It’s worth driving to the heart of Wisconsin’s dairyland to play one of the finest and best value courses in all USA. For as little as fifty bucks you can play The Links at Lawsonia, designed in 1930 by William Langford and engineered by Theodore Moreau. How good is that?
Lawsonia has two 18-hole courses – Links and Woodlands – and some golfers find it hard to pick their favorite layout from these two very different tracks. We know which course we prefer, but maybe play both, it won’t break the bank but it will put a smile on your face.
No expense was spared when Lawsonia Links was built at back in the 1930s. $250,000 was invested in the course a figure that equates to around $30,000,000 in today’s money! Blueprints were taken from British Open Championship holes to re-create many copies at Lawsonia, but you will require a vivid imagination to notice the resemblance in most cases.
A tree-clearing programme started in 2000 to return the Links course back to its former treeless glory so expect the wind to play a part on this historical and strategic masterpiece.
Writing in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, Tom Doak commented as follows: “Langford and Moreau built many fine courses in their trademark style all over the Midwest, but without question their best-preserved design is Lawsonia, developed just before the Depression from the 1,000-acre Victor Lawson estate overlooking Green Lake, in central Wisconsin…
You might not think that an architect known for major earthworks would need to be good at routing golf holes, but Langford’s design at Lawsonia proves this to be a lie, but it is the juxtaposition of features which makes Lawsonia so captivating…
Most of all, Lawsonia is an exhilarating venue for the
game, and a wonderful example of how earthwork can sometimes be more appealing
I have been fortunate to have played the course a few times given the number of key events played in the Badger State over the years.
Frankly, the Links Couse is one of the very few classical period architecture layouts open to the public and charging a modest fee to play it. There are a few others I can mention but the list is rather short.
I would place the Links in the same category of "must plays" from that special era along with the likes of Bethpage Black and the Donald Ross course at French Lick. There are a few others I can mention but the list is rather short.
For those counting pennis -- skip the costs to play the Straits Course at WS and its accompanying death march of slow play. Even though the fees have risen -- the Links has been skillfully updated so that the core design elements are bot obscured -- most notably by trees.
As Mark indicated in his review you do have a redundancy of holes moving to the right and the raised platform greens do limit situations where golfers who don't flight their balls into the greens will have limited options.
The word that leaps to the front for me in playing the Links if the "fun" factor. You do encounter a range of shot you relish attempting to pull off.
My only downside is that I wish the course played a bit firmer and faster. The last few times I have played the course there was rollout but hardly noteworthy.
There's also a bit of back-and-forth with a few of the holes on the inward side.
Overall, the Links holds up very well and any visit to the Badger State should have a round there on one's golf agenda.
p.s. Unrelated -- Aaron, thanks for the heads-up on the speed trap -- I will be visiting some friends in Oshkosh when the Ryder Cup Matches come up. Like to keep my hard-earned pesos in my pocket instead of contributing to the municipal coiffures.
M. James Ward
There's not a lot more to say that hasn't already been said about the Links here in terms of hole by hole descriptions and so forth, so I thought I'd just write more about what it was and what it has become.
I think I first played Lawsonia sometime around 1988 and have played there pretty much every years since. It's become almost a ritual now. It was and is an incredibly special place, though it has changed immensely, and I doubt a lot of younger golfers really appreciate it in that sense. When I started playing there, Lawsonia (owned by the American Baptist Convention) was pretty rough. The clubhouse was a little white shack. They build the current clubhouse sometime in the early 90s if memory serves, and have nicely redone it. It's still pretty modest, but I'm still always a little stunned to see a bar in there. Back in the Baptist days, there was no alcohol of any kind allowed on the entire property.
The Links itself had really become overgrown with trees in those days and lost much of its character because of it. The most exciting thing at Lawsonia back then was the new "south nine", now half of the Woodlands course. Most people in fact played the south nine and the west nine (the front nine of the links). It was so popular they built another nine sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s. It's hard to believe, but at one point, yes, what they now call the Woodlands was the hot ticket and the Links was really just an afterthought. The Baptist Church really just didn't know what they had there., but it all changed when they brought in Oliphant Golf to run the place. For someone who never experience the old Lawsonia, it's impossible to really describe the difference between then and now.
Lawsonia has been marvelously restored since then, with a major tree removal program and far better maintenance than would have been dreamed of years ago. It's also gotten far more expensive, with a round on the Links now topping $100 with tax. Is it worth it? Sure, especially if you've never played, but put all they hyperbole aside and lower your expectations just a bit, especially for the front nine. The vast majority of pictures you see of the course are of the back. As you drive in, you can see the whole back nine from the main road leading into Lawsonia, and it is a wonder to behold. My only real complaint is that some of the holes, tees and greens are really close together, which can as you imagine cause some issues.
The front has some great holes too, but is not nearly as good as the back. The first two holes are blind tee shots with nothing particularly interesting going on. The third hole is a dog leg right next to the old barn, again, nothing remarkable. Four is a par four to an elevated green, but again not going to knock your socks off. The rest of the front nine is really very good, with hole seven (the hole the boxcar is supposed to be buried under) really stealing the show.
I'm not trying to be down on Lawsonia. I absolutely love the place, and have great memories there playing with my parents and friends. It's one of my favorite places, period. I do think it is getting overhyped and over priced at this point. You'll enjoy your round there no doubt, but you'll enjoy it more if you dispense with the hype.
Here's a final tip: if you drive in from Fond du Lac or Oshkosh through Rosendale, don't speed! Don't go 26 in a 25 or 31 in a 30. If the cop is out, you'll get a ticket. It's like the greatest speed trap of all time.
I once read on The Fried Egg that Lawsonia will change a golfer forever and I walked away from two days on the Links a different person. The opening two holes grab the golfers attention and the engagement continues for the rest of the round. The first hole features a massive eyelash style crag bunker that protects the first hole. This bunker and the drop off the left side of the green is a nice firm handshake from Langford and Moreau that sets the stage for the immense features that lay ahead.
The scale of the Links is what continuously hits you as you plot your way around the layout. I was struck on the 4th hole, an uphill par 3, that play to a near blind green. My playing partners and I found all four corners of this massive green and had to raise our voice to talk because we were still so far apart.
After passing the turn stand the back nine is exposed and all I could think about was how big this place really is. Deep bunkering and contoured green complexes continue to demand thoughtful and creative shotmaking throughout the closing half. The highlight for me was the formidable par 5 13th; a hole that features a massive swale that makes this a true three-shot hole for most.
This is a friendly and welcoming facility that has been able to retain it’s incredible value. The conditioning was immaculate and the greens were as pristine as any private course that I have ever played.
The Links at Lawsonia is a must play for anyone who has a keen interest in course architecture and fun golf.
The Links course at The Golf Course of Lawsonia has been receiving a lot of recognition recently from USA based magazines and its raters for being one of the top public courses in the USA. Additionally, it was recognized as a Gourmet’s Choice in the latest edition of “The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses – The Americas (summer destinations).”
I will begin by saying this course could be improved in three areas. First, the condition of the grass both on the greens and near the greens is inconsistent. Make no mistake, this is a course that emphasizes the greens and green surrounds. Secondly, the bunkers could use a restoration. Due to covid, there were no rakes for the bunkers but it was obvious the amount of sand in many of the bunkers was not adequate with the edges worn or crumbling in a few areas. Third, the pace of play is glacial for a course that has the next tee box close to the previous green. While it is a somewhat difficult walk due to the hills, nearly everyone here takes a cart as one is included in the greens fee. A round here should take no more than 4:15 hours for even the highest handicappers, no matter the difficulty of some of the holes.
One reason the course has been receiving praise is due to it being a public course that is inexpensive to play with the cart fee included. My fee was just over $100 on a Saturday. Indeed, I felt the green fee to be at least 20% too low for the value of the course. There is a lot to like here as there are many fine architectural features that I had only infrequently seen. There are many terrific golf holes. I likely would have played double the fee. Given nearly all of the better public courses in the state have a much higher green fee as they are associated with resort courses charging $250-$400 for a round (Sand Valley, Kohler) or a destination course (Erin Hills), certainly there is opportunity to raise the price. An increase in the price would solve many of the conditioning problems of the course and also spacing out the tee times rather than jamming too many players on the course at one time. Our round took 4:50 including the 11 minute wait to hit our third shots into the eighteenth green. Yes, the foursome ahead of us took 11 minutes to putt out from the time all four were finally on the green – yet it was not the most difficult pin placement of the day. My understanding is that the course is scheduled for renovation in 2022. Going forward, this course deserves a higher ongoing maintenance budget. Increasing the green fees would also improve the clubhouse/restaurant experience where to be polite I will call it filthy. This is offset by a very friendly staff.
I am not quite as high on the course as the people are from the USA magazines nor on an “architectural website” where many post their comments. The designers of the course, William Langford and Theodore Moreau, designed over 200 courses, with the Links at Lawsonia considered to be the pinnacle of their work. The Links opened in 1930. Other noteworthy courses they designed include the nine hole course at Culver Academies, Omaha CC, and West Bend (known for its front nine). While I liked Lawsonia, I did walk away from it wondering whether it was getting its recognition simply because if a duo designed and built 200 course then surely one of them must be special. Or could it be because Lawsonia has many of the holes felt to be inspired from the work of Macdonald, Raynor and Banks?
Mr. Langford and Mr. Moreau were engineers with Mr. Langford being an accomplished golfer from Yale University. They were known to use steam shovels to create their mounds, and particularly their raised greens. At the time the use of steam shovels was rare, but today it would be consistent with the minimalist approach where there is an attempt to use the natural terrain off the tee for both the routing overall as well as the design of individual holes. This is then combined with using bulldozers/tractors to create interesting green complexes, often with fall-offs, false fronts, very contoured and shaped green interiors, and wild, irregular bunkers.
Mr. Langford and Mr. Moreau offer somewhat generous fairways off the tee at Lawsonia, although they try to confuse you on many tee shots with their placement of mounds either inside the fairway or bordering the fairway. Overall, I would describe Lawsonia as a second shot golf course, although including the par 3’s, the strategy of the course is determined by the best line to that day’s pin position.
The course features man-made mounds in the fairways that serve both as a hazard as well as a guide point to avoid. Most of these are actually not in play but add to the strategy and visual experience of the hole. Nearly all of the greens are pushed up resulting in deep greenside bunkers. This results in fall-offs as much as 20 feet to as little as 4 feet with only the sixteenth green being essentially flat. The highest greens definitely push the limits of what is fair versus unfair. The greens are very good here with interior spines, mounds, and tilts. We were victimized by only one poor pin placement that created a near-impossible putt if one was on the wrong side of the spine.
The outward nine sits on one side of the property and has more land movement than the inward nine, but the land movement on the front is often more gradual other than the seventh. The second nine on the other side of the entrance road has most of its land movement on holes thirteen-fifteen reaching its pinnacle on the thirteenth hole, the best par 5 on the course. The front nine sits on more land and therefore there is more spacing to the holes. The back nine is tighter, and three times we had to duck to avoid shots heading our way (by the left side of the 11th green from the 18th tee, playing down 13, then coming ourselves back down 18 even though we were in the middle of our fairway). Overall the routing takes prime advantage of the different rises, falls, ravines, and valleys on the course. The routing is non-conventional with five par 5’s and five par 3’s. The stretch of holes from nine to fourteen goes 5-3-5-3-5-3 which is a routing I have never found elsewhere.
Challenges are everywhere on the course, whether a bunker, a sharp fall-off, a ridge line, a dramatic rise in the land, or the raised greens with many false fronts. I could only think of five holes where balls hit short of the green have a chance of going onto the green. Overall, the Links course at Lawsonia fits with Mr. Langford’s philosophy towards golf where he wrote, “hazards should be placed so that any player can avoid them if he gauges his ability correctly, so that these obstacles will make every man’s game more interesting, no matter what class player he is.”
I could go either way on the course. I could sing the praises of many of the holes because I appreciated the combination of visual appeal and strategy. I very much favor golf courses that present a decision to be made when combined with a strong visual appeal. There is a wonderful variety in the length of the holes versus par at the Links. I also like golf courses with excellent green surfaces and green surrounds. The links course meets both of my main criteria on many of its holes. The many very good holes outnumber the few pedestrian holes on the course. The best holes include four, five, six, seven, eight, ten, thirteen, fourteen, and eighteen.
The collection of par 3’s are excellent with only the twelfth falling short of the high levels of the other four. The par 5’s include two that are very good and two of the other three are also strong holes. One of the very good par 5’s is under 500 yards which speaks to the quality of the hole. It is mainly the par 4’s where there is an unevenness to the quality of the holes.
The course is par 72 measuring 6853 yards from the Blue tees, rated 73.6/137. The White tees are 6494 yards rated 71.8/128. There are two sets of lesser yardages.
1. Par 4 – 418/407. The opener doglegs sharply right and longer hitters will try to cut off as much as they can if they can make it to the fairway. If they do not get to the fairway they will be in heavy rough with a bad angle to the green. For the longer hitters, staying just to the left of the trees well off to the right is the best line to the fairway to cut the dogleg. For shorter hitters there is a long diagonal bunker that comes in from the right cutting halfway across the fairway. The smarter play is to play short of it even if it leaves a longer approach shot. The green is terrific with a long bunker down the right side and a slight false front. The land falls away behind the green and to the left leaving the fall-off behind the green at about eight feet going to eighteen feet while the left side fall-off is eighteen feet. The green has a back to front tilt and some smaller interior mounds. It is not a demanding hole off the tee but one has to find the green on their second.
2. Par 4 – 431/422. This is also a dogleg right nearly as sharp as the opener. There is a high mound/cross bunker cutting diagonally across the fairway with two later grass mounds. The first mound/cross bunker is only 130 yards off the tee but due to the rise in the land appears to the be further away. This is followed by a long, deep grass bunker set about 60 yards from the green on the left and 40 yards on the right. The green is angled opposite the dogleg going from right to left with a bunker on the left and a bunker right that wraps around half of the back of the green. The green is raised back to front with perhaps a five feet fall-off at the rear. This is one of the greens where an approach shot can run onto the green. There is not a lot of interior movement on this green but any somewhat horizontal putt must account for the steepness of the slope of the green. I thought it to be better visually than from a playing standpoint.
3. Par 4 – 386/367. This hole is a dogleg right nearly as sharp as the second. There is a lot of room to miss down the left in order to play away from a right two-angled bunker down the right side about 240 yards from the tee. This bunker is six feet deep with a raised face and one will have a blind shot to the green. The hole plays slightly downhill for the approach shot into another green where there is a steep fall-off of perhaps six feet at the rear. Much like the second, one can run the ball onto the green here despite a false front. The green has flanking bunkers on the sides that begin a few yards in front of the green. The green does fall off the back right. I felt this was an average hole but enhanced playing next to the barns.
4. Par 3 – 203/175. The first par 3 is terrific playing uphill. The narrow opening to the green essentially has to be played as a draw for a right-hander. There are three bunkers that nearly go around all of the green with the first bunker beginning about ten yards short of the green. The green has a slight false front and is raised with the sides up about eight feet and the rear perhaps as high as ten feet. The green slants right to left consistent with the fall of the land as well as back to front.
5. Par 5 – 487/475. For a par 5 less than 500 yards and playing downhill, this is a very good hole that can yield an eagle or a triple bogey. There is an opportunity to lengthen the hole perhaps another fifteen yards. Off the tee the hole plays uphill and is blind. A set of large trees frame the fairway. From the tee this is a slight dogleg right. If one can find the fairway they are likely to get a favorable rollout as the hole goes downhill. There is good mounding just off the left side of the fairway that cuts the fairway in half and forces one to either carry it or play to the right. The green is fabulous, raised high above the ground with fall-offs getting to perhaps twelve feet. A bunker on the right is angled into the fairway about thirty yards short of the green. There are flanking bunkers on both sides set well below the level of the green. The green has a 3 feet vertical rise running through its middle creating two shelves and a back right bowl. Our pin location was at the dividing line of the spine where a putt from the right up the 3 feet had to have perfect dead weight to avoid running back to one’s feet or running out on the other side. I hated the pin location but I loved the green. This is one of the finer short par 5’s I have ever played.
6. Par 4 – 439/406. Perhaps the best hole on the course is next. The hole plays as a dogleg right playing over a mound that sits about 200/170 yards from the tee. As it turned out I should have taken on more of the mound as my ball ended in the left rough. The hole plays downhill until one reaches the raised green. The longer hitters have to avoid the two deep bunkers on the left about 300/270 yards off the tee with one of them placed well inside the line of the fairway. The green has a very definite false front of perhaps ten feet and raises from there. It also has various defined tiers and a two feet spine on the left middle. There are again flanking bunkers. The green has defined shelves and is very quick back to front. It is a marvelous hole.
7. Par 3 – 161/146. This is the famous “boxcar” hole said to have a boxcar buried below it. The green has a defined fall-off at the front of perhaps 15 feet so one must hit the green which looks thin from the tee but actually has more width than it appears. The green is angled left to right to disguise its width. Behind the green on a fall-off are two bunkers. The right side also falls-off. Off the left side is higher ground with tall grass although between it and the green is a five feet deep swale. The green runs left to right with various little shelves. It is another very good golf hole. I imagine many people think this is the finest par 3 on the course. I do think it is the most memorable but I think the fourth is slightly better and the tenth is its equal.
8. Par 4 – 339/322. This short par 4 has another ridge on the right that disguises the proper line to the green. This time the ridge has a bunker fronting it. The best line is to play over the right edge of the mound as there is ample fairway to the right. The fairway slopes to the left but a shot should stay in the fairway and going left will likely result in a better angle into the green, even if further away. The green is small but again with a false front. Balls landing short of the green are not likely to bounce onto the green much like the four holes preceding it. There are bunkers on all three sides creating a moat-like effect. The green has a fair amount of subtle movement in it. For a short hole, it emphasizes the fun factor.
9. Par 5 – 535/529. The second par 5 plays downhill then uphill nearly all the way to the green. The hole is a dogleg right with another mound on the right that one should play over rather than to the left of it. Miss to the right or left and one will likely be in tall grass. The second shot sees two flanking bunkers places diagonally opposite each other than come into the fairway and cut it in half while extending out like wings on a bird. These bunkers are about 130 yards from the green. The green has two bunkers on the rear corner but felt flat to me after the slight false front. I thought it to be an okay hole although those two bunkers were interesting.
10. Par 3 – 239/217. The longest par 3 is cleverly disguised by a fronting bunker and raised mound that appear much closer to the green than they actually are. This complex blocks nearly all of the view of the green as well yet sits about 60 yards short of the green. The green is raised and slanted left to right but mainly back to front with a long bunker down the left side and a shorter one on the right. This left bunker is about seven feet lower than the green. The green is fairly large for the hole. There is ample room to miss short or to the right. This is one of the rare par 3’s where there is a good chance of recovery if one misses the green.
11. Par 5 – 510/482. This hole plays slightly uphill to a rise. At the peak of the rise on the right is a long bunker. The fairway widens by nearly half on the other side of the bunker. Longer hitters will easily carry this bunker. A second bunker is on the left pinching into the fairway about 90 yards short of the green. The green complex has two bunkers on the right, the first one placed fifteen yards before the start of the green. There is also a long bunker on the left side. This green is not as raised as many others but has a much higher second half. It is the easiest par 5 on the course.
12. Par 3 – 183/171. The only flat par 3 comes next. The beauty of the hole is in the angle of the green going right to left. A long, thin but somewhat deep bunker begins about ten yards short of the green on the right cutting into the fairway creating only the narrowest of openings to the hole. The right and left side of the green have long, thin bunkers, with the right side placed well below the green. The green has subtle interior movement where a straight putt can bend as much as two feet. I liked how the green slants opposite the angle of the green. It is a good par 3 although probably the least memorable on the course given the quality of the others.
13. Par 5 – 568/556. This is easily the best par 5 on the golf course as it has just about everything. The tee shot plays out to the right requiring a forced carry over as many as three bunkers down the left side. The land falls quite dramatically for the second shot down into a substantial valley before rising sharply to the green. The strategy of the hole is whether to play down the valley closer to the green which will leave a blind uphill shot requiring an additional club or to stay back around 140 yards to get a view of the green but leaving one with a much longer shot. The green is at the top of a ridge and is angled a bit to the left with a bunker at the rear and on the left side where there is a substantial fall-off as the land falls away towards the only pond on the course. Any ball hit short of the green can roll back as much as sixty yards down the fairway. The other compelling aspect of the hole is a world-class green with a lot of interior movement with various small terraces to it. It is one of the better par 5’s I have played.
14. Par 3 – 154/139. This par 3 plays downhill to a green with a substantial fall-off from the ridge on both sides as you near the back of the green as well as a 25 feet fall-off behind the green. There is a long bunker on the right side of the green. It is a hole that is more visually attractive than it is from a playing perspective.
15. Par 4 – 394/379. From an elevated tee albeit well below the previous green, one plays across the pond to a fairway with another large bunker fronting a mound. The green sits well back to the right so the bold line is to play down the right side. However, playing down the right side will bring thick trees into play blocking one’s view of the green. The green sits atop a six feet high false front with flanking bunkers. The green is primarily sloped back to front. This is a clever hole beautifully back dropped by trees.
16. Par 4 – 443/435. Although this hole is long, it is the blandest hole on the course. Much like the fifteenth, there are cross bunkers and a mound down the right side resulting in the safe play off to the tee being to the left where another mound awaits. This creates a zig-zag effect to the fairway. As one nears the green, two bunkers begin about 60 yards short of the green on the right. At the green is a bunker on the left and right. This green is not raised as the designers must have felt length was enough of a challenge.
17. Par 4 – 383/363. Much like the bunkers pinching into the fairway like a bird’s wings on the ninth, the designers used the same concept here but this time for the tee shot. These bunkers sit in front of raised mounds and are about seven feet deep. Shorter hitters will have difficulty carrying them and there is only the narrowest of fairway left for them. The greenside bunkers have a similar shape pinching into the front of the green and then going diagonally in different directions. The green has a knob in its left side and a back to front tilt as well as a back right shelf. I hit a lucky shot that managed to go between the narrow bunkers but I do not think I could replicate it again. It is a nice hole despite being on the flattest land on the property.
18. Par 5 – 580/503. The finale to the round is the longest hole on the course. Because many players nearly hit people on the eleventh green or twelfth tee with their tee shot I would recommend moving the tee to the right as there is ample land to the right all along the hole. This would not change the strategy of the hole. There is a large mound with a fronting bunker on the right that bigger hitters will easily carry. A second fronting bunker and long mound is placed perfectly for the average player on the right side coming into the fairway cutting it in half. One has to decide whether they can carry it or lay up short for a longer approach shot into the green. A final fairway bunker is placed on the left about 40 yards short of the green. Finally the green, which is raised about four feet has a bunker on the front left corner and two on the right and right back corner. The green has a lot of interior movement including a central spine. It is a large and very good green, but not one that should take a foursome eleven minutes to putt out. This is a fine finish to a good golf course.
The Links course at Lawsonia deserves to be in the top 100 public golf courses in the USA. It might be the best value in public golf although there are several other high profile courses that compete with distinction. One could make a case for it being in the top 100 courses in the USA, but then when I start to think about its competition I cannot quite put it there. Yet I have seen where Pinehurst #4 is in the top 100 on one list and this is superior.
In writing this review the negatives to the course became clearer although there are not many. The course begins with three somewhat sharp doglegs to the right. Five and six bend slightly right. Nine plays to the right. Fifteen plays to the right. There is not one hole that goes left since eight is essentially a straight shot. There are so many raised greens that they start to feel a bit redundant and in most cases, do not allow the option of running a ball onto a green.
Those are small criticisms given the many highs of the course. For an inland course, there are not many with as strong a collection of par 3’s. You have to think of the very best courses in the USA such as Merion East to find a better collection. All but one of the par 5’s are very good. The sixth hole is a fabulous par 4. The green surfaces are great. The seventh par 3 with its all-or-nothing tee shot and front valley is both beautiful and interesting. There are many unique holes.
If in Wisconsin, this is a definite must-play. I would normally give this a 5 star rating, but it is not the best course in the region as two are better. But it is very good.
Please don’t change Lawsonia Links - seems like many golfers like you just the way you are
Greens and tee boxes are what this course is all about. Yes there are some conspicuous mounds in the fairways and yes some fairways run into one another on the back 9 and the treeless fairways create that links feel. Wasn't impressively scenic so maybe a round finishing at dusk would provide for a better vibe. Greens though are a beast. If you miss you're looking at a 8-10ft chip onto the greens which are fast and rolling. One knock on this place is that the driving range is pretty rough and facilities are about average. It does have a few onsite lodging options that look pretty cool.
Lawsonia is my favorite public course in America. And by public I mean accessible; $500 to play Whistling, Kiawah or Pebble is as high a barrier to entry you can have without closing the courses to guests. Andy Johnson put it best when he said you could rent a limo with your friends, drive up from Chicago, play 36, come back, have a steak dinner, and you'd still spend less money than you would just for the tee time at the Straits. And in my opinion, Lawsonia is a better golf course. It's a great test of golf with so many nuances mixed into the routing that creates an unforgettable golf experience.
The first is a starter that perfectly encapsulates what Lawsonia is all about. A blind tee shot that curves to the right makes it tough to judge just where to aim, but to that effect it's almost fun. The green is extremely bold, but unless you miss left you don't really notice just how bold it is until you see it from five fairway, when you see the 12 foot high bank and think "We seriously already played that?!" The second is another blind tee shot with a second shot downhill over traps to a beautiful green site. The third is a short par 4 with old barns lining the property to the left. Nothing feels more Wisconsin than waving to the owner as she gets back to the farmhouse after walking her dog. Four is an uphill Redan type par 3. Because of its length and the depth of the green, it’s an easy GIR, but you'll have some extremely lengthy looks. Five is a short par 5 with one of the most severe greens sloping back to front except for a pocket in back right.
I was about to type that the stretch of 6-8 was the best on the property but then I changed it to 6-10, 6-12, 5-13, and then realized that I can't even name the best stretch of holes, the entire course is a stretch of 18 perfect ones. Six is a beautiful downhill driving hole that plays up to a green sitting on a knob guarded by a tough false front.
I've played hundreds of courses in my life, and therefore close to a thousand par threes, but seven is my favorite one shotter of them all. It’s a short distance to a green that seems to be just jutting out of the hillside. The urban legend is true – the green is in fact built atop an old boxcar, forcing a right miss to be nearly 20 feet below the surface. The green itself features cool rumples that make a good chance at birdie or a three putt depending on what side of the ridge you're on.
When I played the 8th for the first time I kind of hated it, the fairway slopes away and you play up to a well-bunkered green. It's 300 yards but you really can't drive it. However, after playing it more and more I've understood just how strategic it is. Challenging the fescue allows a flat lie and good angle, but bailing out left puts the ball above your feet and the green running away from you.
The ninth is almost reminiscent of the Great Hazard template of Tillinghast, with two massive bunkers protecting a shoot uphill to the green. The hole itself doglegs around a swath of fescue with the more aggressive player being rewarded with a chance at getting home in two (as I did with a driver off the deck).
The tenth is one of those holes that reinforces how irrelevant par is. It’s a wild green and plays 230 even from the white tees. When the course was built, and still even to this day most people hit driver off the tee. But you can't go into a golf hole thinking, "this is stupid", but instead you have to realize "my competitor is playing the same hole". In that case, wouldn't it be more fun to play a type of hole you've never seen before?
Eleven is a welcome to the rolling back half of the property, playing over a massive valley. 12 is another Redan-ish style green that is so much fun to play.
While 7 is my favorite par three in the world, 13 comes close to being my favorite par five (16 at Ballyneal takes the cake there). It’s a long hole and the entire strategy is set up for where you're going to leave your second shot. The main feature of the hole is the MASSIVE valley short of the green. Playing aggressively over the bunkers can give you an opportunity to get home in two, but at the same time missing 30 yards short can force you all the way down to the bottom with a blind shot. Bailing out right off the tee allows you to still get up within wedge distance, but you can also decide to lay back to have a view of the green. It’s a truly unique hole that just isn't seen in the modern design.
Fourteen is another all-world short one-shot hole with a million different bowls and ridges that can allow you to make any score from a one to a ten. 15 is a cool tee shot over the ridge that plays to a bowled elevated green. 16 is a lengthy uphill par four where par can be a huge swing in the match. 17 is a blind tee shot through a shoot to a perfectly guarded wedge green. 18 is a great closing par five with a green as severe as any.
I've gotta be honest, the first time I played Lawsonia I really didn't like it. You can really get kicked in the teeth if you're out of position, but after seeing the course over and over and understanding what each hole demands is beautiful. I've played the course at least ten times and each time I learn more and more. It’s such a unique course and a must play for anyone in the Chicago area, it might be the best course in Wisconsin, at a minimum top four. The three-hour drive from Chicago is 100% worth it, especially when you get to wave to the Amish folks driving by in their horse drawn buggies.
When I was growing up in Wisconsin, Lawsonia Links was the only real opportunity to play golden age architecture if you weren't privileged to belong to or work at Blue Mound, West bend, or Milwaukee.
When I first played in the early 00's significant progress had already been achieved in terms of promotion of firm conditions as well as tree clearing. However, more recently the facility has turned the presentation up an additional notch by clearing out the mature pines that had chocked the 10th/13th/14th green sites. This, combined with promotion from the online golf course architecture community (see Youtube), explains why this hidden gem isn't really hidden anymore. GW's positioning of Lawsonia at 25th US public is more than fair and probably reflects the ceiling for this course unless they were to strategically thin out the tree cover to the southeast, opening up views Green Lake from the back nine. Of course, the Woodlands course lives there so this is not likely to happen.
One under-appreciated fact is that Lawsonia is easily accessed from either Kohler or Sand Valley. Work it in. Holes 6, 7,8, 11, 12, 13, and 14 will live on your favorites list.
Probably the best value in golf. Great example of classic architecture by Langford and Moreau Who were definitely not shy with the steam shovel in crafting massively elevated/protected greens. Extremely undulated putting surfaces that are a blast to play but very difficult to read. Lots of blind shots unusual for a golden age design. If you have the opportunity, you should absolutely not miss playing Lawsonia Links.
Lawsonia Links has such a reputation for being under-rated, I am starting to wonder has it become over-rated? Without a doubt a classic course and an exceptional value.
This seems to be a Nicklaus design before there was Nicklaus design. The first 3 holes bend right. Favor left of center on the first hole. There is a fairway cross bunker on the right side, but will only come into play for horrible shots. The green is protected by a bunker right and a deep drop-off right. Get used to this as this feature is utilized multiple times almost to a de facto standard. The 2nd is a long par 4 with a blind tee shot. Favor the right side. The green has bunkers left and right and a mogul about 40 yards in front of the green with a bunker in front of it. Not sure how it has the #14 handicap designation. The 3rd is a good birdie oppty. Decent drive should give you an attack iron. The first par 3 is uphill and over 200 yards with a green sitting on a ledge. Lest I forget, there is a steep faced bunker in front and about 80% of the green is surrounded by sand. Put simply, take at least an extra club, hit a good shot and you have a chance at par on supposedly the easiest hole. The 5th is a reachable par 5. Slightly uphill, you must find the fairway to have a chance. If you are laying up, pay attention to the yardage to ensure that you do not end up in one of the high steep moguls. The 6th is a long rollercoaster par four, downhill off the tee to an elevated green. Favor the left off the tee. Too far left and you will end up in a high faced bunker, if you miss right, good luck muscling it out of the rough. This is also a tricky green with a raised front and depressed back. A very well-designed hole. The 7th is an awesome golf hole. It is a short par 3 with a 20 foot drop-off right. I was told that the green was built on top of a boxcar. It looks like it. Also, there is a hidden bunker left. It was our favorite hole as we both drained birdie putts for a half. The 8th is another excellent birdie oppty. The shortest par 4 another dogleg right with the green perched on a ledge. Surprise, surprise the ninth is a par 5 uphill dogleg right. Best to aim at the center of the grass face bunker. The hole creates the optical illusion that you can cut more off. You can’t, trust me, I know. There are also two fairway bunkers squeezing the fairway on the left and right, about 120 yards out. Take them out of play, either lay up or blow by them.
The back starts with a gut punch par 3. A slightly uphill 240 yarder with another perched green with severe dropoff into a perimeter bunker with a rippling green. The par 5 11th seems benign after ten. Three average shots and you are putting for birdie. Not sure how the 180 yard par 3 12th is rated the 13th hardest yet the 10th is the 15th? The 13th is a superb par 5. To have a chance to get home in two, one must clear the left fairway bunker which is approx. 275 yards. The rest of us should try to find the fairway and then determine where we want to lay up. This hole is a roller coaster and the lowest point is about 75 yards in front of the green. Avoid the downhill approach and whatever you do don’t end up in the left bunker. The 14th is a short par three and a good birdie oppty if you are on the green. Long is death, actually you may just want to mosey onto the next tee box. The 15th while 50 yards shorter than 16 plays just as long as it is uphill. Both of these holes run parallel to a wooded area, there are not a lot of trees. The 17th is a good birdie oppty. A decent drive will carry the left and right fairway bunkers to set up an attack iron. The 18th is the longest hole and my recommendation is play it as a three shotter. Favor the left to avoid the fairway bunkers.
If you are in WI include this on your itinerary. A true gem
Lawsonia links is a wonderful inland layout in the heartland of Wisconsin. It is situated just about midway between the Kohler resort on Lake Michigan and Sand Valley, the new resort by Bandon Dunes creators the Kaiser family. When I was planning a visit to Sand Valley this summer several of my friends recommended that I play the links course on my trip. The course is rated as a "gourmet's choice" in Tom Doak's confidential guide so I no hesitation about playing here.
This course is outstanding in so many ways. There are several blind or near blind tee shots but features such as the cross bunkers on the second help to guide the player to the proper destination. When the tee shot is visible excellent cross bunkering such as the par 4 third provide a great risk reward challenge off the tee. The course flows up and down along both the front and back nines but you are really never left with a severe lie.
The course has apparently undergone a massive tree clearing program and this has opened up beautiful vistas on both the front and back nines. The eighth hole is a great example of where the removal of trees has actually made the hole more difficult. Eight is a short par 4, and trees used to block the right side of the fairway. The removal of the trees has opened up the right side and appears to offer the direct line to the green. However the rough on the right side lends itself to dodgy lies and the narrow green is protected by a deep, deep bunker with a steep slope behind as well.
The course was in magnificent condition and the warm Wisconsin summer had the course playing as firm and fast as any heathland course in the Surrey sand belt of England. On top of all this the course is a great bargain. We played at the peak of high season, on a weekend during a prime tee time and still only payed $100 USA apiece.
Lawsonia is a true gem and well known among midwestern golfers. As the Kohler and Sand Valley resorts grow I believe more golfers should take the time to play this great old course. I was reminded of the fantastic course Old Town in Winston Salem, North Carolina that I played earlier this year because of the beautiful views and terrain. Golfers from the UK may see some similarities with Hankley Common.
Lawsonia captures a lot about what was great about Golden Age architecture and it still presents a challenge to top golfers today. I believe this course will only rise in esteem as more players visit this course.