Some Milwaukee things come and go, while some Milwaukee things become iconic. Mandatory Milwaukee is all about the latter. This week: Milwaukee County Golf!
Before I begin, let me be clear: this is not an attempt to convince you to start golfing. Neither is this an attempt to get you to even like golf. What it is is a celebration of how only a county like Milwaukee County could take all of the normalities of golf and flip them on their head. It is a love letter to a vast golf course system that is affordable, inclusive, challenging, and beautiful.
My interest in golf was piqued during the COVID-19 pandemic, when I was dying to get outside and do something to prevent my brain from exploding. I had played golf in high school because my mom said I had to join a club or a team so I wouldn’t sit at home and play video games all day. My first day at golf practice was my second time ever holding a gold club. The following year I didn’t get any better at golf, but my kill/death ratio in Call Of Duty ranked among the high school’s most elite. I didn’t get good at golf, but I did make a lot of friends.
In Milwaukee, I again found others like me who were looking to do something other than sit at home and follow the news. I was always surprised at who was interested in joining. These were people I knew from music, from skateboarding, from partying—not your typical sunglasses-upside-down-on-the-back-of-your-Titleist-hat bros. (I’ve met many of these folks who are real sweeties. All respect to the family.).
With that said, my adventures with the 13-course Milwaukee County Golf system have introduced me to folks from many walks of life who aren’t your typical rich white guys. Where I grew up, and in the places I’ve visited and played, it’s more common than not to be paired with cigar smoking, IPA crushing golf tech bros. But that’s so rarely the case in Milwaukee County. I have always felt warm and welcome in my jeans and T-shirt.
Here are a few of my favorite sightings and pairings that I’ve had the privilege of encountering within the last five years or so:
1. Stan the Birdie Man
This is an older gentleman who can be found at the putting/chipping green at Lincoln Park Golf Course. One day, as I made my way to the first tee box, I saw that Stan was down there waiting for me. I introduced myself and gave him my name. When I asked for his, he responded with a smile and said, “They call me Stan the Birdie Man.” Of course I asked how he got that name. Smiling again, he assured me that I’d find out. Sure enough, he birdied the par 3 4th with a 20-foot putt. When I go to Lincoln now, if Stan is on the practice green, I always yell, “Stan the Birdie Man!” to which he smiles and gives a big wave.
2. Tom the Construction Worker
My friend JD and I had the pleasure of being paired with a jolly giant one day at Lincoln. Tom, who had just gotten off work at the construction site, was a towering 6’4″ (6’6″ in the untied Timberland work boots he was golfing in). For reasons I’ll let you gather on your own, Tom could not drive his car at the moment. Instead, he put his golf clubs on his back and took his moped to Lincoln. Tom was a sweet guy and had many stories to share with us. He was not graceful on the putting green, but his drives and approach shots were smooth as butter.
3. Kilt Man 1
Just a guy in a kilt golfing on a beautiful Sunday at Grant Park. That’s all.
4. Kilt Men 2-5
Kilt men 2-5 are my latest examples of beautiful Milwaukee County golfers. Not only did they have kilts on, but each of them was dressed as one of the Milwaukee Brewers Famous Racing Sausages—numbers and all. What a foursome. Which sausage had the best round?
5. Older Gentleman with Socks
This fella and his wife were out one day for nine holes at Lincoln. I was out with my girlfriend. Neither my girlfriend nor this guy’s wife were golfers—they were just enjoying riding around in a little car and drinking beer. I was surprised to see that this guy was teeing off wearing nothing on his feet but some loose-fitting white socks. I would have fixated on that for longer, but his golf game commanded more attention. Don’t knock it till you try it, they say.
Now that we’ve proven that Milwaukee County Golf is the exception to the formal golf attire rule, let’s quickly address how affordable it is. On weekday evenings you can purchase an “evening bundle,” which includes nine holes, a sleeve of golf balls, and one free beer for around $20. The bundle was unfortunately changed from two free beers to one free beer a few years ago. I am sure that other Milwaukeeans were getting the most of this deal, just as I was.
And finally, let’s take a quick moment to examine all of the unique golf-related experiences you can treasure right here in Milwaukee County:
1. You can slam your wedge into the ground after chipping the ball across the green at Brown Deer Park Golf Course—the same course where Tiger Woods made his professional debut. His scorecard from that round was just auctioned off for over $100,000. Upon reviewing the scores, Tiger bogeyed the par 3 5th. On MY last round at Brown Deer, I got a par. What a chump.
2. If you haven’t had a chance to golf at the notorious “Stinkin’ Lincoln,” I encourage you—no, I CHALLENGE you to do so. Show me you can hit the green in 2 on hole 5 while dodging turkeys in the fairway. Try to hit the green on the par 3 6th with the humming of semi trucks on Interstate 43 a mere 50 yards away from the tee box. Try to hit the green in regulation on the par 4 2nd. (No distractions or anything—it’s just really hard to par that hole.) I don’t care about your handicap on whatever Mequon course you’re playing—come and really test your skills at Milwaukee’s own Stinkin’ Lincoln.
3. There are few things I love more than a crisp fall morning at Whitnall Park or Dretzka Park as the leaves are changing. The hills and the foliage make finding your ball in the woods much more peaceful. Even if you don’t golf—or ESPECIALLY if you don’t golf—you should explore these parks. Go for a bike ride. Take a stroll. Go fishing. Have a laugh as golfers like me throw their 5 iron farther down the fairway than their ball.
4. With the green backdropped by beautiful Lake Michigan, I would argue there’s not a more picturesque hole in Milwaukee than number 9 at Warnimont. After your round, resist the urge to fire a golf ball into the vast Michigan Ocean. Unless you know a marine biologist.
I have had the privilege of living and golfing in other places, and so I am again amazed at how Milwaukee County has managed to turn my golf expectations on their head. Where I grew up in Western Maryland, the self-proclaimed course of the people (Frederick Golf Club) closed a few years ago to make way for more luxury homes. Milwaukee’s forefathers made a concerted effort to create green spaces in our city. And although it seems Milwaukee is at no loss for new luxury homes, it’s comforting to know that these green spaces will (hopefully) not be so quick to disappear.
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