GREEN LAKE – The rediscovery in recent years of the Links Course at The Golf Courses of Lawsonia by architecture buffs and bloggers is reflected in its climb up the magazine ranking lists, and has pegged the 90-year-old Langford-Moreau design as a must-play.
Given so much attention, the Links no longer qualifies as a “hidden gem.” Those who have played it over the years and loved it for its combination of austere beauty and wild green complexes wondered what took so long.
The more golfers focused on the Links, however, the less they were inclined to pay attention to its kid brother, the Woodlands. Designed by Rocky Roquemore and opened in 1983, the Woodlands has its share of fans but, if we’re being honest, has been the No. 2 choice at the two-course facility.
While it probably never will overtake the Links in popularity or cachet, the Woodlands is an excellent course in its own right, and a recent facelift by renovation whiz Craig Haltom has it looking and playing better than ever.
I played the Woodlands a few weeks ago as a dew-sweeper – first out at 7 a.m., alone in a cart. I don’t buy into the whole “Golf in the Kingdom” mystique, but winding through the forest, passing dark old cabins straight out of Hansel and Gretel and surveilled by curious deer, I must say it was among the most blissful rounds of golf I’ve played. The early morning peace and quiet was interrupted only by an energetic woodpecker doing his thing, the rat-a-tat-tat echoing through the trees.
After a relatively benign opening par-5, the Woodlands smacks you in the face with the next two holes. No. 2 is the “Quarry Hole,” a par-4 that takes a sharp left turn and requires a daunting approach over an abandoned quarry. No. 3 is the signature hole, a par-3 played straight downhill through a claustrophobic chute of trees, with Green Lake shimmering on the right.
Hit one slightly off-line on No. 3, and it’s a lost ball. In fact, a sign on the tee box instructs golfers not to re-tee and to proceed directly to the drop area about 20 yards in front of the green. No doubt, that sign has saved many a golfer from losing a half-dozen balls.
Trees have been removed from behind the green on the par-4 fifth hole, opening up lovely views of the lake. The sixth is a pretty little par-3 over water. The eighth is a par-4 that plays straight uphill; recently laid sod was still growing in on part of the fairway, one of few obvious signs of the recent renovation, which mostly addressed bunkers and green surrounds. The 11th is a good risk-reward par-5 that can be shortened by carrying a hazard on the right.
No. 14 is what I call a “U.S. Open hole” because it easily could be plunked onto any course that plays host to a major championship. It’s a long, difficult par-4 – 438 yards from the back – with an elevated, Shinnecockian green fortified by yawning (love that word) bunkers. Most golfers won’t be able to get home in two. For them, the third shot is a knee-knocker wedge that must carry a deep, grassy chasm short of the green and steer clear of the bunkers.
Fifteen-handicappers should just mark down double-bogey and proceed to the par-4 15th, which is no bargain, either. The hole measures about 380 yards from the middle tee but plays longer because most golfers’ drives will smack into the face of a steep hill. Bombers who carry the ridge catch some downhill runout and wind up with a much shorter approach.
The 16th is a memorable par-3 with an elevated tee and a massive, elongated green. There’s water short and left but plenty of room to bail out right.
When I played, work was being done on a new green on the par-5 18th, which will make the hole much more playable. My third shot was up the steep hill to the older tabletop green, a difficult target to hit from 100 yards, let alone 150. I was so happy to find my ball on the putting surface, the 12-footer I missed for birdie was only mildly upsetting.
If you’re planning a trip to Lawsonia, my advice would be not to skip the Woodlands. It’s a scenic and challenging parkland course which stands in stark contrast, from a design standpoint, to the mostly treeless Links. The two literally could not be more different in how they look and play.
And variety, as they say, is the spice of golf.