Long before 99 holes of golf were an option, people flocked to a small Wisconsin county to take in the summer breezes and cool waters as a respite from the heat. It sounds simple enough, but the combination of one of the state’s deepest lakes and prevailing southwest winds offered a coveted form of free air conditioning for visitors kicking back on wraparound porches as far back as 150 years ago.
The Green Lake Chamber of Commerce claims that Green Lake is “the oldest resort town west of Niagara Falls.” Oakwood Lodge (1867) was said to be the first summer resort in the area and others followed during a time when “early travelers as far away as New Orleans and Philadelphia came by train and then made the remaining 10-mile journey by horse and carriage on dusty roads.”
Today, the city of Green Lake is more easily accessible by Wisconsin State Highway 23. The sixth largest lake in Wisconsin – 7,346 acres with 29 miles of shoreline – lies just to the South and remains the central draw. Outdoor activities are ongoing no matter the season. Yes, winter has a fishing season, too.
Golf helps swell the population of Green Lake County (just 19,000) in the summer months especially. There are four golf properties within a 15-mile radius. The Golf Courses of Lawsonia grab much of the acclaim while White Lake in Montello, a mini-me version of Green Lake, offers a more hidden 18-hole course and resort.
The United States Golf Association (USGA) mentions Green Lake in its November 1901 Golf Bulletin as “one of the oldest and most popular resorts in the State.” At that time, a newer golf course was part of the experience.
The Century Club
Driving down Tuscumbia Country Club’s one-lane, tree-lined entrance is like taking a trip back in time. The 18-hole, parkland-style course dates back three centuries making it one of the oldest courses in Wisconsin. Whether it is the oldest, as it claims, is up for debate however.
At least three others – Janesville Country Club, Lake Geneva Country Club, and Milwaukee Country Club – date back to the mid-1890s as Tuscumbia does. Illinois Avenue separates Tuscumbia from the popular Heidel House Resort and Spa which sits on a historic piece of real estate along the shores of Green Lake itself.
A sunset cruise in the summer on the Resort’s Escapade Yacht is a great way to take in Green Lake, not visible from Tuscumbia even given its close proximity. Tuscumbia’s beautifully tree-lined holes and push-up greens represent its time period well. Sixteen of the 18 holes run parallel to each other. The tee shot from the back tee box on No. 1 is up against the log cabin style clubhouse, which houses the 680 North Restaurant. And No. 18, a short par four, is one of the few winding holes on the course which finishes to a sharply-sloped green.
Tuscumbia plays well to straight hitters with its tight corridors. The tee shots present the biggest challenge. They are visually difficult, not only with fairways hugged by giant trees but also subtle rises that give blind landing area effects. Hole No. 10 is a par three that can play like a par four (up to 236 yards) to a punchbowl green. Hole No. 11 features an uphill tee shot that demands more of a cut shot even though the hole veers left. Alongside Nos. 10 and 11 is the Family Links par-three course which was built in 2009 but looks like something out of a miniatures museum. Fortunately, it is not tree-lined like the big course.
A closer comparison to that would be at the Red and White nines of the 27-hole Mascoutin Golf Club in Berlin, just 12 minutes down Highway 49 to the North. Mascoutin is popular with the locals and boasts a strong junior program. Placement is critical on the original 18 where overhanging and encroaching trees make recovery punch shots a must.
The Blue nine at Mascoutin – built in 1999, 23 years after the original 18 – is a much different experience. It might be the most diverse nine in all of Green Lake. The first three holes wind up, down and through a residential area. Hole No. 2 has a split-level fairway with an approach that often plays blind. Hole No. 5 is a short dog-leg right par five split by a marshy area that forces a layup off the tee. The nine concludes with a great drivable par four with a water hazard to the right and a reachable par five with a water hazard to the left. Sahara-style bunkering is also featured on four holes and the greens have more chipping areas, unlike the Red and White nines.
No golf trip to Green Lake is complete without playing all 36 holes at Lawsonia. The contrast of the famed Links course and the more modern Woodlands course is a feast for the senses. This is distractingly apparent entering on Lawson Drive where the landforms of a long-gone architectural era come alive.
The Links course will always be defined by its massive raised greens with sharp drop-offs and its flat bunkers with grassed mounds or walls. Since the turn of the 21st century, there has been a concerted effort to return the Links to its origins with an aggressive tree removal program and details such as hole signs in the shape of a shield. In 2016, the Links hosted the U.S. Hickory Open (yes, with hickory-shafted clubs) beckoning to a time when Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Bryon Nelson visited in the 1930s.
The Links has received various accolades from national publications as one of the top classic courses (pre-1960) in the country. The Woodlands, on the other hand, opened in 1983 at the start of the golf course construction boom in the United States. It could not be more different than the Links. Every hole is tree lined, the greens are much smaller and many bunkers take on the shape of a peanut. Holes No. 1-3 offer a spectacular start – a snake-like par five featuring nine bunkers, a short par four bisected by a ravine, and a tight par three that drops sharply some 65 feet.
The Woodlands favors more target golf than length. No better example of this is at the par-three 16th. It can play up to 189 yards downhill, but a pond to the left of a small, kidney-shaped green makes it arguably the toughest green to hit at Lawsonia. The popular bailout spot is to the right where a large bunker gradually slopes into the green, which runs away to the water hazard.
Checking out Lawsonia’s putting green, just down from Langford’s Pub and the golf shop, is also a must before or after any round. Not only will it give an accurate test of what lies ahead on the Links course, but it also makes for some great side games and contests among friends. For more information on booking a round at Lawsonia, visit www.lawsonia.com. Information on visiting Green Lake and its courses can be found at www.visitgreenlake.com.