First Course at Sand Valley is Phenomenal
Town of Rome – On my way up to Stevens Point for an annual Memorial Day golf getaway with 15 buddies, I stopped off at Sand Valley at the invitation of B.R. Koehnemann, director of communications for KemperSports, to play nine holes on the new Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw course.
I walked off the ninth green convinced I had just played what is going to be one of the best public access courses in America. Whistling Straits (three PGA Championships and the 2020 Ryder Cup) and Erin Hills (2017 U.S. Open) are the gold standard in Wisconsin, but Sand Valley is destined to join them as an international destination.
Everything Chicago developer Michael Keiser does turns to gold – Bandon Dunes in remote coastal Oregon is Exhibit A – and Sand Valley promises to be as good as anything he's done. Ultimately, there could be as many as five courses on the wind-swept 1,700-acre property near Wisconsin Rapids (No. 2, designed by David McLay Kidd, is under construction).
The Coore-Crenshaw is basically finished, except for some bunker work and minor touches, and is growing in nicely. Nine holes are open for limited public play to those who register on the resort's website, with a soft opening for all 18 holes scheduled for fall and the grand opening tentatively scheduled for June 2017. The first of several cottages on the grounds is completed and reservations are being accepted.
The Coore-Crenshaw spills and tumbles over an expanse of sand dunes and ridges left behind by a prehistoric lake. It's sort of a cross between heathland and links, with generous, rumpled fairways bleeding into endless sand scrub (featuring, believe it or not, native cacti). The fairways already are firm and fast and they will continue to harden as the turf matures. I love the fact that you can play the course on the ground of through the air and that the rollicking greens encourage the bump-and-run and all manner of creative short-game shots. Eventually, you'll be able to putt from 20 yards off the green.
Par for the front nine is 35, but that's just a number. Given the ever-present wind and the number and variety of the tee boxes (at least six on every hole), the course will play dramatically different day to day. We played one par-3 at 82 yards – trust me, it was no pushover – and one at 260. There are monstrous par-5s, drivable par-4s and everything in between.
The greens, a blend of two creeping bentgrass strains, already are good and will only get better. The superintendent, Rob Duhm, did a phenomenal job growing grass at the Kingsley Club in Michigan and Sand Valley is on roughly the same latitude, albeit with slightly colder winters.
The Coore-Crenshaw course must be walked and my caddie, Max, was one of the best I've ever had. He double-bagged it and literally ran back and forth between my ball and my partner's ball.
I can't say enough good things about this place. It's a 3-hour drive from Milwaukee, give or take, and about 15 miles south of Wisconsin Rapids, in an area so remote that a wolf has been sighted on the property. It's a blissful escape from the real world. It's no-frills golf in an unbelievably beautiful, natural setting.
But don't take my word for it. Come see for yourself.
About Gary D’Amato
Gary D'Amato is the Journal Sentinel's sports columnist and also covers golf and the Olympic Games. He is a three-time National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association sportswriter of the year in Wisconsin and has won numerous national writing awards.