Tucked away on the very south side of Sturgeon Bay lies Idlewild Golf Course. The setting is beautiful with forests, ponds and wooden bridges. Driving the cart path seems, at times, more like a tour of a state park than a golf course. At one point on my go-round, a beautiful blue heron (which I mistakenly identified as a pterodactyl — it was huge!) glided gracefully across the fairway. There is a large pond that is so lovely I find it hard to call it a “hazard.” With hole names like Cedar Nest and Wild Feathers, it is obvious that nature comes as, well, second nature out here.
Ten of Idlewild’s 18 championship holes have some sort of water hazard so it is not surprising that it is a fully irrigated course. The pond, which helps with the irrigation, is also fully stocked with walleye, trout, northern and other native fish. Fishing is allowed although anglers are encouraged to “catch and release.”
Now that we are done with the nature walk, let’s get down to the business of golf. Idlewild has about 150 members, the majority of which are locals from the Sturgeon Bay and Southern Door areas. There is men’s or women’s league play on any given day or night and also a fantastic junior program.
The junior program was started by Head Professional Randy Meyer and runs every Monday morning for 11 weeks in the summer. Kids ranging from age 7 to 17 have a full hour of instruction after which they hone their new skills playing either 3, 9, or 18 holes. The advanced students can play free all day and all kids in the program receive free range balls as well as golf anytime for five dollars throughout the 11-week classes. At the conclusion of the season there is a picnic with door prizes and trophies. Cost of the program is very reasonable at $125 for the younger set and $150 for the advanced golfers. All children are welcome to join, although Meyer says that most come from the area. And, with all five schools in the Door County vicinity having golf teams, it is a great way for students to get an edge on the competition.
Idlewild was built in 1976 and, at its inception, was called “Lost Creek.” In fact, you can still see that name on a sign today when you drive toward the clubhouse. For the past 14 years a group of owners has kept the course and its facilities up-to-date with only minor adjustments. While the clubhouse remains in the same place as the original, it has been bumped out to make more room in the pro shop and to add the solarium style windows to the restaurant above. Initially called the Waterhole Lounge, the Idlewild Pub and Grill is a cozy little place perched on top of the pro shop and offers terrific 180-degree views of the course and its charming pond.
If, for some reason, you wanted to face the other way, you would find several flat screen TVs and a pool table to keep you busy. The Pub and Grill is open year round and serves sandwiches, broasted chicken, homemade pizzas, salads, wraps and more. Fridays, of course, feature the staple of the north woods, the fish fry.
When I asked Randy Meyer what it was that separated Idlewild from the rest of Door County’s courses, he didn’t hesitate long before confidently saying, “Nature.” On any given day you are likely to see deer wandering across fairways, turtles (some of the oldest up here claims Meyer, given their size) or, if you are really lucky, a glimpse of the family of eagles that keeps steady watch over the fish in the clubhouse pond. Meyer also takes great pride in the fact that Idlewild is a locals’ course. “Most courses up here are dependent on tourism to help get them through the season,” says Randy. “We rely mostly on local business.”
Course yardage is 6,876 from the tips and 5,254 for the ladies with challenging holes and, it bears mentioning again, lots of water. The first hole is an uneventful par 4 which gives the golfer a chance to get off to a good start. Although number five is officially ranked the toughest hole, course employee (and son of general manager Rick Gigot) Colton Gigot says his personal nemesis is number 12. Both are long par 4s, both can land you in the water (surprise!), and both have large, healthy maple trees that stand between you and the green.
Tournaments are part of the summer schedule and Gigot says they can average one per week during their season. The Jeff DeJardin, for example, is held every spring and proceeds go to a scholarship fund benefiting Door County League Baseball players. With more than 200 entrants it is Idlewild’s biggest tournament. Tournaments of all sizes come to Idlewild, though, including the Hainesville Lutheran Church Tournament, with 30 golfers, and another tournament benefiting the Wisconsin Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Many courses in Door County are expertly manicured and professionally landscaped throughout. Superintendent Jo Allsup’s approach, however, is much less formal and offers an equally pleasant experience. (Maybe it just takes a woman’s touch!) Native plants and grasses growing in meadows act as natural barriers and hazards along the course. Queen Anne’s Lace abounds and the whole course, as far as I can tell, is “Phragmite Phree!” Likewise, Idlewild’s overall philosophy falls in sync with their relaxed setting – pleasant people, delicious food and great golf combine for a delightful experience.