America’s next must-visit golf resort officially is open for business.
Sand Valley Golf Resort opened May 2 on an extraordinary inland site smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin. Appropriately, golfers were greeted with “very Scottish weather” on opening day, said Michael Keiser Jr., who spearheaded the project.
The Keiser family’s affinity for Scottish golf has manifested itself in great, off-the-grid golf destinations in the U.S. and abroad. Mike Keiser, Michael’s father, created Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore., collaborated with Toronto businessman Ben Cowan-Dewar to build Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs on the northwest coast of Canada’s Cape Breton Island, and is exploring a new project in the Scottish Highlands.
Keiser’s attention now has turned to a somewhat more accessible locale 100 miles north of Madison, Wis. The tagline for the property is “heathland in the heartland,” and the designation is apt both in playing character and geography. Sand Valley is triangulated among three major metropolitan areas: Milwaukee (160 miles), Minneapolis-St. Paul (210 miles) and Chicago (250 miles).
As with the Keisers’ other resort developments, Sand Valley also is certain to attract private jet traffic into the nearby Wisconsin Rapids airport. But most customers will drive in. Keiser Jr. said he already has been pleasantly surprised by the strong traffic from Minneapolis, as well as Wisconsin residents who are staying overnight rather than returning home after golf.
“We had hoped could get 18,000 golfers out here this year, and I’m now confident we’ll be north of that,” Keiser Jr. said.
The property is enormous: 1,711 acres (2.67 square miles). As was done at Bandon Dunes, the first course will bear the name of the resort: Sand Valley. The Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw design occupies 550 acres – three times the land normally needed for golf. A second course set to open in 2018, by David McLay Kidd, is appropriately called Mammoth Dunes and occupies even more ground – 620 acres.
There’s plenty more land for more golf, with plans soon to be announced for a third course and a fourth likely but with no rush to get going. That’s the Keiser way – tease the public while torturing the many architects who have been making house calls in hopes of landing the plum assignment.
Sand Valley’s grass-covered dunes, some of them 50-60 feet high, are the product of massive outwash from glaciation and an abrupt flood 15,000 years ago. Coore and Crenshaw’s routing meanders through broad valleys, climbs atop those dunes and at times circulates through flatter ground that had been planted for decades in the dead straight rows of a pine tree farm.
The scale of the place can be disorienting, given the wide berth of playing options available. The par-72 layout tips out at 6,909 yards (72.6 rating/128 slope). But those black-tee numbers are virtually meaningless in the midst of the prevailing wind and the intensity of ground-game roll. The vast bulk of rounds will be played from more comfortable yardages of 6,514 yards (orange), 6,087 (sand), 5,574 (green) and 4,586 (blue). Get it – no gender-biased red colors here. Just play it from where you think you can have fun.
The 557-yard par-5 fourth hole (from the orange tees) looks like a mile-long cross-country trek that climbs from valley to hilltop. The next hole, a 160-yard par 3, feels like a drop shot through wide-open space. Coore and Crenshaw raise golfers’ hopes with a short, enticing uphill par 3 of only 115 yards at the eighth hole and follow it with a dare-to-go-for-it, 273-yard par 4 at the ninth to a well-protected green in a hollow.
This wild ride climaxes with two holes sure to create plenty of commentary. The 215-yard 17th plays to a punchbowl green that could serve as a snowboarding half-pipe in the winter. If and when you mess up on the uphill, 523-yard par-5 18th, it’s only because you didn’t plan two moves ahead as if on a chessboard.
Sand Valley has 48 beds available, all of which were filled this past weekend, Keiser Jr. said. An additional 17 rooms with 29 beds will open in the clubhouse June 1, and by July 1 there will be 51 rooms with 101 beds.
Green fees for resort guests range from $85 to $195, depending upon day and season, with non-guests paying $95-$215. (Local residents of Adams and Wood counties qualify for a 25-percent discount, except for June 12 to Oct. 1.)
The Keisers secret has been to create courses that are so much fun that customers can’t get enough. Early indications are they’ve accomplished that again at Sand Valley.
“We had a lot of confidence in the project,” Keiser Jr. said, “but you never know until you see people walk off the last green and go right to the first tee.”