After last year’s visit to Sand Valley to see and play the first course in the grow-in phase, I was bullish about its direction. This year, my golf season in the Midwest was bookended by two more visits, and you can officially count me among those who are over the moon about the place. Under Michael Keiser’s leadership, Sand Valley is already a must-visit (repeatedly). If future plans comes to fruition, it is a legit contender for the title of best golf destination in North America.
Allow me to share evidence to support that assertion.
My buddy Peter Korbakes (on Instagram @pgkorbs and @sugarloafsocialclub), his brother Telly, and I had plans to play Lawsonia Links. At the last minute, we added Sand Valley to our itinerary. (side note: If you ask them, they will happily tell you about how I overslept.) At first, Peter was a bit bummed that we wouldn’t have time to play 36+ at Lawsonia.
Any potential disappointment evaporated the moment we pulled into the sandy main drive. As we drove past the future site of the clubhouse, and the beginnings of David McLay Kidd’s course #2, I thought Peter might jump out of the window with joy.
We played the front nine twice, and then the staff was kind enough to let us sneak out to play holes 10, 16-18. I already know that I will never get tired of playing this course. There is so much to discover, and holes 7 and 17 are among my all-time Coore & Crenshaw favorites.
(click to enlarge photos)
#1 – Par 4 – 325 yards
#2 – Par 4 – 416 yards
#3 – Par 3 – 192 yards
#4 – Par 5 – 557 yards
#5 – Par 3 – 160 yards
#6 – Par 4 – 421 yards
#7 – Par 5 – 536 yards
#8 – Par 3 – 115 yards
#9 – Par 4 – 273 yards
#16 – Par 4 – 385 yards
#17 – Par 3 – 215 yards
#18 – Par 5 – 523 yards
As we were getting ready to head home, we were chatting with the Super Rob. He shared that his favorite holes were the ones that we had not seen – #11-15. Talk about a tease to prompt a return trip…
LATE FALL VISIT
My golf schedule was gloriously packed this season, which did not allow me a chance to get back to Sand Valley to play again. However, I did go back in late November.
I was fortunate to be invited by Michael Keiser, along with my buddy Charlie James, to participate in a group walk led by Mike DeVries of a piece of the property at Sand Valley that has potential for development. As a Kingsley guy, this opportunity was a real treat for me. Mike was kind enough to do a GeekedOnGolf interview, but I had never met him.
Further, the routing of a golf course has always been the most mysterious and fascinating part of the process to me. How can someone look at a piece of tree-covered land, and with a topographical map, determine where the best golf holes will be? That aspect of creative vision is beyond me, and I couldn’t wait to see real pros in action.
We arrived after dark, and couldn’t see much of our surroundings. I was immediately impressed, however, with how much progress had been made on the lodging around Lake Leopold. The next morning, I got up early to catch the view off our back deck of sunrise over the lake.
Not a bad way to start a day. This particular day immediately got better after I captured this photo.
I turned around and saw a man standing at the coffee machine in the common area. Who was that fellow early riser? None other than Ben Crenshaw. He could not have been more gracious in chatting with Charlie and me, as well as taking photos. Sharing a cup of coffee and talking GCA with Mr. Crenshaw was certainly a bucket list item for me. (Another side note: If you see me around, ask me to tell you the story about how Ben Crenshaw and Dan Lucas ate my party-sized Snickers).
If you make the trip to Sand Valley, will you get to hang with luminaries like Ben Crenshaw? You never know. That is part of what is so special about what is happening in Nekoosa. It is abuzz with the creative energy that results from kindred golf spirits rubbing elbows, and there is no end in sight.
After geeking out with Gentle Ben for a bit, Charlie and I headed out to the Coore & Crenshaw course to see the holes that were not finished in the spring – #11-15. Although the fairways were still growing in and the greens had a heavy topdressing of sand in prep for winter, it was still clear that these holes are going to be a challenging blast to play.
#11 – Par 4 – 405 yards
#12 – Par 5 – 487 yards
#13 – Par 4 – 401 yards
#14 – Par 3 – 175 yards
#15 – Par 4 – 387 yards
This stretch is stout. It goes without saying that I can’t wait to come back in 2017 to play the entire course.
After this quick jaunt, we joined up with the group for the walk with Mike and Michael. I did not take pictures, as they would not have made much sense. However, I did snap two shots of particularly colorful lichens that stood out to me.
The photos I have posted, and others I have seen, do not do justice to just how rich and varied Sand Valley is in terms of color and texture. As the remnants of the pine farm are cleared, and the restoration work of Jens Jensen and his team begins to take shape, a truly breathtaking ecology is emerging. Players are in for a visual feast that will evolve through the seasons, and the years. At some point soon, I will do a separate post specifically on the commitment to ecological restoration that the Keisers have made in Nekoosa – it is an incredible story in and of itself.
The walk with Mike DeVries was a GCA geek’s dream. I played fly-on-the-wall as Mike, Michael, and their colleagues walked and talked. Charlie asked Mike about designing holes and received a typically thoughtful DeVries answer in response. Mike doesn’t think about holes, and he has a disdain for the idea of signature holes. Instead, he thinks about and focuses on creating the course as a whole. He would much rather make a great course with no standout holes, than a course with a few standouts that doesn’t function as a harmonious whole.
I am biased of course, but it is this kind of perspective that shines through in Mike’s work to date. I know from previous conversations with Michael that the Keisers have great respect for Mike and his abilities, and it is great to see that he is now being considered among the craft’s elite practitioners. Regardless of what ultimately happens with future courses at Sand Valley, I am grateful for the afternoon I got to spend walking and talking in the wind and rain.
After a quick lunch, Michael took Charlie and me over the check out the 20-hole short course that is being created near the main clubhouse.
The course is a hybrid of a pitch-and-putt and a par-3. It winds through several zones (heathland, parkland, duneland) and features templates such as the biarritz and short.
Coming off the “big” courses, joyfully spending the remaining hours acting like a kid on this course and the putting course will be a perfect complement and conclusion to any day.
Michael had to run off for more walking with Mike et al, and so Charlie and I decided to take a quick spin around the 6 preview holes of the David McLay Kidd’s #2 course as the sun set.
Immediately, one is taken with the scale of what DMK’s crew is creating. However, it is not only big and bold. From what I saw, there has been an impressive attention to the details that give this course a character all its own. As all great courses do, SVII infused me with a great desire to grab my clubs and play.
HOLE 14 (Golf Digest Design Contest hole)
The word we heard was that the farther away one gets from the clubhouse, the bolder and cooler the holes get. That is tough to imagine, but it sure is fun to try.
I’m greatly looking forward to preview play and more sneak-peek walks in 2017.
I have been effusive in my praise of what is being created at Sand Valley. It is hard not to be enthusiastic when Michael, Craig, Glen, Rob and the team keep hitting every high note. From the golf to the accommodations to the ecology to the ice cream sandwiches, they are doing it right.
An argument can be made that it is too early to make such an assessment. Fair enough. For the doubters, I say this – go and experience Sand Valley for yourself. Regardless of its newness, if your golf geeky spirit is not stirred by the place, I’ll eat sand.
For even more on what is happening at Sand Valley, check out the recent interview with Michael Keiser by Mitch and Darin on Talking Golf Getaways.