Course Preview: The Club at Lac La Belle

As we wind down the 2019 Wisconsin golf season it’s safe to say the most anticipated new course for 2020 is also one of the state’s oldest: The Club at Lac La Belle in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

With 123 years of championship tradition, new ownership including Matt and Tyler Morse of the Prestwick Golf Group is well in to the back nine of a massive renovation project that will be unveiled to the public via 9-hole preview play starting this Monday, September 9, 2019.

Aerial view of the Club at Lac La Belle’s clubhouse and “Carriage House”

The original course, as Carnoustie historian David Mackesey presented at a recent night hosted at the property, was dreamed up in the late 1880’s to early 1890’s by Washington Park Club leaders and grain industry moguls Charles Schwartz and John Dupee, Jr.

Carnoustie Historian and Diablo GC President David Mackesey presenting

Schwartz and Dupee, of Chicago, were part of a large magnate of wealthy Chicagoans who frequented the Oconomowoc area of Wisconsin, especially in Lac La Belle.

The wealth in the area at that time was staggering. From listening to stories from my aunt who grew up house- and baby-sitting in the area, leaders of industry like Frederick Miller (Miller Brewing), John Rockwell (the town’s founder and original leader), Gustav Pabst (Pabst Beer), Philip Armour (meatpacking, banking), Montgomery Ward (department stores) and many others made the lakes of Oconomowoc their homes away from home.

These folks built palatial estates on one of the Midwest’s nicest lakes, drove the best cars and boats, had the most money and the greatest opportunities and amenities for unmatched leisure.

One of these estates, for example, was this 15,000-plus square foot mansion that once belonged to Montgomery Ward and was recently purchased by Pittsburgh Steelers and former University of Wisconsin football star TJ Watt.

It was in that vein of having all the finest things that the original Country Club of Oconomowoc was borne, and its championship pedigree began with its first PGA Professional, Alex Smith.

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Hawk’s Landing: Wisconsin’s Most Underrated Golf Experience?

Last Tuesday was a monumental one for me. I turned 40.

Yikes.

I haven’t been able to play much golf this year, so I wanted to make sure I took the day off of work and spent it on the course. It’d been seven years since I last played Hawk’s Landing in Verona, and I’d been wanting to get back for a while. I put together a tee time and called my buddy, Dan, who has been a good friend of mine for about 35 of these years and now lives in the Madison area.

It’s crazy to think about time now, and how quickly it’s flying by especially since I met my now wife, Kelly, and [even more] especially since we had our first child, Charlie, who was born in July, 2017, and then our daughter, Quinn, born just over six months ago. But, I digress.

I think Hawk’s Landing is one of the most underrated golf courses in the state of Wisconsin.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfectly kept public course in the state, and its conditions certainly rival those of Wisconsin’s elite private clubs. Neil Radatz and his team there do a fantastic job keeping their semi-private course in private club shape.

Hawk’s Landing has had some great improvements since the last time I was there in 2012. The enhancement I noticed most but didn’t get to experience was the addition of Better Billy Bunkers – I somehow managed to not hit a single greenside trap, but they looked beautiful.

I’ve played out of Better Billy Bunkers before, though, most recently at SentryWorld, and can attest to their great feel. More importantly, though, for Radatz, his staff and the members and guests at Hawk’s Landing, they are nearly washout-proof and provide a consistently high-end bunker experience.

The most significant enhancement to the Hawks Landing facility is not on the course, but is rather their clubhouse which is undergoing a massive renovation and addition.

Coinciding with that improvement, Hawks Landing now contracts out their food and beverage experience through Dahmen’s. Dahmen’s at Hawks Landing features a beautiful view over the course and its finishing hole and provides a really enjoyable menu including some of the best wings I’ve had in a while and the pound-plus soft pretzel appetizer: The Dahmenator.

One upgrade that I brought to Hawk’s Landing this year that I didn’t have in 2012 is my DJI Spark drone. I’m still learning how to use it, but did take a few videos that I’ll include below.

For my updated review of Hawk’s Landing in Verona, Wisconsin, please check out the following link:

Golf Course Review: Hawk’s Landing

A few drone videos from July 30, 2019 at Hawks Landing:

The par three 4th

The par three 8th (flyover)

The par three 8th, second video (tee shot)

The par five 18th

Updated Golf Course Review: The Bog (linked)

It had been since March 2012 since I last played The Bog in Saukville, Wisconsin, and every year at the Milwaukee Golf Expo I’d see Andy and the guys and tell them I’ll find my way back to re-photograph and play the course in more ideal conditions.

It’s been one of those reviews that bothered me, and for good reason: When you type in something like “The Bog golf course review” or anything similar, my article and those barely-out-of-Winter pictures were the first or second result that came up.

I finally returned to The Bog last weekend, and let me say mid-July conditions show a big improvement over the course aesthetics in March. As a prime example, imagine this scene on the 18th tee with no leaves…

Tee shot on the par four 18th at The Bog

Without further adieu, here is my updated review of The Bog in Saukville. Enjoy!

Golf Course Review: The Bog

Lawsonia: One of Wisconsin’s Best 36-Hole Destinations

For my money, there’s probably no better spot in the state of Wisconsin for 36 holes than Lawsonia. An hour and fifteen minutes from Milwaukee, Lawsonia offers two distinct golfing experiences: The all-world Langford/Moreau classic Links course, and the tree-lined, scenic Woodlands course.

I made this year’s first pilgrimage to Lawsonia two weeks ago, and this time brought with me a new gadget.

My friend, Troy, had been telling me how easy it is to use the DJI Spark drone, and he let me borrow his to try out for a couple of weeks.

Like any golfer, I’ve always salivated over amazing drone footage of great golf holes. No one I’ve seen recently has done that better than Andy Johnson of The Fried Egg. For a terrific example, see his video from Lawsonia here:

“The Boldest Value in Golf: Lawsonia Links” – video credit: Andy Johnson, The Fried Egg

Despite having no drone or video editing skills, I fumbled around enough to take a couple nice shots I wanted to share. The first is one of my favorite par fours: The second hole on the Woodlands course.

Lawsonia Woodlands hole 2: Par 4 from the sky

A view from the sky shows the strategic value in playing off the tee to the fairway right of the quarry: A clear shot to the green.

Another great par four on the Woodlands course is the curvy, up-and-down fourteenth (click image for video):

Lawsonia Woodlands hole 14: Par 4 from the sky

Finally, a video of Phillip’s tee shot on the famous par three seventh on the Links course (click image for video):

As an aside, I didn’t realize until after this trip that I haven’t updated my review and photos of the Links course since it was deforested in 2014. I’ll aim to re-shoot the course and update photos sometime during the 2019 season.

And, finally, to all the dads out there… Happy Father’s Day!

Golf Course Review: Mistwood Golf Club (IL)

The journey of Mistwood Golf Club over the past 20 years has been well documented and for good reason: This is a fantastic public golf destination and an incredibly well run operation.

The first thing you’ll notice at Mistwood is its facilities. The bag drop is just outside the pro shop, downstairs from their Scottish-style restaurant, McWethy’s Tavern, and separated by a rustic courtyard from the grand hall.

A look up at the pro shop/restaurant, courtyard and grand hall from the performance center

String lighting supports the ambiance above the the courtyard, perched over the course, and an outdoor area highlighted by picturesque stone bridges crossing a man-made canal patrolled by massive carp.

The view from one bridge to the next at Mistwood

It takes no imagination to envision Mistwood’s potential as a wedding venue. The views from the grand hall, outdoor courtyard and restaurant are stunning, and its clear the entire property was designed with intent – the operations run out of Mistwood serve the Chicago area’s only true year-round golf experience as well as one of its premiere banquet and catering outfits.

Owner Jim McWethy has invested millions in to the Mistwood experience over the past handful of years, both at the flagship course and at its sister properties like the Mistwood Golf Dome and McWethy’s Sports Bar.

The golf dome, located in nearby Bolingbrook, features TopTracer technology on all 30 of its hitting bays, and employs four cameras per bay that allow every swing in its 60,000 square feet of heated range to be analyzed within several feet of reality.

The Mistwood property boasts every bit as good of practice facilities, highlighted by the Mistwood Performance Center. This state of the art 5,000 square foot prairie-style building features a world-class putting lab with TrackMan and Quintic ball roll technology, 11 heated hitting stations, a full-service bar, club repair room, and teaching stations set up with TrackMan and Foresight GC2.

Nothing’s done half-hearted at Mistwood – their teaching and fitting stations are competitive against the very best and they’ve been consistently named one of “America’s 100 Best Clubfitters” (Golf Digest) and a “Top 50 Public Facility” (Golf Range Magazine).

A look in to the teaching studio bays at Mistwood’s Performance Center

As the site of the Illinois Women’s Open for 25 consecutive years, I knew Mistwood’s golf course would be really good. It far exceeded my expectations, though, in regards to playability, challenge and aesthetics.

Course architect and USGCA member Ray Hearn of Raymond Hearn Golf Course Designs, Inc. originally designed Mistwood Golf Club leading up to its 1999 opening, and was later brought back by owner Jim McWethy for renovations.

This renovation work included the addition of 19 sod-walled bunkers, the deepening of three sizable internal lakes (especially the massive St. James Loch, which shapes the 14th thru 17th hole stretch nicknamed “Kelpie’s Korner”), a complete renovation of the third hole, major renovations and additions to the property’s facilities (eg: The MPC, pro shop, bar/restaurant, practice facilities, river and bridges), and general betterment of every hole on the course.

McWethy’s reinvestment in the property was very well received… So well received, in fact, that it earned Golf Magazine’s honor of being the country’s “Best Public Course Renovation” for 2014.

There are a lot of really good holes at Mistwood, but what you won’t find are any bad ones.

First on my list of the best holes on the course is the par five eighth. With St. James Loch lining the entire right side of the hole, a central fairway trap splits the fairway and provides the perfect line for a guy like me whose accuracy only guarantees my drive usually won’t go exactly where I’m aiming.

Hole 8: Par 5 (596/566/566/535/431)
Hole 8: Par 5 (596/566/566/535/431) showing the split fairways

The green here has been recently renovated, adding some shortly mowed collection areas toward the back. Our day’s back-right pin was diabolical and probably unplayable during peak season, but was a fantastic example of how a course this versatile can set things up as challenging as is needed.

The club’s signature hole is the par three 14th. The two back tees feature a carry of 175-plus, while the forward tees have the lake to the left.

The hole reminded me a lot of the par threes at another great Illinois course: No. 3 at Medinah Country Club. Elevated tees show only water and what appears to be a sliver of a green – it’s an intimidating tee shot, to say the least.

Hole 14: Par 3 (239/200/200/157/116) from the back tees
Hole 14: Par 3 (239/200/200/157/116) from the forward tees

Some of my other favorite holes included the par five 3rd, par three 7th, par three 9th, the drivable par four 10th, the short par four 13th, challenging par five 15th, and the “sporty” par four 16th.

Slideshow of additional Mistwood Golf Club photos:

Mistwood Golf Club website