Lawsonia Links, one of the best values in the U.S., lives up to the hype (and then some)

GOLF.com’s list of Top 100 Value Courses is out, and ringing in at No. 1 is a track that almost needs no introduction: Bethpage Black, in Long Island, the triumphant swan song of the Golden Age giant, A.W. Tillinghast, and a three-time major championship host.

But just behind Bethpage, in the No. 2 spot on our roster of great bargains, is a course that, well — how exactly to define Lawsonia Links? Describe it as a sleeper and you’re bound to draw an eye-roll from design enthusiasts, especially those in the Midwest. In those circles, Lawsonia long ago ceased being a secret, if it ever was one. Among the broader golf-loving public, though, it’s fair to say that Wisconsin’s low-key darling is having a moment. Or, better yet, a fine few years.

The par-5 13th hole at Lawsonia Links.

Josh Berhow

Excited conversations about the course, once confined largely to architecture blogs, have gone mainstream, thanks in part to a keen-eyed restoration, still ongoing, of Lawsonia’s grand old bones. The staging of notable regional events — including the 2019 Wisconsin State Amateur — has also helped raise the property’s profile. Nowadays, when you mention must-plays in the Badger State, Lawsonia is right there in the mix with the likes of Whistling Straits and Sand Valley. To no small number of design buffs, Lawsonia stands out as the best of the bunch. It’s much cheaper, too, and can be played for $65-$120.

So, what is all the buzz about?

Like the Black Course, Lawsonia dates to the Golden Age, a tandem effort by William Langford and Theodore Moreau. While both were engineers, Langford, the more accomplished golfer of the pair (he played on the national championship team at Yale), handled the bulk of the design work; Moreau was the man in charge of moving dirt. And move it he did.

The tee (top) and green view of the par-3 7th hole at Lawsonia Links.

Josh Berhow

Lawsonia boasts big, bold, man-made features. Though the broad fairways roll in sync with the glaciated landscape, they are pinched by furrowed brows and deep-gouged bunkers. Many of the greens are pushed up, a number dramatically so, with steep drop-offs plunging into sandy hazards. If you had to pick a signature, it would be the par-3 7th, with a bulging green that has a boxcar buried underneath it.

At first blush, little about Lawsonia suggests you’re in for something truly special. The facilities are decidedly understated, suited to their small-town, rural surrounds, with a straightforward pro shop and restaurant, and a makeshift driving range beside the first tee. Then comes the layout. A rollicking swath of entertainment, it is not a brutal challenge of ball-gobbling forced carries but a find-it, hit-it strategic test, a design nerd’s delight that’s about to get yet another boost through a bunker-restoration project, set to start this fall.

Sleeper? Not exactly. Just a course you’d like to wake up to every day.

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A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.