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
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.
I was fortunate to play about 70 different courses in 2018, and Lawsonia is comfortably in my top 5 for the year of new courses played, which quickly promoted it securely into my personal USA Top 100.
The state of Wisconsin is blessed with numerous high-end resorts, however the best value and arguably the most fun of the lot is found at Lawsonia. Blueprints from Scotland made their way to the Badger State and we have William Langford to thank for creating an incredible layout across a beautiful rolling topography.
Big bold features, blind shots galore, sunken greens, uphill and downhill golf to picture perfect green-sites is the reason you must make the trip!
There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said on the internet about Lawsonia’s utterly spectacular Links course. It’s the best daily fee value in the United States, and quite possibly the most heavily underrated golf course listed on this site. The fact that it’s not listed in the US Top 100 is a bit of a crime.
William Langford and Theodore Moreau were Chicago-based architects (and civil engineers!) whose design work is having something of a renaissance in recent years. The Links wasn’t the first Langford & Moreau layout I’d ever played, incidentally, but experiencing Lawsonia first hand made the others – Ozaukee and Harrison Hills – look even better in retrospect. I’d have to believe Lawsonia Links is their best work, although I’m going to try and play more of them to find out.
Wisconsin as a whole is a beautiful state, especially so the farther you get from Chicago. The area around Lawsonia, which is nearly in the center of the state, is mostly rural and gently rolling forested areas, dairy farms, and small towns dotted with the occasional glacially carved lake. It’s an extremely pleasant, pastoral setting during golf season, and the mild summer climate lends itself to excellent course conditions. The season is shorter here than a lot of places, but if that is the sacrifice we must make to enjoy such splendor, so be it.
There are so many great holes on this course that it’s hard to name just a few to highlight, but I’ll try. The front nine takes up a bit more of the property on the western side of the clubhouse and provides more of a variety in terms of hole directions and wind conditions. #1 is a specatcular opening par four; the fairway slopes right to left off the tee, which makes the tee shot even more difficult as the best angle to the hole is from the right. From the left rough, the approach is semi-blind due to the massive bunker face fronting the green. #2 is a par four with a completely blind tee shot and downhill approach that begs you to attack the flagstick.
#6 is a wild, roller-coaster par four that requires a tee shot either to the left of or over a massive mound face, then an approach to a nearly square green with a pronounced upper tier on the front right and surrounded by steep slopes and sand.
Photos simply do not do the #6 green complex justice – it’s wild. This hole alone leads me to disagree with the other review on this course noting the lack of variety in green complexes; what could that person possibly want?
#7 is the famous “boxcar” par three – legend has it that a railroad boxcar is buried underneath the green, which may explain the narrow shape and severe slopes on each side. #9 is a gorgeous reachable par five that challenges the player to pick and trust a line off the tee when not many landmarks are present and the fairway angles diagonally left to right. Assuming one finds the fairway, they face an uphill approach to a well-guarded green.
The back nine sits to the east of the clubhouse on a gradually sloping, wide-open meadow with spectacular views of Green Lake, and has the odd distinction of having an evenly distributed routing: three each of par threes, fours, and fives.
#10 is a massively scaled par three; it plays to 240 yards and has an enormous green that falls off severly on all sides, with mounds and swales galore. #13 is a long, downhill par five that provides some great strategic options on the second shot after a good drive: attack the green, lay up in a massive valley immediately short of the green which leads to a blind third, or lay up short of the valley to a straightforward, but longer approach.
#14 is another great par three with a massively undulating shelf green that falls off on three sides towards sand and other trouble. #15 is a mean uphill par four that plays significantly longer than its yardage attests and is one of the few holes on the course where a wooded area even remotely comes into play. #18 is another long par five which sits on one of the highest areas on the course and finishes the round with some impressive vistas of both Green Lake as well as the rest of the back nine.
I can’t even begin to describe how much fun this golf course is. We were on site for two days and had considered playing the Woodlands course for the second day; after playing the Links the first day, we didn’t hestitate to play again. I suppose given enough opportunities to play the Links, I might play say, one in every ten rounds on the Woodlands for the sake of variety. But what value is variety when you have the opportunity to play a course of this quality? Thus, my bold statement: if I had to choose only one course I’ve played to this point in my life to be forced to play over and over again for the rest of my life, Lawsonia Links would be it. In reality, I just plain can’t wait to play it again someday.
Played July 17 &19, 2015
Excellent review. I feel exactly as you do about LL. It's truly one of the special places in America golf. Thanks for so eloquently putting it into words.
Thanks for the kind words, Brent.
A great course in the middle of nowhere! The conditioning is fantastic and I really liked the routing with both two nines. The par 3 with the severe slope to the right is outrageous and a must play.
The only downside is that there is too much similarity in green complexes (most holes you have to hit uphill to the green no matter how long or short the hole). If you like Pete Dye courses, see the course that probably served as the template for all that was to come.
One of my favorite courses in the world and a must play. The course is maintained beautifully in fast and firm conditions. Underrated as architects, Langford and Moreau created a wonderful course. Fantastic views, strategic holes, and a relaxing atmosphere await you here. Cannot recommend highly enough. One more thing - the course is not choked by trees - 6 balls!