Situated beside the Foxwoods Resort Casino, near North Stonington, the North course at Rees Jones’s upmarket 36-hole Lake of Isles golf facility is the public one that all golfers can play, albeit for a significant green fee.
Measuring a little bit shorter than the South course, the North is actually rated a tougher track than its twin sibling. Both layouts are routed around a central 90-acre lake with fairways weaving around a number of wetland areas.
Strongest holes on the North’s big layout include the doglegged par fours at the 6th and 9th while, on the more undulating back nine, the testing 574-yard 15th and 459-yard 18th holes ensure a grandstand end to the round.
My golf journey began as a teenager in Connecticut. With wonderful junior golf events sponsored by the CSGA, and affordable rates provided for students, I was very fortunate to play some of the state’s best courses. The North Course at Lake of Isles (LOI) certainly falls in the top echelon of public golf in the Nutmeg State.
Situated at the Foxwoods Resort in the southeastern portion of the state, both LOI courses were carved out of dense forests, a massive lake, and lush swamplands. If you enjoy the feeling of being completely “lost” in the wilderness when playing golf, then this is absolutely your type of course. You will be hard pressed to find more beautiful foliage on a golf course in Connecticut than you will experience at LOI. Of course, this is accomplished in a truly luxurious environment, too. With incredible amenities and world-class resort funding, the LOI courses are exceptionally well-manicured, demanding a price premium.
The North Course has a number of notable holes, especially its solid set of par threes. Those which were most memorable for me include:
• #2: The first dramatic par three with a steep drop. A precise long iron is required here to hit a green with a pond in front and bunkers surrounding.
• #3: This short par four uses the land well with a blind uphill tee shot and a narrowing approach to a green that requires an aerial approach.
• #5: The par five fifth has one of my least favorite features in the game – more ‘leg than dog’ (i.e. more distance after a sharp turn than before). However, for me, this hole works. A shot shaper’s dream, this hole is gettable with a solid left-to-right tee shot. Beautiful short grass chipping areas long and short right of the green also welcome right-to-left approaches for an aggressive second.
• #7: Set over a ravine in the forest, the 7th is a par three which generously welcomes run up shots up a gorgeous collar in the front left.
• #11: One of the most picturesque par three’s I have ever played, the 11th at LOI-North captures the course’s namesake with its setting on an actual island in Lake of Isles!
• #18: With the tee box set in the middle of the lake, the tee shot at the finishing hole is spectacular. Players must literally bite off as much as they can chew to this fairway which is almost perfectly perpendicular to play. A creek adds additional challenge to the approach shot.
For such a modern golf course, LOI-North does a lot of things exceptionally well for the amateur player. Many greens welcome running approach shots which is critical given the stout length throughout. While each hole navigates forest, there is decent width throughout most of the property. Of course, the conditions are exceptional.
Despite some of the more memorable moments, the other holes at LOI-North tend to blend together. The kidney/modern style bunkering is somewhat bland, and I cannot remember any standout green complexes. Many holes honestly feel like they could be from any course in the country, and for most average golfers, LOI-North will be a beat down with a lot of lost balls. It is not walkable.
If money is no object, and you are staying in the area or at the resort, LOI-North is certainly worth the expense. It is arguably one of the top five public courses in the entire state of Connecticut. However, it is not the type of course I would actively seek out and travel to from an architectural standpoint.
Lake of Isles North, the public course, is virtually identical to the private course. If you played them both back to back the only differing memory would be the last hole. The 18th here is the best hole on course. A Cape with forced carry tee ball and then a green which is almost encompassed by water. The par 3's which go into the lake are the same. The terrain is the same. The conditioning is very good and the same. They are both challenging for anyone. They can both play well over 7000 yards. The turf is normally pretty soft so they play to full distance. Overall if you are in the area these courses are quite nice and you should play. The North is usually mobbed, and candidly the South has much play too. Mostly VIP guests and their guests. The course requires carts and trust me you need one. It would be like a 7 mile walk.
If you are a traditionalist then skip Lake of Isles North Course. Why? It is mandated one must use a cart which in and of itself is not objectionable but it is the constant usage of power carts featuring excessive rides between holes that is truly annoying.
It was mentioned in the earlier review about how demanding the 1st hole is. Agree with that 100%. The most head scratching aspect is not the forced carry but the excessive uphill nature with the approach. Having such a hole is fine but not as the opener.
Among the other confusing aspects is the repeat nature in having dropshot par-3 holes. Having one is fine -- two is OK too provided there's something really special on their respective designs.
The North does have a number of quality holes -- on the outward side is the long par-4 6th. It's a quality dropshot hole with a tee placed very high above the fairway and a menacing bunker complex on the left side. The dog-leg right par-4 9th is also good -- those who wish to take the risk in cutting the corner will be tested appropriately.
The inward half commences with a very long cart ride once the par-3 11th is played. Then you get another long ride in which rigor mortis sets in before you swing the club at the 12th.
The ending is quite good. Yes, the par-4 17th requires a carry but frankly the distance is not especially daunting -- it's just the mental psyche out that can get into player's heads when about to pull the club at the tee.
The par-4 18th is, in my mind, the best hole on the course. Here you are presented with a quality cape hole that turns left in the drive zone. The key is not only shaping the shot to how the land moves but the fairway also tapers down considerably the deeper you hit your tee shot. The putting surface is protected by a frontal environmental area so if one hits the rough it's important to weigh the risks in trying to hit over on the approach.
The green complexes are fairly straightforward -- nothing that truly stands out for particular acclaim.
All in all, it's a shame such a discombobulated routing is what one must deal with when playing. The wooded nature and ponds you find do make an attractive mix but endless cart rides only add to the frustration and rob players in sustaining the needed rhythm when playing. Clearly, the issue boils down to whether you are OK with such long cart rides between holes. For me personally, I was not thrilled by it given the lack of consistently compelling architecture when you finally arrive at the respective holes. A disappointment.
M. James Ward
A common concept in golf course architecture is the “playaway” hole—a simple, forgiving start allowing the golfer’s round to begin quickly and easily. The opening hole at Lake of Isles North is the antithesis: It starts with a forced carry of 180 yards to the fairway and then adds another 360 yards to a green elevated 40 feet above the fairway and guarded by bunkers left and right. Nor does Rees Jones let up on the second hole, a par 3 over water. There a total of 7 forced carry tee shots here. The most challenging was at #16 where a carry of 185 yards over a lake was needed to reach the fairway—from a set of tees aimed at golfers with handicaps as high as 18!
The holes do get more interesting as one moves away from the clubhouse, with doglegs at #s 3,5,6,9, 14 and 18 requiring some thought off the tee. But after some nicely contoured greens at the first 3 holes, most of the remaining putting surfaces are flat and dull.
An aerial approach is the only choice at over half the holes. I had dinner with Rees Jones a few tears ago. He’d had a wrist injury, was having trouble getting his iron shots airborne and allowed that he better understood the desirability of allowing a running approach. Had he designed Lake of Isles North after that injury, it would be a more interesting course.
The piece de resistance here is the requirement to ride. I estimated that there’s well over a mile of distance from greens to tees. Though this was dictated by the rocky, swampy piece of land chosen, it does not allow an enjoyable walk.