Golf Course Review: Shepherd’s Crook (IL)

Shepherd’s Crook first got on my radar last year when it was named GolfWeek’s 13th best municipal golf course in the country, one spot behind its neighbor, ThunderHawk, and 22 spots above Washington County Golf Course in Hartford, Wisconsin. I have been intrigued to check it out, to say the least.

Just across the Wisconsin/Illinois border, and about five minutes off of I-94 South, Shepherd’s Crook is very accessible for both Milwaukee and Chicago area golfers.
Shepherd’s Crook is a fun, wide-open course that plays as long as 6,827 yards. I played these silver tees today, and found it very playable. A few of their holes, in particular, make this 6,827 quite challenging, though: The 245-yards par three fourth, 654-yard par five 14th, and two other 570-plus yard par fives.
The Crook played much shorter than that today, as the month-long drought in the Midwest has firmed up the fairways and rough noticeably. The drought has also made photography of the course less impressive than I’m sure it normally is, but it finds a way to be picturesque, nonetheless.
Designed in 1999 by Keith Foster, the primary defense at Shepherd’s Crook is the green areas. Most are risen and relatively small, are well bunkered, roll quickly, and feature significant slope. A lot of the course actually feels similar to the National at Fox Hills, which is another links-style course that I really enjoyed.
One of the great things about Shepherd’s Crook is the price – at $60 including cart as their peak-season weekend rate, this course is really a wonderful value.
The first hole is pretty straight forward. A par four of 350 yards, the wind was directly at my back and carried the drive nicely. With a short chip on, I thought to myself that this was a pretty easy starting hole.
Hole 1: Par 4 (350/331/326/268)
The second hole runs parallel to the first, but in the opposite direction. While my first drive was heavily wind-assisted, the second was straight in to the teeth of it. The fairway runs uphill, and is deeply bunkered on the left side.
Hole 2: Par 4 (378/361/353/296)
The third had the wind at my back again, and was just as fun to drive as the first. I actually ended up just left of the green, which means my drive was about 345 yards. Not bad! This was not an ideal location to pitch from, though, as a steep hill fronts the left side of the green and the front-side pin location left almost no room to work with.
Hole 3: Par 4 (346/317/309/250)
The fourth is an interesting par three, to say the least! At 245 yards from the silver tees (220 from the blacks), and back in to the wind, this was the first time I can ever remember hitting driver on a par three. The sand traps to the left were brutal to hit out of (although well-maintained), and the green has three huge slopes that create a multi-tiered nightmare.
Hole 4: Par 3 (245/220/187/150)
The fifth is the number one handicapped hole on the course, and is my favorite of the Crook’s par fours. The tee shot is fairly straight forward, but trees line the right side of a subtle dogleg right and another multi-tiered green. This is a gorgeous golf hole.
Hole 5: Par 4 (427/400/375/338)
Hole 5: Par 4 (427/400/375/338)
Six is another nice par four. At 415 yards, the tee shot flies over a marsh to a narrow (for Shepherd’s Crook) fairway. The entrance of the green area is very tight and falls off to the left side. I made a disaster of this hole, losing a ball off the tee and then flying the green left.
Hole 6: Par 4 (415/367/333/247)
Seven is a wonderful driving hole. The fairway is mostly straight away, but also meanders slightly right creating a huge landing zone. Avoid the sand traps and you should be fine.
Hole 7: Par 4 (344/323/316/261)
Eight is the second of Shepherd’s Crook’s four par threes, and is one of my favorites. A huge break in the front of the green runs uphill from front to back, with a steppe half-way through. At 166 yards, it is one of the most playable par threes on the course, and plays over a large marsh.
Hole 8: Par 3 (166/150/144/116)
Nine is a great par five. At 576 yards, the green is highly elevated and has a litany of sand traps in front. The fairway runs right and uphill. A good aiming point for your second shot is the clubhouse in the distance.
Hole 9: Par 5 (576/555/526/450)
Ten has a fairly intimidating tee shot, and a challenging approach with heavy mounding around the green area. Like a true links course, Shepherd’s Crook does this often with big hills around their putting surfaces.
Hole 10: Par 4 (426/398/389/297)
Eleven is a very deceptive par three. The scorecard says 201 yards from the back tees, but the tees were up slightly and the wind was at my back. I ended up going with the eye test, opting to avoid all the trouble left and long and instead put an eight iron on the front of the green. This made for all but a routine three-putt up the hugely sloped green surface.
Hole 11: Par 3 (201-180/162/139/127)
With the most blind tee shot on the course, twelve plays downhill over a crowned fairway. Aim for the 150-yard marker, which marks a stark drop-off in the fairway that slants left. This is another very tough approach shot, and is completely blind from the pre-crowned driving area.
Hole 12: Par 4 (380/350/344/278)
Hole 12: Par 4 (380/350/344/278)
The tee shot on thirteen is again blind, and wind in the face makes this hole very, very long. The left side starts out fairly open, but tightens around the green with trees and sand traps.
Hole 13: Par 4 (409/379/373/296)

Speaking of long holes, fourteen plays to a length of 654 yards! The fairway is huge, and a big tee shot is necessary to leave yourself a chance of clearing the water that cuts this hole in half. For the second shot, the right side of the fairway looks fairly safe, with a pond left and creek running through the middle of it. The mounding on the right, though, hides another large pond that is used for the driving area of the next hole. I cheated right on my second shot, and bounced over these hills in to the hazard.

I have heard that if the landfill next door is going to be an issue, fourteen and fifteen are where it can be a little smelly (depending on the wind). I had no issues with this during my round today, but that part of the location would be the only complaint I have about Shepherd’s Crook.

Hole 14: Par 5 (654-617/572/561/461)
Hole 14: Par 5 (654-617/572/561/461)
Fifteen is a very demanding par four. At 419 yards, the hole runs steeply uphill and makes for a challenging green in regulation.
Hole 15: Par 4 (419/370/363/286)
At 151 yards downhill from the silver tees, and the wind at my back, the tee shot on sixteen made for an interesting club selection. The pin was in the middle of the huge green, just in front of a big hill that separates the front from the back. Marshland surrounds the green, as do two sand traps on the left side. I actually ended up hitting a 52-degree wedge off of this tee, which got me to the front-side fringe.
Hole 16: Par 3 (151/131/107/72)
Seventeen is a tough uphill par four with a severe dogleg left. The trees to the left will take anything hit there, and an over-drawn wood will leave an approach that is virtually locked out from a direct flight to the green. This is another very nice par four.
Hole 17: Par 4 (370/338/328/250)
The finishing hole on the back nine plays very similarly to the finishing hole on the front. Both are long par fives – nine is 576 yards, and eighteen is 570 – and they run parallel to one another en route to the clubhouse. Eighteen requires a bit more strategy, though, as the second shot must be hit short of the marshland that resides about 100 yards out. The fairway sand traps on both sides of the fairway make for a lot of trouble off the tee, as the downhill fairway area runs slightly right on the second shot, and anything hit too far in either direction will lead to a lost ball. The green is highly elevated in front of the clubhouse, and drops off significantly on the front and right sides.
Hole 18: Par 5 (570/548/529/458)
I really enjoyed my experience at Shepherd’s Crook, and am excited to know that it is so conveniently located off of I-94/41 South. This is definitely a course I plan on visiting again in the near future.
Course Wrap-up:
Location: Zion, IL
Yardage: Silver-6,827/6,769, Black-6,272, Gold-6,002, Green-4,901
Slope/Rating: Silver-128/72.1, Black-123/69.5, Gold-119/67.9, Green-115/67.7
Par: 71
Weekend Rates (with cart): $60

Golf Course Review: Washington County Golf Course

Washington County Golf Course has received huge acclaim since opening in 1997, and there is good reason why. Its world-famous course architect, Arthur Hills, is well known for creating tracks that reward the smart golfer, including Oakmont, Inverness, Chaska Town Course, and more locally, Nagawaukee and [interestingly enough] Wanaki.
Washington County is a thinking man’s course, with pin locations that will make you switch approach clubs, quick and sloped greens, and several blind tee shots that require drive placement versus laying up.
As a links course, 15 of the holes can be bailed out from most errant tee shots, as long as you can find a ball in fescue. The fescue on this course can grow very long, and I have seen miss-hit shots drown in it from five to ten yards away with no chance of finding the ball.
Most golfers in the Milwaukee metropolitan area know Wash. Co. as a reputable course, but think of it as being so far out in the boonies that it is nearly inaccessible. Hartford is not exactly a northern suburb, but is within 30-45 minutes of Milwaukee, and is well worth the drive.
Probably my favorite aspect of Washington County is the greens. The greens here are mostly large, and well taken care of. They roll quickly and have subtle elevation changes, but are quite fair in comparison to courses like Wild Rock and Lawsonia. The breaks are readable, and the speeds are consistent.
The fairways feel the way fairways should feel: Short and without blunder. You will not find areas under repair at Washington County. I was told there is a guy whose job it is to drive around for four hours a day replacing divots and repairing tee boxes, and I am told he plays free golf for his efforts.
Ever-present winds prevail over the open layout and seem to change constantly, making club selection and shot targets an ongoing experiment. From the clubhouse, first and tenth tees, you are given a beautiful panoramic view of the course, and Holy and Powder Hills beyond. It seems you can see for miles from these vantage points, and you can.
The first hole is meant to be a feel-good par four to start your round: Downhill and manageable, at around 400 yards, the fairway narrows slightly around 200, where both sides fall off in fescue.
Hole 1: Par 4 (417/396/373/311)
The second has proven to be one of the hardest holes on the course for me. A long par four, the second is lined by the eastern border of the course, with houses on the left that will take anything miss-hit there. The right side is always playable, including the 11th fairway, but will add distance to the hole.
 Hole 2: Par 4 (449/426/399/354)
The first par five on the course is the par five third hole. From the tee boxes, the drive looks slightly left to right, but plays more difficult with the degree at which the fairway doglegs around the drive’s landing area. Heading right, the third plays downhill and drops off to a wooded area on the left, and the green is above a large front-side sand trap.
Hole 3: Par 5 (535/513/494/423)
Hole number four is Washington County’s first par three. Slightly uphill, this is probably the easiest of the par threes at Wash. Co., although club selection always presents issues. The green runs severely uphill from the front to the back, with several breaks that make putting a challenge.
Hole 4: Par 3 (183/169/156/120)
The fifth is one of my favorite par fours on the course. At just over 300 yards, the green is almost reachable from the tee boxes, but well-placed fairway sand traps and difficult fescue areas to the right make it a trickier hole than expected. The green, uphill, is small and slopes considerably on all sides making it essential to hit and hold your approach, and the severity of slope on the green makes for difficult two-putting.
Hole 5: Par 4 (350/323/300/256)
At 176 yards from the blue tees, the green on the sixth is narrow, and lined on the left side with sand. I have had some near-makes on this par three, so my heart always skips a beat or two when teeing up.
Hole 6: Par 3 (189/176/163/143)
Seven is the signature hole at Washington County, and for obvious reasons. At over 500 yards, water lines the majority of the left side of the hole, and the fairway tunnels significantly toward it. The tee boxes are in line with the pond, so it is essential to stay right.
The approach is over a small creek / waste area, and fescue runs the length of the right side of the rough along the cart path.
Although I have had little success on this hole in the past, it makes my list for all-time favorite par fives, landing at number 15.
Hole 7: Par 5 (545/524/505/431)
Hole 7: Par 5 (545/524/505/431)
Hole 7: Par 5 (545/524/505/431)
Water continues on the eighth, which is a short par four with trouble lurking everywhere. I have seen this green driven several times, but it is a delicate drive that must be played right to left. Several sand traps are located just off the right side of the fairway, while the pond on the left will take most shots hooked. The eighth has the most delicate approach shot on the course, slim and surrounded by water, sand and out of bounds long.
Hole 8: Par 4 (334/310/294/246)
Nine is a sharp dogleg right. A big driver can attempt cutting the waste area, but the risk pays off rarely. The smart shot is a low wood to the fairway, but hit far enough right to avoid the fescue-lined hill that abuts the fairway. The approach is between a number of sand traps, and deep bunkers make precision on the drive a must.
Hole 9: Par 4 (450/425/404/359)
Hole 9: Par 4 (450/425/404/359)

The back nine begins with an awesome par four. Probably my favorite driving hole on the course, there are very few miss-hits that cannot be played on this hole. Strongly downhill with a slight turn to the right, this is one tee shot you can really wail away on.

Hole 10: Par 4 (386/362/341/284)

To me, eleven is the most classically links-styled hole on the course. At just over 300 yards, the fairway is narrow, and has a number of sand traps that will make a green in regulation difficult. The toughest bunkers live on the right side, which act as birms from the fairway and make long sand shots difficult.

Hole 11: Par 4 (395/329/310/272)
Hole 11: Par 4 (395/329/310/272)

Twelve is a par four with bite. The tee shot is primarily blind, and cuts right. From the drive’s landing area, the green is deceptively far. I have hit many shots on this hole that I was sure landed on the green, only to walk up and find them short.

Hole 12: Par 4 (455/433/414/362)

Thirteen is a beast of a par five. At 548 yards from the blue tee boxes, a rock wall guards the left side of the fairway, and a steep upward slope adds a club or two to the third shot, making hitting this green in two next to impossible. The right side is lined with fescue, as is the case with most of the course.

Hole 13: Par 5 (570/548/528/457)
Hole 13: Par 5 (570/548/528/457)

Fourteen makes my list of all-time favorite par threes. From elevated tee boxes, fourteen tees off over a pond that fronts and lines the left side of the green. The green slopes toward the water, making the sand trap on the right side difficult to play from. There is a small bailout area short and to the right, but the only safe play here is to the green, itself.

Hole 14: Par 3 (197/175/147/92)
Hole 14: Par 3 (197/175/147/92)
Hole 14: Par 3 (197/175/147/92)

Fifteen plays over a large fescue area that runs the length of the left side of the hole. Playing slightly uphill toward the green, a large pot bunker fronts the green, adding at least one club to the approach.

Hole 15: Par 4 (411/369/341/248)

The par three sixteenth hole is another great par three. Long, at 200 yards from the blue tees, a deep sand trap guards the left side of the green, well below the putting surface. The bailout area is short and to the right, but plays well uphill and delicately from this location.

Hole 16: Par 3 (222/200/171/152)

Seventeen plays similarly to the tenth. The tee boxes are highly elevated, and make the drive a lot of fun. There is plenty of room to slice, and the fairway is massive and turns right. Several fairway mounds can create difficult lies, but the green is certainly reachable if played perfectly. The green lies on the far side of large green-side mounding, and is long, narrow and sided by sand on the right.

Hole 17: Par 5 (555/533/514/432)
Hole 17: Par 5 (555/533/514/432)

Washington County finishes with a mid-range par four playing uphill toward the clubhouse. The fairway features two deep sand traps, and a rock wall on the left and sand on both sides of the approach area make the approach demanding.

Hole 18: Par 4 (405/376/344/258)
Washington County is an excellent golf course, made better by fantastic greens fees. Prime time rates reach into the $60-75 range, but they have excellent twilight rates that start early enough to make finishing 18 holes a non-issue. During the summer months, for example, golfers can get out for all-you-can-play, including cart, for around $30. Early- and late-season rates dip to $20-24, including cart.

The number 35-rated municipal golf course in the country for several years running, Washington County offers much in terms of links-style golf, fair but challenging play, a world-class practice area [featuring three “practice holes,” a driving range and chipping/sand/putting areas], and affordable rates.

It would be foolish for any Milwaukee-area looper to avoid this course for being too far away. If and when you do, I can assure you will be back again for more.

Course Wrap-up:
Location: Hartford, WI
Yardage: Black-7048, Blue-6587, White-6198, Red-5200
Slope/Rating: Black-134/73.6, Blue-130/71.5, White-126/69.7, Red-120/69.6
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: $72.50 (with cart)

Golf Course Review: Whistling Straits, Irish Course

The Straits course at Whistling Straits, site of the 2004 and 2010 PGA Championships and future site of the 2015 PGA Championship and 2020 Ryder Cup, is slated as the number three course in the United States (according to GolfWeek and Golf Digest), and is the perennial number one track in the state of Wisconsin. At $340 for an 18-hole round [plus caddy fees], I cannot afford to play this mecca of the golf world.
Whistling Straits also features another gem: The Irish. Having challenged the Irish several times, I wonder how highly it would be rated if it were not for the Straits. Like any big brother/little brother relationship, the Straits is unquestionably more impressive – nobody can argue that.
That being said, the Irish is the best golf course I have ever played, and also receives plenty of acclaim in its own right. The Irish is 2011’s number 35-ranked course in the country (Golf Digest), and is in everybody’s top five in the state. Taking a look at the photographs below, you will see some of the reasons why. The Irish is unparalleled in Wisconsin, with the exception of the Straits.
Whistling Straits is impressive from the moment you enter the property. The beautiful white stone clubhouse overlooks much of the Straits, including the tenth tee at which I will never forget watching Vijay Singh hit the most majestic tee shot I have ever seen during the 2004 PGA Championship event.
Whistling Straits clubhouse
The practice area is immaculate. You will find no divots on the practice tees, nor on the course itself. From what the clubhouse manager told us, Pete Dye would not accept that. Interestingly, he also told us that Mr. Dye was not happy with the play of the 2010 Championship, and is re-structuring several of the holes on the Straits’ back nine to arbor a 2015 winning score between one and four under par. If they have anything like the wind we experienced on Sunday, anything under par seems like a major stretch.
Bordering Lake Michigan, the courses are wide open and rarely unaffected by the elements. We had steady winds over 25 miles per hour, and gusts higher than 40-50. The back nine holes with views of the lake were so highly influenced that we were hitting shots angled at 45 degrees from targeted areas. See the video of hole number 11 for a terrific example of this. While it is interesting and in some ways fun, it makes scoring next to impossible.
The first hole of the Irish course provides your first breathtaking view of Lake Michigan on the horizon. This is a beautiful hole, especially around the green where the bluffs and randomly placed sand traps blend harmoniously with the terrain, but make for treacherous short game. This carries over to all holes on the Irish.
Hole 1: Par 4 (400/387/369/359/301)
Hole 1: Par 4 (400/387/369/359/301)

The second features an intimidating tee shot, with a huge pond that runs along the left side of the fairway. The green is surrounded by sand, and is very tough with regards to the slopes and overall run. Whistling Straits’ greens are unbelievably fast, and I can only compare them to the Links at Lawsonia in difficulty. As one of my friends explained, though, the greens are more fair: They are easier to read and roll true, but are lightning quick and break abundantly.

Hole 2: Par 4 (372/360/347/340/309)
Hole 2: Par 4 (372/360/347/340/309)

The third hole is a tough par three. At under 140 yards from the blue tees, I was the only one to hit the green… With a 6-iron. The wind howled so strong that I clubbed up four times, aimed over the middle of the pond, swung, prayed, and found myself on the front side of the green, thankfully not landing beneath the railroad ties that buttress the green from the wide front-side bunker.

Hole 3: Par 3 (147/138/128/118/87)

The fourth promotes a true risk/reward tee shot. How much of the sand area are you willing to risk trying to cut? It runs more than 250 yards straight in front of the tee boxes before the fairway rolls left and uphill to a green that has a massive bunker along the right side. A back-right hole location made the approach and putting conditions laughable. After reaching the green in three strokes, for example, I took a seven after four-putting. I was not alone.

Hole 4: Par 4 (489/443/432/405/336)
Hole 4: Par 4 (489/443/432/405/336)
Hole 4: Par 4 (489/443/432/405/336)

The fifth is a beautiful par five. Keeping your tee shot in the fairway will give you a chance for a green in regulation, but heed the waste area on the second shot as it will attract anything errant. From before the waste area, the approach will be long and carry more sand. What were the odds? If the Straits course has 967 sand traps, the Irish cannot be far behind.

If there is one relief to the bunkers at Whistling Straits, it is probably that most are unnecessary to rake. Whether Kohler was unable to afford that many rakes, or the traps are meant to be played as hazard areas, it does help speed up play significantly.

The Irish plays as efficiently as you are able to. During the times I have been there, it feels as though we are the only ones on the course. The holes are well-spaced, and the only factor holding back play is you and your companions… And me, snapping pictures of the course.

Hole 5: Par 5 (570/517/501/477/430)

Hole six, nicknamed “Mulligan’s Watch,” is the narrowest of the par threes on the Irish course. With extreme mounding and bunkering engulfing the entire layout, it is no wonder why. If this hole had any more sand, it would be coined “Mulligan’s Beach.”

Hole 6: Par 3 (160/149/135/123/97)

At 363 yards from the blue tees, the seventh is one of the shortest par fours on the course. The fairway flows to the right following the sand traps that run along that side, but trying to fly these traps will most likely lead to the out of bounds area just beyond. This is a great hole to play smart.

Hole 7: Par 4 (372/363/344/339/320)
Hole 7: Par 4 (372/363/344/339/320)

The eighth is one of my all-time favorite par fives. After parking the cart and walking back to the tee boxes, there is a carry to the tee shot of a little over 100 yards to the fairway. The right side drops about 15 feet off the playing surface, so if you land there then take your medicine and re-find the fairway. The setup shot is played over an inland stream and uphill to one of the most beautiful green areas I have ever seen. Littered with sand and an almost impossibly sloped green, a par here would feel like a birdie on almost any other hole.

Hole 8: Par 5 (555/542/501/459/392)
Hole 8: Par 5 (555/542/501/459/392)

The front nine ends with a short, but difficult, par four. “Last Gaspe” features a wide fairway, but the right side can lock out a clean shot at the green.

Hole 9: Par 4 (484/409/322/308/263)

The tenth hole on the Irish is one of the most awe-striking holes in Wisconsin. With Lake Michigan on the horizon, the wind is always a factor. The fairway runs significantly uphill and to the left, and missing it is catastrophic. The multitude of random bunkers built into the hills on the right side of the fairway are demonic, and will leave little to no chance of reaching this green in two.

Hole 10: Par 4 (398/387/378/361/340)
Hole 10: Par 4 (398/387/378/361/340)

With a high cliff on the left side of the approach, the eleventh hole is a phenomenal par three. The wind here was so strong that the 160 yards was played with 3-woods over the cliff on the left side. It is unfortunate the ball is not more visible in the video below, because the flight path was incredible to watch.

Hole 11: Par 3 (208/193/177/169/125)
Hole 11: Par 3 (208/193/177/169/125)

The wind on the twelfth was blowing steadily in excess of 50 miles per hour, and straight toward the lake. Good luck!

Hole 12: Par 4 (413/396/373/349/290)
Hole 12: Par 4 (413/396/373/349/290)
Fortunately for our group on Sunday, the back tees were moved downhill on the thirteenth hole. From up top, the wind would have left an impossible [and blind] tee shot, but from below the wind was at least slightly blocked out by the trees bordering the tee boxes. At 160-plus yards, it remained anything but easy, and this hole is nothing short of spectacular.
Hole 13: Par 3 (183/160/152/145/111)
Hole 13: Par 3 (183/160/152/145/111)
Hole 13: Par 3 (183/160/152/145/111)

A “fun” par five, the fourteenth has a wider driving area than most on the Irish course. A stream fronts the approach, so getting to the opposite side in two provides a significant advantage on this hole.

Hole 14: Par 5 (564/520/508/469/380)
Hole 14: Par 5 (564/520/508/469/380)
Hole 14: Par 5 (564/520/508/469/380)
Hole 14: Par 5 (564/520/508/469/380)

Fifteen is the number one handicapped hole on the Irish. At 459 yards from the blue tees, it is easy to see why. The tee shot is simple enough, but the approach will always be long and to an area that is surrounded by deep greenside bunkers.

Hole 15: Par 4 (479/459/416/370/335)

The tee shot on the sixteenth reminded me of the same swing on the previous hole. Another lengthy par four (436 from the blues), the tee shot is mostly blind and falls significantly to the right. Try to stay left if you can, but take heed of the monstrous pond that lines the final three holes of the Irish course. The green area contains a number of individual plateaus that make for a challenging approach.

Hole 16: Par 4 (474/436/425/383/333)
Hole 16: Par 4 (474/436/425/383/333)

The seventeenth is scenic and narrow. With the same lake running the distance of the hole, the mounds along the right side of the fairway and cart path will actually provide assistance if your drive cuts. Outside the fairway, though, there is little opportunity to fly the lake and find the green in two.

Hole 17: Par 4 (375/355/335/325/272)

The Irish finishes with a fantastic par five. With a tee shot over the inland lake, the fairway falls right and downhill following the sand traps on the right side. Half-way through this downhill section of the fairway is a stream that will take anything hit short. The fairway then rises upward to the green. A deep bunker lies along the left side of the green, so if you’re going to miss, at least miss right.

Hole 18: Par 5 (558/536/523/493/388)
Hole 18: Par 5 (558/536/523/493/388)
Sheep on hole 11
View of hole 16 on Straits course
View of hole 15 on Straits course
Bathroom following hole 4
Course Wrap-up:
Location: Haven, WI
Yardage: Black-7201, Blue-6750, Green-6366, White-5992, Red-5109
Slope/Rating: Black-146/75.6, Blue-141/73.5, Green-137/72.0, White-133/70.3, Red-121/65.6
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: $210 (with cart)

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