Last week I shared my many favorable impressions on playing the Jack Nicklaus-designed American Dunes Golf Club in Grand Haven as part of an advanced media event and press conference. The course will officially open to the public next May with advanced tee times beginning December 15. Golf cronies and friends have already set an alert on their i-Phones and smart devices not to miss this date.
Similarly, Michiganders would be wise to set a digital reminder about playing Sand Valley Golf Resort in central Wisconsin in 2021 or 2022 (its premium weeks go fast). Like American Dunes, it possesses a “wow” factor yet on a much grander scale. Permit me to provide a brief take and preview to whet your interest.
Admittedly, I’m a late comer to Sand Valley, which opened in 2017, and its lofty reputation as a “must visit” golf resort in the shared company of Bandon Dunes in Oregon and Cabot Links in Nova Scotia, developed by Mike Keiser.
As savant Michigan Golfer readers (and maybe only my loving and proof-reading spouse Deb) will remember, I first praised Chicagoan Keiser and his keen appreciation of golf course design back in 1992 when I selected his The Dunes Club, designed by Dick Nugent, to grace our magazine’s cover with this tag, “The Best Little 9 hole Course Anywhere.” Twenty-eight years hence, that claim about the private New Buffalo (MI) gem still holds up.
Thankfully, traveling to Sand Valley from west Michigan is much easier and takes less time when using Lake Express, the high speed passenger and car ferry located in Muskegon. Instead of driving around Lake Michigan, through congested Chicago and up into Wisconsin, we opted to ‘cut the dogleg’ and use Lake Express to Milwaukee. Hey, it’s not NetJets but any mild chop on Lake Michigan is heckuva lot better than air turbulence at 40,000 feet!
Located two and a half hours north and west of Milwaukee, Sand Valley as its name suggests, is situated in an incredible and prehistoric expanse of sand dunes in central Wisconsin. The unique landforms and sandy soils are remnants of a large glacier lake dating back 19,000 years. You get a feel for it when you enter the front entrance and then get a sand-blasted shock when first seeing Mammoth Dunes golf course majestically sprawled out behind the clubhouse.
A complete, well-appointed and meticulously considered golf resort, Sand Valley is a golf buddies’ dream getaway with its two 18-hole award-winning courses—Mammoth Dunes and Sand Valley—and a highly enjoyable short course, the Sandbox. Both of the walkable and in-land linksy courses, designed by David McLay Kidd and Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore respectively, are set amid the sandy and dunes-strewn topography with stunning and unspoiled vistas. (In Michigan, the closest parallel to its look and feel is Forest Dunes, both the original course by Tom Weiskopf and more recently with The Loop by Tom Doak.)
The photos and imagery speak for themselves when previewing it on its website. But being there in the quiet and seclusion of central Wisconsin— offering up aesthetic delights in a fun-loving retreat for hopelessly addicted golfers—is ‘bucket list’ worthy.
Case in (West) point: meeting some members of the Army football team of 1977-81. What a good time they were having! And how lucky I was to find a dozen guys actually wanting to hear about my cousin’s son (Jon Rhattigan, #47) playing and starting at linebacker for the Knights this year.
Sand Valley has all the essential elements and details down pat: world-class courses, firm and fast fairways, smooth and quick greens, up close and comfy accommodations, excellent food, superb caddies, 19th hole viewing spots, and…drum roll, please… unpretentious Midwestern charm, service and hospitality. Sand Valley is an equal opportunity employer except for malcontents and bad actors.
This being an abbreviated take and preview, I’ll have more to share about Sand Valley at a later date.
One more thing: credit the Keiser name for planning and executing a sublime sense and sensibility about the game to this part of the country. Only this time it’s Michael and Chris Keiser, the sons of the visionary developer. With steady and strong hands, they have the reins.
Even in dairy-driven Wisconsin, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Terry Moore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo courtesy of Sand Valley Golf Resort