We've been saying for a while now that Wisconsin is America's up-and-coming state for summer golf vacations.
To back it up, we (and our friends at Golf Odyssey) recently took a group of subscribers to Sand Valley Golf Resort, the latest addition to the scene.
This was a first for us. We knew we had the ear hundreds of thousands of traveling golfers, but would they be interested in dedicating a couple days of their valuable leisure time to coming to an event we were hosting?
Luckily, the answer was a resounding YES!
The event sold out in no time at all, and we were flattered to hear our guests talk about what an enjoyable time they had.
The upshot? This Sand Valley event will go down as the first of many events hosted by Golf Vacation Insider and Golf Odyssey at some of golf's most special destinations.
Here's the rundown on the event:
Golf Vacation Insider and Golf Odyssey at Sand Valley Golf Resort
Sand Valley is the latest development by greeting card magnate-cum-links-style golf developer Mike Keiser, whose Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon set a new standard for seaside destination golf when it opened in 1999.
The resort's first 18-hole course, an eponymous Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw design, has been "officially" open since May. The firm, fast, fun-as-heck layout bounds up, down and around some of the most striking inland sand dunes in the world.
It's a stout test of golf, but with one very impressive caveat: you are virtually guaranteed to finish the round with the same golf ball you began it with.
Rather than frustrating long grass and ever present water hazards, Sand Valley's main defense is the natural contours of its fairways and greens, and the vast sandy areas that border them. A wayward shot may end up in plain sand, or a scrubby lie that dares you to try a heroic shot, but the point is just that: you will have a shot.
This was the centerpiece of this first-ever event, which brought some two dozen golf enthusiasts and Golf Vacation Insider editors together for three days of perfect Midwest summer weather. But that was far from the only takeaway from the festivities.
The camaraderie kicked off with an opening cocktail party held on the Warbler Terrace at the back of the resort's main clubhouse. As the sun set, the call of the adjacent putting green proved irresistible. In a touch of ingenuity, at dusk, a Sand Valley staffer comes out to install lighted cups, as well as white stakes placed in the green that will hold your drink while you putt. Perfect.
The next day, our group headed out to tackle the Sand Valley course for the first time. The course is walking-only, and as a result the resort is home to an excellent caddie corps. Lee, my caddie, splits his time between Sand Valley and the exclusive Whisper Rock Golf Club in Arizona, where numerous pros and accomplished amateur players spend their winters. A number of other loopers winter at similarly well-known clubs and resorts, and their expertise proves valuable on Sand Valley's greens, which, for all their large contours, contain a lot of subtle breaks as well.
After an absolutely perfect morning round, our group was treated to a six-hole preview loop 'round the resort's second "big" course, Mammoth Dunes. David McLay Kidd and his staff are ahead of schedule on the routing, shaping and seeding of the course, and three more holes have just been made available for limited preview play. All 18 should be open for full-length previews late next summer.
The joint Golf Vacation Insider/Golf Odyssey group played Mammoth Dunes holes 1, 2, 15, 16, 17, and 18, and the prevailing sentiment was surprise at how a course situated adjacent to the original Sand Valley layout could have such a distinct feel. Indeed, while Sand Valley is a decidedly large-scale course, Mammoth Dunes is enormous. Some fairways are more than 100 yards wide, but with distinctly advantageous sides on which to place a tee shot.
Our favorite hole on the Mammoth Dunes loop, however, is the short par-3 16th. A dune obscures much of the green from view from the elevated tee, but Kidd provides plenty of room for error in the form of an exciting alternate route.
See the flat edge of the bunker in the foreground (almost exactly the center of the photo)? All you need to do is carry it and the ball will tumble downhill and onto the green. To test this, from the 150-yard tee, I took what amounted to a long chip shot swing with a seven-iron, carried the ball about 75 yards in the air and watched it disappear from view. When I walked around the dune, I saw my ball lying 20 feet right of the cup. It was one of the most thrilling moments of discovery I've had on a golf course in a long time, and it reinforced something that a lot of golfers seem to forget when they play golf: that pure fun is a crucial part of the greatest golf experiences. After all, we call it "playing golf," not "enduring golf" or "suffering golf," right?
After the Mammoth Dunes preview loop, our group was treated to a brief walk around the as-yet-unnamed Coore/Crenshaw-designed 17-hole (that's right - 17 holes) short course currently taking shape just down a hill from the main clubhouse, and behind the Dunes Lodge accommodations. Jimmy Craig, the main shaper, showed us a handful of the holes, many of which feature miniaturized CB Macdonald/Seth Raynor template holes. It's going to be a wonderful place to wander around with a wedge, a putter and a drink in hand.
Later, we gathered for dinner by the Warbler Terrace and listened to a presentation by Craig Haltom, the man responsible for discovering the site that is now Sand Valley and bringing it to Mike Keiser's attention. Haltom's self-described obsession with finding ideal ground for golf in Wisconsin led him all over the state for years before he finally encountered what was then a tract of land owned by a paper company, covered with hundreds of thousands of skinny red pines.
It took time and some persuading, but once Keiser and his sons got to see the property, they recognized its potential, despite the lack of an ocean nearby. The rest, as they say, is history. Haltom's key contributions to the success of Sand Valley are recognized in a few ways, most prominently in the naming of Craig's Porch, the snack bar that presides over the first and tenth tees of the original course.
With Haltom's stories and insights in mind, we headed out the following morning for another round at Sand Valley. The course is perfect for multiple-day play because the large and undulating greens allow for a tremendous diversity of hole locations from one hole to the next, one day to the next.
All in all, the event was a rousing success. We look forward to putting together more exclusive events for our subscribers; stay tuned for information about the next one!
Enjoy this video recap of the event, featuring reactions from both attendees and Sand Valley staff.
We're currently planning our next couple events, and we'd love your guidance. Where would you like to go? Be sure and let us know in the comments below!