The Lake Geneva area has long been a popular summer getaway venue, especially for those south of the state line. Closer than the Northwoods, it offers a chance to quickly escape the bustle of the big city to a beautiful, waterfront destination. The golf scene around Lake Geneva is built to serve the throngs of vacationers coming in during the summer, with well-known properties such as Geneva National, Grand Geneva and Hawk’s View on the north side of the lake offering a buffet of high-end public golf.
Great golf in Lake Geneva doesn’t start and end with those facilities, however. On the lesser-traveled southern shore by the quaint town of Fontana, lower-key Abbey Springs takes golfers on a picturesque trip through the woods coupled with a challenging, enjoyable layout.
This semi-private facility has a membership made up in large part by the Abbey Springs Condominium Association, with many members owning property adjacent to the golf course and conveniently close to the lake. The club offers an array of amenities and recreational activities, making it a great one-stop destination.
The property was built in 1970, with the original course designed by Dick Nugent and Ken Killian. Its routing starts across the street from the lake and wanders through hilly terrain in a residential, yet heavily wooded setting, with brilliant views of Lake Geneva peppered in throughout the journey.
The layout has some of the signatures of the early modern era of golf architecture, when penal golf with an extreme emphasis on accuracy was in vogue. I’ve often struggled on courses of this mold, succumbing to the pressure of trouble existing on both sides of narrow corridors by spraying tee shots more than usual. That said, even with Abbey Springs presenting similar challenges and a high score naturally resulting for me, I didn’t find the experience frustrating like I have at other courses of the same era. The difficulty at Abbey Springs always came with an element of fun, with inviting-looking shots through forests and around ponds, and just enough room to operate to avoid losing balls after mediocre swings.
With the track recently turning 50, it was in need of some heavy maintenance and overhaul to keep it at a high level and in line with modern standards. In particular, the condition of the greens and bunkers had deteriorated over time. Recognizing the need to make improvements to continue offering a high-end golf experience and compete with the rich golf scene in the area, the club enlisted Bob Lohmann and Todd Quitno for a $2.5 million project to redesign the green complexes, overhaul the bunkers and enhance the visual appeal of the course. The improvements debuted this summer with the result a cohesive golf experience that shows off a superb property and the nearby lake.
Lohmann and Quitno have partnered on a number of original designs and renovations across the Midwest. Their most notable original efforts include Canyata, Blackstone, The Merit Club, Pioneer Pointe and Bishops Bay, while renovations include Grand Geneva and Westmoor. Their distinctive style and ability to improve visual appeal in their renovation work made them an excellent choice for this job. Abbey Springs already had a very good layout, so the upgrades to the course had to be made in a thoughtful way so as not to disturb its existing strengths.
Abbey Springs Golf Course
Established 1970; Renovated 2022
Architects: Dick Nugent and Ken Killian (Original); Bob Lohmann and Todd Quitno (Renovation)
Par 72, 6605/6253/5488/4643 Yards
The front nine traverses over the west half of the property, with most of the holes in a traditional parkland, residential setting. Narrow fairways, elevation changes, well-placed bunkers and water hazards all provide a solid challenge, but this is clearly the easier of the two nines and provides a bit of an ease-in before the more difficult back nine.
Hole 1 – Par 4, 409/397/354/328 Yards
The first hole is a long, straightaway par 4 playing uphill to an elevated green. Out-of-bounds must be avoided well left off the tee, but mature trees pinch the fairway to the right, making this a demanding opening drive. The approach shot plays uphill to a semi-blind green with a bunker guarding the left side.
Hole 2 – Par 3, 184/168/153/113 Yards
The second hole is a slightly downhill mid-length par 3 playing to a larger green with water and sand short. This green complex was among the most significantly altered ones in the renovation, with a front bunker and mounds added around the green to enhance the character of the hole. A ridge divides the green into left and right tiers, creating two distinct types of pin positions. I found the wrong section of the green, and a predictable three-putt followed.
Hole 3 – Par 4, 367/356/301/272
This shorter par 4 features a marsh hugging the left side. The bail-out zone to the right is guarded by mature trees, calling for an accurate yet aggressive tee shot. The deep green narrows toward a small back tier, where the pin was located for us that day. Birdies are a possibility on this shorter hole, but errant shots could easily lead to double bogey or worse.
After #3, the routing takes a three-hole journey into a deep, rolling forest, a preview of what’s to come on the back nine.
Hole 4 – Par 5, 523/509/458/405 Yards
The fourth is an uphill par 5 with deep woods on both sides. Two straight shots are needed to navigate a tight corridor between mature trees. The green is small, elevated and tucked behind a deep bunker short and right. While longer hitters may be able to try to get home in two shots, the small size of the green complex encourages a layup followed by a wedge shot.
Hole 5 – Par 4, 378/349/316/278 Yards
The downhill fifth is one of the most altered spots from the renovation. Tee shots need not be too aggressive, as any solid shot down the center will set up a short approach. The small, well-defended green makes it essential to approach from the fairway with a wedge in hand. New greenside bunkers and tree removal from behind and to the left of the green have dramatically improved the look of this hole. The completely rebuilt green will now repel balls short and back left, making a miss long and right especially daunting.
Hole 6 – Par 3, 174/158/134/91 Yards
While several holes on Abbey Springs could rightly be considered the “signature hole” of the property, the sixth may have the best claim to that title, especially after the alterations made by Lohmann and Quitno. A non-descript marsh was expanded into a beautiful pond bordered by large boulders, fundamentally enhancing the view from the tee. This natural-looking green slopes back-to-front, making it one of the more receptive approaches on the course. However, missing long is a critical error, as I found out the hard way en route to a triple bogey. Thankfully, the scenery was enough to take my mind off the misery of posting such a crooked number.
Hole 7 – Par 5, 497/478/428/403 Yards
The seventh is a reachable par 5 playing out of the woods back into the more residential section of the property. Some of the most significant alterations by Lohmann and Quitno are on full display here. While changes were made to the fairway and its surrounds, the most notable upgrades were made to the green complex. Yet again, a rudimentary water hazard near the green was expanded and made more visually stunning, as the pond now surrounds the green site on three sides. While the water is easy to avoid if approaching with a short iron, it is much more in play for those hitting long irons or fairway woods into the green. The scenery and strategy of the seventh make this one of the more memorable spots on the track.
Hole 8 – Par 4, 402/369/324/258 Yards
This shorter par 4 has one of the more intimidating tee shots of the round, with OB left and water close to the right edge of the fairway. Clubbing down off the tee may seem like the natural play on this tight hole, but driver may actually be a safer play as it could carry the water, making a right miss acceptable. The green is elevated with a deep bunker bordering the front left side.
Hole 9 – Par 4, 367/356/326/257 Yards
This is a short yet dangerous finish to the front nine. Water and OB line the left side, making a conservative play off the tee well-advised. The green is narrow with a large bunker bordering the front right side.
The back nine at Abbey Springs is a joyride through the woods and over hills, with signature vistas of Lake Geneva along the way. This is the more difficult of the two nines, as most holes feature deep woods on both sides that will consume balls with fervor. There is terrific variety on the inward loop. On some holes, grinding for par or bogey without losing a ball is a reasonable goal, while on others, heroic shots can set up birdies or even eagles.
Hole 10 – Par 5, 545/519/424/386 Yards
The tenth is a sweeping dogleg left that begins the ascent into the forest. It’s advisable simply to get the ball in play off the tee with whichever club can get the job done. Unfortunately for me, my driver found the woods right, which led to my second and mercifully last triple bogey of the round.
The approach shot plays steeply uphill to a tiered green that slopes heavily from back-to-front. While three excellent shots could set up a birdie opportunity, par is a very good score on this challenging start to the back nine.
Hole 11 – Par 3, 152/141/128/86 Yards
The climb to the highest points of the property continues on the 11th, a short uphill shot that will require at least one extra club, depending on the wind. The safe play is to the right of a front left trap. We played to a left pin, which was largely inaccessible but served as bait for more aggressive play.
Hole 12 – Par 4, 347/329/280/231 Yards
Having reached one of the highest points on the property, the 12th is a riveting downhill ride curving slightly to the left with a view of Lake Geneva in the distance. Even shorter hitters can let their tee shots rip and watch their ball sail down towards the green. This shot reminds me of the 14th at Mammoth Dunes – scenic, playable yet dangerous, and incredibly fun. The obvious miss to avoid is left in the trees, but trouble exists to the right side, as well, with low-hanging trees that will block a clear angle of recovery. The green is well-guarded by bunkers on both sides of the green and a steep slope long that will propel balls into the forest.
Hole 13 – Par 4, 375/364/301/257 Yards
The thirteenth climbs back up the steep hill that golfers just descended, and as a result it plays much longer than the scorecard indicates. The green complex was expanded in the renovation to include mounding in the surrounds, adding to the aesthetic appeal as well as creating interesting lies around the green.
Hole 14 – Par 5, 594/519/486/393 Yards
The impressive stretch of dramatic holes continues at #14. The tee shot plays over a relatively flat corridor through the trees, and a well-hit drive can set up an opportunity to go for it in two. The fairway drops down a steep hill to a green fronted aggressively by a pond and OB long. A low margin for error makes a layup the sensible play for all but the boldest of golfers. The green slopes heavily from back-to-front, making it more receptive but placing importance on staying below the hole.
Hole 15 – Par 4, 487/461/368/259 Yards
The fifteenth meets the textbook definition of a par 4.5, despite its official par of 4 on the scorecard. Long, narrow, and into the prevailing wind, this is a tremendous challenge following a few easier holes. To add to the difficulty, the green is small, elevated and protected by sand. I hit my best drive of the day, only to have a full 3-wood into this tiny target. Despite playing the hole well, I still walked away with a 5.
Hole 16 – Par 3, 185/173/152/119 Yards
The sixteenth is a mid-length downhill iron shot to a green complex bordered closely by two sand traps right. The reshaping of the green and bunkers have improved the visuals of this hole, similar to the other par 3’s at Abbey Springs. The safe play would be to err on the left side, but the hole is short enough that aggressive play towards the pin could be a decent option. After the brutal 15th, players may opt to go with the riskier route to make up ground on the scorecard.
Hole 17 – 294/279/268/257 Yards
As if one reachable par 4 on the back nine weren’t enough, the seventeenth is another opportunity to go for an eagle opportunity. The tee shot plays extremely downhill, once again with a view of Lake Geneva in the background. I can’t remember the last time I went long on a par 4 off the tee, but that’s what happened here. Fortunately, my ball didn’t quite roll into the marsh beyond the green, which also extends to the left of the surface. Nonetheless, this illustrated that driver isn’t necessary for mid- to long-hitters to reach the putting surface.
Hole 18 – Par 4, 382/352/304/256 Yards
This tight, mid-length par 4 is a tough test to close out the round. A tall tree sits on the front left border of the fairway, making this a tricky drive for those who can’t hit a reliable draw. Fairway traps also sit long and right, further defining the required shot shape off the tee. The approach plays downhill to a green protected by water right. I hit a flyer from the right rough, and a loose branch on the ground saved my ball from plummeting into a creek well long. Even though it was a good break to avoid having to take a drop, I still ended up making a 6 after having an obstructed chip back to the green.
I came into Abbey Springs with an open mind, not having played the course prior to the renovation. I was very impressed with the routing, scenery and the strong green complexes that Lohmann and Quitno created. The renovation work was well thought out, yet not overstated, and complements the track perfectly.
The amenities at Abbey Springs were also very impressive, with a nice practice area and a large, well-stocked pro shop. The sprawling clubhouse looks like a great dinner venue, and other recreational activities on site as well as lake access add to the appeal for family-oriented vacations.
Abbey Springs will debut in my Top 50, and after the new surfaces mature and firm up, it will have a chance to climb higher on that list. It’s an enjoyable and challenging experience, and golfers visiting the Lake Geneva area should make a point to include Abbey Springs in their itineraries.