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Forty years ago, who would have ever thought that Wisconsin, with long, snowy winters and cold springs, would become one of the premier states for destination golf. The answer is simple. Nobody.

But here we are, 2017, and suddenly Wisconsin will have the focus of the entire golf world on it as a huge international audience watches the U. S. Open Championship at picturesque Erin Hills just south of Hartford. It will mark the first time the state has ever hosted a U.S. Open. First round action begins on Thursday, June 15. Practice rounds start June 12.

Erin Hills is just one of three courses that has people talking all around the country about Wisconsin Golf. Other destination courses that rank with the best in the United States are Whistling Straits near Sheboygan and the brand new Sand Valley just south of Wisconsin Rapids.

Certainly the U.S. Open is going to create a lot of buzz nationally. And deservedly so.

But what many golfers and golf fans from around the country don't know is just how big of a hotbed the Lake Country area has been for golf not just now but for many, many years. You name it, private clubs or public layouts, Lake Country can rank with some of the best golf any state can claim in such a small area.

Private courses

Four outstanding private golf clubs call Lake Country home. All have a uniqueness to them,

Perhaps the two best clubs are under the same ownership of Jack Gaudion. He owns and operates both the Legend at Bristlecone in Hartland and the Legend at Brandybrook in Wales.

Bristlecone has seven sets of tees, measuring as long as 7,010 yards from the blacks all the way up to the teal tees at 2,392. The course always is in brilliant condition.

The relatively flat layout offers plenty of danger off tee with more than its share of long fescue grass bordering many of the fairways. Sand traps and waste areas can be found,  and there's plenty of water also to get in the way of errant shots.

Brandybrook is the newest of the four Legend courses, and it just might be the best of them. Cut through former farmland and woods, Brandybrook has some outstanding golf holes that offer wonderful sight lines. There are several big water hazards and the hilly terrain goes up and down, depending on the hole you happen to be playing. Like Bristlecone, Brandybrook can be played as long as 7,006 yards and as short at 2,532.

Chenequa Country Club  is the oldest golf course in the Lake Country. It's 106 years old and opened in 1911. The pristine course has undergone some major hole changes recently that has moved it substantially forward. Holes No. 2 and 3 were totally rebuilt several years ago, and the 18th green was redone late last summer.

While the course does not have much length (6,370 from the back tees), it's difficulty comes from a lot of speedy, tricky, undulating greens that can cause problems for the best of putters.

Oconomowoc Golf Club was 100 years old last summer and boasts another outstanding private layout. Tree lined fairways make driving accuracy a must and some sharply sloped greens can make putting a nightmare depending on pin positions. Many of the fairways bend slightly to the left or right and there's a good combination that plays either sharply uphill or slightly downhill. Speedy greens has always been a calling card at OGC.

Public courses

Not only do the private courses offer some outstanding golf but the Lake Country is loaded with a variety of public layouts that can give a player of any ability a challenge.

There's no question Naga-Waukee War Memorial Golf Course located in the Town of Delafield has been one of the busiest and most successful courses in the state for many years. Just over 30 years ago as many as 50 golfers would wait in line starting at 3 a.m. on weekends just to get a tee time for the following week.

The picturesque 14th hole provides one of the most stunning views in the state. From the back tee box, when the leaves are red, orange, yellow and gold in the fall and the sailboats can be seen on Pewaukee Lake, the scene is as good as it gets.

The busiest golf course in the Lake Country and one of the busiest in southeastern Wisconsin is Ironwood just southeast of Merton. The 27-hole layout has more than 700 weekly league golfers and caters to well over 100 outings each summer.

Western Lakes Golf Club in Pewaukee has been in business about 50 years, and the course always offers good playing conditions and consistent greens. Like Ironwood, Western Lakes caters to many outings.

La Belle Golf Club in Oconomowoc reopened two years ago after being closed for a brief period of time. Once private and known as La Belle Country Club, the course  is constantly being improved and the clubhouse has undergone some major changes.

So don't ever think the Lake Country isn't a wonderful place to live and play golf. Options for all golfers are strong.

Now, it's time to sit back and watch the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. A special place located just a few miles from the Lake Country.

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