When Madison’s newest local golf course, which is 95 years old, reopens for play around July 1, it will provide old fans with an experience familiar but with a host of notable improvements.
There will be a name change backed by a cool wooden logo, strong greens with plenty of rolling personality, and creative bonding and forming green oceans that will add fun – or challenge – to approaching shots. There will be room for traditional golf, of course, but also for concerts and movie nights, walkers and cyclists, even yoga, and a sprawling green space near the updated clubhouse for golfers and non-golfers to enjoy for free.
Oh, and there’s a pretty funny golf engineer joke for those who notice. But we will get to that.
Glenway Golf Course, the famous nine-hole moony course that opened in 1927 and has been enjoyed by golfers of all abilities since then, has disappeared. It will be replaced by The Glen Golf Park, which is home to golf as well as a variety of other activities that will also make it a magnet for many people who have never in their lives swing with a sloppy driver.
Thyran Steindel, director of golf operations for the Madison Gardens division, said in a media briefing that in Scotland, ‘golf park’ is used to describe a place that can be used by an entire community, not just golfers – exactly the change that is taking place in the former Glenway.
“The golf park evokes that,” he said.
The venerable Glenway’s “reimagining” came as Madison struggled with what to do about a municipal golf operation that, at least until the Covid-inspired surge of play in the past two years, had been bleeding money and facing a bleak future. As the municipal golf task force that held meeting after meeting and discussed how to salvage the golf operation, or even whether it was the case, Steindl said he was aware that Michael Kaiser, whose father set up the successful Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon and Sand Valley, was in Uber. The Golf Resort in Wisconsin was watching the debate and interested in helping.
What he didn’t know was that Keizer and his wife, Jocelyn, who now lives in Madison, would donate $750,000 to redesign and repurpose the nine long holes to function as a mixed-use park, like in Scotland (at St Andrews Golf Club, for example) and other places in Europe. In essence, they were introducing a completely new concept.
Steindl said Keiser’s interest in helping was one thing.
“The real gift for the golf course,” he said, “was a surprise.”
It wasn’t just about the money (with extras like extra landscaping, the final total was over $750,000, though Keizer declined last year to say how much), it was as amazing as that gift. It was also the friends Keizer brought to the project – the same golf course engineers, garden architects, environmental consultants and others who created the four courses in Sand Valley. There was Craig Haltom of The Olivant Companies, a rising star in golf design circles. Brian Schneider of Renaissance Golf Design, a UW-Madison graduate and patron of famed architect Tom Doak; and Sarah Mays, a former college golfer who also worked with Doak before moving to Wisconsin. Even Doak, who now works on the Lido course in Sand Valley, halted the project one day, and Steindl, who has been on site nearly every day since last summer, is sorry for missing out.
The project also involved a landscape design team to undertake the restoration of prairie and other native grasses to replace traditional ore, along with consulting agronomists and other experts. Keizer said last year that the team borrowed ideas from around the world, including from Sand Valley and St. Andrews, to create a one-of-a-kind design for the former Glenway.
Steindl said The Glen’s new fourth hole was modeled after the 14th hole at the Royal Dornach Scottish Golf Club, a hole the Kaiser has long loved and long wanted to recreate.
Keiser’s gift to the city inspired others to contribute to the project, too. ZEBRADOG, a Madison marketing and branding firm whose owner grew up in the Glenway neighborhood, created the new logo, which features a single pine cone attached to a branch, and suggested changing the name to better define the new, broader mission. The Madison Parks Foundation was also involved, helping to fund additional improvements not part of the original plan.
“Here’s the thing,” Stendl said. “One person opened the door wide for more.”
Last week, Steindl gave Wisconsin.Golf a tour of the new design, which is finally up well after a slow spring and is expected to start playing around July 1.
The giant putting green at the corner of Speedway and elevated Glenway, which will provide something of a natural amphitheater for movie nights and performing arts groups that will be positioned near the ninth green. Food trucks will be available during those events, even as golf continues at non-event holes. In the first abridged season, only three movie nights and three musical events are planned but more could be added in the future.
The course of the course hasn’t changed much, but golfers may be surprised by the changes in and around the greens. Instead of old, miniature-sized roofs, The Glen will boast expansive greens with ample roll. In addition, nearly every hole will have four tee boxes, including the kids’ fairway lawn mowers and the short hitter, so players can choose the level of test they want.
“This course can have some teeth if you want teeth,” Stendl said. “He can be friendly if you want him to be friendly.”
The Par-3’s short sixth slot will likely become the defining slot, he said. The green will be accessed by cliff shooting but is protected by four circled bunkers flanked by two distinct pine trees that require photographing.
The landscape includes more than 28,000 hand-planted natural grass plugs that are just beginning to appear now, and large tracts of lawn must start standing tall before the field opens up for play. While wider aisles in most holes will require more mowing, replacing coarse plantings with careless plantings will reduce labor and input costs.
Plans also call for improvements to the existing mini club, which will make room for a wall of history and retail space for T-shirts, hats and other logo items, which has not happened in the past. The green fee will increase by about $2, although officials said the fee will rise across all Madison cycles to cover inflationary effects on labor and materials. But Steindl said plans also include pricing for a family package that would allow a group of beginners to play four holes, for example, to get a taste of the game.
The program of the cans, which is very unusual for a nine-hole Mooney, is still in the works but not for this short season.
Officials expect there will be some grumbling from veteran golfers who will resent having to share their favorite space with non-golfers, but city parks manager Eric Kneipe said there’s plenty of room for golfers and tree-loving walkers if they work together. Even with other activities, officials said, “95 to 97.5” percent of tee times would still be available.
“Nature and golf come together in my mind,” Knepp said. “They should not be in opposition.”
Oh, about that architect’s joke. The Glen adjoins Madison’s historic Forest Hill Cemetery, where many of the city’s many former movers and shakers enjoy a blessed rest. The eighth par-3 is located just yards from the cemetery fence, which inspired Haltom to add a whimsical change when designing the new green. Added a small cache.
Steindl said he couldn’t resist.
He said: I had to do that. I had to do that.’ He was very giddy about it.”
As it should be. Rest in peace, Glenway. Long live Glen.