WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. - Despite the natural beauty of the Wisconsin Dells area, golf didn't play much of a role in the outdoor recreation scene until 1991, when Trappers Turn Golf Club opened. Trappers Turn offers 27 meticulously groomed holes of golf designed by Andy North and Roger Packard.
Later, the golf course was bought by Kalahari Resort, and a state-of-the-art clubhouse was opened in 2008, along with the Kalahari Golf Academy. The practice facilities are excellent, and The Mystic restaurant in the clubhouse is one of the better dining experiences in The Dells.
The varied topography of The Dells makes for a lovely pastiche of golf holes, with about one-third of them being linksy, one-third water-lined and one-third heavily wooded. The three nines - the Canyon, Lake and Arbor - can be played in any combination. Whichever you choose, yardages will be just under 7,000 from the tips and around 6,500 from the blues.
Although these yardages sound respectable, Trappers Turn Golf Club places an enormous premium on accuracy. So much so, in fact, that if you are having trouble hitting it in the short grass off the tee, you may just remember your round for the number of lost balls rather than the idyllic scenery and immaculate conditioning.
Trappers Turn is one of those "resort" golf courses that plays more like a local or private course. Despite being associated with the Kalahari Resort, it's a big favorite with local golfers, who have learned - through trial and error - where the plethora of hidden hazards lie.
Golfers beginning on Trappers Turn's Canyon Course or the Lake Course will be greeted by opening tee shots that border on unfair, at least as far as starting holes on "resort" courses go.
On the Canyon Course at Trappers Turn, the 446-yard first hole snakes down from the elevated tees from right to left, with only a sliver of fairway visible. A creek runs along the left side and is completely hidden by trees, so if your ball does go in, you have no clue where. Dense woods encroach on both left and right as well, so even apparently good drives that are only a few yards off line are often swallowed up.
On the Lake Course, the first hole measures 435 yards from the back tees. Your drive must first carry more than 50 yards of water, and then find dry land between the lake on the right of the fairway and a stone wall left.
These opening holes are certainly picturesque and memorable, but are not at all conducive to getting players out onto the course in a timely manner. A foursome of mid-handicappers could easily send eight balls to their doom before deciding to just move on.
Interestingly, the second holes on both the Canyon and Lake courses are completely different from the first holes: Both are wide open and grassy, but will be little consolation if you've just carded a quad on number one.
Happily, the ninth holes on the Canyon and Lake courses are well worth any struggles you may have encountered earlier in the round.
The 549-yard ninth on the Canyon has a fairway like one of the roller coasters in the Mt. Olympus theme park. A burbling brook crosses the fairway at about 350 yards out from the tees, and the verdant fairway meanders through a corridor of majestic hardwoods.
The 534-yard ninth on the Lake is an outstanding risk-reward hole, daring you to take your drive over as much water as you can. The creek running in front of the green is as lovely as it is devilish.
The 217-yard seventh hole on Trappers Turn's Arbor Course sort of epitomizes the club: a challenging tee shot over water and a flower-bedecked wooden bridge leading up to the pristine putting surface. Like the course as a whole, it will make you work, but it rewards you with beauty.
The verdict on Trappers Turn Golf Club
If you're looking for a picturesque quilt of well-kept holes and don't mind being forced at times to hit to some very specific landing areas, Trappers Turn offers a memorable nine, 18 or 27 holes.
The landscaping and conditioning are superb, and the putting surfaces are smooth and true. Greens on the Canyon and Lake courses are smaller and more undulating than on the Arbor Course, but the Arbor's are a bit faster.
Rates for 18 holes are perhaps a bit high for the location ($84-$94), but do include unlimited use of the range and GPS-equipped golf cart. (The GPS, however, was a bit annoying, switching after every hole to notes, ads, etc.)
Accuracy is at a huge premium here, as well as course knowledge. If you're only going to get one round in while visiting The Dells, some other, more straightforward tracks might be better than Trappers Turn. But if you're going to play several rounds, perhaps as part of the Kalahari's excellent stay-and-play packages, the lovely scenery will quickly turn Trappers Turn Golf Club into a favorite.