NEKOOSA, Wis. - It took generations for a glacial lake to drain and become one giant sand pit in remote central Wisconsin. Famed golf developer Mike Keiser is transforming 1,700 acres of nowhere into somewhere special in short order.
Sand Valley Golf Resort unveiled its strong Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design called Sand Valley for preview play in the fall of 2016 with the official debut May 1. The best could be yet to come. Nine holes of David McLay Kidd's Mammoth Dunes course opened Aug. 1, with possible preview play on the full routing by mid-September with its grand opening next summer. A yet-to-be-named 17-hole par-3 short course by Coore/Crenshaw should open by this fall as well.
Unfairly or not, Sand Valley will always be labeled the "Bandon Dunes of the Midwest" because of its similarities to the famed Oregon resort. Beyond the Keiser connection, both offer linksy golf requiring walking in remote, albeit amazing and unique, locations. Playing dynamic short courses and taking caddies for every round are part of the ethos at each place.
Sand Valley, spearheaded by Mike Keiser Jr., skipped infancy and is already in its teenage years, maturing quickly with changes ongoing. When I visited in July, construction crews were finishing up the rooms in the Clubhouse Lodge below mine (there are 17 total here). More expensive and spacious accommodations are available in the Lake Leopold Lodge and Fairway Lodge. A 12-bedroom lodge on the short course will open next year.
Golfers have three great dining options - on the Warbler Terrance adjacent to a fire pit and large putting green, indoors at the Mammoth Bar & Lounge and at Craig's Porch, a snack/lunch shack near the first tee and 18th green of the Coore/Crenshaw course a short shuttle ride away from the main hub of the resort. The nine different flavors of ice cream sandwiches are already legendary.
If the early nine holes are any indication, Mammoth Dunes will quickly become the resort's most popular play, even though Sand Valley already has a nice mix of blind shots, kick points, fun par 3s and elevation changes. Losing the ball is difficult to do anywhere at Sand Valley, but so will be staying out of all that sand. Good luck trying.