Review of the Month April 2021 – Lawsonia (Links)
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.
Lawsonia Links 6th hole
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.
Lawsonia Links 7th hole
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?
Lawsonia Links 10th hole
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.
Lawsonia Links 13th hole
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.
Lawsonia Links 14th hole
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.