Get Excited. Really Excited.
Mr. Bill Coore is a very humble and gracious man, which is impressive when you consider that his name is on some of the best courses on the planet – Sand Hills, Bandon Trails, Streamsong Red, and Kapalua’s Plantation Course, just to name a few. The only time he allowed himself anything resembling a boast is when talking about the potential of his latest project. Mr. Coore is excited about Sand Valley.
The Monday after the PGA Championship, I had the opportunity to walk the first nine holes at Sand Valley. The minute I got through the dense forest and onto the course, my eyes got wide, and I wore a smile for the entire tour. This is a property unlike anything I’ve seen before. I’m excited about Sand Valley.
I think that by the time you’re done reading this, and, more importantly, looking at the pictures, you’re going to be excited, too.
The Genesis of Sand Valley
While there are big names associated with Sand Valley – renowned architects Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, and David Kidd, not to mention Bandon Dune’s develop Mike Keiser – the man that’s been working on Sand Valley the longest is Craig Haltom. Craig spent years studying the great golf courses of Scotland, and then came back to Wisconsin to find the land to build America’s next great course. After countless hours studying topographical maps and hiking through forests, he found what he was looking for.
The next step was showing the land to the right developer. Though Sand Valley lacks one of the three things that Mr. Mike Keiser has always said are essential – an ocean – it only took one trip to the site to convince him that an exception had to be made. Not only is this land going to create a very special golf course, Mr. Keiser also learned, through working with Chicago’s Field Museum, that this land used to be home to incredible biodiversity. Though it’s currently a red pine monoculture, Mr. Keiser has stated that its his goal to restore 10,000 acres to its original diverse make up.
From there, Mr. Keiser brought in some of the best names in golf course design to look at the property. While Sand Valley may ultimately be home to three, four, or five courses, the first course was awarded to Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. More recently, David Kidd has begun work on Sand Valley’s second course. And that brings me to the tour…
Hole-by-Hole Course Preview
I arrived at Sand Valley at noon, bringing a camera (and, naturally, dark clouds) with me. I hopped into Craig Haltom’s pickup truck, and we drove on sand roads between dense forest. All at once, the forest opened up and I saw nothing but sand and heavy machinery in every direction. The scale and drama of this land is unbelievable. It was hard to believe I was in Wisconsin, but on further reflection, I’d never seen anything like it anywhere. Things only got better when we walked through a gap in the trees to see, in the middle of all this sand, a nearly-complete golf hole (#9).
We started our official tour where golfers will start their round, at the top of “The Volcano.” The appropriately named spot is the highest on the course, and it ties together holes 1, 9, 10, and 18 and the putting green. In fact, golfers playing from either of the two back tees will be teeing off on the practice green! Another interesting fact about the putting green is that there was very little shaping done to it – most of the contours are natural.
The first hole is a short par 4 – 325 yards from the tips – that plays substantially down hill. The focus on having fun is there right from the start because this hole will definitely present birdie opportunities.
Just because the course is designed to be fun doesn’t mean that it won’t have teeth. #2 will tip out at 415 yards and it features a sharp, uphill dogleg into a green that does not look receptive. That doesn’t even take into account the waste areas lining the fairways.
#3 will play anywhere from 110 yards to 195. The left side of the green is shielded by pines forcing you to either play a shot straight at the flag or utilize the substantial mound to the right of the green. Sand Valley is being built to play hard and fast, so expect to see some golf balls go for roller coaster rides on this green.
The fourth hole is going to be a brute. Not only is it 550 yards from the tips, it’s uphill all the way. When you do finally reach the green, you’ll find that it’s protected by a bunker with an island of grass in it which will make for some truly unusual lies.
After slogging your way uphill, the medium-length fifth hole will provide a slight respite. It’s a downhill shot that should play a little shorter than the yardage, but missing the green will lead to some very testy pitch shots.
#6 isn’t grassed in yet, but it will be one of the more interesting holes on the front nine. This is a risk/reward hole with a twist: the “risk” route isn’t for the long hitters! Mr. Coore seemed very pleased with this design as he described how only accurate, shorter shots will benefit from playing towards the left fairway.
The par-5 seventh hole is a good example of something Mr. Coore told us at dinner: “Angles are more important than distance.” While this hole isn’t brutally long – 550 yards from the tips – the angles of the fairway will make it a three shot hole for almost everyone.
The eighth hole doesn’t add much to the scorecard at only 145 yards, but the wind and slope will add plenty to the real-life difficulty of the course. My group was lucky enough to hit a few shots into this green, so I can tell you that the cluster of trees to the right is absolutely in play. Take advantage of the wind and the slope of the green and play to the left.
The front nine closes with a wonderful short par 4. Ranging from 170 yards to 310 yards, depending on your tee box, this holes is definitely drivable. It’s also going to be the site of some huge numbers for players who end up in the trees, the cavernous bunkers to the right and left, or the beach to the right. What makes this hole so strong is that laying up isn’t a free pass due to the uneven fairway. While every hole at Sand Valley looks like a winner, this is the one that I believe will generate the most post-round discussion.
You can see many more pictures of Sand Valley in the slideshow at the bottom of the page.
Dinner with Mr. Bill Coore
As if it weren’t enough to see a world-class golf course in the making, I was also lucky enough to have dinner with Bill Coore and Michael Keiser Jr. Mr. Coore joined us after putting in a full day on his customized Sand Pro shaping the greens. “Floating” each green requires 4-8 hours of work, and each one is done by Mr. Coore.
Here are some of the highlights from dinner:
On his partnership with Ben Crenshaw – Mr. Coore said that they’ve worked together for so long that they’re simply in sync with each other. There’s no dividing of responsibilities.
He’s also quick to share credit with what he calls “the best crew.” Their crew is unbelievable – the designer of Cabot Links, Rod Whitman, is driving a bulldozer at Sand Valley. He also said that while he and Mr. Crenshaw create ideas, they’re just as likely to edit the ideas of others. He will tell his crew, “This isn’t what we talked about, this is better.” On the other hand, he told us an amusing story about walking around a site with bottle caps that said, “Please try again” that he handed to crew members who had made mistakes.
Finally, he outlined two important things about designing a course: 1) “Know what you have when you see it” meaning let good accidents happen, and 2) “Know when to quit.”
On his design philosophy – Mr. Coore said that you first need to understand who will play the course, in this case the “retail golfer.” Then he lays out the holes without an exact idea of the distances because he believes that angles are more important. He puts the back tees in last with his concentration being on the middle tees because more golfers will play from there. Its his goal to create “situations of interest” to golfers without things being too difficult because he wants them to come back and play again.
On Sand Valley – “It’s a unique property because it has ridges and valleys, not dunes.” He said that it’s closest to Heathland golf courses like Sunningdale because of that. The vegetation is similar, but Sand Valley has more elevation. He likes Sand Valley because it has a strong identity. It doesn’t really remind him of anything and it’s not trying to be anything; Sand Valley is its own thing.
On designing the first course at Sand Valley – There’s a lot of great land, but he kept coming back to the same area because of “The Volcano” and this areas ability to tie together large, medium, and small contours.
On wind considerations – It’s more about the width of fairways than the length to Mr. Coore. He also made the point that it’s important to not “cut off approaches” into greens.
On the best holes he’s designed – Mr. Coore wouldn’t pick a favorite, but he said that he prefers short par 3’s and short par 4’s because they provide “a fair chance to beat the best players.” He dislikes long par 4’s and 5’s because it’s hard to make them interesting.
On one change he’d make to golf – Mr. Coore is in agreement with Jack Nicklaus that the ball needs to be rolled back.
On his dream foursome – He chose Ben Crenshaw, Charlie Rose, and Paul McCartney. If he could choose anyone living or dead, Mr. Coore opted to golf with some of golf’s greatest architects: Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie, Bobby Jones, CB MacDonald, and Robert Hunter. That’s more than a foursome, but who am I to argue?
Count the Days Until 2017
If you are, stay tuned to PluggedInGolf as we bring you more information and sneak previews of Sand Valley as it rounds into form.