A [Small] Sneak Preview of Mammoth Dunes at Sand Valley

This past May (therefore, a small sneak peak), I spent the weekend on Petenwell Lake in Adams County, Wisconsin, for my friend Scott’s bachelor party. Our buddy Kyle and I headed up to Sand Valley Golf Resort a few hours before our group’s scheduled tee times for a sneak preview of the second championship course on site, Mammoth Dunes.

I love Sand Valley. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed the original course there expertly: It’s fun, challenging, unique, FAST, rugged and tremendously beautiful. It also makes visitors feel as if they’re hundreds if not thousands of miles from what they know to be Wisconsin.

I’ve written quite a bit about Sand Valley, but have yet to post anything about David McLay Kidd’s upcoming Mammoth Dunes. We were able to walk six holes [with a guide and without clubs – it was still an active construction site], and they looked spectacular:

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Hole 1: Par 4 (413/394/358/324/221/198)

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1st hole green complex at Mammoth Dunes

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Hole 2: Par 4 (410/406/360/330/286/236)

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Target area off the tee on 2

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From the central fairway bunker on 2

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A look back toward the tees on 2

If you visited Golf Digest’s website any time during 2016, chances are you noticed an interesting reader competition: “The Armchair Architect.” 532 entries were received and reviewed by David McLay Kidd, Mike Keiser and Ron Whitten, and the winning entry was by computer gamer Brian Silvernail of Rockledge, Florida.

Silvernail’s proposed hole is a split-fairway downhill par four where flying three traps on the right side will propel tee shots downhill and left, making it a potentially drive-able par four.

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Brian Silvernail’s winning “Armchair Architect” entry (linked to Golf Digest article)

I never submitted my entry for the competition, but after working on it with the topographic map that was provided I can see in person that my hole design probably wouldn’t have worked. My concept was to have distinct risk/reward areas where the smartest shot is a shorter one to a plateaued fairway on the left.

The right side would lead to longer drives and shorter approach shots, but those approaches would be made more challenging by uneven and tight lies, a blowout trap that obstructs the player’s view on that right side, tricky green contours that would make holding those shots difficult, and a more rugged path, in general. Meanwhile, a downhill shot from the plateau to the left would allow the smart player to hit a wide open green from an even lie, unobstructed view and receptive putting surface.

In person, I don’t think the area allotted has enough space to make something like that happen, and plus there’s a distinct possibility that the concept would look gimmicky, contrived and probably not be considered anyway.

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The par four 14th – subject of Golf Digest’s Armchair Architect contest – being roughed in

 

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Hole 15: Par 5 (522/509/448/398/365/325)

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Hole 15: Par 5 (522/509/448/398/365/325)

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A beautiful, natural location for the 15th green complex

I had been drooling over pictures of the par three 16th for quite some time – it looks as good in person as it does online:

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Hole 16: Par 3 (180/164/134/134/113/113)

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The massive green complex for the par three 16th

The tee shot on seventeen brings players back out in to the wide open area used for the course’s first two holes:

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Hole 17: Par 4 (432/427/363/352/260/237)

The fairway on 18 is shared in parts by the first, 17th and 18th holes. Miss this fairway and you’ve got some real accuracy issues.

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Hole 18: Par 5 (536/511/488/473/438/360)

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The approach on 18 heading back to the Mammoth Dunes clubhouse

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A look back from the 18th hole green

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View from the patio of one of the suites in the Mammoth Lodge

The new clubhouse and lodge at Mammoth Dunes was done beautifully, featuring common spaces and private lodging in the rustic farmhouse design style that’s swept the nation stemming from HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.”

The Mammoth Bar and clubhouse are now finished and fully operational, but earlier this summer they looked like this:

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View of The Clubhouse from the first hole tee boxes – it has since been completed

One of my favorite things great golf resorts do is to add non-championship golf, golf-related facilities. Keiser created “The Punchbowl,” as well as the 13-hole Bandon Preserve par three course at Bandon Dunes; Paul Schock added the Gil Hanse designed “Horse Course” at The Prairie Club; World Woods has a wild, 2-acre putting green and practice holes; to a lesser degree, Streamsong has a fun par three bye hole.

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If Coore/Crenshaw’s design work on The Sand Box is comparable to their work on Bandon Preserve, visitors to Sand Valley will be in for a real treat

What do these things all have in common? They’re great places to spend extra time and especially initiate camaraderie through one-off competitions (aka gambling).

Sand Valley is finishing their first add-on golf facility: A 17-hole par three track designed by Coore/Crenshaw. The initial plan was to name it “Quick Sand,” but in conversation with Craig Haltom of Oliphant yesterday at Lawsonia it sounds like they’re now leaning toward “The Sand Box.” The short course is one of the things I’m most looking forward to checking out next season, and I don’t think they can go wrong with either name even though I love Quick Sand.

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The sandy area to the far left in this image is the site used for the Sand Box

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Sand Valley GM Glen Murray in the Mammoth Dunes pro shop, then still under construction

Preliminary plans are in the works for a weekend buddies trip to Sand Valley next Spring, and to say I’m looking forward to that trip is an understatement. Now we’ve just gotta make it through another long and cold Wisconsin winter…

Have you made your first pilgrimage to Sand Valley yet? If so, what were your impressions, where do you think the courses will stack up against the country’s best destinations, and what are you most excited for?

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Rome, WI

Sand Valley Golf Resort Website

Golf Course Review: Sand Valley Golf Course

This year’s Illinois vs. Wisconsin Writer’s Cup was a long-anticipated match-up for many reasons: To start, Illinois has had our number for a few years, but most importantly it was to be held at the world’s most exciting new golf resort project, Sand Valley Golf Resort in Rome, Wisconsin.

I put up a preview of the front nine at Sand Valley after last year’s Media Day event here, and was unbelievably excited to see how things have grown in and especially to check out the back nine and lodging.

The back nine was everything I’d hoped it would be: More fantastic par threes and one great golf hole after another. Strategically placed sand traps, tricky greens and conditions that far exceeded what can be expected of a course that was seeded this Spring blew away everyone at the event.

Sand Valley has been blessed with one of the best two growing seasons in recent history. Weather in the Midwest has been mild, the winters [relatively] short and all the ingredients to be well ahead of its time just sort of fell in to place.

The initial plans for the course, in fact, were to have 13-15 holes open for preview play by the end of 2016, and already all 18 are and will undoubtedly become even more spectacular for its public unveiling in June, 2017.

The David McLay Kidd course is coming along nicely, too, with a number of holes already seeded and growing in beautifully. I unfortunately did not have time to tour it during this trip, so I can’t wait for my first thorough look at it next season.

I reviewed the front nine at Sand Valley in my original article from last year’s media day, linked here, so I will just include updated photos this time around with minimal commentary.

New photos from the front nine of the Sand Valley Golf Course at Sand Valley Golf Resort:

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Panoramic view from “The Volcano” above the first, tenth and eighteenth holes at Sand Valley Golf Course

The par 4 first hole, bending right to left and downhill from “The Volcano”:

The par 4 second hole, bending left to right and uphill:

The par 3 third hole, a long par three best played running on from the right side:

The par 5 fourth hole, played steeply uphill:

The par 3 fifth hole, played downhill to a crowned green:

The par 4 sixth hole, with its “Speed slot” down the right side:

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2016 Wisconsin vs. Illinois Writers Cup at Sand Valley Golf Resort

Following a tour of the front nine at last year’s Sand Valley media day, a reference to the Wisconsin vs. Illinois Writers Cup was made to which Mike Keiser, Jr. immediately replied: “Can we host next year’s event here!?”

The Writers Cup alternates between Wisconsin and Illinois courses each year, with last year’s event played at the challenging Chicago Highlands Club.

Needless to say, everyone in attendance was thrilled with the offer, but the ultimate decision had to be made by Chuck Garbedian of “Garbedian on Golf.”

Team Illinois has had the best of Team Wisconsin for a few years straight, including a rout at the Chicago Highlands Club last year. This year, though, the red team was back on our own soil at the world’s most highly touted upcoming golf destination, and there was no way we were going to lose. Not there on what we were told was the first event to be played on all 18 holes of the Coore/Crenshaw masterpiece.

Sand Valley and KemperSports were fantastic hosts, and both teams made the pilgrimage to Rome, Wisconsin on Monday for practice rounds prior to the tournament teeing off at 7:45 Tuesday morning.

The contrast between where the Coore/Crenshaw course is now versus where it was last August is almost unbelievable, but with two of the greatest growing seasons ever it is almost unnecessary to say that Sand Valley’s progress is well ahead of schedule. At no time did they intend to open all 18 holes for preview play this season, but alas on September 1 it is happening.

My first ah-ha moment during my first trip to Sand Valley last year was arriving at the top of “The Volcano” and seeing the first hole below, seeded and beginning to grow in. It is fully developed at this point, as are the magnificent tenth and 18th holes. The start of a driving range is also coming in left of the first fairway, and most of the course’s holes are visible from this highest vantage point on the property. The vista here outside of “Craig’s Porch” is comparably as spectacular as the view from the porch at Pacific Dunes (at Mike Keiser’s original golf resort, Bandon Dunes, on the southwest coast of Oregon).

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Sunset from the Pacific Grille at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, OR

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Sunset from “Craig’s Porch” atop “The Volcano” at Sand Valley Golf Resort in Rome, WI

Glen Turk of Midwest Golfing Magazine and I met up on Monday to play the front nine before a dinner at Craig’s Porch (named after Craig Haltom of Oliphant, who originally discovered the land) that consisted of buffalo burgers, Johnsonville brats and sides.

After a couple of beers, Team Wisconsin met in the 4-bedroom cottage Coach Garbedian was staying in to get our team’s strategy together. Playing this year for Team Wisconsin included:

  • Gary D’Amato (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
  • Mike Duplaise (freelance writer and author)
  • Chuck Garbedian (captain, ESPN Garbedian on Golf)
  • Neal Kotlarek (GolfChicago – Wisconsin native)
  • Gabe Neitzel (ESPN 540)
  • Jay Royal (Midwest Golfing Magazine)
  • Jeff Royal (Midwest Golfing Magazine)
  • Rob Schultz (Wisconsin State Journal)
  • Paul Seifert (that’s me)
  • Matt Tevsh (Midwest Golfing Magazine)
  • Glen Turk (Midwest Golfing Magazine)
  • Brian Weis (GolfWisconsin, GolfTrips.com)

Accommodations in the Lake Leopold Cottages were everything I hoped for and was told to expect during last year’s Media Day with Mike Keiser, Jr. and Bill Coore: “A comfortable bed, nice shower and a big bar of soap” … And fantastic views.

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The Lake Leopold Cottages at Sand Valley Golf Resort

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The Lake Leopold Cottages with Lake Leopold in the background

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Room 112 at the Lake Leopold Cottages at Sand Valley Golf Resort

The rooms are very well appointed, and I am told by this time next year the color of the cottages should blend in perfectly with the color of the sand that surrounds it.

The morning match-ups got started at 7:45 and my first round match was with my partner for the first two rounds, Rob Schultz. Rob and I had a first round best ball match against Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune and Steve Schapiro of WGN-TV.

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Turk and Weis tee off on one to start the first round of the 2016 Writers Cup at Sand Valley

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Golf Course Review: Racine Country Club

Let’s start out by saying that I (and my fellow buddies from North Hills Country Club) loved the Racine Country Club experience.

The course is classic with small, lightning-fast greens, and the clubhouse and facilities are beautiful. I don’t think I’ve seen a club in Wisconsin with better amenities, in fact.

The food was fantastic. I got a dozen chicken wings before our round (I’m not a warm up on the range kind of guy), and a massive fish filet afterwards. The wings were meaty and the buffalo sauce was perfect. The fish was delicious, as were the sides and drinks.

The clubhouse sprawls. It looks nice from the front, but amazing from inside and behind. It actually reminds me of the clubhouse at Blackwolf Run when viewed from the course, which I consider to be the prettiest clubhouse in the state.

The club’s facilities are plentiful and tastefully done. The pro shop is adequate, and the locker room is world-class. Each locker is dark wood with the RCC inscription engraved. There is a bar in the men’s locker room – a feature I always like – and it is manned by Gene who is a bit of a celebrity, himself. Gene retired from Case more than fifteen years ago, and took the job as the men’s locker room assistant for something to do. He has been there ever since, and provides the experience every country club strives to find someone to deliver.

We were told to make sure we get a drink from Gene, who makes a solid concoction but more than anything provides customer service that is second to none.

After getting to the club, Scott and I went to the bar upstairs and I ordered my wings. Kyle and Nick texted us that they were at the locker room bar downstairs, so we made the journey to the men’s locker room and I told the bartender upstairs and he had them delivered there. When we made our way back to the upstairs bar, my wings were already delivered downstairs. I made my way down there and Gene said, “No, sir I will carry them for you,” to which I told him I was happy to carry it. He gave me every excuse why it would be better for him to carry them, including that it will look better to my friends, and we were on our way back to the upstairs pub. I tried giving him five dollars for his inconveniences, but he wasn’t having it.

Private golf clubs are all about the golf, followed by customer service and experience, if you ask me. Racine Country Club excels on all fronts.

Enough about buffalo wings – I didn’t even mention the huge game room downstairs including a billiards table, four bowling lanes, tons of card tables and lounge areas. I also didn’t mention the awesome lounge in the men’s locker room, the beautiful upstairs bar and numerous dining areas, the fitness center, pool or tennis courts… Let’s just say I was jealous and wish my club had the space to catch up!

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Two of the four bowling alleys in the basement at Racine Country Club

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Billiards table in the downstairs game room at Racine Country Club

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Fitness center in the basement at Racine Country Club

We had a great foursome for Saturday’s round, including my friends Kyle, Nick and Scott, who are all 4-handicaps. I got 6 total strokes on the day, and our game du jour was wolf. In wolf, foursomes keep a rotation where the last player to tee off has to decide after each tee shot if he/she wants to partner with that person. If passed, that player cannot be picked. Sometimes it ends up that they pass on the first two and the third player to tee off duck-hooks one in to the water – in that case, they can choose to go alone and risk losing two points, but also have the opportunity to earn three.

I was chosen several times because of great drives. After the majority of those, I hit green-side bunkers next. Normally that’s not a big deal since I pride myself in my sand game, but the traps at Racine Country Club are nothing like the ones I’ve become used to. The traps at Racine are deep and with heavy sand, very similar to the sand at Bandon Dunes. It’s the kind of sand that feels like it was taken from a beach, and swinging with arms will not get the job done.

The course at Racine Country Club starts out in glorious fashion, with steeply elevated tee boxes adjacent to the pro shop and overlooking a narrow but short opening par five. There is a little more room to the left than it looks, and none to the right.

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Hole 1: Par 5 (473/459/445/432)

The fairway bends hard right at about 400 yards, so the second shot will either have to carry out-of-bounds to the right or else be played safely left toward the elbow.

The first hole initiates players to the greens at Racine Country Club, which are… Fast. And small. I was told putting here is like putting on concrete more times than I can remember leading up to our round, and the actual experience did not disappoint.

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Hole 1: Par 5 (473/459/445/432)

The second hole is a little intimidating from the tee, as the left-to-right dogleg par four is mostly hidden and the river that runs through the fairway mostly blends in to the playing surface. A solid drive over 200 yards should carry the water with ease and leave a manageable approach.

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Sand Valley: Preview Play Now Open!

Interest in the Sand Valley project in Rome, Wisconsin is palpable. The article I wrote on America’s next great golf destination following their August, 2015 media day has now become the most popular course review I have ever written, and I literally get asked several times a week about the resort’s progress.

That progress has been rolling along smoothly, and golf enthusiasts across the globe cannot wait to get their first look at Mike Keiser and Coore/Crenshaw’s newest masterpiece.

Sand Valley: The Next Big Thing, by Paul Seifert

In conversations today with the Director of Public Relations for KemperSports, it was revealed that preview play will not only be available to “Founding members” this season, but also to Sand Valley insiders, which you all can become by signing up for the resort’s newsletter:

Sand Valley Insider Newsletter Registration

There are currently nine holes open with the hopes of having the full eighteen ready for preview play by September.

Lodging is available to guests, and the newly finished Lake Leopold Cottages look wonderful and I am told compare favorably to rooming at Keiser’s Bandon Dunes Golf Resort:

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4-bedroom lodging in the Lake Leopold Cottages at Sand Valley Golf Resort

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Standard double-king room in the Lake Leopold Cottages at Sand Valley Golf Resort

Also like Bandon Dunes, Sand Valley will be all about the golf experience. While there are no bars or restaurants currently open, golfers will be able to grab beers, brats and burgers outside the temporary office that currently houses its operations.

It should be amazing to see how the resort comes along as it nears its June, 2017 opening to the public following the US Open at Erin Hills.

Have you made your first trip to Sand Valley yet? If so, I would love to know your thoughts. If not, make sure you join the Sand Valley Insider list and find time this season to be one of the exclusive few to play what is sure to become the country’s hottest new golf destination.