Lawsonia (Links Course) – Green Lake, WI (Architect: William Langford)
Golfers travel by the thousands into the great state of Wisconsin to play golf at Lake Geneva, near Kohler, and at Erin Hills. Those are the destination resorts and courses that make the most noise to attract patrons to their tracks. A course that gets over looked as a Dairy State destination is the Golf Courses at Lawsonia – Links Course. Lost among its younger and flashier brothers, Lawsonia is a value packed experience back in time to play one of the greatest lesser known layouts you can possibly imagine.
Like the historic Baltusrol Courses in New Jersey, the Lawsonia site takes its name from the farmer that worked the land well before we ever played golf on it (you didn’t know Baltusrol comes from a farmer named Baltus Roll?). As happenstance would have it, the farm land bordering Green Lake later became a golf course thanks to the design of Chicago’s William Langford, circa 1920. Langford and his design team aren’t as well known as some contemporaries of their time like Donald Ross, but they have over 200 courses to their credit (most of which are in the midwest). These include gems as the nine holer at Harrison Hills in Indiana and an impressive re-work of Skokie CC in Illinois.
William Langford and Theodore Moreau formed their design partnership in 1918 and walking the grounds at Lawsonia allows you to easily see the influence C.B. Macdonald’s early version of Chicago Golf Club had on them. The good news for golf nuts like you and me is that much of the original design on the Links Course has been preserved some 90 years later. While some holes have been lengthened to accommodate technological advancements in equipment, the design principles are not lost and cannot be ignored by anyone playing the course today.
The Links Course at Lawsonia has more quirks than a midget with turrets syndrome, and that is in large part what makes is so damn fun to play. The best example of one such quirks is the fabled 7th hole, which is a phenomenal short par 3 shown below.
The 155 yarder doesn’t look like much until you realize the repercussions of missing the green in any direction. Note where the man in red is shown in the picture. That is roughly a 15 foot rise up to the putting surface. Is that natural? Not a chance. The urban legend is that a railroad car was buried underneath the green to create the rise. That’s the kind of fun you’ll have playing Lawsonia.
Though much of the land you traverse while traveling through Wisconsin seems like flat, boring farm land, the glacial movements of a billion years ago did a find job of creating some very interesting topography in some of the central areas of the state. You see some of this at Lawsonia, albeit aided by Langford’s willingness to move dirt and bury things. The routing at the Links course is superb. While you do begin your day with two mostly blind tee shots, most of the course is right there in front of you, or so it seems. In my mind, there isn’t a single hole or shot that you play here that mirrors one you’ve already attempted. Lawsonia asks you to hit shots into long par 3s, reachable par 5s, short par 4s, and long par 4s. There are opportunities to hit risk reward shots, but the golf course also allows you to hit a recovery shot from almost anywhere you could think about hitting a stray ball.
Aptly named the Links Course, there aren’t many trees in play and the course plays mostly firm and fast. There are also several opportunities to run shots on the the greens as you would expect on a links style track. While the Links course is anything but long, you will find yourself hitting some longer clubs to greens based on how the hole is designed. The greens Langford designed are some of the most difficult, subtle, and fun putting surfaces you’ll ever see. While you always have an opportunity to recover from a shitty shot, being out of position is usually a recipe for a bogey, and that is largely due to how the greens were built. I’ve never played 18 greens that were so incredibly difficult to get up and down on after being just a yard or two off the edge. As you can see from the pictures, Langford used several large banks and built up the land around the greens to create ‘hazards’ for the golfers mind and eyes to deal with.
You know how sometimes when someone tells you about a course, they’ll also tell you to bring a full dozen balls because you’ll lose so many? That isn’t the case here. There is no water in play that I can think of. Even if you hit it in the fescue grass, you’ll likely find it and be able to advance it. We played 36 holes and I think I used the same ball all day. The Links Course also gives you a few decent chances at birdies as long as you execute the proper shots and play to the proper angles. Getting above the hole will be no picnic for you either.
The fescue grass I previously mentioned frames the holes quite well for you from the tee and the fairway. Combine that look, with the rolling hills, antique design features, and well conditioned course, and you have an absolutely under-rated layout and design that any golfer would enjoy playing. That being said, you have to remember that when you get out of position and you’re facing a 15 yard lob shot over a 10 foot bank, you’re the one that hit the shot that got you there. Don’t be a hater, just take your medicine.
Wisconsin only has about a 6 month golf season, which means they also only have a 6 month growing season. Don’t show up at Lawsonia on May 10th and expect it to be in tour condition. That can’t happen. The nights are too cold in the spring for grass to grow and to have the course flush until around mid June. Still, from June to October you’ll likely be very pleased with how the course is groomed. It was meant to play firm and fast, and the week of 75 degrees and sun leading up to our visit had the course doing just that.
It does seem to be a busy place during the peak of the season, so therefore you’ll find some wear and tear on the greens that you wouldn’t find at a private club. However, the staff has done all they can to give you a great experience while you’re at Lawsonia. You also might find a rock or two in a green side bunker, which is part of the ruggedness of the course. It didn’t bother me but it does knock the score down just a peg.
You also won’t find much of a primary rough at Lawsonia. That kind of grass wasn’t meant to be a hazard 90 years ago and the irrigation here makes it a moot issue to this day. As I also noted above, the fescue is there to mind fuck you and shape the holes, but it is playable to an extent. That’s how it should be. If you had to re-tee every time you hooked one in that stuff the course would blow. While I noted that the greens show some evidence of excess traffic, they’re still very good and quick enough to make you take notice of some of the undulations that can be both subtle and severe.
If you read this site regularly you know that I also recently reviewed the Straits Course at Whistling Straits that was part of the same trip we took to Wisconsin. When you get wallet raped in Kohler, coming to Lawsonia seems much more gentle. We played 36 holes for something like $110. For a course this good, that’s worth every penny. I think the rack rate is about $65 or so, but I wasn’t involved with any of the bookings, etc, so I can’t say for sure. Some of the rates go up a bit on the weekend, but no matter how you slice it, the Links Course at Lawsonia is one of the best values you can imagine for the quality of golf course you’re playing.
Lawsonia doesn’t nickel and dime you for anything else while you’re there either. Range balls cost what they do anywhere else, merchandise is reasonable, and so is all the food you’re going to take down in Langford’s Pub in the clubhouse. Remember, you’re in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin, the you should get some bang for your buck.
There aren’t a lot of frills and extras that aid in your Lawsonia experience, but there doesn’t need to be. There’s a beer cart, there’s a restaurant, there’s a proshop, there’s a starter, you get the idea. Everything operates smoothly and efficiently as it should, and these happy cheese-heads do it all with a smile. The staff here has been doing this like pros for years, they don’t have to retrain staff like a resort would every year, they just keep on truck’in.
And the pace? It’s pretty damn good. What helps Lawsonia move along is the general fact the the course is so damn playable. You might spend some time looking for a ball or two in the fescue, but it doesn’t happen every hole. It also doesn’t get bogged down by tourists snapping photos and getting lost in the sites. Plus, this is a golfer’s course. If you’re coming to Lawsonia to play, you’re probably not some rich jerkoff playing golf to entertain a client, etc. You’re here for one thing, and the rest of the patrons are too.
If you’re reading between the lines in this review, you’ve already figured out that Green Lake doesn’t have much to offer in the way of amenities like some of the other resorts in Wisconsin. Ahhh….but don’t assume so easily. Green Lake itself has plenty of dining options and a nice little town with just enough nightlife to get you in trouble. The lake can also provide you with other things to do if you aren’t one that wants to golf 36 holes every day you’re in town. Be warned though when choosing your lodging, if you rent a place on Green Lake the mother fucking fisherman will likely have you up at 6 am running their god damn outboards in the wrong gear as they scoot across the water to get to their favorite spot.
Local bars and open water not your thing? Then reach out to the good people of the Foxtail. Our group of 12 refreshed at the house, had dinner, and clean up just in time to have the limo from the Foxtail pick us up for our evening of fun. No, the Foxtail experience isn’t going to compare to a Vegas strip club, but it is better than playing cards and starring at the walls with your buddies. Ask for Devine.
The amenities at Lawsonia are perfectly fine as well for all things golf. They have a locker room, but it isn’t anything to take a picture of, just good enough to take a shit in to rid your body of mud butt from drinking all that Miller from the previous night. Lawsonia doesn’t have a caddie program either, so they lose a half point there. What they do have is a 2nd golf course. We didn’t play it because I’m told it just isn’t nearly as good as the Links Course. Why slum it if you don’t have to? If you have played the Woodland Course, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.
It is hard to imagine that such an old track like the Links Course at Lawsonia can hold up over time, but this one certainly does. Yet, it is playable for those of all levels as long as you know what tees you should be playing and don’t try to do too much when you are out of position. I don’t recall any forced carries that would be unattainable for high handicappers or women. There are birdie and/or eagle (I made eagle on number 5 the 2nd time around!) opportunities to be had if you execute the correct shots.
Golf at the Links Course at Lawsonia is really more of a chess match than it is a round of 18 holes. To me, that is the challenge, as well as the appeal of playing a course like this. This isn’t a place where I’d say to hide the women and children. A beginner learning to play golf at the Links would probably enjoy the game much more than a player of a similar ability learning on TPC Sawgrass (for example).
Per usual, this rating isn’t based on a 5 being “way too hard”. I’m rating a course a 5 when I’d say it’s playable and enjoyable, but not easy, for players of all levels. The Links Course at Lawsonia is fair, hard, and yet is absolutely playable for golfers of all levels. That is becoming a rare find with much of today’s golf course architecture.
When you have no expectations of a golf course when you get there, the grades you give it in a review can go either way on the scale. Having played Whistling Straits 24 hours before I played Lawsonia probably helped for me to see the subtle beauty and simple design virtues in what the course is compared to what it should be. Yet, all things considered, Lawsonia is a hidden gem that any golfer should play if they’re in this neck of the woods. If you’re an architectural nerd, you’ll love it. If you like golf that is fun, this is your place. If you want a great course at a good value, check….get here. I can only think of one type of golfer that wouldn’t enjoy Lawsonia – Links, and that’s the guy that likes to brag about where he’s played, where it is ranked, etc. If you’re that guy, go elsewhere. All others, add Lawsonia to your ‘to-do’ list.
Score: 4.5 (out of 5)
That’s a pretty high score for me to give. To put it in perspective, of the courses I’ve reviewed on this site, only the Plantation Course at Kapalua and Torrey Pines – South have received higher composite scores. Lawsonia – Links is in good company.