Golf Course Review: Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes

I have been very fortunate to take part in a handful of Sand Valley media events, and the recent May 1 media day for the opening of the Sandbox was a great one.

Along with playing Bill Coore and Ben Creshaw’s par three course on the day it debuted, we were also treated to a golfing experience that blew my mind: David McLay Kidd’s Mammoth Dunes.

A 6-hole loop was available for preview the last time I was on site, so having the opportunity to see the rest of the project was highly anticipated to say the least. 16 holes were made available to a few of us media guys, which was better than I expected considering the most recent snowfall (a blizzard) was just a week before.

The Wisconsin weather warmed up quickly, though, leaving playable albeit soft and slightly off-colored turf at Mammoth Dunes. I can tell you from experience that this course will green up nicely and will play fast. Really fast.

Growing up in Scotland, David McLay Kidd is the son of long-time Gleneagles course Superintendent, Jimmy Kidd, who taught him all about golf course architecture and conditioning. His fascination with great golf led him to the pursuit of a career in golf design, and things really took off when he partnered with Sand Valley developer Mike Keiser for the flagship course at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in 1999.

Bandon was the development that changed everything for Keiser, for Kidd, and for the golf industry, and a resort like Sand Valley would never have been possible if it was not for the tremendous success they had there.

Mammoth Dunes is the third course at Sand Valley Golf Resort, and has now been open to the public since May 31. The first course, Sand Valley, debuted last year to great acclaim, paving the way for more championship golf in the prehistoric sand dunes of central Wisconsin.

The land at Mammoth Dunes is more rugged than at its sister course, Sand Valley. There are fewer clean lines and the scale of its features – the fairways, greens, sand blowouts and changes in elevation – are nothing short of mammoth. The scale of this course is staggering; every hole is memorable, every shot makes you think and typically provides at least a couple of options.

I caught myself constantly saying, “Oh wow,” and “Jeez, this is beautiful,” and other equally cheesy and obvious comments that I couldn’t hold back. Mammoth Dunes is an exhilarating, wonderfully pure golfing experience that will quickly take the world of golf by storm.

The opening tee shot is to one of the widest fairways I’ve ever seen – easily 100 yards in width. The green area is mostly without bunkering, but like the majority of the course features mounding that helps or hinders shots played along the ground.

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Hole 1: Par 4 (417/394/358/324/221/198)

A central blowout bunker dictates some of the ground game in the approach area:

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Hole 1: Par 4 (417/394/358/324/221/198)

Hole two is a spectacular par four. A sea of sand lies between the teeing grounds and fairway, lengthening the carry the further right you aim.

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Hole 2: Par 4 (405/402/360/330/286/236)

Keep in mind the fescue turf at Sand Valley plays very, very fast, so expect a lot of run-out when the ball hits the fairway. This should affect your aim as you won’t want to land your drive anywhere near traps like these ones:

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Hole 2: Par 4 (405/402/360/330/286/236)

Kidd’s green on two is all-world – massive in size with spines, valleys and a left-side mound that hides much of its contouring:

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The first par five on the course is a good one. Like on two, make sure to choose the right line over the sand – anything short will leave a tough recovery and a challenge to get to this green in regulation.

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Golf Course Review: The Sandbox at Sand Valley Golf Resort

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!

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Hole 2: 145/104/51

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.

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Hole 3: 89/78/46

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.

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North Hills Country Club 2018 Golf Membership Information

Over the past two months, the most read article on my site has been about the 2016 North Hills Country Club New Membership Promotion.

While that membership drive has expired, they do have some great new programs in place. I want to make sure you folks looking for that are not reading outdated information, so the following is this year’s membership drive.

* As a caveat, the 2016 membership drive at North Hills was a massive success! The club added over 70 new members that year, almost all of whom are under the age of 40.

Other exciting things going on at North Hills include a renovated basement with a golf simulator that should be finished this fall, and continued improvements to the course and facilities in accordance with architect Jay Blasi’s master plan.

Please reach out to me via email at wiscosportsaddict@gmail.com if you are potentially interested in joining North Hills.

I would be happy to send you the rest of the prospective membership files/documents,  maybe show you around the club and answer any questions you may have. If I don’t have the answers, I can get you in touch with the people who do. It can potentially be mutually beneficial as the club offers a solid referral program.

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For more fun reading about North Hills Country Club in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin:

Golf Course Review: The Oconee at Reynolds Lake Oconee (GA)

One of the top golf destinations in the southeastern United States, Reynolds Lake Oconee is home to 117 golf holes. 18 of the best of those are on its Oconee course, designed by Rees Jones and originally unveiled in 2002.

Jones inherited some of the best terrain on the entire property to work with for the back nine of the Oconee course, meandering through inlets and setting up gorgeous tee shots over water on the par three 15th and closing par four 18th.

The 18th is one of the strongest finishing holes I’ve ever played, driving over Lake Oconee from 466 yards from the tips and still 426 from the third tees in.

What it lacks in lake frontage, the front nine makes up for with elevation. The fifth through ninth holes all have elevated tee shots, highlighted by a beautiful pair of par threes (5 and 8).

In addition to thousands of visitors, the Oconee course has played host to the annual Linger Longer Invitational college championship, the 2007 PGA Cup and the annual Chik-fil-A Bowl Challenge. Along with Great Waters, the Oconee helps put the premier in Reynolds Lake Oconee’s premier golfing destination.

The course begins with a long par five, measuring 538 yards from the first tees in. A small pond comes in to play about 450 yards down the fairway, and the green resides off a short dogleg left alongside the water.

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Hole 1: Par 5 (559/538/513/417)

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Hole 1: Par 5 (559/538/513/417)

Hole two at The Oconee is a mid-range par four with an interesting green complex. Heavily protected on all other sides, the pin while we were there was right in the front-right – the only area not bunkered.

You’ll see on the second hole that the Oconee course puts a premium on accurate driving. It’s heavily wooded but very fair – none of us had significant issues keeping our tee shots in play.

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Hole 2: Par 4 (397/377/367/315)

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golf balls

“Roll” Back

USGA Executive Director Mike Davis recently met with Jack Nicklaus and what was there main topic of conversation?… Rolling the golf ball back. Jack stated, “I’m happy to help you, I’ve only been yelling at you for 40 years.” His golf course designs are fantastic, one of my favorites being The Bull at Pinehurst Farms in Sheboygan, but I very much disagree with his stance on the golf ball. New golf courses have gotten much longer, yet your average golfer isn’t gaining 10, 20 or more yards per year. The golf companies sure try to tout that with each new driver launch, every half year, you will gain more distance. But your average golfer isn’t changing physically like the players on tour now are. The era of Tiger and intense strength training, along with golf club technology, is accentuating the newer golf ball distance. 

The average drive of your every day male golfer is 214 yards, with his swing speed coming in around 93 mph. The leading driver of the ball on the PGA tour is Tony Finau at an average of 327 yards with a swing speed of 124 mph. His backswing is also about as short as a 80 year old golfer. If golf’s governing bodies (USGA and R&A) were to roll back the golf ball, this would effect your daily golfer much more than your long hitting tour pros. Even across the PGA tour, you are going to continue to reward your long hitters more as they are still going to be able to reach long par fives. They might have to use a longer iron or possibly even a 3-wood, but all of your moderate and short hitters on tour are now no longer going to be able to hit that par 5 in two. 

Mike Davis made the statement, “Throw Dustin (Dustin Johnson (DJ)) an 80 percent golf ball and say, ‘Let’s go play the back tees,’ and guess what, it would be a great experience for him.” If Dustin is hitting the ball 315 yards and he then uses an 80 percent golf ball and is only hitting it 252 yards. Your average male golfer at 214 yards is still significantly behind DJ and no where near the caliber of player. How is that going to be a great experience for Dustin? We would all love the opportunity to play with a PGA Tour player but there is nothing saying it makes it any less fun playing a different set of tees. 

I love seeing pros shoot low scores. Even though the US Open is an amazing golf tournament, the fact that they like trying to keep the score around even par to me is not as much fun to watch. I would much rather see birdies being made versus players nearly breaking their wrists in six inch thick rough and only advancing the ball 30 yards. When you hear announcers and tournament organizers talk about normal golfers being able to relate to making a bogey, par, par, bogey, bogey… sure maybe they can relate to the overall score or barely advancing the golf ball, but its not because of the extreme conditions. Its because your average golfer is that much different than a tour pro. 

Golf course architects keep talking that the only solution is to lengthen courses. But take a look at this week and last week on tour. Both Riviera and PGA National (Jack’s course) are playing at less than 7400 yards with water, bunkers, rough and narrow landing areas all keeping the long ball in check. Both of these courses could do even more to shrink down and force long hitters’ hand when putting the ball out there that far. If you look at last year’s US Open at Erin Hills, playing at around 7800 yards, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson were the only players in the top 25 shooting under par (with an average drive of less than 300 yards). All of these players scored because they were in the top ten of Fairways Hit, Greens Hit or Average Putts. An 80% golf ball would have not allowed these players to reach some of the holes they were reaching, and would also have made them have to come in with a longer iron or wood most likely making them less accurate.

I am not saying that I am against golf governing bodies making a change, I just don’t think the golf ball is where it should be done.