Review: Lake of Isles (South Course)

Course Name: Lake of Isles (South Course)

Designer: Rees Jones/Steve Weisser (2005)

Location: North Stonington, Connecticut

History: Lake of Isles is a 36 hole golf facility affiliated with Foxwoods Casino with two Rees Jones courses that opened in 2005. The North Course is considered by many the best public course in Connecticut while the South Course is private and also award-winning:

  • #8 Best Course in Connecticut – Golf Digest (2019)

Conditions: 8/10, Lake of Isles South features very strong conditions with wonderfully maintained fairways and teeboxes and fast, smooth greens.

Value: N/A, This is a private course.

Scorecard:

Tee                Par      Yardage             Rating           Slope

Black            72        7346                   76.2               141

Gold             72        6845                   74.0               136

Gold/Silver  72       6561                    72.7               133

Silver           72        6278                    71.4              130

Copper        72        5231                    70.4              126

Jade              72       4858                    68.3               123

Hole Descriptions: Lake of Isles South falls firmly in the “Penal” school of architecture, as do most Rees Jones courses. With forced carries on almost every teeshot, and aerial shots required on many elevated greens, this course is indeed a formidable challenge. The ironic thing is that these green complexes are some of the flattest and dullest I’ve played, but it won’t even matter for most golfers who are lying six once they find the surface. The Black Tees play to an astronomical 76.2 rating, making this one of the hardest courses in the region.

I’m often critical of Rees Jones, and I think Lake of Isles South highlights some of his shortcomings. Yes, this course is in fantastic condition and full of natural beauty, but when you take that away and look at the pure layout, you realize there’s a complete lack of variety and imagination. A forced carry to a tight tree-lined fairway may be fun a few times a round, but every hole? That gets boring and frustrating quickly as the holes start to blend together. That’s not to say there aren’t great holes here (the par 3 16th is one of the best one-shotters in Connecticut), but they are few and far between, which is borderline inexcusable considering Jones had almost 1000 acres and millions of lost gambling money to work with.

The 1st hole is actually a gentle opener as a downhill 373 yard dogleg right. This hole features a relatively generous fairway lined by tall trees on either side and a bunker on the right at 250 yards. This approach plays to a diagonal elevated green guarded by a bunker short. At only 382 yards, the menacing par 4 2nd is the number 1 handicap and one of the most intimidating holes I’ve ever played. This teeshot requires an 150 yard carry uphill over a pond to reach a small sliver of fairway lined by thick woods on either side. This fairway laughably ends at 250 yards and the hole turns left with another forced carry over brush towards an elevated green guarded by bunkers on either side. This hole is pure target golf, and the golfer is given only one option to play the hole – hit two high and long shots. There are no reachable par fours at Lake of Isles, but the 3rd is about as close as it gets playing a level 357 yards straightaway. This is another relatively benign hole with a wide right-to-left sloping fairway lined by a trio of bunkers on the right at 250 yards. The fairway dips just prior to a green guarded by a false front and multiple deep bunkers on either side. The 4th is the first par 3 playing a lengthy 203 yards. This is a relatively uneventful hole with a large green protected by a bunker short left.

At 493 yards, the reachable 5th is the shortest of a very long set of par fives. This is a fun hole with an elevated teeshot over an 160 yard chasm of wasteland. This fairway runs uphill the entire way and is notable for a 50 yard long giant bunker down the left beginning at 250 yards. As you near the green, this fairway narrows with rough and three bunkers down the right for the final 150 yards. This narrow green is elevated and protected by a bunker short left. The par 3 6th is another rather nondescript one-shotter at 181 yards. This hole requires precision with bunkers sandwiched in front and behind a shallow green. Although the longest par 4 on the course at 448 yards, the 7th is not one of the more difficult ones as there’s no forced carry required. This hole plays straightaway and slightly uphill with thick forest lining both sides and a bunker on the right at 265 yards. This elevated green is lined by two deep bunkers on the left.

The 8th hole is the longest hole at Lake of Isles and one of the more difficult par fives in the region. At a prodigious 591 yards, this monster requires a 200 yard forced carry just to reach the fairway. Although this fairway is wide, beware of bunkers on the left at 280 yards and a crossbunker on the right at 300 yards. As a true three shot hole for almost everyone, this lay-up is very challenging with a giant crossbunker about 120 yards short of the green that occludes almost the entire fairway. After this point, the fairway constricts to virtually nothing and turns sharp right with forest on both sides.  The safe play is to lay up short of this crossbunker, leaving a nice wedge into another elevated green guarded by bunkers on either side. This hole offers the best views of the Foxwoods Casino in the backdrop, one of the largest casinos in North America.

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What will you lose more of? Golf balls at Lake of Isles or money at Foxwoods?

The bruises keep coming with the 403 yard 9th, one of the more difficult par fours I’ve played. This dogleg left features yet another forced carry to a very slim, diagonal fairway ranging from 200 yards on the right to 250 yards if you want to cut the corner. A bunker awaits you at 260 yards on the left and thick trees line the entire left side. If you can somehow find a way to hit this fairway, you’re left an uphill approach to an elevated, narrow green lined by cavernous bunkers on either side and a hazard left.

At 413 yards, the par 4 10th is no picnic to commence the back nine. This hole features a narrow fairway initially lined by bunkers on either side at 230 yards and then opens up. This approach requires an 100 yard forced carry over brush to an elevated back-to-front sloped green guarded by a bunker short. There’s a tiny sliver of fairway to the left of the hazard, but it’s so narrow that it’s unrealistic to take this route. Thanks for the false hope, Rees! The best holes at Lake of Isles are the ones that utilize the Lake, with the first being the par 3 11th. This is by far the shortest hole on the course at 139 yards, but still demands precision with a downhill shot to an island-like green surrounded by water.

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The short par 3 11th

At 436 yards the par 4 12th is another very difficult hole. Playing uphill the entire way, this hole features just another 200 yard carry to a narrow fairway lined by thick forest on both sides. Beware of bunkers at 230 yards on the right and one just short right of this elevated green. The 13th is the shortest par 4 on the course at 356 yards and plays as the 18th handicap. There’s no real danger on this hole until 240 yards, where there’s a bunker on the left quickly followed by bunkers on either side that narrow the fairway to almost nothing. Once again, this approach runs slightly uphill to a green guarded by a deep bunker on the left. The 13th is a fine hole for sure, but I think Rees Jones missed an opportunity to create a risk/reward, reachable hole by shortening it 50 yards. At its current length, there’s no incentive to hit driver as the best play is to lay-up short of all the danger.

At 559 yards, the par 5 14th is another very long three-shotter with an 190 yard forced carry. This dogleg right runs uphill and features a narrow fairway lined by trees on both sides and a bunker on the left at 255 yards. Bunkers line the right for the final 90 yards and this elevated green is tucked behind the right corner guarded by bunkers short and long. The 15th is a more forgiving hole playing downhill at 393 yards. Although this tight fairway is lined by trees, there’s no forced carry here so the golfer has more options off the tee. With a large crossbunker on the right at 270 yards, the longer hitter might want utilize these options and consider hitting less than driver. Like most, this green is elevated with bunkers short on either side. The final par 3 16th is both the best and most memorable hole at Lake of Isles South. This fantastic 203 yard hole plays downhill to a beautiful peninsular green surrounded by water on three sides. The only bailout is long left, where a bunker awaits those who misjudge the distance.

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The signature par 3 16th

The 550 yard 17th culminates a very difficult set of par fives that all run uphill and require a serious forced carry. This hole is very similar to the others with a shorter forced carry (140 yards) and a narrow fairway lined by trees on both sides and a large crossbunker on the left at 250 yards. This fairway then runs straight uphill toward another elevated green guarded by a bunker right. The closing hole is very unique and doesn’t feel anything like the other holes. While I’m not sure how I feel about the design itself, I do commend Jones for going out of his comfort zone and not creating another mindless forced carry here. This par 4 technically plays 365 yards on the scorecard, but in reality the green is only about 300 yards from the teebox and tucked behind trees to the right. This hole features perhaps the widest fairway in the state as a severe dogleg right that doglegs pretty much as soon as you reach the fairway. A bunker in the dead center of the fairway at 225 yards is the only hazard and those who drive it 270+ yards will run out of fairway. As mentioned above, this narrow green is tucked to the right behind trees and faces the elbow of the dogleg. Those thinking of laying up well short or taking an aggressive line at the green will have an awkward approach over a deep bunker to a very shallow surface.

General Comments: The practice facilities at Lake of Isles are strong with a large grass driving range with unlimited balls and a tiny practice green near the 1st tee. The clubhouse is cozy and blends Native American influence just like the interior of the casino. Pace of play was fantastic and we had the whole course to ourselves.

Verdict: Although conditioning and aesthetics are very strong, Lake of Isles South’s design fails to deliver and is a perfect example of the overly penal golf architecture that plagued the early 2000’s. Certainly play this course if you get the opportunity, but don’t be surprised if your score suffers with all these forced carries and hazards.


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