Heath: shrubland habitat found mainly on free-draining infertile, acidic soils and is characterised by open, low-growing woody vegetation.
Perhaps the most anticipated new entry in American golf destinations is Sand Valley Golf Resort. Mike Keiser’s latest golf utopia is located in the “Badger State” in the Central Wisconsin town of Nekoosa. Earlier this summer we made our way to Sand Valley to experience the latest golf treasure in a state that is quickly becoming known for being one of the finest golf meccas in the world.
The over 1700 acres of rippling heathland naturesc ape that features sand dunes usually only found on the coastlines of Scotland and Ireland is an idyllic setting for golf. Already open for play is the course that bears the resort’s name – Sand Valley. Crafted by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw (that officially opened on May 2nd of this year), the course has trace elements of many of their other fine works, most notably Bandon Trails and Sand Hills. (although Trails does open and finish along the gusty shores of Oregon’s Pacific coast. About the only thing missing at Sand Valley is the coastline.
David McLay Kidd’s – Mammoth Dunes, which is now open for 9 holes of preview play is something to behold, a brawny eclectic mix of designs that’s inspired by a renewed and re-energized original and his evolved thought process regarding golf course architecture. MD is slated to officially open in the summer of 2018.
The property at Sand Valley is the type of site that course designers dream their whole lives about, and having Keiser as the principal only amplifies the pedigree. Earlier this summer we made our way to Sand Valley to experience the most recent addition to what is becoming known as one of the finest golf meccas in the world – Wisconsin.
In true Mike Keiser style, the resort at Sand Valley is a natural and modest setting that’s ultra functional in all forms. Not unlike Bandon, the hardcore linkster will truly appreciate the minimalist vibe here. The Clubhouse that includes pro shop, restaurant and lodging had just opened the week before we arrived, and although there were still a few details to be finished up, the rooms, service and cuisine were spot on.
If an image tells a thousand words, than this one had me at hello. The accommodations at the lodge are spacious and the views are grand. After trekking 8 miles up and down the dunes of Sand Valley, it’s important to shift beyond the grind and experience comfort of the body and mind. No detail was left unanswered, the beds are just right, the proper shower (which is a key component of links recovery) includes a sitting bench in the shower. The in-room Keurig coffee machine is really convenient, and made for a happy morning. If that wasn’t enough, the views of Mammoth Dunes at sunset are priceless. Also, just in case you were wondering (and it’s likely you weren’t), the carpet in the room rolls the perfect putting speed of about a 10 on the stimp meter. Sometimes it’s just the little things, through multiple weather delays the flatstick was put to work.
The view from the back porch outside my clubhouse lodge accommodations is of the first hole on the newest design at Sand Valley – David McLay Kidd’s Mammoth Dunes.
Another angle of the view from the back porch.
The Lake Leopold cottages are located between the clubhouse/lodge and the first tee on the Coore/Crenshaw course.
Craig’s Porch overlooks the 1st and 10th tees and acts as a pre-round and halfway house eatery. The 18th green also is situated just below, so a there’s another chance after the round to grab another brisket slider. You can’t have just one – delicious.
The hangout just below Craig’s Porch is an ideal spot to soak in the setting or just relax before or after the round. You can watch golfers play the first, tenth, seventeenth and eighteenth holes from here.
New construction continues to emerge at Sand Valley. More lodging, a Coore/Crenshaw short course and there are rumors of additional courses in the future as well.
I’d really like to see Keiser branch out a bit and include a designer that he hasn’t worked with before like Jay Blasi (Chambers Bay), Michael Hurdzan (Erin Hills) or even ASGCA President John Sanford (Ferry Point) – all very talented and highly creative minds worthy of a site of this quality.
To say the central Wisconsin weather was uncooperative for golf and photography would be a serious understatement. Numerous persistent thunderstorms pummeled the area on day 1 of our visit, we only got in a total of 4 holes. Day 2 was an exercise in patience and determination, after bolting first off the tee at 6:15 a.m, we barely completed the front 9 before lightning and thunderstorms once again blitzed the area, halting us for an additional 3 hours. Then finally, six hours after teeing off, the 5 footer on the 18th dropped for birdie. After a quick bite, I met Michael Keiser Jr, Glen Murray (the General Manager at SV), David McLay Kidd and his globe trotting course design accomplice Casey Krahenbuhl. Kidd then took me to get a preview of their work on Mammoth Dunes. A huge thrill since I’ve been an admirer of David’s work for quite some time. He was kind enough to give me the grand tour and all the while looping the bag while we discussed course philosophy and some of his prior work. It was an experience any course design enthusiast would greatly appreciate (especially for a 30 year landscaper and turf head), this was as good as it gets.
From the orange tees (6500 yards), the short par 4 – 1st hole plays just 325 yards. A slight right to left shaped shot with a fairway club is the play here as the fairway falls off to the native area on the right. Nothing more than a wedge for your approach. This is a welcoming starting hole and a chance to post a red number on the card right out of the gate.
At 395 yards, the dogleg right 2nd requires discipline. No more than a 230 yard tee shot leaves you just short of the cross bunkers. An uphill semi-blind approach shot to a severely sloped (back to front) green here on the 2nd hole will be the first true test of the day. The miss here is short, anything missed pin high left or right leaves a tough chance to get up and down.
The par 3 – 3rd is another example of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s affinity for the designs of C.B MacDonald and Seth Raynor. This modern day “Redan” is 192 yards but plays shorter because it’s slightly downhill and the crest of the slope will feed the ball towards any hole location.
The par 5 – 4th is the longest hole on the course at 593 yards from the tips (557 from the orange tees). It plays directly uphill so three accurate well struck shots are required here. This particular hole design felt reminiscent of one of Coore/Crenshaw’s lesser known designs – the now deceased Sugarloaf Mountain.
The 164 yard par 3 – 5th is a bit of a sleeper. The extreme elevation of the tee makes it play far less than the actual yardage, but don’t underestimate the challenge here. Notice the far left pin position, it appears fairly innocent from this view, but there is only a small area to land your ball or it will be repelled off the green, requiring the touch of a brain surgeon to save par. A worthy short par 3.
The 455 yard par 4 -sixth was not only the toughest hole on the course, but it was also one that impressed from a design perspective, but it likely won’t be a favorite of the masses. Why you ask? It doesn’t have any real elevation to speak of, or anything really unique visually, but it’s a good old fashioned strap it on golf hole that requires your absolute two best strikes to have a chance at par.
I’m a big advocate of playing different tees during a given round, either to accommodate your skill set or to create more buzz amongst your group on a given hole. Many never even consider moving a box up (or back) to make a given hole play more interesting. The sixth is a prime example, the big hitter will welcome the exam, while the senior or high handicap player can easily struggle here. The best players will take the bold line challenging the left fairway bunker, while the recreational player will have to play around the sand.
Notice the freshly cut green complex here on the sixth, we were making good time trying to beat the weather. This 90 foot shortgame challenge proved too much for my early morning bump and run skills. No par save here. That’s a championship golf hole.
The 536 yard par 5 – seventh tee sports an elongated bunker that runs the entire length of the tee shot and then some.
As you get closer to the green, this linear fairway bunker guards the left side and acts as a clever misdirection to the right as the fairway veers back to the left. Easily one of the best designed sand complexes on the front nine.
A closer look at the bunkering here on the 7th shows the minimalist style that designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are known for.
The green complex at the seventh and the predicament of a short game grinder.
After the demanding sixth, the finishing three of the outward nine are just a blast and offer legit opportunities to get healthy on the scorecard. The short uphill eighth is no exception, it played 118 yards, requiring nothing but a smooth and precise gap wedge.
This is the site as you walk over the rise after putting out at the eighth, the driveable downhill ninth might provide the biggest adrenaline rush on the course. It played 281 yards to the front pin. After a decent drive I was pin high left in the swale between the trees and bunkers and it took a pretty creative pitch to get it on and walk out of there with a par.
Another view of the ninth, this one from the very top of the hill. You didn’t come all the way to the heartland to lay up, did you? The tees range from 150 yards to 305 yards, so there’s a sensible risk/reward opportunity for everyone – so find the tee box that gives you a chance and let it rip.
The view of the 541 yard par 5 tenth from Craig’s Porch. The line for big hitters is directly over the center bunker.
The approach at the tenth shows the overall right to left tilt of the green complex. The best angle to this green is from the left side allowing for the ground game to be a factor.
It only plays 387 yards, but the eleventh demands respect and favors a slight draw between the bunkers.
The green complex at the eleventh plays slightly uphill, anything short will be repelled back down towards the fairway. Beyond the green, you can see the mound and thick rough, leaving a slim chance to save par.
The photo from the back right side of the eleventh green shows the severe tilt from back to front.
The sky was becoming threatening once again as I teed off at the short par 5 – 12th. The aggressive line is over the trees in line with the white tee markers, otherwise favor the right side.
With hundreds of acres of native sand visible at SV, this fairway cross bunker at the twelfth is probably my favorite gnarled creation – it looks demonic and spectacular all at the same time. Just magnificent stuff by the Cooore/Crenshaw design squad. I’m thrilled to say that I didn’t have to play out of it though.
And of course they follow it with yet another just a few yards closer to the green.
The 175 yard par 3 fourteenth felt like we were dropped off at Pine Valley, a rugged beauty that is easily to be enamored with. Overall, the one shotters at SV are top shelf and offer magnificent variety of design and length – one short (8th), two medium (3 & 14) and one long (17). Here at the fourteenth, the two levels require proper distance control to have a decent chance at birdie.
You can tell by the ominous sky that we were lucky to get this round in. Stay out of this nasty bunker that guards the center of the fairway at the sixteenth, it’s a mandatory pitch out. Par on this hole is quite an achievement.
The “Punch Bowl” par 3 seventeenth is a beast. It played all of 226 yards to the back flag location. Once again choose the appropriate box and torch your Sunday best over the right mound and let the contours will do the rest. Needing two birds to get back to level, this was going to require something special.
If you’re a fan of course design, you’re likely to appreciate the green complex here on the seventeenth, the slopes will assist in funneling even slightly errant shots onto the elongated putting surface. From there the task has just begun. Bent grass was a a good choice for the greens at SV, can’t ever complain about making a 3 here on this the toughest of the par 3’s at Sand Valley.
The par 5 eighteenth is a fantastic finisher. Playing straight uphill at 507 yards from the orange tees. Avoid the fescue on the left, and the numerous bunkers along the right side. Perhaps your two best swings will give you a chance to walk off on a high note.
The bunkering around the eighteenth is vast, and luckily I managed to avoid it, just clearing the sand with a 3 wood. I couldn’t resist capturing this image from about 50 yards out. A successful up and down for birdie 4 from just in front of the green made lunch taste just bit sweeter.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner or anything in between, the Mammoth Terrace (above) and Mammoth Bar & Grill is the perfect setting to relax and enjoy the Heathland views, and delicious food and spirits.
An Ode to Keiser
As I headed east towards Erin Hills to cover the spectacle that is the U.S Open, it dawned on me – It’s a great time to be golfer, especially in North America, and a lion’s share of that is due in large part to one man – Mike Keiser. It’s not just the golf landscapes like Bandon, Cabot and Sand Valley that he has founded through his vision and resources, but it’s also his incredible conservation efforts like the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance and the native foliage and plant life he preserves and strictly demands the same of his course designers on each and every parcel of the properties that have become links sanctuaries to us all. What he does with his influence and passion is create and preserve the things that are most sacred – experiences with nature. Consistently, Keiser makes things better than he found them and surrounds himself with talented people who share the vision that bonds passionate golfers that prefer golf in it’s most pure and raw state. When he was onced asked “What would you like your legacy in golf to be?” Keiser answered: “He built golf courses that withstood the test of time.”
I think we can safely check that box. For that, I say Thank You Mr.Keiser . . .
Fee structure for golf at Sand Valley is extremely reasonable:
Ranging from Mon-Wed $85 (low season) – $150 (high season) resort guest
Thurs-Sun $105 (low season) – $195 (high season) resort guest
Mon-Wed $95 (low season) – $175 (high season) day guest
Thurs-Sun $125 (low season) – $215 (high season) day guest
*Replay rates are 50% off posted rates.
9 hole Preview Play now available on Mammoth Dunes
Mammoth Dunes par 3 -16th
*Just announced (8/15) – New Coore & Crenshaw Short Course will begin a complimentary 6-hole loop that will be available for lodging guests staying Sept. & Oct. 2017.
Also the Heathland Cup will take place Sept. 2nd-4th, 2017 – 54 holes Best Ball Tournament
For more information: http://www. sandvalleygolfresort.com/