Following a tour of the front nine at last year’s Sand Valley media day, a reference to the Wisconsin vs. Illinois Writers Cup was made to which Mike Keiser, Jr. immediately replied: “Can we host next year’s event here!?”
The Writers Cup alternates between Wisconsin and Illinois courses each year, with last year’s event played at the challenging Chicago Highlands Club.
Needless to say, everyone in attendance was thrilled with the offer, but the ultimate decision had to be made by Chuck Garbedian of “Garbedian on Golf.”
Team Illinois has had the best of Team Wisconsin for a few years straight, including a rout at the Chicago Highlands Club last year. This year, though, the red team was back on our own soil at the world’s most highly touted upcoming golf destination, and there was no way we were going to lose. Not there on what we were told was the first event to be played on all 18 holes of the Coore/Crenshaw masterpiece.
Sand Valley and KemperSports were fantastic hosts, and both teams made the pilgrimage to Rome, Wisconsin on Monday for practice rounds prior to the tournament teeing off at 7:45 Tuesday morning.
The contrast between where the Coore/Crenshaw course is now versus where it was last August is almost unbelievable, but with two of the greatest growing seasons ever it is almost unnecessary to say that Sand Valley’s progress is well ahead of schedule. At no time did they intend to open all 18 holes for preview play this season, but alas on September 1 it is happening.
My first ah-ha moment during my first trip to Sand Valley last year was arriving at the top of “The Volcano” and seeing the first hole below, seeded and beginning to grow in. It is fully developed at this point, as are the magnificent tenth and 18th holes. The start of a driving range is also coming in left of the first fairway, and most of the course’s holes are visible from this highest vantage point on the property. The vista here outside of “Craig’s Porch” is comparably as spectacular as the view from the porch at Pacific Dunes (at Mike Keiser’s original golf resort, Bandon Dunes, on the southwest coast of Oregon).
Glen Turk of Midwest Golfing Magazine and I met up on Monday to play the front nine before a dinner at Craig’s Porch (named after Craig Haltom of Oliphant, who originally discovered the land) that consisted of buffalo burgers, Johnsonville brats and sides.
After a couple of beers, Team Wisconsin met in the 4-bedroom cottage Coach Garbedian was staying in to get our team’s strategy together. Playing this year for Team Wisconsin included:
- Gary D’Amato (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
- Mike Duplaise (freelance writer and author)
- Chuck Garbedian (captain, ESPN Garbedian on Golf)
- Neal Kotlarek (GolfChicago – Wisconsin native)
- Gabe Neitzel (ESPN 540)
- Jay Royal (Midwest Golfing Magazine)
- Jeff Royal (Midwest Golfing Magazine)
- Rob Schultz (Wisconsin State Journal)
- Paul Seifert (that’s me)
- Matt Tevsh (Midwest Golfing Magazine)
- Glen Turk (Midwest Golfing Magazine)
- Brian Weis (GolfWisconsin, GolfTrips.com)
Accommodations in the Lake Leopold Cottages were everything I hoped for and was told to expect during last year’s Media Day with Mike Keiser, Jr. and Bill Coore: “A comfortable bed, nice shower and a big bar of soap” … And fantastic views.
The rooms are very well appointed, and I am told by this time next year the color of the cottages should blend in perfectly with the color of the sand that surrounds it.
The morning match-ups got started at 7:45 and my first round match was with my partner for the first two rounds, Rob Schultz. Rob and I had a first round best ball match against Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune and Steve Schapiro of WGN-TV.
I played my best nine of the season in the first round on the front nine, still at even par through eight holes. I took a par four on the first hole, and had a good drive with my 3-hybrid on the second. I then proceeded to skull an eight-iron from 143 yards that bounced in front of the elevated green, rolled on and curled straight from right to left in to the hole for an eagle two.
My caddie for all 27 holes, Shawn, said it was only the second ugliest eagle he’s seen this year. I’ll take that. Our caddies both did a great job, by the way. Shawn was with me all day, and Curt was on the bag for Rob. Both were great to spend the day with, were solid with shot selection and course knowledge/course management. There were a couple of slight misreads on the green during our back nine, but that’s on [literally] brand new green surfaces on a course that hasn’t even opened yet. In other words, I thought they did a terrific job.
If you’re like most people and want to tune out any time people talk about every shot they hit in a round, please feel free to tune out for a few paragraphs now…
So… I birdied the par five fourth hole, then put my tee shot on the par three fifth to about eight feet. I missed the par putt then bogeyed five and six. My tee shot on the short uphill par three seventh hole went long and left, and I was sure it was in the sand which would make for a terrible bunker shot downhill. Five seconds later, the ball reappeared on the green going straight toward the hole. It stopped a few feet from the cup and I missed another short putt for birdie. I was even par with a chance to shoot 35 going in to the driveable par four ninth.
We closed out our first match on eight, 2 & 1.
I hit the green on nine the day before with driver off the tee (not on my first attempt), but figured I’d play it conservatively this time around. My five-iron off the tee sliced right in to a fairway trap, which I then skulled above the green, then hit a terrible putt from the fringe and two-putted for double bogey. Frustrating, but still what an awesome round!
… And we’re back.
Team Wisconsin had a big lead after the first round, and Rob and I would play Teddy and Steve next in the second round for alternate shot.
Again, we got off to a hot start and were up three after three holes. We were up three with four holes to go, in fact, and just could not get a push or win a hole. Steve and Teddy got hot, but more importantly we failed to take advantage of all the opportunities we had. It came down to the ninth hole with the match all square, and Steve hit a beautiful three-wood to the green on the par five 18th.
While we still managed par, their epic comeback was complete.
We grabbed delicious Italian beef sandwiches between rounds and got out for the third and final round: Singles matches. My match was against Steve, and Gary D’Amato played Teddy. Steve and I had a great match – he got up two early and I battled back to even through eight. It was time to put a better swing on a five-iron on the driveable par four ninth. I set up well left, and again watched a high five-iron fade in to the sand. Steve’s tee shot was right down the middle and perfect, and his four to my six got me again on that damn [but beautiful] ninth hole.
Regardless of my 1-2 record this year, Team Wisconsin won the 2016 Illinois vs. Wisconsin Writers Cup by a count of 14-10.
Illinois was gracious, just as I hope we have been all these past years we have been on the losing end, and a great time was had by all but especially by Team Wisconsin while drinking New Glarus Moon Man out of the Reid Hanley Trophy. I am normally not a fan of bitter beers, and an IPA has never tasted so good.
A full review of Coore/Crenshaw’s Sand Valley course and conditions is upcoming, so make sure to check back for my full 18-hole breakdown!