SentryWorld Course Rankings:
Golf Digest: #5 Wisconsin
GolfWeek: #4 Wisconsin public
Golf.com: #10 Wisconsin public
Designer: Robert Trent Jones, Jr. (1982, 2013)
On October 15, I had the honor of being part of SentryWorld’s pre-reopening media day.
Once the top track in all of Wisconsin, and the original destination course in the state, SentryWorld has been closed since the end of the 2012 season for massive renovations by the course’s original architect, Robert Trent Jones, Jr, and his team led by Bruce Charlton and Jay Blasi.
To say that RTJ II and his team knocked this project out of the park is an understatement.
The purpose of this article is to examine some of the key changes to SentryWorld, and to show exactly why I think this classic Wisconsin track is poised to reemerge as one of the top courses in the state of Wisconsin, and likely also to crack in to the top 100 in the country.
Originally built in 1982, SentryWorld spent years atop the rankings among Wisconsin courses. Featuring a charming and walkable parkland design, the course was unmatched for quality and mystique, and was always best known for its legendary “Flower hole.”
The golf industry boomed in the late 80’s and 90’s, though, and with that boom poured out some of the best courses in the entire country… Right here in Wisconsin.
Kohler ultimately created four of them with his Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run empire. Erin Hills is readying to host the 2017 US Open, and newer courses like The Bull at Pinehurst Farms, Wild Rock, University Ridge (another RTJJ course), The Bog, Geneva National and others have since unseated SentryWorld from it’s place at the top.
Showing it’s age after 30 years of heavy traffic, Sentry Insurance leadership decided to reinvest in one of its top recruitment tools: Their world-class golf course, SentryWorld (in case you didn’t put that one together).
The goals of the renovation were six-fold:
- Update for times and technology
- Add length
- Add variety
- Provide a great challenge for low handicap golfers
- Provide an enjoyable experience for average and high-handicap golfers
- Honor the facility’s history and original community intent
New practice facilities were created to add a range closer to the first tee, as well as a driving range designed for practice and teaching. A short game area has been instilled, as well as a chipping and sand complex, and a designated practice putting green has also been added.
The entire sports facility has been renovated, including an improved golf shop (they already had what I considered to be the nicest pro shop I’d seen in the state!), and massive meeting and banquet spaces were added to allow for flexibility with corporate meetings, community events and banquets/weddings. The onsite dining experience was enhanced with the creation of PJ’s, a large family-friendly restaurant and bar that specializes in foods and meals featuring a Wisconsin flair.
The sports center at SentryWorld is now a huge and beautiful space, with separated sports and dining, including PJ’s and the banquet areas, indoor hard court volleyball, tennis courts, ping pong and an indoor golf range. The exterior was given an overhaul, as well, with a gorgeous grand entrance. Fireplaces, staircases and artwork now abound in the redesigned facility, and a community room is available to charitable/non-profit organizations at no charge.
The physical space at SentryWorld is quite impressive, and should do great things for the Stevens Point community, but what you are likely here for is the golf. And… The golf is legendary.
The entire course was overhauled to great extents, including its routing. Critics said the original course featured too many blind landing areas, and awkward distances to hazards that could not be seen from the tees. This was all changed with SentryWorld: Reimagined, and the result is a course that is 286 yards longer (7,237 compared to 6,951 previously) and is much more “In front of you,” while providing an even more aesthetically pleasing golf experience.
Throughout this article, I will show the renovated course’s holes along with their corresponding holes from the original/old track. As you should be able to see, the new course provides incredible variety to its par four holes – a mark against the original track – while maintaining perhaps the best set of par three holes in the state, as well as some great and challenging par fives.
The new SentryWorld begins with a dogleg left par four that requires driver from the blue and farther tee boxes. At 424 yards, it is a considerably more challenging opening hole than the first on the older course, which is shown in the renovated course images below.
The original second hole at SentryWorld was extremely tight. The new second hole is extremely long – a 598-yard par five from the championship tees! A 473-yard par four from the first tees in, it is a brute of a par four that typically plays in to the wind.
A pond is within driving distance on the right side, and another comes in to play to the left of the long approach area, which narrows between tall trees nearer the green.
The grandeur of SentryWorld is on display in the magnificence of its par threes. The redesigned course has arguably three one-shotters that vie for spots in my list of the state of Wisconsin’s best par three holes, and the third is among them.
Previously a dogleg right par four with a blind driving area, the third is now a charming par three with an infinity green that has to be held over a trap on the left side (given the left-side pin location we played to, shown below).
The lake is reachable from the tees, making driving to the right side of the fairway probably the best spot for a straight-forward wedge in. Anything to the left will have to be properly managed to stay away from the slanted traps found on the far side of the green area.
It was a great decision not to change much on the par five fifth hole, which is one of my favorite par fives in the state.
Driving over water, the fairway meanders around the lake and finishes on a peninsula well under 400 yards from the tee boxes, but is completely unreachable. While this crescent-shaped layout provides a wealth of risk/reward options, the smart play is to make sure the fairway is hit off the tee, then to “Walk the line” greenward.
Keeping it as the fifth hole does not mean improvements were ignored: The new fifth has an opened up driving area, and less trees in the fly zone over the inland lake means long hitters will now be further enticed to try daring approaches over and along the shoreline.
The sixth is also very similar to the original hole, although it has been lengthened considerably and the bunkers have of course been improved significantly.
During my first trip to the course, I was pretty much blinded during the tee shot, so the resemblance between the two is not as evident as it would be without the sun shining so brightly.
While I consider it to be slightly less aesthetically impressive than the course’s other par threes, seven is one of the most demanding holes on the course. At 215 yards from the tips, and 204 from the blue tees, it requires an accurate forced carry over a plethora of deep green-side traps. To me, this is the hardest par three at SentryWorld (that has not changed with the renovation).
The new eighth hole features an intimidating tee shot, with fairway traps seemingly everywhere. The approach is to a green that slopes heavily from back to front, allowing for target shots that will hold nicely.
The ninth at SentryWorld remains similar to the original hole design, but has been opened up slightly with regards to the tree lines.
An interesting fact about the ninth hole: The stream that goes through it is entirely man-made, and was created to actually flow in two different directions.
A par four from the tips, and par five from the blue and other tees, the ninth is not a two-shot hole! The stream that divides the fairway must be avoided, and takes up a significant portion of the driving area.
The second shot can only be used to set up a manageable approach, as the stream runs throughout the approach area, and falls sharply before the challenging (especially from the back traps!) green-side bunkers.
One of the hardest par fives in the state, the back nine now starts with a 612/567-yard beast that requires three exacting swings. The tee shot should favor the left side to allow a free swing on the second. The second shot then has to get past the bend to allow for a clean line to the putting surface. This hole reminds me of the fourth at The Bull, but on steroids.
Trees line both sides of the fairway, which is wide enough not to be overly encroaching, and the treeline is tall enough that if targets are not hit, short-game shots will be necessary just to get a better view of the next target.
The tenth is nowhere near the original tenth, which was nearer the clubhouse and a fairly simple dogleg left par four. The new tenth adds some serious beef to the course, and I cannot wait to challenge it again the next time I am in Stevens Point.
The new eleventh is a very fun par four!
At 291 yards from the blue tees, and with a straight shot to an infinity green before the property’s largest inland lake, the eleventh is bombs-away. Both Brian Weis, who owns/operates GolfWisconsin, GolfTrips.com and about 40 other golf-related websites, and I got within ten yards of the green off the tee, only to both take pars as the heavy slope on the left side of the pin left us nowhere near the left-side hole location.
The eleventh leads to an area of the SentryWorld property that had never before been used. Trent Jones, Jr. felt for a long time that this was land that needed to be developed, and when he finally got his opportunity he did some of his best work with it.
The twelfth will be the talk of the town at the reimagined SentryWorld. A short par three over water, it is as beautiful, although not as unique, as the world-famous “Flower hole.” The two trees left of the sloped peninsula frame photos of this gem nicely, as seen below, and the shot is to a green that leans toward the water on the right.
A wide laterally running tee box along the shoreline of the lake provides for a multitude of tee locations and forced shot angles.
Another brand new hole utilizing the previously undeveloped area discussed earlier, the thirteenth at the renovated SentryWorld requires a forced carry on the tee shot across the same lake used on twelve.
Hit the fairway and avoid the water on the left side that runs to the green. As a side note here, the new bridge put in provides a great Mario Kart like experience similar to the wooden bridge that connects the front and back nines at the Broadlands. I would probably not recommend driving fast along the shoreline, though, as the cart path then turns right after the bridge and around the lake to the right side of the fairway.
The fourteenth on the new SentryWorld is similar in many regards to its predecessor on the old course as a par five that finishes slightly uphill. A pond guards the right side of the fairway, and the key change that most golfers will notice is the removal and flattening out of a severe two-tiered putting surface.
The tee boxes on fourteen have also been lengthened from 523 and 507 from the back tees on the old course to 575 and 523 after renovations.
The fifteenth also plays similarly to the way it did in the past, with a long, straight-away par four through the trees. The driving area has been deforested slightly, so errant shots are not as penal as they used to be.
Now comes the moment you have all been waiting for: The world-famous “Flower hole.”
The story goes that when then Chairman of Sentry Insurance, John Joanis, was originally working with Trent Jones, Jr. and his team on the course design, they wanted to make sure every par three was exciting and offered charm. As you can see from the other par threes on the course, they did a great job of this!
When they came to the sixteenth hole, though, they felt like there was something missing. It was missing that extra something that they wanted to make sure their one-shot holes had.
One of their original ideas was to create an island hole. Joanis was not excited about that, though, and Trent Jones, Jr., who had recently been to France, came up with the idea of creating an “Ocean of flowers” (similar to the seas of tulip beds he’d loved in Europe). He worked up a sketch, Joanis loved it and the flower hole was born.
The flower hole has since become an iconic hole in golf, and the foremost feature most people will mention when SentryWorld is brought up. Trent Jones, Jr., in fact, called this hole “Very possibly [his] Mona Lisa.”
Although the play of the flower hole has not changed – they wanted to preserve its heritage – thousands more petunias, zinnias and begonias were added to bring the total count to around 50,000 flowers.
Unlike a true water feature, this ocean of flowers is not only more beautiful than the average pond but also provides more relief: The “Chairman’s Rule” is in effect at all times providing a free drop if hit in to the flowers. Enter them to find your ball or hit from inside a flower bed, and risk losing golfing privileges at SentryWorld for life.
Unfortunately, the flowers had already been harvested for the winter during our late-season round, but a view of the old hole and imagining even more of them should suffice until you find your opportunity to see this masterpiece.
The seventeenth hole has been given a major overhaul. The sharp dogleg right remains, but rather than requiring a 200-plus yard carry over water on the approach to this par four, the green has now been brought up in front of the pond and given an infinity effect similar to the ones on three and eleven.
With a green complex that runs downhill toward the water, the smart play is to run approaches on.
SentryWorld’s eighteenth hole remains a long, leftward leering uphill par four to the clubhouse. The driving zone has been sparsed [mercifully] to make the tee shot more realistic, and the contours of the green seem to have been changed a bit to create more of a division between the left and right sides.
Glen Turk, who is the Senior Publisher of Midwest Golfing Magazine and is shown below teeing off on this hole, had his own memorable experience on the eighteenth: After a rough tee shot and second ball, his third dropped in the cup from 110 yards out.
As you can see from the pictures, SentryWorld could never have been called a marginal or muni-like golf course, but the grand renovation recently performed on this legendary Wisconsin track has made it so much more… It is my opinion that it should find its rightful way back in to not only the top ten courses in the great state of Wisconsin, but perhaps the top five. I am looking forward to seeing the 2015 top ten lists for Golf.com, GolfWeek.com, GolfDigest.com, etc. and following its upward trend.
The new SentryWorld will reopen to the public in the Spring of 2015, and 18-hole weekend rates are expected to be in the $100-125 range.
As a side note, the course record on the original SentryWorld went down as 60, achieved in competition play by the club pro at my beloved North Hills Country Club, Ed Terasa. Terasa has a number of records around the state of Wisconsin, including SentryWorld and the Original Championship course at Blackwolf Run. His scorecard for the 60 hangs on the wall of the pro shop at North Hills.
GolfWeek’s Bradley S. Klein visited SentryWorld within a couple weeks of us, and listed is as being in a three-way tie with the Philadelphia Cricket Club-Wissahickon Course and Poppy Hills for the best remodeled golf course in the country this year. His article can be found here:
Location: Stevens Point, WI
Yardage: Black-7237, Blue-6711, White-6110, Gold-5512, Green-4674
Slope/Rating: Black-139/75.1, Blue-131/72.6, White-125/69.8, Gold-118/67, Green-116/67.2
Weekend Rates: $100 (including cart and range)