Geeked on Golf

A Celebration of the People & Places that Make Golf the Greatest Game


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The Man, The Myth – Kyle Hegland & Sand Hills

Sand Hills Golf Club was more a myth than a real place for me.  Located in Nebraska, Coore & Crenshaw’s modern masterpiece sparked a golf architecture renaissance that has fueled my passion for the subject, and the game itself.  I had heard stories that one could write a polite letter to Sand Hills’s owner, Mr. Youngscap, that might result in a once-per-life invite to visit.  Not sure whether or not that was true, I hadn’t mustered up the courage to give it a shot.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

While sharing holes from my Coore & Crenshaw’s Great 18 post on Twitter, people kept bringing up Sand Hills.  My repeated response was, “I can’t include that hole because I haven’t played it yet.”

And then I got the message.

Superintendent Kyle Hegland reached out and invited me to come to Mullen to make the myth a reality.  I remember sitting in front of my laptop for a minute, both dumbfounded and elated.  At the end of the following summer, my day came.  As much as I built the course up, it more than exceeded expectations.  My September to Remember post is a fuller expression of my thoughts with photos.  Here, I will simply say, Sand Hills is perfect.

Several things caused me to reach out to Kyle recently (on Twitter at @KyleHegland3) with a message of my own.  First, I listened to his terrific interview with Andy Johnson on The Fried Egg Podcast.  Second, a trickle of Sand Hills photos has been coming out from Jon Cavalier since his 2017 visit, and I was looking for an excuse to see a whole batch of them together.  And finally, Kyle is a stellar dude who does great work, and I was hoping that he would let me put him in the spotlight.  He graciously agreed to answer my questions, as well as provide hole-by-hole commentary.  As always, generous to a fault.

Enjoy Kyle’s thoughts and Jon’s photos.  If you have not already been, I hope that some day, the Sand Hills myth becomes reality for you too.

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THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to the game of golf?

I loved baseball when I was younger and I needed a job that would allow me to make it to my afternoon Babe Ruth baseball games.  Plus, I had a couple buddies who thought working on a golf course would be cool.  I took a job on the grounds crew at Edelweiss Country Club in New Glarus, Wisconsin.  I had never played golf until I started working there.   It did not take long before I was playing pretty regularly.

When did you know that the game had a hold on you?

I knew the game had firm grasp on me when I started planning all my leisure time around seeing more golf courses.  Not always playing but if it was old and interesting then I wanted to see it.

How did you get into the business?

I started working on a golf course in high school.  I grew up in rural south western Wisconsin, and the only thing I really knew was that I did not want to be a dairy farmer.  My Granddad was a dairy farmer and he would have gotten a kick out of the fact that I am basically a glorified farmer.  After a couple summers at Edelweiss CC my boss asked me if I ever thought about being a Superintendent.  At the time I did not even know what a Superintendent was.  After some time, research, and soul searching I decided I was “all in”, headed to Michigan State to study Turfgrass Management, and here I am.

Who have been your biggest influences, in and out of golf?

Inside the game of golf, I have been really fortunate to have Dick Youngscap and Doug Petersan as my biggest influences.  These two men have shaped me so much both personally and professionally, and I am forever indebted to them both.  I believe I worked hard to get to where I am today.  With that said I have been incredibly lucky to have such great mentors who challenged me, pushed me, but ultimately wanted me to succeed.

My mother is an amazing lady, who always encouraged me to be myself.  Without her love, support and encouragement I never would have had the confidence and strength to move halfway across the country to pursue my dreams.

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Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

For reasons I cannot fully explain I have always been really enamored with Seth Raynor, maybe because it is just too cliché to say Dr Mackenzie.  I love how Raynor’s style seems to still fit into the landscape in an entirely different way than Dr. Mackenzie’s.  I think you can love Chicago Golf Club and how that fits your eye, and turn the page and marvel at Cypress Point.  Truth is I need so see more of the Simpson’s, Langford’s, and Macan’s that the world has to offer.

Where were you before Sand Hills, and what were some of your key takeaways from those experiences?

I was lucky enough to go work for Doug Petersan at Austin Golf Club (AGC).  I started as a lowly intern and left as Doug’s Assistant.  Prior to my arrival at AGC I had never worked with warm season grasses.  Couple that with bentgrass greens in the deep south and it proved to be a wonderful learning experience.  Doug always pushed me to ask questions and solve problems, I was pretty lucky to have such a great learning environment.

What particular challenges does your course create from a maintenance perspective?

Let me state this very clearly, the climate at Sand Hills during the golf season is pretty ideal for a Superintendent, and believe me, that is not lost on me.  With that said the biggest challenge is the wind and large temperature swings.  The large fluctuations in temperature can be detrimental to turfgrass especially in the winter, as our biggest challenge each year is getting through the winter and into the growing season.  The wind is just relentless.  There are few places as consistently windy as we are, and it can be particularly damaging in the winter.  Our bunkers are natural blowouts for the most part and in the winter the wind can really do some damage.

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Why do you think it’s important for a Superintendent to be a student of golf course architecture?

I think it is!  I am not saying you have to be a full-blown golf architecture dork but if you have a general understanding of golf architecture it will only help you be a better Superintendent.  I encourage anyone in the golf industry to pick up a few books on architecture – it’s simple, it’s inexpensive and I guarantee that it will help everyone understand the game a little better, which I think makes you a better Superintendent.  A Superintendent can also do themselves a favor and just play more golf.  It really helps with understanding golf and golf architecture.

What do you wish players understood more about the work you do?

I think for the most part Superintendents are a little too hard on golfers.  What I think is tough to understand is how much work goes into keeping the playing surfaces consistent.  The weather is constantly changing.  If it has been hot and dry, it is pretty easy to keep the surfaces firm and fast.  It is much more difficult to do that after a rain event.  Playability is the engine that drives our philosophy here at Sand Hills.  We work really hard to make sure Ben and Bill’s vision is on display as much as possible, but if mother nature wants to mess that up…. well… she is still undefeated last I checked.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Watching the sun come up, knowing you have the golf course dialed in – that is pretty special.  What I really love is how unpredictable each day can be, as a Superintendent you are forced to make all kinds of decisions and rarely have all the variables.  We think that we are pretty good problem solvers here and that gets challenged every day.  I love that challenge.

Which course(s) do you most want to see next?

There are few things I like more than seeing a golf course for the first time – it’s enchanting.  I have never been to the north east and Myopia and Old Sandwich are right at the top for golf courses I want to see.  At Austin Golf Club, there are three pictures of Australian sand belt courses in the maintenance facility.  I have dreamed about seeing those places too many times to count, so heading to Australia (and surrounding Islands) is probably at the very top of the list.

Other than Sand Hills, if you could only play one course for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

If we’re talking just about the golf course, then it is pretty easy for me to say National Golf Links.  That place just fits my personality, my game and I am pretty confident it would keep me interested for the rest of my life.

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Any exciting projects on the horizon for you?

We are just about done with our major bunker work that we started about six years ago.  We have done it all in house and are really proud of that.  Other then that we have some really exciting news on the horizon but I am not at liberty to share just yet, so you will have to stay tuned.

When you aren’t working or playing golf, how do you spend your time?

I have a lovely wife (Ashely) and two kids (Riley who’s 9 and Carson who is 5) that keep me pretty busy as a husband and father.  We love being outdoors and playing pretty much any and all sports.  If the weather is good we get to the lake as much as possible.  Living in a small community we are also dedicated Mullen Bronco fans and enjoy watching our boys and girls compete during the school year.


SAND HILLS GOLF CLUB

There are many reasons why Sand Hills is a 108 in 48er for me.  Chief among them are the beginning to end strength of the holes, and walkability of the routing.  Sand Hills flows, from the first tee to the eighteenth green.

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My doodle, illustrating the green-to-tee brilliance of the Sand Hills routing

Beyond Mr. Youngscap, Bill Coore, and Ben Crenshaw, nobody knows Sand Hills better than Kyle.  His hole-by-hole commentary follows.

HOLE #1 – Par 5 – 521 yards

A ridiculously underrated golf hole, you can get away with a couple loose or misplaced shots until you get ready for your third shot.  Mishit that shot and you will pay dearly for it.  A severely tilted back to front green – above the pin can be diabolical.

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HOLE #2 – Par 4 – 368 yards

Swallow your pride and get a tee shot into the fairway so you can place your approach shot onto the proper tier of this two-tiered green.  The wildest of the green complexes on property, if you miss the proper tier, a two putt is a great escape.  Not golf related, take time to head to the northwest corner of the green surround.  This is one of my favorite places to collect my thoughts.  If you don’t think you can spare the minute for reflection, then you need more than a minute.

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HOLE #3 – Par 3 – 216 yards

Always plays a little longer than the yardage and often is into a breeze.  When the wind is at your back play it safe and leave it on the left side, but don’t be long.

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HOLE #4 – Par 4 – 409 yards

Smash your drive and then execute a precise approach.  A difficult green to hit, especially downwind.  Miss to the right and not the left on your approach as a massive blowout guards this green.

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HOLE #5 – Par 4 – 387 yards

Do me a favor and play this from the “super” back tee at least once on a visit.  This might be the most strategic tee shot on the golf course.  You have places to miss but you are rewarded for a drive that hugs the right side, while avoiding the bunkers.  Your reward is a clear look at the green – a green that I marvel at daily.  Keep your shot on the same side of the spine as the flag and make a birdie.

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HOLE #6 – Par 3 – 198 yards

A massive green dominates the view.  A ball on the proper quadrant is ideal, short and left is way better off than short-right.  If you are long, make sure the pin is in the back or you’re going to stare at a big number.

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HOLE #7 – Par 4 – 283 yards

Left is dead, especially if the pin is in the front, so put your driver away and hit something in the fairway and let your wedge game get you a birdie.  The massive blowout bunker dominates your sight and psyche – stay away and you’ll be fine.  If you’re feeling like a stud hit driver, just don’t miss and do not go long.

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HOLE #8 – Par 4 – 293 yards

From the member tee’s I think it is actually pretty easy.  Hit a driver and see what happens.  Guarded almost completely by bunkers, use the kick boards short to make the approach easier.  If you’re playing from the back tee, it’s pretty straightforward.  Get a tee shot in the fairway and depending on where the pin is, you now have literally a million options depending on where the pin is and how creative you can be.

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HOLE #9 – Par 4 – 371 yards

A devil of a hole, and the only blind tee shot we have.  Take a little off your tee shot and get one in the fairway.  The 9th green is diabolical, no one has hit more putts on this green than me and it still confuses me frequently.  Side note is if there are people on the porch I can all but assure you they are betting on whether or not you’re going to make that putt.

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HOLE #10 – Par 4 – 426 yards

The tenth is a brute….club up on your second shot and hit it up the left side and let the natural contours funnel the ball to the green.

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HOLE #11 – Par 4 – 348 yards

A very strategic hole where hitting the fairway is essential to hitting the green with your approach.  This green is very exposed and when the wind is up can be a real challenge to putt while also playing the wind.  A green that is often missed, it’s better to be short and safe than long and dead.

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HOLE #12 – Par 4 – 354 yards

A “hog’s back” fairway that is easily hit, a premium is placed on keeping your shot on the top of the hog’s back, being rewarded with a clear view of the green.  A large green guarded by a fierce blowout on the right side.

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HOLE #13 – Par 3 – 185 yards

What I think is the most difficult hole on the golf course, a large green with not a lot of safe play options.  Getting the ball up the hill to have a clear view of the putting surface is ideal.

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HOLE #14 – Par 5 – 475 yards

My favorite hole.  A short par 5 that really can be an easy 5 and an even easier 6 or 7.  A long tee shot is greatly rewarded, but do me a favor and just lay it safely short and left of the green side bunker, to ensure a great opportunity at birdie.  Be aggressive and miss and you will pay dearly for a poorly struck shot to a tiny green.

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HOLE #15- Par 4 – 453 yards

The back tee offers another of my favorite views of the golf course.  Lots of room to hit your tee ball but a massive reward if you can hug the right side that is guarded by bunkers.  A large green that is easy to miss, if you’re just short of the green use a putter.

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HOLE #16 – Par 5 – 563 yards

Another of my favorite spots to sit awaits on the back tee box.  A great tee shot must clear the blowout on the left side on this long down hill par 5 that plays long.  I love the tiny mound that guards the front of the unbunkered green – it’s maddeningly fun to try to navigate.  On your green approach use the slope and kickboard on the left to help you funnel your shot to the green.

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HOLE #17 – Par 3 – 150 yards

A pretty little par 3!  Club up and make sure you get it to the green – any mishit will offer a great opportunity at bogey on this little devil.

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HOLE #18 – Par 4 – 432 yards

A brute of a closer,  with the massive blowouts on the left which are as visually appealing as they are strategic.  If you leave a shot in either it’s worth a shot at best.  Play it up the right side and a little longer than you think and let the natural contours bring the ball down to the green.

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BONUS PHOTOS

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The 7th and 8th

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The 4th and 5th

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The 6th, 7th and 8th

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The view from behind the 2nd

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The 14th and 15th

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The closer and the opener

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Sunset over the 9th and 18th greens


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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The Sandbox – Closing Day at Sand Valley

My competitive playing career was not one of any real distinction.  My career as a geeky golf adventurer, however, now includes a distinction to which only one other man (my buddy Peter Korbakes) can lay claim.  We were at Sand Valley on Opening Day, and we were the only guests to also be there on the first season’s Closing Day.

We made our second trek of 2017 to Nekoosa specifically to play The Sandbox (name not yet confirmed), the 17 hole par-3 course created by the Coore & Crenshaw crew.  Michael Keiser graciously took the time to play a loop with us, and then gave us the run of the place.

The word that best describes The Sandbox is “joy”.  The first time around, we played a winner-calls-the-shot game.  On the second loop, we played with only a 7 iron.  The architecture is outstanding, with the course weaving in a figure eight through wooded, heathland, and duneland zones.  The teeing options are endless, and it begs for all manner of creative games to be played.  This is not a course for slavish adherence to the convention of stroke play.  This is a field custom made to unleash the pure joy of the game.

The weather was rugged, and the light no good, but I did get photos of all 17 holes (click on image mosaics to enlarge).  I have not bothered to include yardages, because the holes can be played from almost any distance the player chooses (especially when nobody else is on the course).


THE SANDBOX

HOLE #1 – The opener plays downhill over this center sand mound to a wavy green.  A gentle handshake with hints of what’s to come.

HOLE #2 – The 2nd plays slightly uphill to a narrow and deep green set below a dune and flanked by bunkers.  Gentle handshake time is over.  The green curves back and left close to the bunker.  Testy pin positions are available to the Super.

HOLE #3 – The 3rd is where two of the sweetest words in all of golf bring joy to the geeky heart – Double Plateau.  Macdonald and Raynor felt that the green should present its own strategic challenge within the broader challenge of the hole.  They would be proud of this beauty.

HOLE #4 – On the terrific 4th, the front right and back left sections of the green are divided by a ridge.  Shots can be played to both sections on the ground or through the air.  Upon reaching the back portion of the green, players get a first glance at the Road Hole beyond.

HOLE #5 – The green will accept running shots, but the contours gather balls to the bunker much more than it appears from the tee.  Get greedy going for the back pins and you risk a world of hurt.

HOLE #6 – There is more going on on the 6th green that it appears from the tee, and the bunkers that surround it demand a precise approach.  The devilish little bunker front center of the green is a reminder that nobody does little flourishes better than the C&C crew.

HOLE #7 – Tucked tightly against the pines, the narrow 7th green is flanked by bunkers and is meant to inspire thoughts of Pine Valley.

HOLE #8 – There are two things that I can never get enough of – biarritz and cowbell.

HOLE #9 – The 9th features one of the largest and wildest greens I have ever seen.  The central bowl was originally a bunker dividing a shared green for two holes in a prior version of the course.  One of the many benefits of short courses is that the architects can turn the creativity up to 11.  On the 9th, it might have hit 12.

HOLE #10 – The artful contours on the 10th make what is already a small green play even smaller.  Especially to the back left pin we encountered.

HOLE #11 – The tiny, elevated 11th green is fronted by one small bunker, and flanked short right and back left by two others.  A test of precision, with nowhere good to miss.

HOLE #12 – The 12th has a neat little green with front flairs left and right, which narrows toward the back, creating numerous pin positions that tempt and beguile.  Playing a one club challenge with Peter, I got up and down with a 7-iron from the greenside bunker. That is one of the many reasons why short courses are so special.  They are tailor made for memory making.

HOLE #13 – The Lion’s Mouth green on the 13th is set beautifully down among the sand barrens and pines.  So much going on here.  Bunkers front, left, right and behind, and a horseshoe green that packs plenty of challenging slope and contour.  This hole is simply outstanding.

HOLE #14 – On the Alps 14th, a large bunkered mound intimidates and obscures most of the green.  Nothing is quite so thrilling as the anticipatory walk to discover the fate of a blind tee ball.

HOLE #15 – The 15th plays downhill to an angled green fronted by a chain of bunkers.  A shallow trough through the middle of the putting surface makes the green play much smaller, especially to this back right pin position.

HOLE #16 – The Redan 16th has plenty of pitch from high front right to low back left which  makes aerial or ground approaches workable.  The green sits up on a plateau above the bunker, so whichever approach is taken must be confident.  If it ain’t up, it is in…trouble.

HOLE #17 – Playing to an elevated green, fronted by a devil’s asshole bunker, the short closer provides one last opportunity for birdie, or disaster.


We intended to grab lunch and head back out for two more loops.  Instead, we received an offer to play all 18 holes of Mammoth Dunes, and we simply couldn’t refuse.  Walking the routing in the spring, it was clear that Mammoth Dunes had scale, and an adventurous feel to it.  The open question was, would the details be as strong as the broad strokes.  I can now confidently say that the answer is, absolutely.  Cannot wait to get back and play both The Sandbox and Mammoth when they have matured.

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The boomerang green at the par-4 6th

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The cellar bunker on the par-5 7th

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From the tee on the par-3 8th

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The green on the short par-4 10th

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From the tee on the par-3 13th

For even more on Mammoth Dunes, check out Morgan Clausen’s detailed thread on GolfClubAtlas.


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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Ain’t It Grand – Opening Day at Sand Valley

Since my last Sand Valley post, I have had the privilege of making two more visits.  The first, in November of last year was a special non-playing treat.  I was invited by Michael Keiser to walk a routing on a parcel of land that is being considered for a future course with the architect, his associate, several Superintendents, and my good buddy Charlie.

SandValley-BenCrenshaw1.jpegThe day started brilliantly, as I ran into one of my favorite players, who is also half of my favorite modern architecture team – Ben Crenshaw.  Everything you have heard about Mr. Crenshaw’s kindness and generosity is true.  Although he had work to do that day on the Sand Valley’s short course, he graciously talked golf courses, architecture and history with Charlie and me for much longer than he needed to.  Truly, a class act.

It got even better from there, as I got a chance to try and understand what strikes me as the most magical part of golf course architecture – routing.  Truth be told, I am still mystified by how an architect can look at land covered with trees and vegetation, and with only a topographical map to guide them, find golf holes.  These pros patiently explained the holes and answered our questions, and I loved every minute of it.

What struck me most on this visit to Sand Valley was the pace of progress that Michael, Craig, and the team are achieving.  It is staggering, with no evidence of a sacrifice in quality.  By the time Charlie and I hit the road back to Chicago, I was counting the moments until the Grand Opening in the spring.


OPENING DAY

For what has become an annual spring pilgrimage for us, Peter K. and I set out early so that we could make a critical pit stop on the way to Sand Valley for opening day.  As I have said before, going into central Wisconsin without visiting Lawsonia Links is a mistake as big as Lawsonia’s massive features.  The loss of sleep is a small price to pay for the opportunity to walk the fairways of the most underrated golf course in America.

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After a chilly but joyful morning on the Links, we made our way to Sand Valley and upon arrival, I was immediately struck again by the progress that has been achieved since autumn.  Infrastructure, lodging, Mammoth Dunes…everything continues to move forward at an astounding pace.

We made our way to the first tee and were given a warm welcome by Michael, Chris, Glen, and Michael.  As an aside, if there is a person working at that resort who is not friendly and happy, I have yet to meet them.  The cold and blustery weather did nothing to diminish the excitement as group after group went off the first tee with a warm thank you and handshake from the Keisers.

It was fun to see members of the media like Andy North, Ashley Mayo, and Adam Lawrence having their Sand Valley experiences.  It was even more fun to meet Bill Coore, Jim Craig, and Ryan Farrow and quickly chat about their progress on the 17-hole short course.  But the most fun of all was undoubtedly heading out to hike Mammoth Dunes, and then play around and around on Sand Valley with my geek buddies Peter, Charlie and Vaughn.

SAND VALLEY

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Although I have made several previous visits to Sand Valley, this was the first time that I played the entire course.  Superintendent Rob Duhm and his crew have done an outstanding job with the grow-in, getting the course ready to be on display for the event.  Some areas are farther along than others, which makes me even more excited to go back and play the course as it matures over the years to come.  Jens Jensen and his team are also doing exciting work on the ecological restoration.  Although Sand Valley is largely two-tone right now, it promises to have additional explosions of color throughout the seasons as the native plantings establish.

Having played quite a few Coore & Crenshaw courses to date, there are familiar stylistic and visual themes evident on the course.  These themes are tried and true, and they never get old for me.  Beyond the familiar though, Sand Valley also possesses holes like the 7th and 17th that are so unique, that even the most well-traveled of golf geeks will be surprised and astounded.

And finally, the variability of the wind direction and speed, coupled with multiple teeing options on every hole, mean that the thoughtful player can play one version of the course in the morning, and an entirely different version in the afternoon.  As my buddy Peter says, it is the perfect course to just go around and around and around.  Following are my first set of hole-by-hole photos of the entire course, with a little help from Peter and Jon Cavalier.  The current plan is to head back for an autumn visit to catch another look.  Enjoy, and stay tuned for more to come.

(click on images to enlarge)

Hole 1 – Par 4 – 325 yards

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The dramatic sand barren terrain with a ribbon of Coore & Crenshaw sculpted green invites the player to begin anew the adventure of this greatest of games.  The 1st is a gentle handshake from the tee – shortish, with ample area to land that first nervous drive of the day.  Gentility goes right out the window on the uphill approach to a small tiered green flanked by nasty bunkers.  Sand Valley’s opener gives the player a full preview of the look, feel, and strategic demands to come.

Hole 2 – Par 4 – 395 yards

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Word around the campfire is that this two-shotter is inspired by the opener at Pine Valley.  The player must choose off the tee – angle of approach or shorter approach distance.  Can’t have both.  Classic strategy.  The approach on the 2nd plays uphill over two large cross-bunkers to an outstanding green that slopes from high back right to low front left.  Awkward approach angles and whipping winds can lead to a missed green. Steep slopes left, right, and back require creativity and deft touch for any chance at an up-and-down.

Hole 3 – Par 3 – 192 yards

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Guarded front-right by a large mound and left by a bunker, the third requires a solidly struck tee ball to find the green.  A miss right on the 3rd bounds into a collection area.  The mound comes into play again as the player must decide how to use it or avoid it to cozy up a recovery.  The bunker left begins short of the green and runs the full length.  All manner of awkward bunker shots are possible for tee shots that stray left.  The 3rd is the first of an outstanding set of Coore-Crenshaw one-shotters.

Hole 4 – Par 5 – 557 yards

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The first of Sand Valley’s three-shotters plays uphill over rumpled ground to a green set just below one of the high points on the course.  A steady and visually arresting climb.  The subtly contoured green is surrounded by artful bunkers and playable slopes.  Approach through the air or along the ground are both options.  Just enough choice to add the mental confusion to the mix that C&C prize so highly.  Climbing the hill to the 5th tee, a glance back provides another reminder of the grand scale of this magnificent land that was underneath a glacial lake for thousands of years.

Hole 5 – Par 3 – 164 yards

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A dramatic reveal awaits the player upon reaching the hilltop.  The domed green lies below, with the 6th hole to the right, the alternate 6th to the left, and an expanse of sand barren beyond.  Breathtaking and pulse quickening, all at once.  There are no easy putts on the 5th green, and par is a good score.  One final look back at the tee above reinforces just how exciting the golf adventure at Sand Valley is.  No ocean necessary.

Hole 6 – Par 4 – 445 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The subtle brilliance of this hole begins in the rumpled fairway, and the angles created by its staggered bunkers.  Line and distance options abound, demanding thought and execution.  The 6th culminates with a large, outstanding green, fronted right by a bunker and surrounded by slopes and runoffs. Use the contours skillfully, and access to all pins is available.  Miss your mark, and a tough up-and-down awaits.

Hole 7 – Par 5 – 536 yards

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The player is confronted on the 7th tee with a massive sand dune running down the right and an angled uphill fairway that obscures the landing area for longer hitters.  The fairway is split by a long angular bunker.  Players not able to reach the green in two must decide which route to take.  That decision is based on pin position and considerations of sight line vs proximity.  The mind is fully engaged at this point.  The green is protected front right by a large mound and bunker that makes a back right pin difficult to access from the lower right fairway, even from shorter distances.  A brilliant hole, the 7th is visually arresting and rich in strategy.  It is playable at all skill levels, providing options for conservative or aggressive play.  Birdie and double bogey are equally possible.  One of my all-time favorite C&C five pars.

Hole 8 – Par 3 – 115 yards

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This shortie plays dramatically up to a skyline green, and brings to mind thoughts of Sand Hills.  The green is guarded short right by a bunker that could more accurately be described as a sandy chasm of doom.  The tee shot might be short, but the penalty for a weak flare is LONG.  The 8th green is deceptively deep and contoured into sections.  Well placed shots gather into birdie range.  End up in the wrong section, and a putting adventure awaits.  MacKenzie and Maxwell would approve of this hole, I am sure.

Hole 9 – Par 4 – 290 yards

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This short-four is driveable, but also offers two flat spots left and right amidst the heaving fairway that the thoughtful player can use to optimize approach position.  Hug the fairway bunker right to access left pin positions, or press a bit further up the left to get the perfect angle to the back right.  As with all great golf holes, strategy unfolds from the green backward, and the 9th fits that bill.  Bill Coore personally poured every ounce of his art and craftsmanship into this wonderful green, fine tuning for hours on end to give it the fullest flavor.  How fortunate we are for his dedication to the pursuit of perfection.

Hole 10 – Par 5 – 541 yards

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Playing downhill to a fairway divided by a large centerline bunker, C&C again confront the player with a choice on this five-par.  High right for better visibility, or low left for better angle.  The fairway right is bordered by a large bunker that connects to the sand barren.  An imposing look, and even more imposing recovery for shots that don’t make the carry.  The large green on the 10th sits in a bowl and has several distinct sections. Getting home in two is no guarantee of a birdie.  Flatstick game must be on point.

Hole 11 – Par 4 – 387 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

This cape style hole narrows as it approaches the green, tempting the player to bite off more than may be advisable.  The right side of the green runs off sharply.  An approach that misses by a foot can end up 20+ paces down the hill, leaving the player with endless options for getting back up to the green.  Simple brilliance.

Hole 12 – Par 5 – 452 yards

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This half-par hole was apparently the source of lively debate during construction.  Oh to be a fly on that wall.  Big hitters can take their drives over the center trees leaving the green very much in reach.  The bunker front center was a late addition to give players a moment of pause on the approach to this elevated green.  The high left slope can be used to feed balls into the center of the green.  But get too cute and overshoot your mark and you might find yourself in the deep runoff behind the green.  Played smartly, the 12th is an easy par with a solid chance for birdie.  If only this game were that simple.

Hole 13 – Par 4 – 383 yards

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This simple little hole bends gently left and heads uphill to a killer skyline green.  It is a moment of pause before the player takes on the thrill-ride closing stretch.

Hole 14 – Par 3 – 175 yards

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This one-shotter is one of my all-time Coore-Crenshaw favorites.  It plays downhill to a slightly angled and canted green that sits in an intimate spot among the sand barrens and trees.  The green is surrounded on three sides by sand, with those glorious C&C bunker edges that their expert shapers never fail to deliver.  Perhaps it’s just me, but the shaping artistry seems to come out ideally with fescue.  I heart fescue.  The elevated tee is exposed to the wind, but the green is set down where the wind swirls.  Judging the wind properly is as much luck as it is skill.  The cant and subtle internal contours of this green conspire to make holing putts a second guessing game.  Par here is a good score, and birdies a big bonus.

Hole 15 – Par 4 – 392 yards

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The 15th is a gentle dogleg left that plays along relatively flat ground to a wonderful green site.  The green is fronted by two humps.  In a double-play on this familiar theme, strategy on the hole is dictated all the way back to the tee based on where the pin is in relation to these features.  Complexity born of simplicity.  The green on the 15th features some of the most interesting contours on the course, especially taking into account the surrounds.  Feel like getting creative with the flat stick?  This is your spot.

Hole 16 – Par 4 – 429 yards

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The strategy on this terrific hole is defined by two centerline bunkers.  The first, in the drive zone, can be challenged or skirted, depending on the day’s wind.  The second stands guard in front of the skyline green.  Savvy players can access certain pins by playing long and using the back left slope.  A stellar hole that rewards confident and creative shot-making.

Hole 17 – Par 3 – 215 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The final of Sand Valley’s first rate one-shotters is its most impressive.  It can play anywhere from 150-250 yards, up a rise and then back down into a massive punchbowl.  The bowl will accept all shapes and types of shots.  Cresting the hill does not ensure a favorable outcome though.  The huge green is divided into plateaus and hollows, leaving open to the player the possibility of a lag putt more daunting than the tee shot.  Pictures don’t do justice to the awe that the 17th green inspires.  It is nothing short of jaw-dropping and I dare say that this hole is the coolest long par-3 in America that is not on the Monterey Peninsula.

Hole 18 – Par 5 – 507 yards

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A hair-raising ascent back to the high point of the property, the closer offers a final legitimate opportunity for birdie (and double).  The 18th fairway is littered with signature Coore-Crenshaw bunkers, each beautiful and terrible in their own right.  The massive final green is multi-tiered and wraps around the large bunker right.  The variety of pin locations makes the hole play drastically differently from one loop to the next.  A strong close to an outstanding golf course.

Circling back to my initial point about the maturation process – Sand Valley is already a great course.  From both a playability perspective and visually, it still has upside as vast as the land on which it sits.  I will be a regular visitor, no doubt.

MAMMOTH DUNES

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A 6-hole preview loop was open and ready for play on Opening Day.  Peter and I decided to leave the clubs in the car and instead got permission to walk the entire Mammoth Dunes routing.  The holes were in various stages of completion – some growing in, some in finished shaping and seeding, some getting irrigation, and some still only rough shaped.

Much of the preliminary talk from David McLay Kidd about Mammoth Dunes has been about the dramatic scale of the land and the course.  Stepping onto the first tee, that scale is evident, and it is indeed breathtaking.  What I was keen to find out by walking the rest of the routing though was, would the course have more than just drama?  Would it have the strategic intricacy and attention to detail that separates good courses from the truly great?  Going big is fine, and it makes an impression, but I find that the courses that leaving a lasting imprint on me also get the little things right.

Even in its current state of construction, I feel comfortable sharing my impression that the DMK is getting the details right, and that Mammoth Dunes promises to be a special golf course.  More importantly for the resort, the second course has a distinct style from the first, which is great news for lovers of variety.  I can already imagine the golf geeks debating which course is the best.

A few photos from our walk…

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There are huge greens on the course that will challenge creative shot-making and lag putting, but they are not all big.  David has thrown surprises into the mix.

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As it matures, the par-3 16th continues to blow me away.  We saw evidence of other one-shotters in the mix that will be equally fantastic.

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Case in point.

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Creative flourishes can be found throughout, including this bunker built from an old homestead cellar.

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The course has the feel of an adventure hike.  When David said that he felt that his job was to get the player to explore the property, on Mammoth Dunes he has done his job well with the routing.  It is going to be a wonderful place to get lost for a few hours.


CONCLUSION

Sand Valley, the course and the resort, are already receiving heaps of praise and accolades.  Some argue that it is premature to draw such conclusions.  I agree – not because of running the risk of overrating what Sand Valley is, but rather because of the risk of underrating what it will become.  Instead of rushing to conclusions, it seems best to me to continue watching the evolution of this special place, playing its wide and winding fairways, and perhaps taking a moment to sit back and feel grateful for what the Keiser family is attempting to accomplish.

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This much is now certain.  It is a wonderful time to be a Midwest golfer.  The public has access to championship venues like Whistling Straights and Erin Hills, as well as brilliant under-the-radar gems like Lawsonia Links, Belvedere and Ravisloe.  On both sides of lake, resort owners continue to push forward to offer architecturally exciting courses – Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes, The Loop, Arcadia Bluffs South, Stoatin Brae…the hits just keep on coming.

In order to have a golf geeky adventure of the first order, a player needs only hop in the car and hit the road.


MORE GEEKEDONGOLF ADVENTURES

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf 


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Old Sandwich Tour by Jon Cavalier

OLD SANDWICH GOLF CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Plymouth, MA – Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw

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After a recent round at Old Sandwich at the peak of fall, I thought that the many fans of the work of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and fans of New England golf in general, might like a look at this terrific course.  All of the photos in this tour were taken by me on October 20, 2016, with the club’s permission to shoot and share.  I hope you enjoy the tour.

OLD SANDWICH GOLF CLUB

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Boston is rightly regarded as one of the five best metropolitan areas in the United States for quality golf.  Despite the relatively short season, the greater Boston area is blessed with more than a dozen bucket list golf courses, including classic gems like Myopia Hunt Club, The Country Club at Brookline, Essex County Club, Salem Country Club, Eastward Ho Country Club, Charles River Country Club, and Kittansett Club among others.

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Any modern architect working in the Boston area faces the challenge of designing a course that will inevitably be measured and compared to these venerable courses, which were built by Golden Age titans with names like Donald Ross, William Flynn, Herbert Fowler and Herbert Leeds.  Such is the tall task that faced Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in the early 2000s.  Suffice it to say, these two gentleman, as they have so often done, rose to the occasion with gusto.

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The result is a masterpiece incorporating the best traditions of the game — huge, undulating fairways; natural hazards affording all manner of heroic recoveries; greens and green complexes that hold interest in round after round; and firm, fast conditioning permitting players to play the type of shots they choose.  Soon after completing their work, Coore and Crenshaw said about the course, “Through time, we hope that Old Sandwich will be viewed as a compliment to its beautiful surroundings, to golf in general, and to the long and storied tradition of golf course architecture in Massachusetts.”  Twelve years later, it’s clear they succeeded.

THE GOLF COURSE

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A round at Old Sandwich begins with a walk out of the gorgeous clubhouse, nicely attired in stone and wood, and along a sandy path across a bridge spanning a serene pond.

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From the clubhouse, nearly the entire course is hidden from view, but as one makes his way across the pond, the first tee comes into view.

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Notably, there are no water hazards on the course at Old Sandwich.  How many architects working today would have routed a course on this site to finish with a “heroic” carry over this pond to a green in the shadow of the clubhouse, perhaps while sacrificing the flow and playability of the golf course?  Credit to Coore & Crenshaw for putting quality golf first.

Hole 1 – 531 yards – Par 5

The round begins with a true gentle handshake – on his first shot of the day, the player is greeted with a massive fairway and an uphill par-5 of reasonable length.

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Although the fairway is quite large, the player must nevertheless pay attention to positioning, as a tee shot which strays too far left may be bunkered (hidden by shadow in the photo below) or out of position for a layup.

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For the player’s second shot, the two fairway bunkers to the right draw the eye and focus, but the cant of the fairway will direct indifferent shots into the less-prominent but no less dangerous bunkers running the left of the fairway.

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The green at the first is a true work of art.  Open across the entire width of its mouth, running approaches are welcomed at this green, but care must be taken to account for the steep false front on the left…

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… as well as the bunkering bordering the left side and left rear.  Note the many appealing pin positions on this large green.

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This bunker on the right side of the green is hidden from view on most approaches, while the green itself blends wonderfully into its surroundings.

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Hole 2 – 403 yards – Par 4

At this par-4, the primary objective off the tee is avoiding the center-fairway bunker complex.  The more aggressive right hand side leaves a shorter approach, but forces the player to confront the right-hand fairway bunkers.  Left is easier, but leaves a longer approach.  Finally, the player may elect to lay up short of the bunkers, but faces a long and difficult approach.  Choices like this are ever present at Old Sandwich.

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Regardless of the route chosen, execution is key.  Anything in the center traps is essentially a one-stroke penalty.

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The elevated green, tightly mown surrounds, and firm conditions make this approach particularly interesting.  This bunker sits some 20 feet below and to the left of the putting surface, but an approach that comes up just inches short of the green is in real danger of rolling back into it, leaving an extremely tough third.

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This view of the second green from the third fairway affords perspective and shows the movement of the landscape.

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Putting from beyond the pin at the second is a frightening proposition; chipping from behind the green is even worse.  A stout hole.

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Hole 3 – 450 yards – Par 4

This long par-4 plays shorter than its yardage on the card due to the fact that it is typically downwind, but it is nevertheless a challenging hole.

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As the hole doglegs left, the best line is down the right side, but the right is guarded by several menacing bunkers.  Any ball finding these pits will also find it nearly impossible to reach the green.

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Once past the bunkers, the fairway opens considerably and falls off into a depression short and right of the green.  The green itself is one of the best at Old Sandwich — its many elements include a false front short right followed by a large, slightly-domed area, followed by a swale cutting across the surface horizontally, followed finally by a back right tier on which that day’s pin was placed.

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A bunker wraps around behind the green from the left.  Given the slope of the green, this bunker is a common destination for approaches when the pin is back.

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The hazards protecting the left side of the green make an approach favoring the safer right side attractive, but beware the pot-like bunker long right, as it is a truly brutal hazard.  An excellent golf hole where options abound.

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Hole 4 – 209 yards – Par 3

The first one-shot hole at Old Sandwich, and a beauty.  As is often the case at Old Sandwich, looks here can be deceiving, as the view from the tee leads the golfer to believe that he has less room and more carry than he actually does due to the slight rise in the landscape and the framing bunker left, which prevent a perfect view.

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However, as this elevated view shows, there is ample room on this hole to land short of the green and bounce a ball on to the putting surface, as well as room to play left away from the deep greenside bunkers.

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In following the natural contour of the landscape, the huge green feeds gently from front to back, while the high left shoulder allows players to use the ground to feed shots into pins on the right side.

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Hole 5 – 336 yards – Par 4

Generally considered the signature hole at Old Sandwich, the fifth is a stunner and a unique hole in American golf.

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A short, cape-style par-4, the hole presents the golfer with an incredibly rumpled, elevated fairway moving left to right.  The sight of this fairway is one that a golfer does not soon forget.

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The fairway on this hole will direct well-hit, aggressive tee shots toward the green, with the potential to reach the green in one.  However, as is always the case with a well-designed cape, the higher the reward sought, the greater the risk taken.  Any shot that fails to carry the chosen line is dead.

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As noted above, the fairway mounding can both redirect ideal shots to the green while also presenting a difficult, uneven lie on approach for more conservative tee shots.

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Looking back toward the fairway, the elegance of the transition to putting surface is revealed, as the fairway bleeds seamlessly into the green.

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The tee-to-green theme of contour is carried through to the green itself, creating putting adventures for those whose approaches are imprecise.

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As this elevated view from behind the green reveals, there are plenty of ways to get yourself in trouble on this hole, but also plenty of ways to play the hole which will result in a good score.

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The key to scoring well on the fifth is knowing one’s own abilities and limitations, choosing a line that fits within those criteria, and executing one’s chosen strategy.  And isn’t that what golf is supposed to be?

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A brilliant rendition of a modern risk-reward hole.

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Hole 6 – 562 yards – Par 5

The second three-shot hole at Old Sandwich is the longest on the course, and requires an uphill tee shot and carry over gunch to an elevated fairway turning right to left.  This corner of the course is one of the prettiest spots on the property.

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The fairway is guarded on both sides by deep bunkering.  The right bunkers (out of frame) catch tee shots on an overly conservative line, while a pot bunker in the middle of the fairway complicates the second shot.

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The green is tiered from front to back, and contains ridges running both vertically and horizontally, which effectively quarter the putting surface.

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When looking back at the fairway, the golfer is likely to be surprised at just how much elevation he has scaled while playing the hole.

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Hole 7 – 391 yards – Par 4

The seventh is yet another standout hole at Old Sandwich renowned for its uniqueness.  From the tee, most of this dogleg left par-4 is visible, including the green and the pin, although much of the interest surrounding the green remains hidden.

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From the fairway, the incredible greensite is revealed in full.

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Sitting elevated in a lake of sand, the green functions as an island, repelling poorly struck approaches into the surrounding sand.

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The green is deeper than it appears from the fairway, offering ample room for shots struck on the appropriate line.

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Easily one of the prettiest greensites in golf.

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And in full fall color…breathtaking.

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Hole 8 – 379 yards – Par 4

The eighth is a transition hole, transporting the golfer from the seventh green to the ninth tee, where a run of spectacular golf begins anew.  The canted fairway tilting opposite of the hole’s direction adds an element of difficulty here.

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Mounding to the left protects and obscures the left side of this green and makes judging distance difficult.

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The bunkerless green appears to have been mowed directly from the fairway, so perfectly does it blend with its surroundings.

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Hole 9 – 131 yards – Par 3

This gorgeous little one-shotter plays to a large but multi-tiered green isolated in a sandy basin.  Bunkers guard on all sides.

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While hitting this green is no easy feat, neither is doing so any guarantee of a two-putt par.

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The back portion of this green shunts balls into this nasty bunker, or to a tightly mown area adjacent to the green.  Neither is an ideal spot for recovery.

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A birdie is a possibility here, but any player should be pleased to escape this little beauty with a par.

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Hole 10 – 516 yards – Par 5

The back nine begins with with a Coore & Crenshaw homage to Hell’s Half Acre.

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The Hell’s Half Acre bunker divides the fairway in two and requires a second-shot carry.  In addition to being an intimidating hazard, the feature also obscures a large portion of the fairway landing area.

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Three center-cut bunkers dot the fairway in the landing zone for second shots which, along with the slope of the fairway, add interest to what is often one of the more boring shots in golf — the second on a par 5.

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Looking back from the elevated green reveals the gorgeous movement of the landscape.

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Hole 11 – 244 yards – Par 3

A monster from the back tees, this par-3 is the longest on the course, the most difficult and perhaps the prettiest.

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A sandy ridge cutting in from the left side of the hole adds visual interest and hides the fact that the landing area for shots unable to make the carry is larger than it appears from the tee.

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The green is open in front to accommodate the longer approaches, but danger lurks to all sides.  A hole as tough as it is beautiful.

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Hole 12 – 455 yards – Par 4

From the tee on this par-4 running left to right, the golfer is tempted to shun the safer right side and play down the left to shorten the hole.

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This cluster of bunkers, largely hidden from view from the tee, play much larger than their actual footprint, and will exact a stiff penalty on any stray shots attempting this more aggressive line.

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Yet again, the green sits naturally as an extension of the fairway, open across the full width of its mouth.

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As a result, the hole appears as natural as they come.

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Hole 13 – 560 yards – Par 5

The last of the four par-5s at Old Sandwich, and this author’s favorite of the bunch, the thirteenth asks for a carry over a sandy waste area to the crest of a fairway rolling downhill and from left to right.

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Upon reaching the fairway, the player is confronted with the gorgeous sight of a wide, downhill fairway dotted on both sides with bunkering.  The closer one gets to the green, the more the short grass seems to narrow.

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The green itself is benched into the side of a sandy ridgeline, creating an amphitheater effect.  Once more, the green is open to running shots.

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The putting surface is protected on three sides by trench-like bunkers and a sharp fallaway to the front left.

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The surrounding bunkers present a difficult recovery, as the green slopes toward the front left fallaway.

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An exceptional par-5.

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Hole 14 – 369 yards – Par 4

The fourteenth plays back up the hill toward the 6th tee and the highest point on the property.  Here, the left-sloping fairway aids the player in positioning his ball on the proper side.

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Players taking the more aggressive right-side line may find themselves blocked out (your author has experience with this scenario).

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Even from the fairway, the elevated green presents an elusive target, as balls left short (where deep bunkers await), right or long will be repelled.

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Accuracy is at a premium on this deceptively difficult par-4.

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Hole 15 – 168 yards – Par 3

The artfully sloped and bunkered fifteenth, tucked into a corner of the property, is a favorite par-3 of the group at Old Sandwich.

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The bunker to the right cuts deeply into the green, and a high right shelf beyond this bunker can be used to funnel balls down to most pin positions.

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The green itself is moderately narrow but very deep, providing a safe landing area for shots struck on the intended line.

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An aerial view of the uniquely heart-shaped fifteenth green.

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One of a superb quintet of one-shot holes.

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Hole 16 – 486 yards – Par 4

The finishing stretch at Old Sandwich is a challenging test and ideally suited for determining matches that reach this point.  The sixteenth begins with a tee shot over a crested fairway to a blind landing area and, although the fairway is wide, the shot is one of the toughest on the course.

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The fairway tumbles down on the approach to a green running front to back, affording the golfer the opportunity to hit a shot landing some 50 feet short and to watch the ball bound and run on to the putting surface.

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Given the slope, a player may choose to hit as many as three or even four clubs less than standard for a given yardage.  Care must be taken to avoid the collection area that will gobble shots offline right.

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The beautiful sixteenth is one of the most strategic and fun holes (of the many strategic and fun holes) at Old Sandwich.

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Hole 17 – 191 yards – Par 3

The final one-shot hole at Old Sandwich is all carry to a slightly elevated green ringed with bunkers.

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Golfers must remain focused to avoid being distracted by the stunning natural surrounds.

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Balls left short will be shunted back toward the tee, while shots tempting the edges of the putting surface will likely be redirected into bunkers.  There is no cheating this hole – a well-struck shot is required.

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A look back from behind the green.

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And one from above.

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Hole 18 – 498 yards – Par 4

The longest par-4 on the course, the eighteenth presents the player with a fairway that is quite wide and quite blind from the tee — he must pick his line and trust that he has chosen wisely.

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Cresting the rise in the fairway, the player is afforded a view of the remainder of the hole, which is divided by long grass and bunkers.

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The gentle downhill slope, open front of the green and generous short grass surrounding the green all mitigate the length of this hole and provide opportunities for the creative shorter player to match the advantage of his competitor’s distance.

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An excellent finishing hole, as befits an exceptional golf course.

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BONUS – Hole 19 – Par 3

For those matches (and wagers) left unsettled after 18 holes, Coore & Crenshaw thoughtfully provided an extra hole to ensure everything is settled up properly.

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This final green is a hit-it-or-else proposition and contains significant internal undulation, ensuring that matches needing extra holes will be won by the player able to hit this green and lag it close or make his putt.

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Like many of Coore & Crenshaw’s other courses, a round at Old Sandwich leaves a golfer with no doubt that they have just been afforded the chance to play a course built in the mold of the great classics.  As with other modern gems like Sand Hills, Ballyneal, Stonewall, Kingsley, Friar’s Head and Pacific Dunes, Old Sandwich was built and is maintained with one goal in mind — providing its members with the best and most enjoyable golf possible.  And when golf architects and clubs find themselves on the same page in that regard, modern masterpieces which can stand proudly next to their classic sisters can often result.  Old Sandwich does her neighbors proud.

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I hope you enjoyed the tour.


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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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The Sand Valley Story Continues…

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.


SPRING VISIT

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

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View from the tee

#2 – Par 4 – 416 yards

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View from the tee

#3 – Par 3 – 192 yards

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Short left of the green

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#4 – Par 5 – 557 yards

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View from behind the green back

#5 – Par 3 – 160 yards

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View from the right tee box

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#6 – Par 4 – 421 yards

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View from the fairway

#7 – Par 5 – 536 yards

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From back left of the green

#8 – Par 3 – 115 yards

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View from the forward tee

#9 – Par 4 – 273 yards

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View from the tee

#16 – Par 4 – 385 yards

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The approach from the fairway

#17 – Par 3 – 215 yards

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From behind the green back

#18 – Par 5 – 523 yards

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Short of the green

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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.

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Not a bad way to start a day.  This particular day immediately got better after I captured this photo.

SandValley-BenCrenshaw1.jpegI 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

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The view from behind the green back

#12 – Par 5 – 487 yards

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Approaching the green from the left

#13 – Par 4 – 401 yards

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The waste area that cuts across the fairway

#14 – Par 3 – 175 yards

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The wrap-around bunker behind the green

#15 – Par 4 – 387 yards

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The fronting mounds short of the green

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.

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The heathland

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.

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The duneland

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 1

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Zoomed from the tee

HOLE 2

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Centerline bunker in the fairway

HOLE 14 (Golf Digest Design Contest hole)

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The view from the green back

HOLE 15

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Approach from the fairway

HOLE 16 

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Zoomed view from the forward tee

HOLE 17 

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The approach from the fairway

HOLE 18

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Short left of the green

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.


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Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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A September to Remember – Oakmont, Ballyneal & Sand Hills

2016 has been yet another wonderful year of golf adventures.  The season culminated in late September with a stretch of dreams come true in this golf geek’s life with visits to Oakmont Country Club, Ballyneal Golf Club and Sand Hills Golf Club.

In a word, Oakmont is mystique.  From the turn into the parking lot, through the clubhouse, and on each of its 18 holes, a palpable aura surrounds and permeates the place.

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In a word, Ballyneal is joy.  Golfing the ball around this wonderful facility is guaranteed to reawaken a childlike love of the game.

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In a word, Sand Hills is majesty.  On land that is as big and beautiful as the sky above, it sits like modern minimalist royalty on a throne.

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Although these clubs and courses are quite distinct, they share common threads.  They are all breathtakingly beautiful.  Each features a wealth of interest from the grand scale all the way down to the smallest details.  They possess an enjoyable combination of challenge and fun.

And perhaps most important, their memberships love and respect golf, are welcoming, and have just the right kind of pride in their home clubs.  The spirit of the game is alive and well at Oakmont, Ballyneal and Sand Hills.


OAKMONT COUNTRY CLUB

For a golf history and architecture geek, there is simply too much to take in in one visit to Oakmont.  Especially with a knowledgeable and gracious host like mine, sharing stories as we walked the fairways, my head was spinning.  Having had the full experience, I hope to make a return trip some day to get to know the course better and just play.

In discussions of Oakmont, much attention is paid to the group of holes across the turnpike, which includes the par-4 3rd, with its iconic church pews.  And of course, the closing stretch from the par-4 15th through the par-4 18th is as strong and storied as they come.

I found myself particularly taken with the holes that occupy the center of the property between the clubhouse and the turnpike – the 9th through the 13th.  The ground has surprising elevation change and beautiful movement to it, and the holes are packed with interest and variety.

#9 – Par 5 – 462 yards

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This three-shotter plays much longer than the yardage on the card, uphill and often into the wind.  The drive is blind, the fairway guarded by bunkers and ditches, and the large green transitions seemlessly into the practice putting green.  Playing up this hole toward the iconic clubhouse is awe-inspiring.

#10 – Par 4 – 440 yards

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The tenth tumbles downhill through a minefield of bunkers over some of the most undulating ground on the property.  Approaches into the green, which runs away, are extremely difficult to judge.

#11 – Par 4 – 328 yards

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The eleventh heads back uphill and the player has to decide how aggressively to flirt with the ditch that cuts across the hole at an angle.  The elevated green needs to be approached deftly, especially when the wind is blowing.

#12 – Par 5 – 562 yards

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This beast can play in excess of 650 yards downhill to a fairway that slopes severely from left to right.  Simply put, hit three good shots here or you are looking at a big number, as the green is not one that allows for easy up-and-downs.

#13 – Par 3 – 153 yards

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Finding the green on this beautiful little three-par is just the beginning of the adventure.  The putting surface is both canted and contoured, which means a line/speed guessing game when attempting to hole an elusive birdie putt.

To conclude that Oakmont is just a hard golf course is to miss the subtle brilliance of Mr. Fownes’s design.  Oakmont is not a one-dimensional brute.  For those who can maintain focus, think strategically and execute boldly, Oakmont is a multi-dimensional puzzle beckoning to be solved.

For much more on the history of Oakmont Country Club, its course and championships, visit the video archive here for Kyle Truax’s compilation.


BALLYNEAL GOLF CLUB

From the moment we passed the front gate, my companions and I were grinning from ear to ear.

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I have never experienced a friendlier reception than the one we got at Ballyneal.  Every member we met seemed happy to see us, and genuinely excited for us to experience all aspects of their club.   It is the golf-geekiest place I have been to date, and I loved it!

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The course map hanging in the pro shop illustrates how Tom Doak routed a wonderful adventure through the Chop Hills. Of the eight TD courses I have played thus far, Ballyneal is my favorite.  It has the boldness of Pacific Dunes coupled with the adventurous feel of Apache Stronghold.  It has variety aplenty, some unique and creative holes, and just the right amount of Doak funk.

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(Click on images to enlarge)

#1 – Par 4 – 350 yards

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Walking to the first tee, we discovered one of the many aspects of Ballyneal that makes it a joy to play – no tee markers.  Holes have multiple teeing areas and players are given the freedom to choose their own adventure.

We played the opener from the left tee which requires a carry over a valley up to the angled fairway.  The green is guarded by bunkers left and tight runoffs right.

#2 – Par 4 – 483 yards

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The fairway on the second is wide, but angles do matter when approaching the green, which is surrounded by slopes and bunkers.

#3 – Par 3 – 135 yards

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The first of Ballyneal’s strong one-shotters is a shorty played over a sea of sandy gunch to an island of beautifully contoured green.

#4 – Par 5 – 562 yards

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The par-5 fourth features a thrilling downhill tee shot to a rollercoaster ride of a fairway.

#5 – Par 3 – 160 yards

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With the wind blowing, judging the distance on the tough fifth is a challenge.  I can imagine playing anything from a pitching wedge to a 3-iron on this hole depending on the conditions.

#6 – Par 4 – 420 yards

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The uphill sixth is straightforward off the tee, but challenging on the approach.  Running approaches are a fun option into the firm green complex.