R & L Golf Farms is not something you search for. Rather, it’s the sort of place you just happen upon. I wasn’t looking for golf at all when I found myself on County Road D in Waterville, Wisconsin earlier this summer. I was in America’s Dairyland to photograph some of the state’s heavy-hitters in anticipation of the impending Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Just an hour into a four-hour cruise north, a glimpse of dusty golf carts and what I thought was an “Open” sign suddenly popped up on my radar. Amongst all the tractor traffic, “eggs for sale” signs and endless miles of crops, I had found myself a golf course.
As I pulled up to the charming red barn cosplaying as a clubhouse, I noted two golf carts parked under a crude open garage next to a small white shack. The walls lined with golf bags would make Instagram golfers giddy with nostalgia. As I poked around, a woman I soon came to know as Linda Mott cried out: “Make sure you sign the book!” Soon after complying with clubhouse rules, Linda was giving me the rundown of the course and how her husband, Ron, brought it to life.
Apparently farm golf courses are a thing in Wisconsin–albeit a small thing. Linda explained that the idea for their own course set in slowly, after so many summers spent playing a farm course near their cabin up north. According to her, sacrificing a share of their crop in exchange for a single golf hole seemed like “more than enough.” But—as is with playing the game— Ron had trouble stopping once he started. One hole soon turned into a three hole loop, and then six, and eventually nine. What was once corn and soybean, was now a legit golf course with the occasional crop in between.
The holes aren’t overly challenging; mostly gentle one-shotters ranging from 100 yards to well over 200. A shared fairway takes you out to the middle of the farm and back where Ron’s hunting stand towers over the 6th green, as do the bails of hay on No. 7. Small dish-like greens are guarded by the occasional bunker, but according to a sign just off the first tee, it’s really the alfalfa you need to watch out for.
As I followed my ball across the property, I spotted a topless cart meandering in the distance with its driver periodically jumping out to slap at his ball. Grandparents shepherded their granddaughter back to the “clubhouse” where the little girl proudly announced that her Pop owed her a treat because she won. It was their first visit to the course, and the little girl’s first interaction with the game we play.
The golf course is as much a passion project for Ron and his family as it is for his community. It inspired their neighbor to introduce his wife to the game, which led to the creation of a driving range on the adjacent property. Now they both come to R & L to buy beat up golf balls for $.25 a pop from Ron and Linda’s entrepreneurial grandson. Friends help with maintenance from time to time, but R & L is mostly a family affair. It all feels very far away from the big names of Wisconsin golf that get the roaring crowds and the limelight, but it’s places like R & L that are teaching the joy of golf to anyone that’s willing to learn. No dress code, a $1-per-hole greens fee, and something to do when you have an hour to kill. It’s why you take the backroads to begin with.