2015 Golf Season in Review

For the first couple of years I wrote my blog, I did a write-up at the end of each year to put the season in to words, and to commend the courses I felt were the best that year in multiple categories.

As my site has continued to grow, this has become less academic, especially since I joined a private club a few years back and am obviously playing a much smaller sample of different courses each season.

It doesn’t hurt to write a little review, though, especially for my own pleasure to look back at in the future at what was the golf season of 2015.

The winter of 2015 extended a little longer than normal, with most golf courses opening in early April. This was a couple weeks earlier than in 2014, but months behind some years. I am already praying that 2016 will see course openings back in the February timeline again… Fingers crossed.

With last night’s first snow of the Winter, I figure this is as good a time as any to wrap things up… Not that I won’t be out there if/when the weather warms up and the grounds are healthy enough to play!

Most of my rounds this year were played at my home course of North Hills Country Club, which under the tutelage of Randy DuPont was in exceptional shape again all year round. My season was a roller coaster of sorts, starting out with an index of 12.1 and getting down to 9.0, shooting consistently for a while in the low 80’s.

Then I became a bad nine, right around September first, shooting 87-89 and losing money in my Saturday games. In games where the total monetary payout ranges from $3-5, I actually lost $45 one day. Ouch.

That is enough about my game, though – what about the courses from 2015?

2015: Best Public Golf Course Played

1. Pacific Dunes (OR)

Rated the number two public course by Golf Digest, number two modern course by GolfWeek, and number one public course in the country by Golf.com, Pacific Dunes is coastal golf at its very best. Designed by Tom Doak and opened in 2001, Pacific Dunes blends perfectly rugged Bandon landscape with ingenious hole layouts and execution.

Pacific Dunes hole 4

Pacific Dunes hole 4

Pacific Dunes Website

2. Streamsong, Red Course (FL)

Just a few years old, the Red course at Streamsong has already amassed an incredible number of accolades, including the number 18 public course in the United States.

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Golf Course Review: Lawsonia Links

Rated as the number three golf course in the state of Wisconsin by GolfWeek, the Links Course at Lawsonia is in a class of its own. It is ranked only behind the Straits Course at Whistling Straits, and the River Course at Blackwolf Run.

In reality, these two courses should never be compared to the Links. Comparing it to them is like comparing an apple to an onion. Sure they have some key mutual characteristics, but the actual experience is so different they cannot stand side by side.
What intrigues all Wisconsin golfers about the Links is just that: It is different. There is nothing around that plays like this course does, and most golfers’ playing style will not translate easily here.
William Langford and Theodore Moreau brought their dreams for Lawsonia to fruition in 1930. Built on the farmland of Victor Lawson (hence, the course’s name), the duo spent over a quarter of a million dollars on the landscaping and cultivation of the layout. This cost is comparable to the Kohler Company’s costs for creating the Straits Course in 1995. Again, this is just one of those apple versus onion mutual traits.
The Links Course is all about the short game, and how you play from 100 yards and closer will determine your score. The greens are astoundingly quick, and play like hillsides. Many of them have two, and sometimes three, unique levels separated by several foot tall shelves, while others are simply slanted drastically to add their level of difficulty.
Like a true links-style course, there are few trees and water hazards that come in to play. The toughness of the play revolves around severe undulations, both in the fairways and especially around the greens. Pre-round instruction will tell you all you need to know: Do not drive backwards in the fairways – the birms surrounding all sand traps can reach more than a story high, and getting out of any sand trap can be considered a monumental feat. From the fairway bunkers, you can rarely expect a chance to do anything but get out and hopefully find the short grass.
The greens here are typically large, and almost all risen above sand traps that guard against anything but ideal approach shots. Anything else will likely be ten or more feet below the green, and almost always in sand. The sand at Lawsonia is probably the only complaint I have about the course: The traps could use some work. Re-digging the bunkers and filling with new sand would do a lot of good, as the current sand conditions are somewhat low.
The course itself begins with a couple of blind shots, but do not worry because this does not carry over to the rest of the track. Take the opportunity to drive the cart path, and find a good line for your drive, or you will have no idea where to hit on this first hole. The fairway slants to the right, and uphill to a green that is quite typical of the Links course. Stay right on the approach, if anything, as this is your only true bailout. You will still not be sure you are on the green until you drive up and actually see your ball lying safely on the putting surface.
Hole 1: Par 4 (418/407/348/348)
Hole 1: Par 4 (418/407/348/348)
Hole number two features the second blind tee shot on the course. Use the left-most tree to the right as your target, as left of that should find the fairway, while right will find an old cemetary set amidst tall pine trees. This hole provides the first taste of the accentuated fairway bunkers that line most of the Links course’s holes.
Hole 2: Par 4 (431/422/405/295)
Hole 2: Par 4 (431/422/405/295)
Hole 2: Par 4 (431/422/405/295)

The third hole begins by the huge barn from Lawson’s farm. It is comforting being able to see the fairway from the tee boxes, but the location of the green deep-right makes anything off the fairway tough to land without finding the traps that surround it.

Hole 3: Par 4 (386/367/360/300)
Hole 3: Par 4 (386/367/360/300)

The fourth hole is the first par three on the Links course. This is ironic, as the course features more par threes (five) and fives (five) than fours (eight). This exciting mix will be discussed more shortly. The wind must be factored in on the tee shot, and will influence club selection by as much as a few clubs. At 175 from the white tees, or 203 from the tips, this can be awfully significant! Anything left or short will be ten feet below the green in sand, as will anything long or long and right. There is nothing easy about any of the par threes on this course.

Hole 4: Par 3 (203/175/165/158)

The fifth hole is a gorgeous par five that runs along the road. The fescue area left of the fairway proved to be a popular area for tee shots for the group in front of us, but the fairway itself is wide enough to be hit. Right is a terrible option, too, and could incur obstructed views from the trees found there, or even the street. The second shot is fairly elementary, but as is par for this course, the approach requires a lot of thought to keep away from the sand that guards this green.

Hole 5: Par 5 (487/475/439/439)
Hole 5: Par 5 (487/475/439/439)

The sixth hole is one of the longest par fours on the Links. The tee shot overlooks a large central sand trap, which can be easily out-driven to find a downward sloping fairway. The bi-level green makes this a very challenging par four.

Hole 6: Par 4 (439/406/328/328)
Hole 6: Par 4 (439/406/328/328)
Hole number seven is probably the most famous hole on the Links course. Nicknamed “The Boxcar Hole,” this par three was cultivated using an old boxcar as the base of the green area. From elevated tee boxes, the shot itself is only around 150 yards. A club or two long can still hold the green, but anything hit short, right or long is destined for bogey at best. The green rises about 20 feet above the rough, and climbs straight upward. I found this area to the right my first time played it, and a flopped 56-degree wedge still was not enough to hit the putting surface. As the group in front told us, “This sure is a beautiful hole… To look at.”
Hole 7: Par 3 (161/146/140/109)
Hole 7: Par 3 (161/146/140/109)
The eighth hole is probably my favorite driving hole on the Links course. Use the large pre-fairway sand trap as your target, and wail away. At only 322 yards from the white tees, big hitters are tempted to hit as hard as they can toward the green. Anything right, though, will find the massive fescue area and leave to a shot out of it that will have to carry the sand and tall birm that fronts the green area.
Hole 8: Par 4 (339/322/315/249)
Hole 8: Par 4 (339/322/315/249)
The last hole of the front nine is a long par five that will require at least two excellent shots. The fairway is laid out horizontally in front of the tee boxes, and runs from left to right. Avoid over-driving it, as this will land you in the fescue long, but make sure to give yourself a chance at hitting the fairway to the right on your second shot. The approach is much easier here than it is for much of the course. There are no birms guarding the green, and the sand is minimal in comparison to others.
Hole 9: Par 5 (535/529/520/461)
The tenth hole is one of the hardest par threes you will ever play. At 239 yards from the blue tees, or 217 from the whites, the tee shot is extraordinarily intimidating as the fairway bunker looks to run the distance to the green. Beyond it, though, is plenty of area to be short. The right line is the most important aspect of your tee shot, and flying right will find you in a heap of trouble in the sand below the green. The green slopes severely upward from front to back, which also provides little in the form of assistance.
Hole 10: Par 3 (239/217/162/162)
Eleven opens up a bit more off the tee. As a par five, the first shot is allowed to leak slightly left. This is about as much comfort as you will find on this course. This par five continues the par five-three-five-three-five-three scheme that makes for a lot of fun during this stretch of six holes.
Hole 11: Par 5 (510/482/430/278)
The most notable aspect of the par three twelfth hole is the green. It is absolutely massive, and does not merely feature slopes, but cliffs. The most notable one is a shelf that runs midway through the green, and falls about five feet to the lower level. Navigating this green is as much guess-work as it is skill, and you’re best off training on the strength of your strokes than you are the lines.
Hole 12: Par 3 (183/171/165/141)
Thirteen is one of the most awe-striking par fives you will find anywhere. The tee shot is pretty self-explanatory: Try to find the fairway and set up your second shot. From there, it gets interesting. The mounding on this hole is absolutely beautiful, and is the quintessential example that should be used for any American links-style course. The second shot has to be long, and absolutely needs to be in the fairway. Why? The finish is surrounded by woods, and features a massive depression that falls steeply from the fairway. It then climbs again for 150-plus yards to the green, which looks heavenly from the fairway depression before being mounded even higher for the green itself. This is one of the greatest par fives I have ever played.
Hole 13: Par 5 (568/556/489/489)
Hole 13: Par 5 (568/556/489/489)

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Hole 13: Par 5 (568/556/489/489)
Following the fantastic thirteenth hole is my favorite of the Links’ par threes. Fourteen is the only completely wooded hole on the course. If you have one target in mind for this hole, it should be the middle to left part of the green. The right side is risky, to say the least. The green rises from the left to right, but drops sharply in to a long green-side sand trap that will make par next to impossible.
Hole 14: Par 3 (154/139/130/124)
Fifteen is the first par four you will encounter since the long-since-played eighth hole. With a tee shot over the pond, stay away from the fairway bunkers on the right, which will lock you out from a viewable approach of the green that lies along the treeline.
Hole 15: Par 4 (394/379/370/233)
The sixteenth is the longest par four on the Links course. At 443 yards from the tips, or 435 from the white tees, the tee shot is largely blind and must stay away from the fescue that lines the left side of the hole. The second shot is going to be long regardless of your tee shot, so lying up the approach and playing for a one-putt is not a terrible strategy.
Hole 16: Par 4 (443/435/293/293)

The fairway bunkers on seventeen make for a very difficult start to this hole. The green, though, is a whole ‘nother story. This area is a blow-up hole waiting to happen. Looking at the bottom picture that follows, I probably do not need to explain any farther.

Hole 17: Par 4 (383/363/355/264)
Hole 17: Par 4 (383/363/355/264)
Like on the Woodlands, the Links course ends with a challenging par five. I get the impression that Langford and Moreau were excellent short-game players, and shrewd businessmen, as there is nothing given away easily on this course. Eighteen is a prime example of this. At 580 yards from the tips, or 503 from the white tees, this hole has a plethora of fairway bunkers and green-side hazards, and the finish is as tough as any you will find on the Links course – unless you hit the pin on your chip and have it roll to within two feet (I couldn’t have been happier not to putt on this green!).
Hole 18: Par 5 (580/503/475/407)
Hole 18: Par 5 (580/503/475/407)
Course Wrap-up:
Location: Green Lake, WI
Yardage: Blue-6853, White-6494, Gold-6022, Red-5078
Slope/Rating: Blue-130/73.0, White-128/71.5, Gold-124/68.8, Red-117/68.9
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: $90 (with cart)

Golf Course Review: Lawsonia Woodlands

At the mention of Lawsonia, most golfers immediately default to thoughts of the Links, which is an authentic links-style course currently rated as the 55th best Classic track in the country, and top five in the state. The Woodlands at Lawsonia is a wonderful course in its own right, chocked full of fantastic golf holes and all the charm you expect from a course built on site at this Green Lake property owned by the American Baptist Church.

Through the large brick entryways off of Highway 23, the course’s landscape puts you quickly in a place of calmness and absolute beauty. Lawsonia is Wisconsin golf at its best, in two distinct styles that are in such contrast to one another that it’s amazing they reside on the same property.
The facilities are sufficient, although the practice range can use a relocation. The way it is set up now is on an angle uphill toward the first hole of the Links course. The practice green is true to the course: Lightning fast with cliff-like breaks that require added strength uphill, and serious restraint dowhill. The carts are quiet and feature onboard laser range/distance locators. This provides some assistance on the Woodlands course, and is almost necessary on the Links.
The first impression of Lawsonia is of the famous Links course, which dominates the entrance to the club. A short cart ride from the clubhouse into the forest brings you to the first hole of the Woodlands: A mid-length par five of around 500 yards. The tee shot is one of the least stressful you will play on this track, with ample space to slice and stay in play. The second shot faces a steep drop-off to the woods on the left, while the dogleg right requires touch to stay away from the sand traps and all the trees. I love starting with par fives, which tend to allow for an imperfect shot or two while still providing a chance for par. This is the only par five like that on the Woodlands course.
Hole 1: Par 5 (510/492/395/395)
Hole 1: Par 5 (510/492/395/395)
The second hole is one of my favorites at the Woodlands. 200 yards down the middle of the fairway lives a huge quarry that drops deep from the hitting surface. A bailout fairway lies to the right, while the more appropriate fairway to the left is narrow and sheltered by trees. A large stone observation tower, known locally as Jutson Tower, looms above the fairway, and a huge oak tree is centered in front of the green, guarding the back-left green location. Playing early on a Sunday morning, chimes and church music provided fantastic ambience to the hole.
Hole 2: Par 4 (341/329/315/315)
Hole 2: Par 4 (341/329/315/315)
The third hole is a great example of the fantastic par threes that are featured on the Woodlands course. Perched high above a small green, and well above Green Lake to your right, the tee shot is treacherous with sand traps everywhere. Even the drive down the winding cart path is semi-dangerous – a sign advising drivers to pump their brakes should certainly be heeded.
Hole 3: Par 3 (168/156/145/105)
Hole number four is one of the most deceptively tough holes on the Woodlands course. At 356 yards from the white tees, the dogleg left does not invoke much stress. The approach doesn’t look difficult, either, but the green is unbelievably quick, and getting out of there with two putts is awfully impressive.
Hole 4: Par 4 (383/356/347/247)
The fifth is a beautiful hole that finishes overlooking Green Lake. The tee shot bends left to right, long enough to hit most clubs in the bag.
Hole 5: Par 4 (384/365/314/270)
Hole six is one of the Woodlands’ signature holes: A par three with a large pond front-left and a brook that builds into a waterfall on the right side. The green sweeps from the front to back, and anything on the front side will make for a nasty uphill putt.
Hole 6: Par 3 (162/151/140/105)
Hole 6: Par 3 (162/151/140/105)
Seven is my favorite hole on the course, and one of my all-time favorite par fives. The tee shot is nearly impossible: A large sand trap and woods on the left, forest on the right, and well within distance is a mammoth pond surrounded by tall, thick fescue. Stay safe off the tee and your second shot will be to a wide enough area uphill to set up the approach. The green is two-tiered, so make sure you find the right level. Anything on the wrong level almost guarantees a three-putt, while a top-level hole location is still liable to carry any putt to the lower level (or off the green, altogether). Take a minute to enjoy the look back at this gorgeous hole layout before moving on to the eighth hole.
Hole 7: Par 5 (527/495/479/428)
Hole 7: Par 5 (527/495/479/428)
Hole 7: Par 5 (527/495/479/428)
Hole number eight is a nice par four over water that winds between two uphill tree lines. The tee shot is narrow, so hit anything you feel confident will fly straight. After rounding the left tree line, the approach toward the concession stand is surrounded by sand, and features a long, but true, green.
Hole 8: Par 4 (402/377/338/262)
Nine is a fun par four. Much more open than most of the course, the tee shot has plenty of bailout area to the left. The fairway is obviously preferred, but stay clear of the right side if at all possible. The elevated green is surrounded by deep sand traps, but the green is large enough to hit with relative ease.
Hole 9: Par 4 (394/367/349/295)
The back nine starts with a dogleg left. The fairway traps look forever away, but prove to be more than reachable with a long iron or fairway wood. The green is revealed uphill to the left, with a multitude of sand traps and severe uphill slope, adding more than a degree or two of difficulty to this par four.
Hole 10: Par 4 (336/319/319/269)
Eleven is a very tough par five. The landing area for most drives is primarily water and sand, with a small strip of fairway lying in between. The fairway runs skyward, with water lining much of the left side.
Hole 11: Par 5 (495/471/452/402)
Enjoy hole number twelve as a short par four. Keep the drive straight for a great opportunity to hit this green in regulation. The fairway runs initially downhill, then slopes back upward to the green.
Hole 12: Par 4 (356/337/330/267)
Hole 12: Par 4 (356/337/330/267)
Making the turn to the 13th brings much of the Links course into view. From the woods, it is a gorgeous vista of bright green with the contrast of abundant golden fescue. Soak it in, but make sure you choose the right club on this par three. With a back-left hole location, it is a solid club or two up to carry the large sand trap front-left, and anything right leaves a long approach up the green.
Hole 13: Par 3 (183/162/145/145)
Fourteen is one of the best, and most challenging, par fours on the course. At over 400 yards, the green is almost unreachable in two. The initial tee shot can be shaped from left to right, and gets good run downhill. Aim left of the large oak tree on the right side of the fairway, but try your best to stay on the short grass. The second shot is long regardless of your tee shot, and a huge depression in the fairway sucks up anything short. This area is brutal to chip from, and the climbing fairway makes solid contact with a high wedge difficult.
Hole 14: Par 4 (438/418/377/377)
Fifteen allows for anything but driver off the tee. This hole reminds me a lot of the second hole at Wild Rock: A fairway wood should result in a fairway hit, and the dogleg straight right is only then possible.
Hole 15: Par 4 (418/385/365/297)
One of the most picturesque par threes on the Woodlands course, sixteen calls for a demanding high iron over water. This hole plays much like a similar par three at Washington County. Anything left is in the water, and so is anything short. Some bailout is provided short and right, but not much. The sand trap on the right is not impossible, but tough to get out of without running your sand shot downhill to the pond.
Hole 16: Par 3 (189/157/145/105)
Hole 16: Par 3 (189/157/145/105)
Turning the corner to the seventeenth hole provides one of the most visually stunning views on the course. Overlooking seventeen and the fantastic seventh hole, this par four is best attacked by a drawn tee shot. The majestic pines lining the left side of the tee box will not allow for a cut, and the woods to the right take anything hit errantly. A multitude of sand traps in both the fairway and around the green make this a very challenging hole.
Hole 17: Par 4 (376/345/323/323)
It is always nice to finish a difficult round with a somewhat easy hole. At over 500 yards, this par five is not the easy hole you are looking for. It is not the length of the eighteenth that makes it so tough, but the layout. A snug driving area leads to a long second shot. Hitting two good shots will not guarantee you a shot at the green, which is well-hidden around a corner to the right, and littered with sand traps. Think it was difficult to get there in the first place? Try putting on this hole. My sand shot came out above the hole, looked to be stopped, then rolled at a snail’s pace more than 50 feet to the bottom of the green and then ten feet off. My friend’s putt from the bottom rolled 15 feet past the pin before falling back to within four feet. Keeping this in mind will help you finish your round in style!
Hole 18: Par 5 (524/504/504/416)
Hole 18: Par 5 (524/504/504/416)
Hole 18: Par 5 (524/504/504/416)
Course Wrap-up:
Location: Green Lake, WI
Yardage: Blue-6586, White-6186, Gold-5782, Red-5023
Slope/Rating: Blue-132/71.9, White-128/70.1, Gold-124/68.0, Red-120/70.5
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: $90 (with cart)
Best Way to Play: $30 rate on GolfNow.com
Notable Ratings: Golf.com: #13 course in Wisconsin (2010); Golf Digest: 4-1/2 stars