The first in a weekly series of golf course reviews by Wisconsin.Golf senior writer Gary D'Amato.
FONTANA-ON-GENEVA LAKE — This is the south side of Geneva Lake, the quiet side, where narrow roads wind under leafy canopies and offer fleeting glimpses of marinas and McMansions and the lake itself, shimmering in the midday sun.
Abbey Springs GC-Fontana: Gary D'Amato rates the course
|Overall course conditions:||8.5|
|Quality of greens:||9.5|
|Variety of holes:||9|
The north side is the busy side. That’s where you’ll find the perpetual summer traffic crawl in downtown Lake Geneva, the tony restaurants and nightspots and the parking lots filled with Audis, Beamers and Volvos, most of them with Illinois plates.
It’s also where you’ll find some of the region’s most popular golf courses and resorts: Geneva National (actually on Lake Como), with designs by Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player; the iconic Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, with an early Pete Dye-Jack Nicklaus collaboration (since renovated by Bob Cupp) and a brawny Robert Bruce Harris design; and Hawks View Golf Club, the new kid on the block, with an excellent regulation course and Barn Hollow, a top-rated short course.
That’s the side people equate with golf in Lake Geneva.
But there’s top-notch public golf on this side of the lake, too. Abbey Springs Golf Course is every bit as good as its cousins to the north, even though it is less well-known. It’s not on a major thoroughfare, not easy to get to and not easy to find when you get there, especially if you’re distracted by the scenery.
“It’s a little off the beaten path,” said Jack Shoger, the longtime head professional. “But that’s part of the attraction, too.”
Indeed. I played the course recently and was struck immediately by its laid-back atmosphere and charm. I never felt rushed at Abbey Springs; in fact, the opposite was true. The course’s routing through thickly wooded hills, with deer bounding across fairways and elevation changes that take you high above the treetops for striking panoramic views of Geneva Lake, has a calming effect.
The website (www.abbeysprings.org) touts semi-private Abbey Springs as “Wisconsin’s most beautiful golf course.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I wouldn’t accuse the course of false advertising. It’s as pretty as anything you’ll play in our state.
I appreciated the fact that the holes, especially on the back nine, are separated from one another by noise-canceling trees. You can enjoy quiet conversation with your playing partners or, playing as a single as I did, get lost in your game and the scenery. I’d advise leaving your phone in the car, but if you must bring it onto the course, make use of the camera.
Abbey Springs isn’t long – 6,644 yards from the tips and 6,307 from the middle tees – but some of the uphill holes play much longer than the scorecard yardage. It helps to be straight off the tee anywhere, but it’s mandatory here. If you’re long but crooked, be prepared to scale back to the 3-wood … or bring a dozen golf balls.
When you get to the greens, by hook or by crook, your work is just beginning. Abbey Springs is Exhibit A for the old maxim “leave your approach below the hole.” The putting surfaces are smallish, averaging 6,200 square feet, and tilt every which way. They are lightning fast in the summer. You do not want a steady diet of downhill looks, unless you don’t mind three-putting.
“Our greens are pretty severe,” Shoger said. “There’s a lot of slope in them. When the green speeds are up you don’t want to be above the hole.”
Steve Stricker holds the competitive course record of 66, which he shot during the Midwestern Intercollegiate when he was at the University of Illinois. The tournament is no more, and Stricker’s record is not likely to be broken anytime soon.
Abbey Springs was designed by Ken Kilian and Dick Nugent and opened in 1970. The Abbey Springs Condominium Association bought the golf course from private owners in 1981. There are about 150 members, but many of them also own boats and spend weekends on the water.
“Our biggest competition is the lake,” Shoger said. “If you own a boat, it’s kind of hard to do both.”
Abbey Springs is open to the public, with green fees ranging from $52 (weekday twilight with cart) to $98 (weekend with cart). It’s the right price point for a well-maintained course that will challenge every part of your game.
The course has 68 brand-new Club Cars with cushy leather seats and The Shark Experience GPS, which includes HD touchscreen displays and built-in speakers with Bluetooth connectivity. You can stream music, check out a real-time sports ticker or access golf tips from Greg Norman.
Or, just use it to get your yardage to the hole.