Stevens Point: One of Wisconsin’s Most Diverse High-End Golf Destinations

When I interviewed Mark Rolfing of NBC and Golf Channel this past June in advance of the US Senior Open at SentryWorld, it was the incredible diversity of golf that he called out for making Wisconsin “Maybe the top golf destination in America. Period” (bold statement or hedged bet, you decide).

Mark mentioned Sand Valley and Whistling Straits, Lawsonia and Blackwolf Run, Erin Hills and SentryWorld, Blue Mound, Milwaukee and Brown Deer. To me, though, there’s no geographic portion of Wisconsin that offers more diverse top-level golf than right there in the city he was visiting for that USGA major championship: Stevens Point.

Nowhere in Wisconsin will you find a better one-two punch of high-end courses that couldn’t be more aesthetically opposite than SentryWorld and Stevens Point Country Club.

The US Senior Open rendition of the Flower Hole – over 50,000 flowers in 2023!

Separated by just eight minutes of driving, the style and design of these two magnificent courses are regions apart, but they manage to have plenty in common: Beautiful albeit relatively flat terrain (especially SentryWorld), thoughtfully strategic design, incredible conditioning and terrific leadership and grounds crews.

While SentryWorld’s beauty and conditioning has been on full display nationally this season, SPCC’s has been much more hush-hush. Its membership certainly knows how special their club is, but it’s been only recently that others have started to catch on.

I’ve written extensively about both courses, including a full review of SPCC this past December. While I was awed by the course’s rugged beauty and fun yet challenging playability when I first visited in the fall of 2021, it’s somehow gotten even better.

It’s the “simple” changes Matt Shafer and his grounds team have made at Point since my last visit that have made such a significant impact: Removing trees along the all-world par three 17th, for example, to open up views of the ponds and the low-lying valley beneath; adding a new waste area between the 12th and 18th fairways and new teeing areas on 18 – all aimed at enhancing site lines and adding a certain degree of intimidation factor across the property’s most dramatic section.

One of the other key differences you’ll notice in my updated images of Stevens Point versus the ones from October, 2021 is the fescue. It had been razed prior to our initial visit but is now on full display: These long, golden fields of natural grasses are stunning, especially in the morning light.

The 5th at SPCC with the fescue up

What got you here won’t get you there

As I’ve written on a number of occasions, golf courses are living, breathing life forms. Even when not being worked on, they’re still changing and growing. As can be witnessed at Golden Age golf properties across the Midwest, trees planted during post-war times grew – and are still growing – seriously altering playability and architectural intentions.

The work of past grounds crews to update mowing patterns around greens complexes has often led to average green sizes that are 30-45% (and more!) smaller than what was designed, and modern technology has rendered many of the defense systems that worked in the 1920’s and 30’s utterly useless.

As Robert Trent Jones, Jr. told me during a recent sit-down together at SentryWorld:

“A defense is of its time. Just like the Maginot Line was not a good defense for France in World War I, L.A. North was not a good defense [for the 2023 US Open], though it was a beautiful defense in 1920. A defense needs to be of the time, of the equipment, of the skill level and of the agronomy, and SentryWorld is of its time.”

Robert Trent Jones, Jr.

If a great golf course is not focused on addressing these challenges and others, and on occasion reinventing itself in ways whether big or small, it cannot stay great. In the cases of both SentryWorld and Stevens Point, it’s recent updates that have made both courses so incredible.

The RTJ II-designed SentryWorld, opened in 1982, was the state’s original destination golf course and number one public option for decades until Kohler got in the game, and Stevens Point CC has always been known as a very nice, classic private club.

Neither course, though, would receive a portion of the accolades they do today without recent efforts to update and renovate – to reimagine what’s possible, even.

In the case of SentryWorld, RTJ II Golf Design (led at the time by Bruce Charlton and Jay Blasi) carried out a significant initial renovation in 2014 (written about here, including before and after images) followed by additional redesign work in 2019 and incremental improvements leading up to the US Senior Open.

A few of the areas that were worked on during this time include:

Having received millions in settlement funds from the DuPont Imprelis debacle, Stevens Point Country Club had a decision to make in the mid-2010’s: Reinvest in their golf course or potentially fall into mediocrity. Bringing in Craig Haltom for a major redesign, they went all-in on greatness and in my opinion – and the opinion of over a dozen participants who’ve texted me during and following this past week’s State Mid-Am – they knocked it out of the park.

The 4th at Stevens Point CC

While Stevens Point’s edges are intentionally worn and disheveled, SentryWorld’s are pristine and clean-cut with razor-like precision. Both have fantastic drainage (SentryWorld from slightly crowned fairways and incredible SubAir technology, and SPCC much because of its sandy foundation and strategic run-offs), well-placed hazards and beautiful, expansive features – like the sea of flowers that make up the Flower Hole 16th at SentryWorld, or the beach of sand that engulfs the par three 17th at SPCC and provides it a North Carolina Sandhills feel in Central Wisconsin.

In an incredible way, SentryWorld’s golf experience is highly curated. Every inch of the property has been expertly worked on to be perfect and provide an ultra-high-end visit that will forever live in players’ memories.

Stevens Point Country Club is incredibly well-planned, cared for and thought-out, too, but in so many ways it’s its intentional ruggedness that’s endearing. The “new course” feels like it’s been there forever, and it has been since the Ice Age… just below thousands of trees and all the previous groundcover.

I have SentryWorld as my number four public golf course in the state of Wisconsin, and SPCC as my number four private track. That these two iconic courses can live side-by-side in an area of the state that’s not talked about as much as Kohler/Sheboygan, Sand Valley, Erin Hills or others will I think change swiftly.

SPCC sunrise video by WGA Contributing Writer Troy Giljohann

Is there another part of the state with two golf courses as high-end and diverse as Stevens Point? Any contenders I’m missing outside of these?

  • Kenosha: Strawberry Creek (modern) and Kenosha CC (classic)
  • Kohler: Whistling Straits/Blackwolf Run (modern) and Pine Hills (classic)
  • Oconomowoc: Erin Hills (modern) and Club at Lac La Belle (classic)
  • Wisconsin Rapids: Sand Valley (modern) and Bullseye (classic)
  • Green Bay: Green Bay CC (modern) and Oneida (classic)
  • Green Lake: Lawsonia Woodlands (modern) and Lawsonia Links (classic)
  • Lake Geneva: Geneva National (modern) and Grand Geneva (classic)

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4 thoughts on “Stevens Point: One of Wisconsin’s Most Diverse High-End Golf Destinations

  1. Great article Paul, Point surely is up there Sentry World & SPCC, then through in Sand Valley down the road and not much else can compare other than Pinehurst and Bandon Dunes. Could also argue several different variations of 36 hole days at Sand Valley could be as good or better than most.

    1. Absolutely about Sand Valley, but everybody already knows about it 🙂 It’s crazy to me how SPCC is still a bit of a “hidden gem.” I don’t think it will be for long, and combined with a round at SentryWorld is about as good (and diverse) of a 36-hole day as you’ll find anywhere!

  2. Paul, Nice article on the rich golf options in Stevens Point. I’m fortunate to play Steven Point C.C. on numerous occasions each year as a guest. The course is a work in progress and gets far better each year following its recent renovation. Have a nice remained of your golf season. Russ Cain

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