Review for Lawsonia (Links)

Reviewer Score:


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.

Date: May 30, 2021

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