Buckets and Mops

Ruminations and revelations on the grand old double plateau

Here’s a dirty secret: It’s the landscape, not necessarily the design, that makes some of golf’s most memorable holes. The 16th at Cypress Point, the eighth at Pebble Beach and the 17th at Cabot Cliffs are all examples of holes where greatness is defined more by location than by architectural features.

Milwaukee will certainly never be confused for those locales. So Seth Raynor had to use skill, imagination and precise execution to create something special when he designed Blue Mound Golf & Country Club in 1916. From the tee, the second hole at Blue Mound looks like your run-of-the-mill, flat, 415-yard par 4. But look again. I happen to think it showcases one of the finest examples of a double-plateau green in the world.

The double-plateau green was brought to American golf by C.B. Macdonald, who implemented the idea at nearly all of his designs. It was adopted and routinely used by his protégés, Raynor and Charles Banks. Double plateaus have a few defining characteristics: Typically, they are some of the largest in golf, and their severe and distinguishing slopes divide the green into three pinnable plateaus that act as mini greens. Each has a tier that lies at ground level, while the other two plateaus sit at differing heights. The green is typically guarded by a few trench bunkers, which are treacherously deep because of the green’s raised areas. 

Now let’s go to No. 2 at Blue Mound. To add a layer of deception, Raynor used a subtle mound on the right side of the fairway, partially obstructing the view of the green from the tee. After walking about 150 yards, players get their first look at the green, with its massive scale and jaw-dropping undulations. He clearly chose to focus his manpower and earth moving on the green complex rather than on fairway bunkers or fairway undulation.

The green measures nearly 9,000 square feet and the sharp, dividing undulations create three unique pinnable plateaus: a front-right portion that is equal to ground level, a front-left portion built up about 2 feet and a back-right portion sitting about 3 feet higher. It is guarded by bunkers that are nearly 5 feet deep. Hands who find the proper plateau are rewarded with flat putts. Best of luck to those who don’t.

As with all double plateaus, the day’s pin location will dictate strategy right from the tee box. The one constant is the importance of finding the fairway. But pin placement will force you to make some difficult choices.

At Blue Mound No. 2, the friendliest pin placement—the front-right plateau—lets you go down the right side of the fairway with a shorter shot to set up an unobstructed angle to the target. A pin on the front-left plateau demands a long drive down the left side of the fairway to set up as short of an approach as possible. That plateau is small, easily repels longer shots and also brings spin control into the equation with its subtle false front. The toughest pin location is the back-right plateau, where the pin seemingly floats on a miniscule target guarded by those deep bunkers on either side. The ideal drive is long and up the right side. The second shot is simple: Hit a great shot or have your work cut out to make par.

While the ocean isn’t lapping up onto craggy cliffs here, Raynor’s creativity gives golfers a memorable array of strategic options that can change every day. He turned what could have been a forgettable, straight-forward par 4 into one of the great holes in the Midwest. 

Andy Johnson is a Chicago-based golf writer and competitive amateur golfer. His website and newsletter, “The Fried Egg,” provides detailed coverage on golf course architecture, golf courses, professional golf and amateur golf.