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2 Play the Tips played Lawsonia (Links) on Monday, October 18, 2010

The Golf Courses of Lawsonia (Links)

She may not look great, but damn, she's something special

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The once grand entrance at Lawsonia makes you feel like you have arrived at an ancient shipwreck or something
Cheese, golf, and lodging… it’s a simple life
#1 - A blind opening tee shot… hello links golf
#1 - The Greens at Lawsonia are pushed up. If you miss one you will pay.
#2 - Another blind tee shot makes you trust your line off the tee on the par 4 2nd.
#3 - The Barn that runs along the third hoe is extremely unique and charming
#6 - Better be precise with your shot to the green, or you'll face a tricky two putt
#6 - The Large Mound on number 6 is hazardous even without technically being a hazard.
#7 - The Box Car Hole
#17 - A great example of Bill and Ted's pushed up greens can be seen at the 17th green complex.

A simpler life… that’s what Green Lake, Wisconsin touts. The town is full of people who appreciate a more classic lifestyle; a lifestyle that doesn’t require the glamor, the attention, and the sheer grandness that has taken a firm grasp on our nation and our generation. Just as Green Lake has remained true to its roots, the Links Course at Lawsonia remains as true to Langford and Moreau’s original design as one could hope. Every blade of grass is not impeccably manicured. It isn’t featured on the covers of golf magazines. It doesn’t offer views that leave you speechless. The links course isn’t so much visually beautiful as it is architecturally beautiful. It is truly a masterful display of links golf, and is without a doubt the closest either of us has come to playing an Open Championship-style layout.

The iron clad gates at the entrance look as old as the course and give you the sense that there is something here worth protecting. Once you step on to the links, you realize how true that really is. Protecting the integrity of this classic has included a recent tree removal program which has molded the golf course back to its original form. The links course was completed in 1929 and opened in 1930 as a part of a luxury gated resort. The golf course and the renovations to the property (including an Inn, a casino, and an outdoor pool) cost over three million dollars - in the 1920's. Soon after, the resort went bust and the Northern Baptist Assembly - still the current owners - bought the land and expanded golf operations.

The spectacular green complexes erected by Langford and Moreau provide an unusually tough test for any golfer inside 100 yards. We found that when you stood right near one of the unusually elevated greens or next to one of the towering grass bunkers that lined many fairways, the terrain looked highly engineered. The amazing thing, however, was when you stood back and looked at the course as a whole. Everything looked incredibly natural. There were even a few occasions where if you looked in a certain direction and removed the benches and ball washers, you would barely be able to tell you were on a golf course. The greens were no exception, either. While most of them look very engineered, they all have subtle breaks and very naturally rolling undulations. It felt like almost every putt double-broke.

Newly designed courses, with their brutally long holes and numerous hazards tend to stab you a few times. This one chooses to prick you with needles the whole round. Your only chance to stop the bleeding is a world class performance around the greens. Because of the relatively short overall yardage from the tips, 6853, the golf course does a wonderful job of lulling you to sleep while extracting bogeys in bunches if you get a little reckless. The Links required a strong mental approach from tee to green, and rewarded methodically placed shots while giving little hope to those that missed on the wrong side of the fairway - or worse, the wrong side of the green. If positioning the golf ball wasn't hard enough, Langford and Moreau made it even more difficult with the immense amount of deception they built in to the Links Course. Well positioned cross bunkers, grassy mounds, numerous doglegs in both directions and blind shots all play a huge part in steering golfers away from intended target lines and deceiving you on almost every hole. If you ever heard a PGA Tour player talk about trusting and hitting his lines, you will know what they meant after playing this golf course. There is no doubt that a game plan is needed to play The Links course at your full potential. We both agreed that we had never played a course which required so much strategy - especially with so few hazards on the property. If your game is a little off, this course can certainly frustrate you with its simple appearance and anything but simple design. Neither of us could recall a time when we hit more decent pitch shots, chip shots, and putts and still had five to fifteen feet remaining. For whatever reason, with the exception of maybe one hole placement, the pins seemed relatively accessible but gimmies were hard to come by.

The signature hole at the Links Course is said to be the Par 3 7th. While this hole is only 161 yards from the tips and has no bunkers and no water, it poses quite a challenge for all who play it. Club selection is paramount, as any shots that come up short or right of the green will wind up some 40 feet below the putting surface. Legend has it that a railroad car is buried below the green to give the complex its dramatically raised appearance. The best hole on the golf course, however, is the 440 yard par 4 6th. A blind dogleg right with a few different options off the tee. You can aim short and left to the visible portion of the fairway and be faced with an approach of close to 200 yards, or you could take aim down the right hand side of the huge grassy mound to the right and gain some distance by cutting the corner and getting some additional roll down the hill. Beware of the "principal's nose bunkers" about 300 yards from the tee, though - they are more reachable than you think. Over our two rounds, we had approach shots to this green ranging anywhere from 212 to 104. The green sits up on a hill and has a classic false front which sends any ball hit short of the green rolling back some 40 yards, leaving an awkward uphill pitch. Even when we managed to hit this green we felt lucky to escape with par. A spine runs diagonally through this green from back right to front left and cuts the green into two tiers. The left side of the green lays about 3 feet lower than the right. The pin placement we faced was just right of the spine on the top tier. Though this happened to be directly in the middle of the green, the hole location was anything but ordinary, and made the already-tough hole play like even more of a world class challenge.

Danger on the Links Course is camouflaged rather well by Langford and Moreau. The side effect of effective camouflage is that it does little to impress the eye. The golf course gets slightly more scenic for a short while on the back nine with holes 13 and 14 running through a thick area of pine trees. These holes are well positioned in that the trees don't take away from the links feel of the golf course; they only serve as backdrops to the two greens that feel strangely like an amphitheater, an effect not seen anywhere else on the property. Another interesting course design note is the way Langford and Moreau went against design norms by having holes 9 through 14 run as par 5, par 3, par 5, par3, par 5, par 3. Talk about fun.

While the course was nothing short of incredible, the amenities at Lawsonia were all slightly below average. This includes the locker room, the clubhouse, the practice green and even the double sided driving range. The lack of facilities was somewhat expected for this ULTRA PUBLIC track, and in the end they didn't take away from the course. When you take in to account the low rating for Experience, the fact that The Links Course at Lawsonia still graded out so high on our scale speaks volumes to the course. It is without a doubt one of the most interesting golf courses we have ever played. If you are looking to see Golden Era design, the the Links of Lawsonia will prove to be a golden destination.

While you may find yourself uttering many obscenities around Lawsonia's links, we found ourselves saying a few things often enough to make it noteworthy. Aside from the oft-occurring shrug after a well struck shot sailed off to some out-of-sight target, some of them included, “Wait, where do I hit this?” “What? How did that break left?” “What is it to the lip of that bunker?” ...and most of all, “Good Shot. ...I think…”

After a long day and 36 holes of classic golf, we came to this conclusion...

The Links Course is like a good woman. She’s not too showy, she doesn’t feel the need to get all dressed up for guests, and she's not all that concerned about her popularity. She’s a little bit deceptive, sassy, and curvy, and when you make stupid decisions around her, she has nasty ways of making you regret it. You can spend hours with her and have the best of times or the worst of times, but at the end of the day, you can’t help but want more.

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