It's a question I'm sure more than a few golf groups have asked the past couple of years.
Jason if you had to choose a buddies trip to Bandon Dunes or Sand Valley?— Jeff Thames (@JeffThames22) September 28, 2020
Where should YOUR CREW go: Bandon Dunes or Sand Valley? The two golf resorts are the signature stateside experiences created by Mike Keiser. He built both remote sites up from nothing. Since 1999, Bandon Dunes on the Oregon coast has blossomed into, arguably, America's premier golf resort with six courses - four links, one inland delight, the 13-hole Bandon Preserve short course and the Punchbowl putting course.
Nearly two decades later, in 2017, Sand Valley began to emerge from the sandy soil of central Wisconsin in tiny Nekoosa. It counterpunches with two 18-hole courses, plus a 17-hole short course, the Sandbox. It sprung to life in a hurry and is a little more diverse than Bandon Dunes with two new bocce ball courts, 15 grass courts at an impressive tennis complex, miles of hiking trails and three lakes for fishing, swimming and kayaking.
The two resorts are almost mirror images of one another. Each has a regulation and short course designed by Coore & Crenshaw, plus a stellar David McLay Kidd design that could stake a claim as the best at each destination. When Sedge Valley is eventually built, Sand Valley will also boast its own Tom Doak design. Both properties are walking only where taking caddies comes highly recommended.
The answer to the question boils down to three factors: Where are you traveling from? What's your budget? How long can you stay?
High-season green fees at Sand Valley are $225 for Sand Valley and Mammoth Dunes and $65 for the Sandbox, compared with $345 for the five regulation courses at Bandon Dunes and $100 for Bandon Preserve. None of these prices include a caddie or taxes. Bandon Dunes does offer a slight discount for resort guests, but, as you'd expect, golf on the Pacific Ocean requires a higher premium.
If you've got limits on your budget and time - a long three-day weekend versus a five-day golf-a-thon - then Sand Valley is a great choice. I'd play Mammoth Dunes over and over again and never grow tired. The food is excellent and the Midwestern hospitality fosters a relaxed, enjoyable vibe. Summer days can feel like they last forever and, in theory, the summer weather in Wisconsin should be more reliable than on the coast.
If cost and time are not an issue, though, how can you not choose Bandon Dunes? It's tough to get to, but that just makes the journey that much more memorable. Everything about the resort is tailored to the golf nut. I recall eating in the main dining room still soaking wet in my rain suit and my hair wrecked from the wind. Nobody cared. Everybody could relate. Finally checking Bandon Dunes off the bucket list will feel like you just joined the best fraternity on campus. It's a golf brotherhood only a lucky few get to experience.
You'll endlessly debate your favorite meal and your favorite course. You'll likely catch some foul weather (wind or rain) and get beaten up by at least one course. That's okay. Playing golf at Bandon Dunes creates the stories all golfers want to tell.
Have you been to either or both Sand Valley and Bandon Dunes? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.