KENOSHA, Wis. — Washington Park Golf Course met my two most important criteria for playing a course.
One, there was only one other car in the parking lot. (It was 2:30 on a Monday afternoon and the temperature was a sizzling 95 degrees.)
Two, the first tee was open.
The greatest joy of golf is playing unimpeded. I’ll play any course, no matter how shabby, if I don’t have to wait.
The Washington Park clubhouse, which welcomes golfers to the “Muni.” (Photo: Gary Van Sickle).
And Washington Park wasn’t shabby, it turned out, just delightfully empty. A graying starter pulled up in a cart as I hustled to the clubhouse to pay, which was no small feat after driving nine hours from Pittsburgh. He must have known what I was thinking.
“You’re gonna cruise,” he said with a smile. “There’s nobody out there.”
Beautiful. I signed in, paid my $17.50 non-resident senior rate and went out to experience a nine-hole municipal course operated by Kenosha. I checked the card —no par 5s, two par 3s. A pushover at just 2,831 yards? Maybe not because when I looked at the distant first green, I noticed that No. 1 is a 220-yard, par 3 from an elevated tee. Washington Park had my full attention.
I hit two balls in hopes of getting loose. The ground was baked so firm that both balls careened over the green into a thin stand of trees. I salvaged one par by hammering a 30-foot putt close for a lag par. A country-clubber might have called the greens slow, but they weren’t, they were normal speed for a municipal course and appropriate in this heat. Better still, they were smooth. That’s all I want.
The second and third holes, at 264 and 305 yards, respectively, were drivable par 4s if you hit a straight drive on the hard ground. I didn’t, but they were still fun.
The fourth was only 360 yards, but tree-lined with out-of-bounds down the right side. I hit driver without checking the course map on the back of the scorecard. That was my caddie’s fault. (I didn’t have a caddie.) A hidden stream crossed the fairway at around 220 yards. One drive went to a watery grave and the other, I guess, either bounced over the stream or rolled across a narrow walkway bridge. I wedged close for a birdie with the ball I found, but this was a clever strategy hole and I had ignorantly hit the wrong club off the tee.
My favorite hole was the seventh, a 275-yarder that crossed the same aforementioned creek and curved right. I could see the front left part of the green from the elevated tee, that’s all. Well, why not go for it? I mishit a drive that barely carried the creek, but landed on a large paved cart-path area just past it, which sent the ball screaming onto the back part of the green for an easy two-putt birdie. Attention evil golf architects: Short and easy is more fun than long and unplayably difficult.
Fifty minutes after I teed off, I pulled up to the clubhouse, where the graying starter still sat.
“That was fast,” he said with another smile. “You had enough time, you should’ve played two balls.”
I smiled back. “I did,” I answered.
He laughed. It was a good day of golf and we both knew why.
WASHINGTON PARK GOLF COURSE
Location: Kenosha, Wis.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal.