I want to prove to Mike (Keiser) that Bandon Dunes wasn't a fluke," said David McLay Kidd, as we walked his new course at Sand Valley Golf Resort in Nekoosa, Wisconsin.
Kidd and his crew, led by his associate Casey Krahenbuhl, have grassed six holes, shaped a few more, and are now nearly shut down for the winter.
"We haven't proven anything yet," said Kidd. "We're 2-under through six holes, but we have 12 holes to go.
"We've had a Patrick Reed start. We don't want a Lee Westwood finish."
Reed, the Ryder Cup superhero, is 26 years old, which is the same age Kidd was in the mid-90s when Keiser offered the young Scottish architect the first swing at what has become the golf course piñata along the southwestern coast of Oregon.
And in 1999, Bandon Dunes was born. We, "the retail golfer," as Keiser likes to call us, have been diving for the sweets ever since.
After Bandon, Kidd did a lot of work for several different developers all over the world, but apparently Keiser was never impressed with the finished products. At the root of Keiser's successful formula is his keen sensibility and unwavering focus on fun, which is a word that is often used to describe Bandon Dunes, and not necessarily the word used to describe many of Kidd's follow-ups to Bandon.
Then in 2014, along came Gamble Sands in Brewster, Wash., which opened to rave reviews. Kidd had come full circle with his style and rediscovered playability.
And thus, Keiser rediscovered Kidd.
"I've come to understand my business much better," Kidd told me on a recent segment of Morning Drive.
"I feel like I have a really good handle on what makes golf tick and what people really enjoy.
"And bottom line is, golf needs to be fun."
When Kidd comes into town, he focuses on one hole per visit. On this particular trip, it's the seventh hole. "Casey and I are out there for hours sweating bullets," said Kidd. "I try to think more like a caddie, and in doing so, that's way more fun for the player."
On that note, and having played the first course at Sand Valley a few weeks ago, the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design is a lot like Bandon Dunes. It will be playable, regardless of weather. You won't lose a lot of golf balls. There are big fairways and greens, and plenty of subtle undulations that throw your ball toward the reward and away from the risk. It's easy on the eyes, and with reachable par 5s, a drivable par 4 and a compelling mix of par 3s, it should also be soft on the scorecard.
The 5th at Sand Valley is a 155-yard downhill par-3 to a big, but domed green.
It's not as dramatic or demanding as the dunes and routing of Coore-Crenshaw's Bandon Trails or Streamsong Red in Florida, and Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia is in a category with very few equals. But their design at Sand Valley does exactly what the first course at a remote budding golf destination should do to an avid amateur: Leave them feeling good about themselves and wanting more. Which is exactly what they'll get with Kidd's course: More. Lots more.
Kidd's routing, which neighbors the Coore-Crenshaw design but has almost double the turf, will roll into, over and around an extreme 350-acre parcel of Keiser's 9,000 acres in central Wisconsin.
"I asked Mike for 120 acres of grass, which is 10 acres more than Bandon Dunes," Kidd said. "And six holes in, we're at 40 acres, so we're right on track. As for the greens, I thought we'd average about 10,000 square feet. But so far, it's more like 13,000." (An average size of a green is closer to 5,000 square feet.)
Kidd's 16th hole is a downhill par-3 with a mid--iron into a big receptive green.
Next summer, six holes (Nos. 1, 2 and 15-18) of Kidd's yet-to-be-named course will be available for preview play, with an official opening of all 18 holes in 2018. Meanwhile, the Coore-Crenshaw course, called Sand Valley, will officially open May 1, 2017.
"I've always said that if I could do anything different at Bandon Dunes, I would've gone second," said Kidd, whose design was followed closely by Tom Doak at Pacific Dunes in 2001.
If Doak benefitted from infrastructure, agronomics, irrigation, a more compelling piece of land, and an opportunity to take a few more chances than Kidd, then that's exactly what Kidd is benefitting from by following Coore-Crenshaw at Sand Valley.
"We'll see what competition produces," said Keiser, who again stands to benefit from Kidd's bold style, creativity, but also his development and maturation as an architect. "Of the six routings we looked at, David was the only one to pick that big ridge."
Keiser is referring to a massive V-shaped dune and the "bake off" he had between a small group of architects competing for the second course. They were all asked to pick a piece of the land and present a routing. Kidd, Doak and Rod Whitman with Dave Axland of Cabot Links, were the finalists. Kidd won, in part, because his land and routing were distinctly different than the Coore-Crenshaw course.
"With more challenge comes the potential for a bigger payoff," said Keiser. "Right now, it's too early for me to tell if that's the case."
But just like at Bandon Dunes, Barnbougle in Tasmania, and Cabot Links in Canada, Keiser hopes his clientele splits votes on which course they prefer.
"If each course has a following of the same size, that's success."
What's been successful, at least at Bandon, and then at Cabot, is the building of a more user-friendly first course, followed by the addition of something bigger and more dramatic.
Would we rate Bandon Dunes the same if it followed Pacific Dunes? Or, an even more extreme case, could Cabot Links have followed Cabot Cliffs?
One could argue Cabot Links wouldn't have had the time and exposure to get it's proper due if it opened after the much more dramatic Cabot Cliffs.
Video: Ginella visits Sand Valley
At Sand Valley, as workers and large machinery pave the one-mile driveway, move brush and build clubhouses, cottages, lakes and other amenities, which will include fishing and two grass tennis courts, it's clear that this is really Michael Keiser Jr.'s project. He has moved to the area and is very involved with any and all decisions on site. And in doing so, it's a bit of a coming-out party with what has quickly become a family business. Michael, 35, has an emphasis and expertise in land development, while Chris Keiser, 28, studied and has work experience in finance. Both are involved in all aspects of the golf business.
The bottom line at Sand Valley, for now, is two 18-hole courses and a barn-themed clubhouse, which will have a bar and a 360-degree view of the property. With 17 rooms in the clubhouse, a small lodge and multiple four-bedroom suites, they will get to 77 rooms and 107 beds by the end of next summer.
But when will there be more golf?
Michael is also working with Coore-Crenshaw on a 30-acre short course.
"Right now we're calling it the Bump-and-Run," said Michael. "There are 20 holes and they will be everything from 20 to 160 yards. It will be a hybrid of Preserve and Punchbowl." (Bandon's par-3 and putting course, respectively.) "It's really taken on a life of its own. It's awesome."
"More golf is always fun to think about," said Michael. "But my dad has taught me to focus on what's right in front of me. And in courses one and two, and with everything else going on here, I have plenty in front of me."
Lodging at Sand Valley will be $175 per night during the peak season. ($350/night for a double). Green fee is $195 for peak-season resort guests. Lodging and golf prices will be cut in half during shoulder seasons. There will also be discounted rates for juniors, in-state residents, University of Wisconsin alumni and locals. Courses will be walking only, but exceptions will be made for medical reasons -- which could come as a result of $3 brats, Italian beef sandwiches, bottomless kegs of local beers and the coconut chocolate Nye's Ice Cream Sandwiches.
"The UPS driver parks and eats here," said Michael, sincerely excited but not necessarily surprised, that what the Keisers are doing at Sand Valley is already drawing a crowd.
The 18th green on Kidd's course at Sand Valley
Ginella hits a 40-yard putt on the 22,000 square-foot 18th green. "It's the biggest green I've ever built," says Kidd. "By far."