Central Wisconsin was not a hot bed for golf in the early 1980’s.
At the time, golf enthusiasts were not flying multi-million dollar private jets into Wisconsin Rapids to play at Sand Valley, Stevens Point Country Club, Bullseye (fully private at the time) or even Lawsonia. Folks nationally had no idea what they had in Lawsonia’s Links course at the time, in fact, and its complementary golf experience, the Woodlands, did not debut until 1983.
SentryWorld, opened in 1982 and since host to multiple USGA national championships, planted the seed for destination golf in Wisconsin and put an otherwise geographically isolated section of the state on the world’s golf radar.
The same year saw the emergence of another staple of the Central Wisconsin golf scene: Lake Arrowhead.
Designed by Ken Killian and Dick Nugent, the Pines course at Lake Arrowhead brought sophisticated modern golf design with rugged aesthetics to a part of the state that was previously lacking. Together with Lawsonia and SentryWorld, it set the table for what has since become one of the greatest up-and-coming golf destinations in America: Central Wisconsin.
When Golf Course Architect Craig Haltom brought Dream Golf developer Mike Keiser to the area, he originally thought it was too remote (and lacking of an ocean or significant water feature, like at Bandon Dunes) to play home to a world-class golf destination.
What they found, though, is that the topography of Central Wisconsin is as good or better than any in the country for course development: Deep sand, incredible natural contouring and an ability to acquire as much land as they could ever dream of made Central Wisconsin the ideal location for the Sand Valley Golf Resort, and the addition of Sand Valley truly put Central Wisconsin on the global map of world-class golf destinations.
While visiting Sand Valley, there are no golf courses as close as Lake Arrowhead. It is literally down the road from the resort’s entrance, and in the case of the Lakes course across the street from the recently debuted Lido.
Location, location, location
First off, if you’ve got a tee time on the Lakes course then make sure you go to the Lakes course and not to “Lake Arrowhead Golf Club.”
The club’s main clubhouse and Pines course are about a 2-mile drive apart and while it’s nearby it’ll be another 10-minute car ride to get to the right first tee if you make this mistake.
While the Lakes course has a clubhouse, food and beverages available, it is not as well-appointed as the incredibly impressive facility at the Pines (not many are – it’s massive, modern and quite impressive!).
Secondly, when driving to the Lakes course you’ll likely notice some otherworldly, desert-like property lines along Apache Road. Hidden beyond these sandy dunes is the hottest golf property in the world right now: The Lido at Sand Valley (updated review in the works).
While I was aware of the two properties’ general proximity, I was still surprised when I lifted my drone off from the 18th green area of the Lakes course and elevated above the tree line. The morning’s sunrise was way too good not to capture while I was already sharing the airspace:
The Pines course
Lake Arrowhead’s original public golf offering in 1982, the Pines course has great variety to its hole designs and probably the best set of par threes among the two.
Sharp doglegs, natural-looking bunkering and a bit more use of elevation are trademarks of the Pines, as are numerous holes played over and alongside inland ponds.
The destination’s most updated clubhouse is also at the Pines, overlooking the tenth tee and ninth green out the bar/restaurant’s back windows. Terrific food service is also available, as is a pool for the club’s semi-private membership.
Everyone we met or played through at Lake Arrowhead was very friendly and welcoming. It felt like a home-away-from home, in fact, and the staff could not have been more helpful. Following our morning round on the Pines, they even worked with the great staff at nearby Bullseye (thank you, Ethan and JT, for making a 6-year-old’s day!) to get a junior set of left-handed clubs for my son so he could play with us in the afternoon on the Lakes.
There are a ton of great shot values on the Pines course with the second through fourth, sixth and seventh, tenth, 14th and 16th-18th especially standing out for me.
Lake Arrowhead, Pines course review coming soon
The Lakes course
A relatively unpopular opinion among my Instagram followers, the Lakes course was probably my favorite of the two at Lake Arrowhead.
My wife and daughter joined for our afternoon round on the Lakes course along with my cousin, Frank, and my son, Charlie. Charlie had never played more than nine holes in a day, so asking him to go a full 18 was a little risky. He kept a great attitude all day, though, and a good pace to keep up with the groups in front of us. The Lakes course is not an easy one for young children, so we moved his shots out of the rough, to the sides of lakes and obviously out of their deep bunkers. It was a fantastic golf experience and we couldn’t have asked for a better afternoon spent with the family.
While Charlie was making his way around the course 50-125 yards per shot, Frank and I had a serious challenge on our hands. The Lakes course, also designed by Killian and opened 16 years after the Pines in 1998, is no slouch.
It’s tree-lined but very playable, has interesting greens, ruggedly edged bunkers and subtle yet strategic use of elevation. It is by all accounts a wonderful parkland golf course.
Just down the block from the world-famous Keiser-developed Sand Valley Golf Resort is Rome/Nekoosa’s original golf destination: Lake Arrowhead. While the Pines gets most members’ vote for best course on-property, it’s the Lakes that spoke…
The Eagle’s Nest Guest Houses
If traveling to the Rome/Nekoosa area with a large group to play Lake Arrowhead, Sand Valley, Bullseye, Northern Bay, Lawsonia, SentryWorld, Stevens Point Country Club and other area courses then I highly recommend staying at one of the Eagle’s Nest’s three guest houses.
Conveniently located off Hwy 13 (POW/MIA Memorial Highway) and Archer Avenue, Eagle’s Nest has three total guest homes: Eagle’s Nest I, II and III.
Each guest house at Eagle’s Nest has 16 queen-sized beds and amenities galore, including beautiful bedrooms and community spaces, full kitchens, expansive game rooms, comfortable beds, fire pits, patios and more.
My wife, two kids and I stayed at Eagle’s Nest III during our recent visit to Lake Arrowhead and we loved the lodging, comfortable beds, great water pressure and all the extras. We also enjoyed exploring the home – there were three bedrooms in the basement (each with two queen-sized beds) and a full build-out above the game room/garage that we didn’t even get to experience. It reminded us of the time we rented this massive house on Kiawah Island a few years back and on the last day found an extra six beds and a basement with a game room – we were so content with what we knew about that we didn’t even care about all the wasted space!
You can view and book the Eagle’s Nest Guest Houses for your next group trip to Lake Arrowhead/Sand Valley at www.eaglesnestwisconsin.com.
Ultimately, though, any trip to a world-class golf destination like Rome/Nekoosa (Sand Valley/Lake Arrowhead), Bandon Dunes, Pinehurst and others is all about the golf, and when the golf is done and you’ve had a drink or two by the fire pit you just want a comfortable place to lay your head. Like Mike Keiser told us at an initial 2015 Sand Valley media day, golf enthusiasts just want a comfortable bed, big bar of soap and great water pressure. Enjoy!
Add Lake Arrowhead to your next Central Wisconsin golf itinerary!
In a state rich with incredible golf, Central Wisconsin might be the most underrated region of them all.
Wisconsin is not a state that can be experienced for golf in one visit, and with incredible courses including the Pines and Lakes at Lake Arrowhead, Bullseye, Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes, The Lido and The Sandbox (and soon Sedge Valley and potentially five or more others!) at Sand Valley Golf Resort, 2023 US Senior Open host SentryWorld, Stevens Point Country Club, Northern Bay, Trappers Turn and Wild Rock in Wisconsin Dells and so many others, this is a part of the state that is worth coming for on its own (and then make a separate trip for Kohler, Erin Hills and Lake Geneva).
Especially if you’re looking to stay local to the Rome/Nekoosa area, do not miss out on Lake Arrowhead during future visits to Sand Valley.
With two well-designed parkland courses and terrific conditions, an incredibly friendly and hospitable staff, excellent food and beverage, a fun atmosphere and affordable rates, Lake Arrowhead provides a great tack-on golf experience for all visitors to Sand Valley and Central Wisconsin, and is well worth the drive for all in-state golf enthusiasts.