Before Whistling Straits, Erin Hills and Sand Valley, SentryWorld was the first destination course built by a big-name architect in Wisconsin.
Robert Trent Jones Jr. christened the course in 1982, while The American Club was just a twinkle in Herb Kohler's eye. That was roughly 25 years before the USGA found the Kettle Hills to be ideal site for a U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Mike Keiser didn't enter the equation to build the Midwest's version of Bandon Dunes in the remote central section of the state until just four short years ago.
SentryWorld is ready to take that final step to compete with those well-known destinations as a high-end golf resort of its own flavor. Sentry Insurance, the mutual insurance company with its headquarters across the street, recently announced plans to build a boutique hotel along the 18th fairway of SentryWorld. Ground breaking will begin next spring with a scheduled opening in 2021. It's a natural progression for a course that is already manicured like a lavish resort-style playground.
“The Stevens Point area has a wide variety of accommodations for visitors," said Sara Brish, executive director of the Stevens Point Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. Adding a luxury hotel to the mix will serve those seeking that one-of-a-kind experience."
What it means for Wisconsin golf
A turf war is being waged across the state for golf supremacy. No state has invested more resources and improvements into its golf scene in the last five years than Wisconsin. The state has also hosted recent PGA Championships and a U.S. Open - plus the upcoming 2020 Ryder Cup - and they're all on courses the public can play.
Wisconsin is home to at least five world-class golf resorts - Sand Valley, The American Club, Erin Hills, Wild Rock Golf Club at the Wilderness and Grand Geneva, where I visited this summer - and countless other standalone gems such as Lawsonia Links, The Bog, The Bull at Pinehurst Farms and two tournament venues, Brown Deer Park (a former PGA Tour stop in Milwaukee) and University Ridge (a current PGA Tour Champions stop in Madison).
I've visited all of these resorts in the last three years (except Kohler), and they're all fabulously unique. WIld Rock offers family entertainment galore in the Wisconsin Dells, the waterpark capital of the world. Erin Hills, host of the 2017 U.S. Open, added The Drumlin par-3 course this summer and new twists like The Kettle Loop for overnight guests and nightly shenanigans in the caddie barn. As for The American Club, the Straits course at Whistling Straits, no doubt, will provide thrilling theater next September for the Ryder Cup, golf's grandest spectacle.
The evolution of SentryWorld
So where does SentryWorld fit in? It's ideally located within an hour of Sand Valley, the region's hot new draw. I'm a firm believer that Wisconsin has achieved "golf trail" status. In my opinion, it's now better than the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama. There's more variety architecturally, and you can't beat the draw of playing where the pros play, plus the playability and fun factor of Sand Valley. Whistling Straits, Erin Hills and Sand Valley are all walking only, a big draw for golfers who love the exercise and the whole experience with caddies. That's another bonus over many RTJ Trail sites that are only played with carts.
SentryWorld, where most players take carts, brings a totally different dynamic to the equation. It's got a private club/corporate vibe. The course, which hosted a USGA Girls Junior Amateur this summer, was recently redesigned and modernized by RTJ II and his team in 2014. It's challenging with at least a half dozen water holes. The most famous hole has no water. There's a different more daunting and distracting hazard instead - 36,000 flowers planted around the par-3 16th green. While you're not allowed to venture in after errant shots, golfers enjoy a free drop (it's a local rule) if your ball lands in the colorful beds of the "flower" hole. Hitting that tee shot is almost as nerve-wracking as playing the island green on the PLAYERS Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass.
The hotel will likely serve all sorts of guests - golfers, corporate clients and luxury travelers. Swaback Architects, which designed the reimagined SentryWorld complex in 2013, will design the building.
“Our vision with the hotel is to follow the contemporary lines of SentryWorld with a blend of stone, heavy timbers and plenty of grandeur that will make the property enjoyable year-round,” said John Sather, Swaback managing partner. “The room views will be absolutely stunning. And the hotel will have an active vibe, as we look to connect the indoors to the outdoors and make good use of the adjacent 27-mile recreational trail.”
The clubhouse isn't your average clubhouse, either. It has all the trappings of a corporate retreat with large indoor and outdoor banquet facilities and a fieldhouse for indoor sports (golf, tennis, volleyball, basketball and more). PJ's is a great bar hangout inside.
Adding a place to stay among all these world-class facilities was a no-brainer. It's perfect timing to capitalize on the continuing momentum of Wisconsin golf.