TOWN OF MIDDLETON — A round of golf here is a bit out of the norm.
First off, there are no designated tee boxes. Golfers choose their spot. For some it might be 120 yards to the hole, but others may prefer a shorter shot, say from 70 yards out.
The fourth hole has a sand trap in the middle of the green. Over on the the seventh hole there’s a large swale that creates two plateaus of putting surface. And at times, the flag can be planted firmly in the middle of the basin’s bowl.
And instead of nine or 18 holes, this course offers up 13 holes, 12 of which are par 3s. The remaining hole is a par 4.
Pioneer Pointe isn’t designed for the traditional golf experience, but that’s precisely the reason Jeff and Kyle Haen are confident in their $10 million project along Mineral Point Road.
The father and son duo have transformed what had been the 18-hole Tumbledown Trails Golf Club into what is called in golf circles a “short course.” That means it can be played in less time than traditional courses, uses less land and can be a welcoming option for golfers regardless of their age and skill level. A typical $29 round can take between two hours and two hours, 15 minutes.
“This has such variety. What we wanted to do was create a fun course” said Jeff Haen, who developed Hawks Landing. “Times have changed and (people) don’t have four to six hours to be away from family. So this fits right into that.”
The course was seeded this spring and opened for play Sept. 15. The clubhouse, for the remaining few weeks of play this fall, is an open-air affair under a metal-framed pop-up canopy that’s missing its fabric roof. The bar is a cooler filled with bags of ice and bottled water. The pro shop? A banquet table with a box of balls and a clear, plastic jug of tees.
More than golf
But construction on a 13,000-square-foot clubhouse has just begun. It’s scheduled to open this spring next door to West Middleton Elementary School. Once fully developed, the facility will include a second-level outdoor deck, indoor and outdoor bars, two swimming pools, a fitness center, golf simulators and pickleball courts. Good Co., a full restaurant, will also serve up a variety of fare including Sunday brunch and Friday night fish fries. It will be operated by Matthew Stebbins, a co-owner of Nattspil in downtown Madison, Brother’s Three on the city’s East Side and The Ready Set in downtown Oregon.
But the 135-acre Pioneer Pointe development goes beyond golf and dining. The property includes lots for 89 single-family homes, ranging in price from $650,000 to $1.2 million. Of the 67 lots sold, about a dozen are under construction, with the first families scheduled to move in before the end of the year. Each home has its own well but has sewer service from the Madison Metropolitan Sewage District.
“We saw a unique opportunity. It’s essentially a mini Hawks,” said Kyle Haen, 30, whose uncle is Jerry Kelly, a professional golfer from Madison and who has provided input on the course. “To have that residential side, it’s a nice touch because people love being on a golf course for the views. People aren’t really building golf courses anymore.”
High-end courses that draw golfers from around the world, golfers who can spend hundreds of dollars on a single 18-hole round, have helped make Wisconsin one of the best golf destinations in the country. The properties, most of which are void of housing, include Whistling Straits north of Sheboygan, Sand Valley and Mammoth Dunes near Wisconsin Rapids, Erin Hills near Hartford, Black Wolf Run and The Bull at Pinehurst near Kohler, and Sentry World in Stevens Point.
But recreational golf courses have struggled in recent years. Scores were built around the state during the golf boom of the 1990s and 2000s, but interest has waned due to aging golfers, time constraints on younger golfers and an increase in other recreational opportunities. Cherokee Country Club has proposed a $39 million project to redesign its course in the town of Westport in an effort to attract top players, while the city of Madison is spending $750,000 to redesign Glenway Golf Course and make the nine-hole layout more player friendly for all skill levels.
Meanwhile the city is also contemplating how to overcome financial struggles with its four courses that have not shown two consecutive years of profit since 2001-02. One plan would close 18 of the 36 holes at Yahara Hills and have a private company operate the nine-hole Monona Golf Course on Madison’s East Side.
A Haen project
Pioneer Pointe is the newest addition to the Dane County golf scene and comes 20 years after Jeff Haen opened Hawks Landing along Highway M. That 18-hole course is nestled amid 530 acres and includes 1,000 homes, a community pool and dining.
Haen’s grandfather owned large tracts of land in the Madison area and Haen’s father, Tony, was a longtime real estate developer with several projects as Madison grew to the west beginning in the 1980s. Tony Haen died last month at the age of 86, but his son and grandson continue the family development tradition.
In 2018, Jeff and Kyle purchased Tumbledown Trails from the Watts Family Trust, which closed the course that year after opening the course in 1996. The course remained closed in 2019 with construction for the 13-hole course commencing in 2020. Roads for the development were completed this year with the construction of homes beginning in July.
“We’re very fortunate, a little surprised and very happy because we were delayed six months due to COVID,” Jeff Haen said. “We were very concerned with COVID, but surprisingly we lost very few lot sales. We thought people would wait, but it didn’t really happen. (Low) interest rates are off-setting (increased construction costs), so we’re thrilled given where we are.”
Par 3 courses have been around for years, but the Haens say Pioneer Pointe distinguishes itself from most through its high-end design by Lohmann Quinto Golf Course Architects, whose work includes the 18-hole Bishop’s Bay near Middleton and the redesign of the Highlands Course at Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva. In addition, many par three courses are built to complement full-size 18-hole courses. Pioneer Pointe, however, stands on its own and is being maintained by Neil Radatz, who has been the superintendent at Hawks Landing since its opening.
At Pioneer Pointe, golfers are told they will likely use every club in their bag, not just wedges and putters.
“Our goal out here was that you could take any hole out here and put it on a normal golf course and you wouldn’t bat an eye,” Kyle Haen said. “That’s why we think it can stand the test of time. It doesn’t need a couple 18-hole courses to supplement it.”