In Wisconsin, we’re lucky to be in a golf environment that is not just surviving, but thriving. Even though our seasons seem shorter every year, we live in one of the best golf states in the entire country.
2016 saw a record low ten new courses open across the United States. 2017 had several more, but not significantly. Highlighting 2017’s portfolio of new tracks were the flagship design at Sand Valley, Gil Hanse’s Black course at Streamsong Resort, the new AT&T Byron Nelson host Trinity Forest, and the reversible Silvies Valley Ranch in Seneca, Oregon (have you seen the CNN video about their Seamus Goat Division caddie program?).
2018 will see two new courses open in Wisconsin, both at Sand Valley. The first, which opened May 1 and I will be discussing now, is the 17-hole Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw designed Sandbox. The other new project, of course, will be David McLay Kidd’s massive masterpiece Mammoth Dunes (post upcoming), set to open tomorrow!
A fun and unique golfing experience, the Sandbox serves as an homage to the golden age of golf course design. Green styles that otherwise exist only at North Berwick, the National Golf Links of America, The Old Course at St. Andrews, Shoreacres, Fishers Island, Chicago Golf Club, Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (link shows their similar project, Bandon Preserve at BDGR), Lawsonia Links and other [mostly] pre-Depression Era gems can be found on this wonderful short course that measures under 1,700 total yards.
Biarritz, redan, double-plateau, short, Eden, lion’s mouth and other classic greens are not just old in age, but are generally very challenging for the everyday player to get access to. Golfers get to experience those classic designs in the Sandbox, though, neatly packaged in a fun, time-extensive journey that tests golfers’ metal on all manors of awkwardly-distanced tee shots.
Each hole has three sets of tees, sensibly marked by colored sand shovels. The back shovels stand perpendicular to the sandy turf with red handles (the Crenshaw tees – Ben has been long regarded as one of the greatest putters in the history of golf), followed by yellow- (Coore tees) and then blue-handled shovels. The blue tees are meant for putting and/or short chip-and-run opportunities.
Creativity abounds in the Sandbox. While distances max out around 165 yards – most are considerably shorter – many half- and three-quarter-club yardages mean you better have a lot of confidence in distance control… Or be ready to read every single piece of turf leading to the pin.
I will mercifully avoid giving my thoughts on strategy (remember: Those who can’t golf, write about it!). Because I think it’s such a unique golf experience, though, I do want to provide a little about the short course and some of its wonderful nuances.
The 17-hole Sandbox course starts with a fun little downhill par three, measuring 105 yards from the red shovels, 88 from the yellows and 57 from the blues. I was apparently too busy chatting with our hosts and friends to take a picture of it – sorry!
From 145 yards, the second hole is one heck of a test. The entrance to the green is narrow, and large traps pock the front-left and right sides.
As an entirely fescue facility, Sand Valley is built to play fast and furious, so if you ever don’t think you can fly sand traps on any of their courses… Get creative!
The third features a green design that is probably one of the most rare in all of golf: The double plateau.
The double plateau requires absolute precision off the tee to hold shots on the correct mound. Hit the opposite side and it’ll be like putting across a deep biarritz.
I love how the double plateau allows a single golf hole to play as many. This green can be set up an endless number of ways to create different par three experiences – from these tees, for example, a high-left pin requires flying the central sand trap while a high-right pin can be played in the air or on the ground.
There are always options at Sand Valley.
Walking off the third green, we crisscrossed between the 12th and 13th holes and noticed local legend and two-time US Open Champion, Andy North, playing the Sandbox with a couple of friends including Aaron Rodgers. No big deal.
The fourth is a nice little par three with a tumultuous green:
The fifth is one of the most beautiful golf greens I’ve ever seen. The left-to-right spine is like a hog’s back – one would think the green going from the right side toward a left-side pin would curl that way, but it doesn’t… Both sides roll outward, meaning your “safe shot” to the right side to avoid that doozy of a front pot bunker can very well result in a 20- to 30-yard putt.
While the sixth may lull you to sleep with its short distance, be wary of all the bunkers surrounding this pin, and all the slopes that will lead you toward them:
The seventh might be the best of the run-up holes on the entire 17-hole course – a fairway that runs downhill to a narrow, angled green that runs uphill toward the left.
The front eight of the Sandbox ends in spectacular fashion, with a beautiful elevated biarritz green.
When asked to write a 100-word blurb on my favorite hole in the Sandbox, this is the one that dominated my thoughts. This green is absolutely spectacular. Watch for my little quote and photo(s) in the Sand Valley newsletter 😉
The back nine starts with what I would consider to be the course’s “Short” hole. At around 50 yards, the challenge here is the green that is one of the largest on the entire property.
The green on nine is the result of combining two different greens. Owner and Developer Mike Keiser told Coore and Crenshaw to build as many great golf holes as they could find on this property. If memory serves me correctly, they found 23, and then had to figure out a way to route it right. The two holes that were originally here were made better by combining them in to one.
Think 50 yards is too easy? Try landing a shot above the back ledge and holding this green.
The tenth is one of the smallest greens on the course, and a fun distance just over 100 yards.
The eleventh features a risen green with squirrely slopes, especially towards the edges. Taking on the trap almost seems like the safe play here.
The fifth longest hole on the course, the twelfth reminded me a lot of the sixth hole at Hidden Glen. A long green from front to back, the putting surface is risen and well defended by sand and swales.
To me, the tiny 13th is probably the hardest tee shot of all 17. Maxing out at 75 yards and slightly downhill, the lion’s mouth green leaves no room for error. The sand trap in front is the one golfers will try to avoid, but the ones left and past the green are just as penal if not more so.
Approaching the 14th, we saw a couple more familiar faces: Bill Coore and Jim Craig. Coore needs no introduction, and Jimmy has been Coore/Crenshaw’s Shaping Specialist for two decades. Both are wonderful people to run in to, and are always more than gracious with their time and thoughts.
The fourteenth is fairly long for the Sandbox, teeing up from a hearty 120 yards. A trap on the right side of the foreground shrouds a sizable right-side section of the green, giving the impression off the tee that the target area is much, much smaller than it is.
A similar distance to the previous hole, the fifteenth plays from 121 yards to a green that could not be more diametrically opposite. The putting complex on fifteen is wide open with all its curves and beauty on full display.
The 16th is the longest of the par threes in the Sandbox, and deservedly so as an awesome redan template:
A classic finishing hole, the 17th presents two options: Do or die. Hit that massive pot bunker at the front-middle entrance of the green and the prospects of winning your match will do the latter.
And a pot bunker of this magnitude needs to be aptly named, right? This one’s nickname is certainly befitting: It’s “the devil’s a@$hole.”
The Sandbox is the perfect complement to the world-class, championship golfing experience at Sand Valley. While stout in distance, the Sandbox lives up to its hype as providing the most extreme greens and some of the most thought-provoking holes on the property, making this short walk massive in enjoyment.
Location: Rome, WI
Yardage: Crenshaw-1652, Coore-1272, Putting-739
Weekend Rates: $75