Yahara Hills Golf Course gets a new design


The proposed redesign for Madison’s largest public golf course would reduce the number of bunkers, add more forward tee boxes, improve the irrigation system, add more natural areas and build a new maintenance facility.

The $2.5 million redesign for Yahara Hills Golf Course was unveiled as part of a series of public meetings this week. It would reduce the configuration to 18 holes from its current layout of 36 holes, something that was announced last year. The changes come after the city in February sold 232 acres on the course’s east side to Dane County. The county, over the objections of some neighbors, plans to turn 83 acres of the newly acquired property into a landfill, with the remainder being used for open space and a business park.

Yahara Hills

Brock Bolter, a senior at UW-Madison, tees off Monday on the first hole of the West course at Yahara Hills Golf Course. Under a plan by the city, the East and West courses would be merged into one by 2026. 

The city plans to use $5 million from the sale to make improvements to Yahara Hills on the city’s Southeast Side, the 18-hole Odana Hills on the West Side and to the 9-hole Monona Golf Course, which is also owned by the city of Madison.

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The changes to Yahara Hills would not build new greens or fairways but remove existing holes on both the East and West courses to create a single 18-hole course, part of which would be on land leased from the county through 2042.

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Lisa Laschinger, the city’s assistant parks superintendent, said the city is operating under the assumption that they might not be operating 18 holes once the lease runs out.

“That’s also why we’re not doing a significant rebuild. Our investment needs to last at least 20 years. We know that it’s not likely to have to last 50 years so we don’t want to put that kind of resources into it.”

Laschinger was set up Monday in the Yahara Hills clubhouse with a map showing the new configuration of the course and taking feedback from golfers. An online information session is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday via Zoom, with a third session set for 1 to 3 p.m. Friday back in the Yahara Hills clubhouse.

Yahara Master Plan

Under the proposed new design for Yahara Hills Golf Course, 18 of its 36 holes would be removed on both the East and West courses to create a single course.

In 2020, the city’s Task Force on Municipal Golf completed its deliberations with its final report recommending a phased reduction of the city’s golf program from 72 holes to 54 holes. Like the city’s other golf courses, Yahara Hills has seen play dwindle in recent decades despite the sport’s surge in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the course broke even for the first time in two decades, city officials said.

Yahara Hills

Scorecards show the layouts for the current East and West courses at Yahara Hills.

The plan will rebuild some tee boxes but also add a fourth set of tees, each closer to its hole, in an effort to help shorten the course to 4,319 yards for seniors or less experienced golfers. The shortest length for the East course in the current configuration is 5,578 yards, while the West course’s shortest length is 5,523 yards, according to the scorecards. The longest proposed length from the back tees would be 6,869 yards, compared to 6,983 for the East course and 6,885 for the West course.

Golfers react

Lori Bindl Zahorik, who has been golfing at Yahara Hills for 40 years and plays there four times a week, said Monday she welcomes improvements to the course but is against getting rid of 18 holes.

Yahara Hills

A golfer addresses his ball as he prepares to hit a shot at Yahara Hills Golf Course. The city plans to reduce the number of holes to 18 from 36 and make a series of improvements.

“I’m saddened and disappointed,” Bindl Zahorik said in a letter she handed to Laschinger. “It’s a wonderful recreational area to socialize, exercise and enjoy being outside with nature. Given that the city has sold half the course to Dane County for a landfill, it brings the nuisance (pollution, rodents, seagulls, turkey vultures and noise) closer to the remaining 18 hole course for recreation.”

Improvements she would like to see include better drainage, a new parking lot, a new walkway to the clubhouse, remodeled bathrooms and new drinking fountains.

Spencer Cattell, 73, of Monona, has been golfing at the course since 1968 and works three days a week as a starter at the course, which is often full of golfers with few tee times available. The reduction of holes won’t help grow the sport, which bounced back during and after the pandemic, Cattell said.

“For young kids and adults starting, it’s going to be hard to get on a golf course,” said Cattell, who blames politics for the move. “Part of it, I think the county was lazy looking for a landfill and I think the city was lazy because they don’t care if they have a golf course because it’s too much work.”

‘Sustainability campus’

The county has eyed the site for a new landfill because the county-owned Rodefeld Landfill across Highway 12-18 from the golf course is expected to run out of space by 2030. Along with the landfill, which could provide at least 75 years of space, the county has pledged to convert the grounds into a “sustainability campus,” which would feature a composting site and business park.

Yahara Hills

Spencer Cattell mans a shack at the Yahara Hills Golf Course. He works three days a week at the course and has been golfing there since 1968.  

Under the city’s proposed plan, Yahara Hills would remain 36 holes through the end of the 2024 golf season then be reduced to 27 holes for the 2025 season and to 18 holes in 2026. Greens would not be changed on the remaining holes, but there could be less maintenance required for the fairways and paths added through consistently wet areas.

“With the improvements we’re planning, it will be challenging for the experienced golfer who’s looking to drive long distances and make a lot of decisions on how to play the course, and it will be a little more forgiving for the newer players,” Laschinger said. “When we did the task force work, we were looking at tens of millions of dollars of improvements but we know that’s not realistic. We want to make sure we’re investing as wisely as we can.”

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