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Friday, September 29, 2017

Sand Valley - America's Next Great Golf Resort

It's a long way from Milwaukee and even farther from Chicago....but, it's a whole lot easier to get to Sand Valley Golf Resort in Nekoosa, Wisconsin than Bandon Dunes in Oregon. And I guarantee you will have just as much fun. Granted you won't see the ocean, but that's a small price to pay, as this new resort, created by Mike Keiser and his team and managed by Kemper Sports is magnificent.
There is currently one course open, Sand Valley, with the second, Mammoth Dunes, opening next year. When we visited, nine holes of Mammoth were open and we snuck a look at the other nine too. Mammoth is bigger and bolder, but essentially it's over the same piece of property, so like Bandon Dunes the bar room debate will rage about which is the best course.

There's room for several other courses and no doubt that is in the works as the property seems to go on and on as far as the eye can see. Actually a third course, the par 3 course does have six holes open and despite playing off mats was great fun. We found the holes to be almost too short and hopefully when all 17 holes are open the tees will be a little further back and I'm assured they will stretch to more than a wedge. We enjoyed the bunker homage to the Devil's you know what at the 17th. Here I am playing out of it.
We stayed in the clubhouse rooms and these have the luxury of having the putting green right outside the door and easy access to the restaurant and bar. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, with lightning fast wi-fi and fabulous showers. After dinner we were blessed with a warm, clear evening for late night putting to LED lit holes. The opportunity to actually see the Milky Way is not something our city group often has and we did more looking up than looking at the golf holes. We were all a little surprised that the putting green didn't more accurately reflect the greens on the golf course - it's flat and nondescript. They would sell a whole lot more beer with a Himalayas style green and there is plenty of room to do it.

On arrival at the first tee of Sand Valley, guests are greeted by a delightful little rustic shack called Craig's Porch. This services the 1st and 10th holes and is staffed by delightful Wisconsinites serving good and very reasonably priced food. This includes an item that is already making noises - Nye's Ice Cream sandwiches. I managed one on the first and tenth on both rounds and my favorite was raspberry cheesecake. If I lived in Wisconsin I would be considerably larger than I am now - these people have great comfort food!

Sand Valley is designed by the magical duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and has their distinctive fingerprints all over it - large landing areas, a number of central hazards and greens designed to baffle. Miss the fairway and you will have no trouble finding your ball - our group didn't lose a ball in 36 holes - but you will be challenged with your next shot. The par 3s, in particular are wonderful and a couple are reminiscent of Pine Valley. The par 5's give you a solid opportunity to make birdie if you are sensible, act your age and play off the orange tees. We did look at the black tees, but really, we were there to have fun and despite the fact that we can all play a bit we still opted to play up and enjoy the game. A couple of the caddies mentioned that high handicaps feel like they are getting their money's worth playing all the way back, which is possibly the craziest thing I have ever heard! Move a tee forward people and enjoy hitting a wedge into the greens and not a 6 iron. That's what Coore and Crenshaw want you to do! (okay, I'm off my soapbox now)

Next year, Mammoth Dunes designed by David McLay Kidd will open in earnest. Yes, the dunes are bigger and this course does have the luxury of starting and finishing by the clubhouse. We collectively wondered why the second course had this premium position even though it was the second course and couldn't find a good answer from anyone. Rather like Sand Hills, the original Coore and Crenshaw masterpiece, a very short bus ride is required to get to the first tee at Sand Valley and also to return from the 18th.

So, there you have it, America's next great golf resort, Sand Valley. A return to firm and fast golf, classic style architecture, friendly people, good food, fun and knowledgeable caddies and gorgeous night skies.

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