Golf by Design: Modern Marvels and Bootstrapped Courses

This is the second installment in a two-part look at the people behind the design of Door County’s 10 golf courses. Part one was published in the Early Summer edition of Door County Living. Read part 1 here>>

Door County’s most prestigious clubs and the nine-hole tracks designed for leisurely family outings have one thing in common: Each was a labor of love for the owners and designers.


Horseshoe Bay Golf Club, part of the private resort south of Egg Harbor, traces its origins to 1922 and the construction of a “Horse Shoe Bay Country Club” clubhouse – but no golf course was built at the time. 

In 1995, descendants of farmer Frank E. Murphy hired former Nicklaus Golf designer and executive Rick Robbins and Brian Lussier. Robbins’ golf designs span from North Carolina to China, and Lussier’s extensive résumé includes The Tribute in Gaylord, Michigan, and the renovation of PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.  

The luxury course opened in 2000 during a worldwide course-construction boom, but construction had a major setback from a tornado that mowed a path through the course in 1998. 

Robbins and Lussier completely redesigned the par-3 fifth hole on the fly after the tornado. Robbins had planned to carve a chute from the tee to the green through a thick stand of pines, but the tornado shredded those pines. 

Lussier said that in addition to the tornado, limestone close to the surface complicated the construction of many parts of the course. However, he said building Horseshoe Bay was one of his most enjoyable experiences because of how well he, Robbins and staff found solutions to create a great course.

The Orchards plays long but forgiving, with wide fairways. Photo by Rachel Lukas.

During the late 1990s, Jack Jackson and partners saw a countywide need for a course with challenges and qualities like those in golf destinations such as northern Michigan and Hilton Head. They solicited designs for The Orchards northeast of Egg Harbor, received fairway routings from three competitors, and chose William Newcomb, a protégé of the famous Pete Dye. 

His plan created a relaxing experience from the front tees and the toughest course in the county from the back tees, based on rating (75.0 on a par of 72) and slope (131) statistics.

“He was familiar with making this type of course playable and enjoyable, getting people through,” Jackson said. “When people are on vacation, you want them to enjoy it and have a good time, so you want to make it player friendly.” 

Sporty Courses North and South

Construction of small lakes jump-started both Deer Run Golf Course and Resort on Washington Island and the par-3 27 Pines course and driving range south of Sturgeon Bay. Leland Thompson opened Deer Run – originally called Maple Grove – during the 1960s. The course had a lot of straight and parallel fairways and did not meet U.S. Golf Association standards.

Legendary LPGA player Nancy Lopez follows through on the 18th fairway at Horseshoe Bay Golf Club during a match with a foursome that included course co-designer Rick Robbins when the track opened for play in 2000. Submitted.

Trudy and Dan Schelitzche bought the property in 1997, refurbished the motel and received guidance from Wisconsin State Golf Association representatives during their do-it-yourself refurbishment work. Digging a pond provided a hazard and a focal point, plus soil for elevated tees. The Schelitzches lengthened holes, built dogleg fairways, installed irrigation and added bunkers. 

“One sand trap is shaped like Detroit Island, and one is shaped like Washington Island,” Trudy said.

In January, Wausau-based developer and restaurant operator Michael Masgay purchased the resort. His plans included hearing golfers’ ideas for improving the course, continuing to rent rooms, sprucing up the clubhouse and adding lawn games and a German beer garden, said Jesse Bartnik, director of operations.

Southeast of Sturgeon Bay, Tom Schmelzer constructed a pond for his beef cattle and then decided to make it the centerpiece of 27 Pines Golf Course instead. 

He’d helped to maintain an Army-base golf course when he was in the service, and he’d read about how to build and care for a par-3 course on rough farmland. Years before the course opened in 2002, he did “stick man–style” drawings of golf holes: lines for fairways, squares for tees, circles for greens.

The result? Schmelzer opened a driving range and a course with creative routing and modern greens that were bigger than those at most par-3 tracks. Two holes border his pond, and orange-hued sand from the sandiest part of his farmland fills large traps.

Stone Hedge

At age 72, John Cole began building something new for Door County on 41 acres east of Egg Harbor: a par-3 executive course. He received help from his sons, who had golf-course and landscape experience, according to a Door County Advocate story that’s framed in the Stone Hedge golf shop. 

After four years of work, the course opened in 1993. Last winter the course’s fourth owners, Kevin and Erin Wehrenberg, took over.

Although Stone Hedge provides chances at good scores for novices, that doesn’t mean pars come easily for skilled players. The greens make for tiny targets and provide plenty of opportunities for better players to work on half shots and short approaches.

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