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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Sand Valley Golf Resort: In Case You’ve Been Living in a Cave

By this time, I’m pretty certain the majority of golf enthusiasts in and around the state of Wisconsin have heard a few things about Mike Keiser’s ongoing project in Rome, Wisconsin, named Sand Valley.

The first course, being designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, is scheduled to open to founding members in 2016 and then to the general public in 2017.

The drivable, downhill par four 9th hole (310/305/300/230/170) at Sand Valley Golf Resort

The drivable, downhill par four 9th hole (310/305/300/230/170) at Sand Valley Golf Resort

WiscoGolfAddict: Sand Valley Media Day & Front 9 Walk-Thru

The second course, being designed by David McLay Kidd, is scheduled to open to founding members in 2017 and then to the general public in 2018. Kidd, of course, built the original [Bandon Dunes] course at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, which was Keiser’s first massive golf resort project and remains to this day [in my humble opinion] the greatest golf location [and place, in general] in the world.

WiscoGolfAddict: Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

With Bandon Dunes, Keiser did what many thought was crazy: He built a high-end, walking-only public golf resort hours from any major metropolitan area. The goal for Sand Valley is the same: To build a Bandon Dunes-esque golf resort in the [similarly remote] Rome location that is so undeniably world-class that golf enthusiasts will drive and fly in from around the globe to stay on site and enjoy pure golf the way it was meant to be.

If you take away one thing from this short post, take away this: Sand Valley is a really big deal! I have been told by several world-famous golf course architects (not Coore or Crenshaw), in fact, that they predict it will open as one of the top ten courses in the world.

This is happening in central Wisconsin. It’s coming soon. I’m excited. Trying to catch my breath. Okay.

Sand Valley posted on their Twitter page today:

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The video is awesome, and features David McLay Kidd, Craig Haltom (Oliphant Golf – great guy), Mike Keiser, Jr., Matt Ginella and others (click for link to video).

Sand Valley is right on track. Get excited.