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Listen to Your Momma

One of life’s basic rules also applies to greens

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No. 18 green at Lawsonia Links.
Better play it smart with the spine on No. 18 green at Lawsonia Links. Photo: Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images for BMW

Your mom said it. So did your preschool teacher. Just about every holiday TV special did too: “It’s what’s inside that counts.” Well, green complexes are just like people in that way: They too often get judged by what’s on the outside.

It’s easy to see a green’s exterior. The sweeping kicker slope of a redan or the stomach-churning drop of a Biarritz’s swale is obvious, but frequently the difference between a good and great green is what’s inside. Internal contours need a second look, because those subtle twists and turns show the true genius behind many holes. The less-pronounced knobs, ridges, bowls and spines create variety and allow holes to play distinctly differently from day to day.

Lawsonia Links, one of America’s true hidden gems, has a number of greens that are indeed beautiful on the exterior, but it’s their subtle nuances that take the course to a higher level. Unsung golden-age architects William Langford and Theodore Moreau are best known for their grand scale: The duo was among the first to move dirt in mass quantities, creating bold green complexes and deep bunkers that still make jaws drop—perhaps no more so than with this public track in Green Lake, Wisconsin. 

Lawsonia’s audacious high notes mask the true brilliance of Langford and Moreau’s intricate greens. Some of these more subtle slopes illustrate how to create variety and introduce new approach options. Lawsonia’s home hole, a lengthy par 5, is a perfect example: It finishes with a center spine running through the green that means everything to the hole’s strategy.

Depending on the tee, the 18th can play between 470 and 580 yards. A wise player will always be mindful of the center spine when planning their second shot. The massive green slopes severely from back to front and the spine bisects it into a left and right half. Whatever the plan, just make sure it includes finding the correct side: That ridgeline makes for a harrowing two-putt for players who miss it.

The hole works back from the spine, affecting every choice players make. Langford and Moreau added two fairway bunkers on the right and left sides of the lay-up area, forcing players to make a decision with their second shot: Go for the green or lay up? Lay up to the right or left side? A prudent player will answer these questions with careful thought of where the day’s pin position is on the green.

Laying up to the left and short of the bunker is advantageous to approach a left pin, avoiding a play over the center ridge. This is the safest option to any flag and is met with a semi-blind shot.

Playing right over the fairway bunker yields a far shorter approach shot and a clean look at the green. It’s a tremendous play to attack the right pin on No. 18, but leaves an awkward wedge into left pins that must traverse that center spine.

Bold players who attempt to hit the green in two find a shot that calls for great precision. Unlike many par 5s, this green complex doesn’t make for a routine birdie. Approaching the 18th with a long iron or fairway wood rewards only the great shot with a good look at eagle. All told, this subtle line takes a straightforward par 5 and turns it into one of the course’s best.

So don’t judge a green just because it doesn’t shout at you from the tee. Some of the most memorable complexes are just as beautiful on the inside. 

Andy Johnson is a Chicago-based golf writer and competitive amateur golfer. His website and newsletter, The Fried Egg, provides detailed coverage on golf-course architecture and professional and amateur golf.