards, which doesn't sound like much now, but try it with a persimmon driver, a liquid-centered ball and no warmup. (Brown Deer didn't have a practice range until the early '90s.)

Par at Brown Deer was 71, same as now, but it might as well have been 72, because the 10th hole, a 456-yard par-4, was no two-shotter. The 10th doglegged sharply to the right, with a forest of 100-foot-tall trees guarding the corner. There were two ways to reach the green in regulation: Bust a drive 280 yards into the left rough and hit a long iron into a narrow green, or pop up a drive into the right rough and rainbow a six-iron over the trees, a nearly impossible carry. (When the Tour came, the 10th was reconfigured.)

I always thought that the par-5 18th, though, was the course's ultimate test. The hole was 572 yards long, uphill and played into the prevailing wind. If you wanted to hit driver, you had a 215-yard carry over a pond, a good poke when the wind was up. Most golfers laid up, but that was no bargain either. You didn't dare hit a shot of more than 175 yards, and the landing area for a good second shot was a narrow neck of fairway, 130 yards from the subtle, difficult-to-read green.

One September day in 1978, before I had ever broken 80 at Brown Deer, I made the first hole in one of my life, at the 189-yard 11th with a four-iron. By the time I reached the 18th hole, I was only four over and a lock to reach my magic number. I played conservatively off the tee, taking an easy swing with a six-iron—and flew the ball into the pond. I took a drop, then lashed a three-wood into the trees on the right. After playing pinball in the woods trying to hit a series of heroic recovery shots, and a three-putt pity party on the green, I had a 10 and a final score of 80.

I have never been more disheartened after a round of golf. I was so disgusted, I didn't play again at Brown Deer that year. I came back in the spring of '79. Of course I came back. There was no challenge like Brown Deer, and no better way to spend $3.75.

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